The New Schubert Edition views itself as a complete scholarly-critical edition that also serves the needs of performing musicians. It takes this dual alignment very seriously, also with regard to its responsibilities toward culture and society. Being a “scholarly-critical edition,” the NSE takes into account all available sources, not only documenting their alternative readings but also attempting to retrace the gestation of each work. The gestation can be reflected in a single autograph (i.e. its various layers of writing and alterations) or in two or more sources (autographs, copyists' manuscripts, prints) that hand down conflicting versions of the work in question. The New Schubert Edition is also an “open edition” that either presents conflicting readings on ossia staves as alternatives to the main text, mentions them in footnotes, or reproduces them intact, depending on their length and significance. In order to give today's performers an opportunity to study and try out variations and embellishments common in Schubert's day, embellished versions and marked-up compositions are included in the appendix to the musical volume in question, provided that they originated in Schubert's circle and thus at least purportedly bear his sanction.
The concept of a scholarly-critical edition that not only faithfully reproduces a source but attempts to convey the composer's intentions calls for interventions on the part of the editors for purposes of clarification. Not all these interventions can be made identifiable in the musical text. If the edition is aimed directly at performers, such interventions must be listed and explained not only in the separately published Critical Commentary, but also among the “Sources and Readings” in the volume itself. This makes it possible for performers to reach different decisions from those of the editors. The “Sources and Readings” also supply information on the genesis of a text (Schubert's alterations) and provide concise descriptions of the sources and the results of filiation. The New Schubert Edition also wishes to serve performers by pointing out rules for the execution of musical notation in Schubert's day. These rules are reported either in the musical text itself (if necessary as footnotes) or as comments in the appendix on “Sources and Readings.” Each volume has a detailed preface with information on the work's genesis as well as notes on performance practice and the nature of the versions concerned (i.e. first draft, revision to accommodate the circumstances of a particular performance, or revision for a print intended for a broader readership). The separately published Critical Commentary contains a detailed account of the sources, their stemmata and interrelationships, and notes on their provenance. It also adds minor corrections, variants, and editorial interventions to the information contained in “Sources and Readings.”
The New Schubert Edition is subdivided by genre and generally arranged in chronological order within each genre (see Classification Scheme). One exception to this rule occurs with the lieder, where, for the first time since their initial publication, the opuses issued during Schubert's lifetime (roughly one-third of his lieder) appear in the order chosen by the composer himself. Despite a widely held belief to the contrary, these opuses were not compiled on an arbitrary basis, but in accordance with clearly discernible principles. For further information see Walther Dürr, “Die Lieder-Serie der Neuen Schubert-Ausgabe: Zu Schuberts Ordnung eigener Lieder,” Musica 40 (1986), pp. 28-30.
The editorial guidelines of the New Schubert Edition were drawn up in conjunction with its initial volumes. Today they appear in an updated sixth edition (Tübingen, 2008, download see below).
An earlier version, commissioned by the Fachgruppe Freie Forschungsinstitute in the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, was published in Editionsrichtlinien Musik, ed. Bernhard R. Appell and Joachim Veit, Musikwissenschaftliche Arbeiten 30 (Kassel, 2000), pp. 287-304.