The Greatest Schumann?

In a grand publishing milestone, Breitkopf & Härtel have reissued in seven volumes Robert Schumann’s complete piano works in the edition prepared by his widow Clara Schumann, and later updated with additional fingerings by the legendary pianist Wilhelm Kempff

Let’s dig straight into the fascinating history of this one ….


Clara’s “Instructive Edition”

When preparing or selecting a new edition of old music, there are many considerations. We want the printed score to reproduce as closely as possible the notation as written by the composer, evidenced by the autograph manuscript if one survives, and the published first edition.

However, in the mid-nineteenth century there was a shift towards producing “instructive editions” which often considerably embellished on the original work, ostensibly to provide educational support for domestic musicians and their teachers.

Such practices continue, and many publications I receive for review (including those from the major exam boards), are peppered with articulation, dynamics, and alterations that often obfuscate composers’ original intentions, purportedly for educative reasons.

Serious musicians have always recognised the danger here, and perhaps none more so than Clara Schumann, the fêted concert pianist, composer, teacher, and widow of Robert Schumann. Invited to produce an “instructive edition of her late husband’s complete piano works in 1882, Clara wrote to publisher Raymund Härtel saying,

“By no means do I intend to conform to existing instructive editions that are analysed, and fingered down to the pettiest detail, which actually does not seem right to me, but would least of all be admissible for Schumann. One must already presuppose a certain critical and musical basis in playing the Schumann works.”

In his Preface to the Edition Breitkopf publication presently being reviewed, Timo Evans speculates:

“In this light, Clara Schumann’s decision to redact an instructive edition of her husband’s piano works can be interpreted as a premeditated gambit; she probably wanted to preempt other editors as the end of the copyright-protection period approached in 1886.”

In the event, Clara’s edition appeared in a series of volumes published by Breitkopf & Härtel between 1884-6. Lending peculiar authority to the publication, it was billed as Clara’s “First Instructive Edition with Fingering and Performance Markings” and with the lofty subtitle, “From the Manuscripts and Transmission”

Whatever her professed misgivings about the value of instructive editions, it’s fair to say that Clara (while undoubtedly still preserving Robert’s musical intentions) imbued her edition with plenty of fresh ideas. Evers notes:

“Clara Schumann did in fact prepare the music text of the Instructive Edition pedagogically; thus, above all, she altered and/or added indications pertaining to tempo, fingering, as well as numerous pedal markings. Nevertheless she does not seem to have deviated from her fundamental idea of fidelity to her husband’s oeuvre. Her interventions and additions are based on her many years’ experience as pianist and piano teacher, not least on recollections of discussions with Robert Schumann.”

But the history of this present edition doesn’t end there…

In 1925, Breitkopf commissioned the concert pianist Wilhelm Kempff to update Clara’s edition, with particular attention to more modern printing techniques and notation conventions. Working from Clara’s edition and, where available, the original manuscripts, Kempff also further added and updated many of the fingerings.

The “Complete” Piano Works?

It is this version which Breitkopf & Hartel is now reissuing, and as mentioned already the edition appears in seven volumes.

Here are the contents of each:

VOLUME ONE

  • Abegg-Variations op.1
  • Papillons op.2
  • Studien nach Kapricen von Paganini op.3
  • Intermezzi op.4
  • Impromptus über eine Romanze von Clara Wieck op.5 (1833)
  • Impromptus über ein Thema von Clara Wieck op.5 (1850)
  • Davidsbündlertänze op.6 (1837)
  • Davidsbündlertänze op.6 (1850)
  • Toccata in C op.7
  • Allegro in B minor op.8

VOLUME TWO

  • Carnaval op.9
  • Sechs Konzert-Etüden nach Kapricen von Paganini op.10
  • Klaviersonate No.1 in F# minor op.11
  • Fantasiestücke op.12
  • Symphonische Etüden op.13

VOLUME THREE

  • Klaviersonate No.3 in F minor op.14
  • Kinderszenen op.15
  • Kreisleriana op.16
  • Fantasie in C op.17
  • Arabesque op.18
  • Blumenstück op.19

VOLUME FOUR

  • Humoresque op.20
  • Novelletten op.21
  • Klaviersonate No.2 in G minor op.22
  • Nachtstücke op.23
  • Faschingsschwank aus Wien op.26
  • Drei Romanzen op.28
  • Scherzo, Gigue, Romanze und Fughette op.32

VOLUME FIVE

  • Studien für Pedalflügel op.56
  • Vier Skizzen für Pedalflügel op.58
  • Klavieralbum für die Jugend op.68
  • Vier Fugen op.72
  • Vier Märsche op,76
  • Waldszenen op.82

VOLUME SIX

  • Bunte Blätter op.99
  • Drei Fantasiestücke op.111
  • Drei Klaviersonaten für die Jugend op.118
  • Albumblätter op.124
  • Sieben Klavierstücke in Fughettenform op.126
  • Gesänge in der Frühe op.133

VOLUME SEVEN

  • Klavierkonzert in A minor op.54
  • Introduktion und Allegro appassionato op.92
  • Konzert-Allegro mit Introduktion in D minor op.134

Schumann aficionados will not be surprised, perhaps, by the absence of the Geistervariationen (“Ghost Variations”), Robert’s final piano composition and a work Clara deemed unworthy of publication.

Completists might also miss the supplementary pieces from opp.12, 13 and 68, as well as miscellaneous miniatures not found here. What we have, in essence, is the Schumann canon as determined by Clara, and including all the works with opus numbers.

It should also be noted here that in Volume 7, we are treated only to the solo piano parts of these piano/orchestra works. Cues are included where helpful, but not the full orchestral reductions.

Each volume is tastefully presented, with beautifully engraved notation on cream paper. Importantly, the binding is made to last, while retaining a physical flexibility that ensures ease of use.


My only criticisms here are that the spacing is occasionally a little cramped, and that I found the omission of bar numbers frustrating when comparing this edition with others. Speaking of which…

Comparissons

Just how significant are the differences between Clara’s instructive edition as presented here and the various urtext alternatives available today?

In many pieces the differences are sufficiently minor to merit little comment, but in others they are more significant.

I will take as a striking example the opening of Träumerei from the Kinderszenen Op.15/7, if only because it is one of the composer’s most universally beloved works.

Here is the opening phrase of the piece, shown in three different editions. The two urtext editions are both outstanding of course, the products of unimpeachable scholarship, faithful to the original manuscripts and first editions of the work. All include editorial fingering.


Henle Verlag
Wiener Urtext
Clara Schumann / Wilhelm Kempff / Breitkopf & Härtel

The differences here are undeniably significant.

At first glance, we see that Clara’s tempo indication is decisively slower than that shown elsewhere. Thereafter, Clara’s edition has in my view more intelligent and helpful pedalling marks; she also alters the dynamic and expressive markings.

Note in particular the phrasing marks, consistent in the two urtext editions, but quite different in Clara’s edition.

Clara’s reimagining of the phrasing significantly alters the flow of the melody line, obscuring the barline in a rather Brahmsian manner. Were the piece relatively unknown, we might think no more of it; in this instance though, informed performers will want to try both versions before determining which they prefer and why.

The altered phrase shape also demands a different approach to the fingering. The Wiener fingering cleverly adds emphasis to the original phrasing shown, but it is the Clara Schumann/Wilhelm Kempff fingering that wins for me.

Elsewhere in her edition, Clara’s added dynamic and performance suggestions are often (though certainly not always) presented in brackets, and vary in frequency and intensity from one work to another.

In many of the major concert works the differences are insignificant, whereas comparing Clara’s edition of the well-worn Album for the Young with an urtext version reveals that here again Clara takes more significant liberties, adding some quite unexpected and surprising dynamics.

Perhaps these differences can indeed be ascribed to transmission, as was originally claimed, Clara having lived with these works in both recital hall and domestic setting over many years.

Ultimately though, whether Clara remains strictly true to every detail of Robert Schumann’s writing is a moot point; her versions present a hugely important document of authentic performance practice.

Conclusion

When I began the process of reviewing these seven volumes it was my instinct that I would conclude by recommending them as a useful, if not essential counterpart to a modern urtext edition.

The deeper I dug, however, the more my view began to shift. I soon discovered that Clara’s instructive edition offers many revelatory insights for communicating the musical flow of Schumann’s oeuvre.

The fingering too seems to me superior and more useful in almost every case where I made a direct comparison, making this an obvious choice as a performance edition.

Just as many Chopin aficionados favour the famous Paderewski edition of that composer’s works over more recent urtexts, so too I find myself similarly bound to welcome and commend this Breitkopf & Härtel Schumann reissue.

Clara Schumann’s edition of her late husband’s piano works is effectively its own authority; indeed, one which is fundamentally above reproach.

Don’t get me wrong: the Urtext editions of these works are indispensable. But Clara Schumann’s edition is one to which I suspect I will now frequently be returning as I study, perform and teach these greatest of piano works.

OUTSTANDING

Edition Breitkopf’s newly republished Schumann Complete Piano Works edited by Clara Schumann, revised and with fingering by Wilhelm Kempff, is available in seven volumes now from the Edition Breitkopf & Härtel site here.


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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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