Wiener Urtext Edition have, in recent years, made a particular effort to renew their editions of Schubert’s smaller-scale piano works, the two sets of Impromptus, Op.90 and Op.142, and the Moments musicaux op.94, a new edition of which has just appeared on the market.
Is this new version the definitive edition? Let’s see…
Moments musicaux Op.94 (D.780)
Between 1820 and his death in 1828 aged just 31, Schubert published more than 100 works, including most of his major solo piano music. While today his Sonatas are staples of the recital hall and recording studio alike, in their day it was the smaller works, the two sets of Impromptus and the six Moments musicaux Op.94 which achieved more immediate popularity.
And indeed, they have remained key works ever since, although perhaps the Moments musicaux are now less-performed than they deserve to be (with the exception of the ubiquitous op.94 no.3 in F minor).
The pieces were written to capitalise on the insatiable appetite of the Viennese public for “musical album leaves” in the manner of Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op.33 (1802).
Exactly when Schubert wrote them is unclear. Numbers 3 (in F minor) and 6 (A flat major) first appear in the “Album Musical” , a collection of music published by Sauer & Leidesdorf in 1823, for which it is thought they were probably commissioned. Both pieces originally had titles, Air russe and Plaintes d’un Troubador respectively, and were republished in another anthology, the Guirlandes of 1825.
These two pieces were joined by four more and published in 1827/8 as the “Momens Musicals”, which appeared in two volumes of three pieces each.
The Moments Musicaux, as they later became known, are short pieces lasting from two to six pages in total, written in a simple ternary form and in the style of popular dances from the time.
They were composed with the amateur pianist in mind, with modest technical demands that place them in the early advanced category, and at around UK Grades 6-7 level.
In addition to their domestic and educational importance, these delightful and melodic works still appear in concert halls, and have been memorably recorded by Radu Lupu, Maria Joâo Pires and Alfred Brendel (my top choice, available here), among others.
The Wiener Urtext Edition
The new Wiener Urtext (UT 50410) is edited by Ulrich Leisinger, and drawn from the larger publication which also includes the Impromptus.
In the absence of any autograph manuscript, the primary source for the Moments musicaux is the first edition of Leidesdorf, published in 1827.
For the purposes of this edition, Leisinger has also referred to the original publications of numbers 3 and 6 in the Album musicale of 1823, as well as cross-referencing with the Diabelli edition of 1831.
The new edition supersedes an earlier Wiener Urtext edition by Paul Badura-Skoda (UT 50001), but happily retains Badura-Skoda’s excellent fingerings, which are enlightening and immensely helpful throughout (unsurprisingly so, given his intimate familiarity with these works; as a concert pianist he too made a commercial recording of them).
Also of note, the new issue includes a short but outstanding article by performance practice specialist Robert D. Levin, Notes on Interpretation, which includes tips on expression, dynamics, articulation, dotted rhythms and triplets, and pedalling.
These are essential reading, not least for Levin’s insights into the Viennese fortepianos of Schubert’s time, and for his explanation of how the composer used the words decrescendo and diminuendo with different meanings.
The edition appears in standard Wiener Urtext house style, with editor’s Preface and Levin’s article at the front, and a detailed Critical Commentary at the rear. As one would expect from this publisher, crystal clear music engraving is superbly printed on cream paper, the well-spaced notation also designed to optimise the positioning of page turns where needed.
It’s been a while since I last played, taught of listened to the Moments musicaux, and preparing this review has been a very welcome reminder of how gorgeous these pieces are. If you, too, have neglected them, or overlooked them entirely until now, I highly recommend (re)acquainting yourself with this fabulous music.
Perhaps one day the original autograph manuscripts of these pieces will reappear, at which point a scholarly reappraisal will of course be required; in the meantime, I cannot imagine a better edition of these pieces than Wiener Urtext’s new version by Leisinger, Levin and Badura-Skoda.