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…

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Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition

Sheet Music Review

As publishers prepare for the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, several have been revisiting his Piano Sonatas, a steady flow of which have been arriving for review over recent months.

First to deliver their new version of the complete cycle are Bärenreiter, whose edition of all 35 Sonatas (including the three early Sonatas WoO 47) is now complete and available in a variety of formats.

An epic achievement, this new edition has already won the hearts and minds of some of the world’s greatest Beethoven interpreters; those giving glowing endorsements include Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Leslie Howard and Igor Levit (whose recording of the cycle I recently reviewed here).

To quote Paul Badura-Skoda:

“Jonathan Del Mar’s Beethoven edition is unparalleled in terms of its precision. What I value most about it is the use of lesser-known or previously unknown sources, the commentary, which is the most extensive to date, and the discussion of problematic sections. I wholeheartedly recommend this new edition of Beethoven piano sonatas.”

So now let’s take a more in-depth look…

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Schubert’s “Moments musicaux”

Sheet Music Review

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…

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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 ….

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Wiener Urtext: ‘Primo’ Series

Sheet Music Review

“Easy” collections of the core classical piano repertoire abound, but few bring to the table the depth of scholarship, reliable editing, fingering and expert advice found in the recent (and ongoing) “Urtext Primo” series.

As the latest collection in the series – featuring the music of Clementi, Czerny and Cramer – hits the shelves of music stores worldwide, let’s take a look …

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Which Mikrokosmos?

Sheet Music Review

Bartók’s monumental cycle of 153 educational piano pieces and 33 exercises, published in six volumes as the Mikrokosmos in 1940, is rightly regarded as a  seminal work within the pedagogic literature. But it often strikes me that it is more important than it is popular.

Even in my own studio (and I am a self-confessed Bartók fanatic!) it emerges from the music cupboard far less frequently than the more obviously popular For Children, First Term at the Piano, Rumanian Folk Dances and Ten Easy Pieces.

For those wanting to explore this musical smorgasbord there has never been more opportunity to do so, however, with three excellent editions to choose from. Which, though, is the best?

In this review I will be looking at classic New Definitive Version from Boosey & Hawkes, and comparing the more recent Urtext editions from Henle Verlag and Wiener Urtext Edition. I should note in passing that there is also a budget all-in-one-volume edition from Chester Music, not submitted for review or included in this survey.

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