Masterworks from Bärenreiter

Esteemed publishers Bärenreiter continue to produce some of the world’s finest editions of core classical piano repertoire (and of course, so much more!) and I have been delighted to see some of their latest releases.

In this review I will look at their new scores of masterworks by Bach, Haydn and Beethoven, which are suitable for post-grade 8 amateur players, diploma students, and professional pianists.

In a separate review I will also be looking at a couple of most interesting recent educational releases, so as always, stay tuned!

Beethoven: Sonatas 

  • Three Sonatas Op.31, in G major, D minor “Tempest” and E flat major
  • Sonata in F sharp major Op.78
  • “Sonate facile” in G major Op.79

Acclaimed Beethoven authority Jonathan Del Mar’s brand new edition of the complete sonatas for Bärenreiter is shaping up to be the new benchmark beside which other editions must be judged.

For these latest volumes in the series, listed above, Del Mar has undertaken a meticulous examination of the handwritten and printed sources from the composer’s lifetime, leading to a reliable and conclusive musical text.

Not only are these editions textually authoritative, they make superb performing editions, with spacious and eminently clean music engraving, well-judged page turns, and valuable notes on performance practice. These offer expert insight into issues of pedalling, dynamics, articulation and ornaments, as well as surveying the instruments for which Beethoven composed.

There is of course also a detailed critical commentary, cementing the status of these publications as the scholarly-performing editions of choice.

Modest in scope but beautiful in character, the Sonatas Opp. 78 and 79 are approachable for pianists at around Grade 8 level and beyond, while the three Op.31 Sonatas are larger in conception, and represent something of a turning point in Beethoven’s compositional development, following on from his recent statement that:

“I’m dissatisfied with my works to date; from now on I’ll take a new path.”

One point to note is that these editions don’t include any fingering. While this may inform some players’ choice of edition, at the time of writing it seems to me that these new Bärenreiter editions are without doubt the ones to own.

Haydn: The Late Sonatas

It may come as a surprise to learn that Bärenreiter don’t have a complete edition of the Haydn Piano Sonatas to compete with the excellent editions offered by Henle Verlag and (especially, in my view) Wiener Urtext Edition.

This new score of the Late Sonatas more than makes up for lost time. It is edited by Bernhard Moosbauer and Holger M. Stüwe, and includes notes on performance practice and fingering provided by Rebecca Maurer.

The included sonatas are:

  • Sonata in G major Hob.XVI:40
  • Sonata in B flat major Hob.XVI:41
  • Sonata in D major Hob.XVI:42
  • Sonata in C major Hob.XVI:48
  • Sonata in E flat major Hob.XVI:49
  • Sonata in D major Hob.XVI:51
  • Sonata in E flat major Hob.XVI:52
  • Sonata in C major Hob.XVI:50

The first thing to say here is that both the detailed and informative Preface by the editors, and the superb essay on performance practice and the instruments of Haydn’s day, are truly outstanding.

Looking at the score itself, the praise given to Del Mar’s Beethoven editions equally applies here. As one would expect, the presentation is again exemplary, although in a couple of places I wondered if the spacious engraving may have led to one page turn too many.

In addition to playing through several of these Sonatas from the score – which was a joy – I was interested to see how it would compare, and as one of my adult students was already working on Hob.XVI:51 from another urtext edition, this provided a useful opportunity to do so. The fingerings – often tricky in Haydn – seem mostly to match those of the other edition, but in places offer useful and preferable alternatives.

For a complete edition of Haydn Sonatas I would still recommend the Wiener Urtext (Landon/Leisinger/Levin/Jonas) in four volumes; but for those interested in the great Late Sonatas, this new Bärenreiter edition certainly offers very tight and tempting competition!

Bach: Suites, Partitas & Sonatas

transcribed for harpsichord by Gustav Leonhardt

Lastly for now, music by J.S. Bach – but not as you know it.

The harpsichordist, conductor and organist Gustav Leonhardt was considered a pioneer of historical performance practice. As an Early Music student at the Royal College of Music in the 1980s, I for one certainly felt the impact of his influence, and was deeply inspired by his fresh and authentic interpretations of the music of the Baroque.

Between 1968 and 1978, Leonhardt made harpsichord transcriptions of several of Bach’s compositions for unaccompanied violin or cello, and these have now been made available by his pupil Siebe Henstra, based on the handwritten notes Leonhardt used for his own performances and recordings.

In the Preface, Skip Sempé explains:

“Bach himself is known for his transcriptions of instrumental works. In 1758, Jacob Adlung described three sonatas and three partitas for solo violin which ‘could be played on the keyboard as well’. Bach’s contemporaries repeatedly mentioned the composer’s habit of playing his solo violin compositions on a keyboard instrument.”

How fascinating, then, to have this new edition of Leonhardt’s transcriptions, which as one would expect are deeply affected by his affinity with the composer. Included in the generous volume are:

  • Sonata in D minor, after Sonata for Violin in G minor BWV 1001
  • Partita in E minor after Partita for Violin in B minor BWV 1002
  • Partita in G minor after Partita for Violin in D minor BWV 1004
  • Sonata in G major after Sonata for Violin in C major BWV 1005
  • Partita in A major after Partita for Violin in E major BWV 1006
  • Suite in E flat major after Suite for Violincello in E flat major BWV 1010
  • Suite in C minor after Suite for Violincello in C minor BWV 1011
  • Suite in D major after Suite for Violincello in D major BWV 1012
  • Allemande in A minor after Allemande from Partita for Flute in A minor BWV 1013
  • Sarabande in C minor after Sarabande from Suite for Lute in C minor BWV 997

Compared to the other editions reviewed above, the accompanying notes here are slim, limited to the short Preface and an editorial introduction that runs to just a page and a half. There is no critical commentary – understandably so, given that this is a unique and original first edition of these works

I found this volume enormously enjoyable to explore during the review period, and will certainly be returning to play these pieces more regularly in the future.

And while these works are unlikely to be accorded the hallowed status of Bach’s cherished Partitas, English and French Suites – such masterpieces of the keyboard repertoire – I think it would be a mistake to overlook this important and fascinating release.

Highly Recommended!

Available from the Bärenreiter UK Online Store

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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