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Beethoven’s 35 Piano Sonatas and 22 Variations sets are at the very summit not only of his own creative output for the instrument, but are a climax of the classical keyboard repertoire. They are not, however, the sum total of the great composer’s output for solo piano…
With their latest volume, Wiener Urtext Edition UT 50295 amass his other works in one essential 260-page reference compendium, including 31 pieces with opus numbers (all but one published in the composer’s lifetime) and 36 without, one of which was newly rediscovered in 2020.
All works included are edited from the sources by Jochen Reutter, whose recent edition of the complete Sonatas for Wiener Urtext I reviewed here, with fingerings and notes on interpretation by Sheila Arnold.
Wiener Urtext has further issued three shorter folio editions of individual works, and in this review I will also detail those for your interest.
In his Preface to the collection, editor Jochen Reutter writes,
“In addition to sonatas and variations, Ludwig Van Beethoven also left a considerable number of individual pieces for piano to posterity. They range from larger works such as the Fantasy Op.77 to the Bagatelles and occasional compositions. They were written across his entire life from the Bonn period to the mid-1820’s.”
For this publication, the works with opus numbers are grouped together in the first half of the book as follows:
- Seven Bagatelles Op.33
- Two Preludes Op.39
- Two Rondos Op.51
- Fantasie Op.77
- Polonaise Op.89
- Eleven Bagatelles Op.119
- Six Bagatelles Op.126
- Alla Ingharese quasi un Capriccio Op.129
(“Rage over a lost penny”)
The three published sets of Bagatelles have become staples of the intermediate to early advanced piano repertoire, beloved by generations. Perhaps less known, but equally wonderful, the Rondos Op.51 are alluring and accessible pieces for the advancing player, while the military pomp of the Polonaise Op.89 anticipates the glorious heights to which Chopin would take the form.
But a particular highlight for me is the “Rage over a lost penny”, whose tune is surely one of the most determined ear-worms in Beethoven’s entire output, and whose effervescent flights of virtuosic fancy make it a brilliant concert showpiece.
Were this the sum contents of the volume, it would surely be the easiest of recommendations…
But these masterpieces are followed by the many miscellaneous miniatures with WoO rather than opus numbers, among them rondos, fugues, waltzes, ecossaises, minuets, ländler, and of course the ubiquitous Für Elise.
Nestling here, too, we find the captivating Andante favori, initially planned as the middle movement of the Waldstein Sonata but ultimately to become one of Beethoven’s most mesmerising individually performed piano pieces.
There are rarities galore, but among these lesser-known works are many smaller pieces which piano teachers will have likely encountered in previous anthologies and exam lists; I cannot stress enough though how useful it is to finally have all of this superb material collected in one volume.
This is not to suggest that the collection is entirely comprehensive; some will note with disappointment the conspicuous absence of the beloved Minuet in G WoO 10/2 and the three Sonatinas (but note the latter are available separately, reviewed below).
What we have here, ultimately, is an undeniably magnificent representation of Beethoven’s smaller works for piano. To quote from Reutter again,
“It is evident from this overview that Beethoven’s piano pieces constitute a multi-facetted cosmos in its own right that reflects the diversity of other genres in the composer’s oeuvre. Discovering it more intimately will prove to be a similarly exciting journey as the itinerary through the piano sonatas and variations.”
The Reutter/Arnold Edition
The Reutter/Arnold edition appears as a large volume in Wiener Urtext Edition house style, with soft covers and luxury cream paper within.
The first 28-page section is given over to Reutter’s in-depth Preface introducing the music and it’s background, and the Notes on Interpretation written by Sheila Arnold, who also contributed the fingering to the edition itself. These lengthy articles appear in German/English/French.
Arnold covers information about the original instruments for which the pieces were composed, a survey of Beethoven’s original fingerings where they exist (and the vivid picture they give of his own pianism), articulation, pedalling, and ornamentation. Her article concludes with interesting insights into the editorial fingering she has added, about which she tells us:
“Some pieces of the present edition have less fingerings than others. The idea behind this is that, for example, with simple pieces suited for teaching children, teacher and pupil need to discover together an appropriate fingering that takes into account the size and development of the child’s hand.”
To be honest, a tome of this size is unlikely to fit in any child’s music bag, and all of Arnold’s included fingering suggestions are a hugely welcome contribution to this edition.
The scores themselves fill 180 pages, beautifully and spaciously presented, as one would expect from this publisher. On a personal note, while there are several publishers whose engraving I consider exemplary, Wiener Urtext are invariably my preferred choice for clarity, and this edition is no exception.
The scholarship is also, of course, second to none. Underlining this point, the Critical Commentary concluding this weighty volume takes up another fifty pages, presented in German/English (without the French).
It is often the case that publications of such size prove impossibly unwieldy as performance editions, but those familiar with Wiener Urtext’s binding will already know that there is no need for such concern here.
In common with all their editions, the book easily stays open on the selected page, with no persuasion needed. Nor do these volumes decline with age and use: I have several Wiener Urtext books which have lasted for many years, and anticipate this will be another such.
Rounding off this review I should also mention three individual folios that Wiener Urtext sent for review alongside the main volume considered above.
Firstly, UT 50290 (available here) presents the three Sonatinas: the Sonatina in F WoO 50, and the better-known Sonatina in G Anh.5/1 and Sonatina in F Anh.5/2.
Here Reutter’s edition is fingered by Nils Franke, who also contributes a useful essay covering Notes on Interpretation. Given their absence from the large Klavierstücke volume UT 50295, this little publication can be regarded as an essential, indispensable appendix.
Secondly, UT 50425 (available here) pairs Für Elise with the popular (and level-appropriate) klavierstück Lustig und Traurig. This commendably apt coupling could prove attractive to intermediate players who don’t have either piece elsewhere, and benefits from an engaging Preface and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, which is surprisingly illuminating and unique to this publication.
Thirdly, UT 50296 (available here) is a four-page affair including just the newly discovered Ländlerischer Tanz. This charming (if unremarkable) piece comprises a 16-bar melody based on broken chord patterns, with an accompaniment that Beethoven wrote in abbreviated form. Reutter offers two different realisations of this, allowing the player to pick.
Both versions of the Ländlerischer Tanz also appear in the main Klavierstücke volume reviewed above, but those intrigued by the new discovery who don’t need the other scores will find this modest publication an inexpensive way of acquiring the piece.
These additions to the catalogue are truly superb. As one who regularly teaches music by Beethoven, the availability of so much central repertoire in one brilliantly presented and editorially authoritative publication is something of a windfall. The smaller satellite publications are also useful to have to hand, not least for their informative essays and editorial content.
More than a few publications come my way for review which, once written up, rarely reemerge from the music cupboard. These excellent and definitive Beethoven scores, however, are definitely going to be seeing a lot of action!
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