OpenScore: Choosing a source edition

Posted 6 years ago

The source edition is the score (usually a PDF file) that you are basing your transcription on. You must choose a source edition before you can reserve a piece to transcribe for OpenScore.

Rules for source editions

The source edition used for all OpenScore transcriptions:

  • must be available on IMSLP
    • If an edition is not on IMSLP but is available elsewhere then consider uploading it to IMSLP yourself.
  • must be in the public domain worldwide (in all major countries/regions)

    • We can only accept transcriptions of editions that say "Copyright: Public Domain" or "Copyright: Creative Commons Zero" and that do not say "Non-PD [Region]".

    IMSLP licenses safe for OpenScore small.png

For the purposes of OpenScore you can disregard any other copyright notices on the work page or composer page as these are not relevant. Only the license displayed next to the edition is important for OpenScore.

Additional guidelines

The most important factors when choosing between editions are:

  • scan quality - few missing or obscured notes and symbols
  • completeness - no missing movements or pages
  • compliance with the composer's original and/or the traditional interpretation

Where possible, we prefer:

  • printed editions over handwritten manuscripts
    • this applies even if the manuscript is the original (unless the printed edition is very inaccurate)
  • full scores rather than individual parts
    • unless the full score is missing/incomplete/inferior compared to the parts
  • a single complete edition rather than multiple incomplete editions
    • you may make use of secondary editions only to fill in details which are obscured or ambiguous in the primary edition

OpenScore transcriptions should be seen as a starting point rather than as a finished product. The goal is to digitise one edition of each work as quickly and accurately as possible. This can then be used - possibly by others - to speed up the process of digitising other editions of the same work. Just think how much faster it would be to digitise a second edition if you can simply copy and paste most of it from the first one!

Referencing IMSLP editions

We refer to IMSLP editions by their reference number (e.g. #52624).

You can find the edition from its reference number by:

Please note that some IMSLP editions are split into multiple files, but this still counts as one edition!

IMSLP multi-editions small.png


Let's see how the rules for choosing a source edition apply to actual historic editions.

Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor

The first step is to go to the work's IMSLP page and scroll down to look at the available sheet music.

At the time of writing, the following editions were available under the Scores tab:

  • #392307, the composer's original manuscript
    • This is marked "Copyright: Public Domain"
  • #02298, a printed edition edited by Wilhelm Rust
    • Copyright: Public Domain
  • #271079 and #332313, two versions of a printed edition edited by Dietrich Kilian
    • The label "Copyright: Public Domain - Non-PD US" applies to both versions
  • #56609, a printed edition edited by Helmut Kickton
    • Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
  • #07749, a printed edition edited by Alfred Dörffel
    • Copyright: Public Domain

We must rule out the editions edited by Dietrich Kilian and Helmut Kickton for copyright reasons. (Kilian's is not in the public domain everywhere, and Kickton's is neither in the public domain nor under Creative Commons Zero.) That leaves just three editions to choose from.

Looking at the IMSLP page you will see that, while most of the editions are marked "Complete Score", the edition edited by Alfred Dörffel is marked "III. Allegro assai (solo part variant, mm.5-16 only)". The Dörffel edition is not a complete score, so we want to avoid using that one if possible.

The composer's original manuscript is a handwritten score. While it is technically the definitive source, the printed editions are much easier to read, so we would prefer to transcribe from one of those if possible.

That leaves just the edition edited by Wilhelm Rust. This edition appears to be ideal for our purposes:

  • Public domain
  • Complete rather than just an extract
  • Printed rather than handwritten
  • Full score rather than individual parts
  • Black-and-white rather than greyscale or colour
  • No missing pages
  • Good quality scan (notation is clear and easy to read)

So in this case it is obvious that the Rust edition is the one to use.

If more than one edition is suitable...

Then you need to pick the best one based on the above criteria. If you still can't choose then go with the one that has the highest rating or the most downloads. Be prepared to switch to a different edition later if necessary.

If no printed score is suitable...

If we consider Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor again, but pretend for a moment that the Rust edition didn't exist, then you would need to look at the separate instrumental parts (available under the Parts tab).

It's a similar story here as with the full scores. Once we have ruled out:

  • Anything non-public domain
  • Anything not labelled "Complete Parts"
  • #153614 (another handwritten manuscript)

We are just left with one set of suitable parts: #56551 to #56556 (a full set of parts counts as one edition, regardless of whether it is split across multiple files). There is no editor given for these parts, but the publisher is given as "Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, n.d. (Orchester-Bibliothek)". They appear to be complete and in very good condition.

If no printed parts are suitable...

If we pretend that neither the Rust score nor the Breitkopf & Härtel parts exist, then we would be forced to transcribe from the handwritten manuscript, as that is the only complete score available. After that would be the handwritten parts, as those are the only complete parts available.

If no complete edition is available...

You could try to put some incomplete editions together to create a complete edition. You might end up combining different editions of scores and/or parts to create a full score. Make sure you keep a record of all the sources you used for your transcription.

Using arrangements

As a last resort, you could look under the Arrangments and Transcriptions tab. You should transcribe the arrangment as written rather than attempting to reconstruct the original orchestration.


We will not accept reconstructions, except in the special case where the material taken from the arrangement is known to be essentially unchanged from the original. Even then, we would like to receive a transcription of the arrangment first, before the reconstruction is attempted.

For vocal works (i.e. works with singers), if no full score is available then it is acceptable to reconstruct a score by combining instrumental parts with vocal lines taken from a piano-vocal score. We would like to receive a transcription of the piano vocal score first, including the piano part, before you attempt to add the instrumental parts. As always, both the vocal score and the parts must be in the public domain (or licensed under Creative Commons Zero) and available on IMSLP.

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