Beethoven 250

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: Wiener Urtext

Sheet Music Review

In the conclusion to my recent review of Bärenreiter’s recently published Jonathan Del Mar edition of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, I noted,

“With the appearance of Jonathan Del Mar’s new benchmark edition for Bärenreiter, we have less of an excuse than ever when it comes to understanding and interpreting the master’s intentions… This magnificent resource is surely not only a new landmark in Beethoven scholarship, but for pianists its issue is the publishing event of the decade.”

In the light of such high praise, eyebrows might be raised at the spectacle of me now reviewing an alternative edition. However, it’s only fair to admit that however definitive an edition is (and the Del Mar edition is as definitive as they come), there is still space for more than one edition of these masterpieces on our shelves.

Given the complexity of establishing an exact text of these core works, and the performance considerations they raise, I certainly welcome the option of having a couple of editions to consult, especially if they offer complementary strengths and insights.

Also last year, and with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth clearly in sight, Wiener Urtext released their own fully updated and revised urtext edition of the Sonatas in three volumes, UT 50427/8/9.

Without detracting from my enthusiasm for the Del Mar edition in any way at all, there are good reasons why some players might welcome the strengths offered by the Wiener Urtext editions, or even prefer them; this review will focus on explaining what I think those are…


About the publications

Wiener Urtext’s new edition of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas with opus numbers is a revision of the well-loved Peter Hauschild edition (previously available as UT 50107/8/9), updated by Jochen Reutter.

Essentially, Reutter has refreshed the text to reflect recent discoveries, a task which is more complex than most readers would perhaps assume. And while Reutter’s approach may not have been quite as exhaustive as Del Mar’s, he has certainly delivered an edition which has intellectual rigour, and which he supports with an expanded critical commentary.

These three volumes are meaty affairs, which include a short but informative introduction in German, English and French, followed by the Sonatas themselves, and concluding with said critical commentary.

The organisation of the Sonatas is:

  1. Volume 1: Sonatas Opp.2 – 22
  2. Volume 2: Sonatas Opp.26 – 57
  3. Volume 3: Sonatas Opp.78 – 111

Each volume appears as expected in the Wiener Urtext house style, with soft red card covers, cream paper, and beautifully presented, well-spaced notation. There are no extra frills to mention.

However, Wiener Urtext have also started to produce individual copies of some of these revised editions, notably Op.106 “Hammerklavier and Op.27/2 “Moonlight, also submitted for this review.

These include additional content not in the complete edition. In the case of the former, the extended introduction includes additional notes on Beethoven’s tempi and metronome markings by Johann Sonnleitner, while the latter includes an essay on interpretation by Beethoven’s student Carl Czerny.

Both these individual sonata publications also includes more extensive critical commentary than the complete editions, although the additional information will only interest the most devoted academic scholar; the commentary in the complete editions includes all the alternative readings that a performer will want to consider.

Lastly, I should mention that Reutter’s edition of Beethoven’s early three Sonatas WoO.47 is also available from Wiener Urtext, UT 50426, available here, but these pieces are not included in the main three volume complete set.

The strengths of this edition

As promised, here in my view are some of the particular attractions of this set:

BALANCE

The preparation of any edition involves a delicate balancing act between providing the best academic scholarship and the most practical performance version.

While Del Mar was mindful of the latter, his overriding ambition was clearly the most accurate preservation and presentation of the original manuscripts. To illustrate this point, here is a short excerpt from his Bärenreiter edition of Op.10/1 in C minor, first movement bars 127-8:


Note that the high F in the RH here was the highest note on Beethoven’s piano; hence the lack of high G flat on the final beat shown. Most modern performers include that G flat, regarding its omission in the original as solely due to the composer’s instrument stopping short rather than for musical reasons.

Del Mar has faithfully preserved Beethoven’s writing here, and without comment unless one purchases the expensive critical commentary, the only place in his complete set where Del Mar raises this important performance consideration.

Contrast this with Reutter’s version for Wiener Urtext:


Reutter includes the usually-played G flat in parenthesis, thus clearly identifying it as an editorial addition. He also provides a footnote on the same page pointing out that the note is missing in the original manuscript and explaining for players the context of his decision.

It must be stressed that both editors made fundamentally good scholarly decisions here. Their different choices merely underline the difficulty in balancing academic and practical performing considerations, and perhaps the slight variance between these editors’ aims.

FINGERING

A glance at the two-bar illustrations above reveals a more significant difference between Bärenreiter’s edition and Wiener Urtext’s. The latter includes fingerings throughout.

Wiener Urtext’s fingerings are provided by an array of concert artists and esteemed pedagogues, namely Alexander Jenner, Hans Kann, Gerhard Oppitz, Günter Reinhold, Naoyuki Taneda, Boris Bloch, Pavel Gililov, Leonard Hokanson, Jacob Lateiner, and Günter Ludwig.

Del Mar argues passionately for a clean score onto which players can mark their own fingering solutions. But there can be no denying that many players will welcome Wiener Urtext’s inclusion of these fingerings; the advice of a great player and teacher can so often help untangle tricky passages, even when used merely as a starting point.

Whether fingering clutters the score is in any case as much a matter of typography as it is of editorial intent. For many, Wiener Urtext’s inclusion of fingering will be an attractive draw.

COMMENTARY

I have previously mentioned that Del Mar’s complete edition for Bärenreiter comes in four volumes, the first three including just the music, the last housing the critical apparatus in its entirety.

That Wiener Urtext include the necessary critical commentary within the three volumes of music, not requiring a separate purchase, is both cost effective and ensures that the player has all the information they presently need without reference to a separate book.

Preparing a performance, I would prefer to use the score of a single sonata, in which case Bärenreiter offer the full range and with an extended commentary in each. But for those players exploring the Sonatas using a complete edition, Wiener’s inclusion of the commentary within the main volumes is an obvious advantage.

PRESENTATION

Lastly, there is the question of presentation, and both publishers have a well-deserved reputation for providing exemplary notation engraving and long-lasting publications.

With that in mind, any choice between the two will of course be entirely subjective and personal. But being objective, how are they different?

While their scores aren’t as strikingly spartan as Bärenreiter’s, Wiener Urtext present their notation in slightly larger font, which I have to admit I personally find easier on the eye.

In some cases, the sonatas thus include additional page turns, but Wiener have gone to commendable lengths to ensure these are placed at the best moments within each piece. Nor do I find the fingering suggestions a visual distraction; if anything, for me they make the score more immersive.

While the inclusion of the critical commentaries makes Wiener Urtext’s three volumes large and heavier than Bärenreiter’s, I find them superbly malleable, if anything opening flatter on the music stand and with less persuasion.

Conclusion

My stated intention in this review has been to offer reasons why some players might prefer the Wiener Urtext to the outstanding Bärenreiter scores which I reviewed here, or find them beneficial as a second text.

In no ways do the advantages here diminish the stunning achievement of Del Mar’s editions; rather, the comparison highlights the complexity involved in producing a definitive and enduring score of these core works. Should you wish to invest in one edition only, I hope that these considerations will have highlighted the strengths of both alternatives.

Personally I am hugely grateful to have both editions on my shelf. But I can’t deny that as I’ve taught and played these pieces in recent months, it has been the Wiener Urtext that I have more often than not reached for.

As library editions of the complete sonatas, I love Wiener Urtext’s offerings, and will perhaps use these alongside individual performing editions of sonatas from Bärenreiter. How amazing, how fortunate we are, to have such a wealth of scholarship at our disposal!

Available online from Musicroom.com 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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