Beethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas, Introduction by Brian Jeffery to the Tecla edition

The earliest printed editions of Beethoven’s piano sonatas are in many cases today the primary sources for them, since autograph manuscripts often do not survive. Indeed, autograph manuscripts are known today for only eleven of the 32 sonatas (opus nos. 27 no. 2, 28, 53, 57, 78, 79, 90, 101, 109, 110, 111) plus another which is now only known from copies (opus 26), plus the first movement of opus 81a. That means that the primary sources for all the others are these earliest printed editions.

As well as being primary sources, the earliest printed editions are also the form in which the sonatas became known to the musical public, so that they have a strong socio-historical importance. They are clear and legible for performers and often things of beauty in their own right. It has seemed important that they should be made available to performers who are interested in the original forms of the music, as well as to scholars, so that they may make their own evaluations and use them as they think best, and that is what the present Tecla edition of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas  sets out to do.

We present the sonatas in two alternative forms. Firstly, as 27 items of sheet music, as closely as possible in the same form as you would have found them if you had gone into the music shops of Beethoven’s time: in the same layout, at the same size, on similar paper, indeed without any change that can be avoided. And secondly and alternatively, bound up into five volumes for those people and libraries who prefer them in that form. Only the most technical of aspects to do with the process of printing from plates (which cannot be done today, since the plates have long since been melted down) have not been reproduced here. They include, for example, the marks left by the physical impression of the plates on the paper, or the precise nature of the inks used: these can be reproduced today only by artificial means, which we have avoided.

In producing the edition, I am greatly indebted to the Austrian National Library and to its Director Dr. Günter Brosche for allowing the reproduction of the first and early editions in its collections, particularly in the prestigious Anthony van Hoboken Collection. All but one of the editions used come from that collection, formed by the scholar and collector Anthony van Hoboken, and the sole exception (opus 49) is from the main collection of the same Library.

The early printed editions, which until now have scarcely been available at all to the general musician, have sometimes received an excessively bad press. Yet they were on the whole done with a very high standard of craftsmanship: William Morris would have had high words of praise for those early engravers. They were men and women who worked to standards which would be the envy of many music originators today. But they were human, and of course they made mistakes. And while the best of them were excellent, of course in other parts of the music trade some were less careful. The whole approach to their work must be governed by common sense.

Most performers will be familiar with these sonatas from modern re-engraved editions. The best of those editions incorporate the results of scrupulous scholarship, and for that reason performers are well advised to consult them. But however careful a modern editor is, nevertheless he or she is always obliged to face certain problems and as a consequence inevitably to make changes. “Keine Ausgabe kommt umhin, Kompromisse zu schliessen” (“No edition can avoid making compromises”) wrote Hans Schmidt in the preface to his scholarly edition of these sonatas (Beethoven: Werke, Abteilung VII, Band 2, Klaviersonaten I, 1971). And those compromises must inevitably lead away from the original text – perhaps sometimes for good reasons, but inevitably away.

Among the problems which a modern editor must face are whether to follow a single source or several; whether to maintain inconsistencies or to eliminate them; and to what extent to follow modern notational practice where it differs from earlier practice. All those problems have received much critical attention throughout the history of textual criticism, both literary and musical, from nineteenth-century German theory and practice, through the literary editions of Joseph Bédier and many others, to the theory and practice of our own day. Often there is no simple solution. But modern editors necessarily have to face the problems, and sometimes the solutions chosen lead to not inconsiderable consequences. For example, the first editions of many of Beethoven’s piano sonatas employed both dots and dashes, and performers using these first editions may well find that there is on occasion a significant difference between the two. Yet at least one respected modern re-engraved edition uses only the dot for both, and leaves not a trace of the dashes that were there (Beethoven: Klavier-Sonaten, Band I, Henle, n.d. [1952], Introduction: “Staccato: we cannot enter here into a new discussion of the controversial question raised by Nottebohm, Krebs, and others regarding the different interpretation of round dots and pointed dashes. The basic texts lack the clarity and consistency necessary for a conclusive decision. Often there is hardly any distinction between dot and dash. Therefore the now customary dot has been employed throughout” [my italics]). This means that the performer using that edition has no way of knowing whether the dot before his or her eyes was originally a dot or a dash. [In view of the expressive interpretations such as those discussed by Hatten and others, a performer who based a part of his or her performance upon the dots printed in a modern edition, would have only a part of the necessary information, because the interpretative sense of a dash might well be very different: a dot might for example be considered as meaning only staccato in our modern sense, whereas a dash might perhaps very well indicate a push forward, a stress on that particular note, something which is very different.]

Because of such things, many scholars editing both literature and music have often in the end preferred to keep the “inconsistencies” of the early sources, because of the thorny problems and unsatisfactory solutions which often result as soon as an attempt is made to make changes. In the case of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, W.S. Newman has expressed a preference for the use of a single source and for the maintaining of its text by performers and editors: “It has been useful . . . to recognize advantages in the blind loyalties to the source scores of the best (and ‘most authoritative’) early editions, even when inconsistencies result, as against certain disadvantages when these inconsistencies are reconciled in some of the best modern editions” (“On the problem of determining Beethoven’s most authoritative lifetime editions”, Beiträge zur Beethoven-Bibliographie, ed. Kurt Dorfmüller, Munich, 1978, page 136). And again: “We have the paradox of the early editions in their more perfunctory way often coming closer to the autograph than the modern editions in their more conscientious but also overly logical way” (ibid, page 132).

This present edition, by making the early editions of all Beethoven’s piano sonatas available, makes it possible to have the advantages of the single source. The wise performer, however, will temper the use of this edition with due consideration and consultation of later scholarly editors. Thus Alfred Brendel has written; “For a player to study autographs and first prints is more than a hobby; in spite of modern Urtext editions, it is frequently a necessity” (Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts, London, Robson Books, 1976, page 21), but he also accords respect to certain modern editions and commentaries.

In the end, the question of the use of the early editions and of modern scholarly ones comes down to a consideration of the nature of the two kinds. The early ones by definition belonged to a time when the concepts of precision, logicality and consistency which we have today had not yet taken the form which they now have; those concepts were developed during the great changes in thinking, particularly scientific thinking, which occurred in the later nineteenth century and from which today’s precision and logicality, in their present form, derive. Such concepts necessarily change over time, and necessarily in Beethoven’s time they cannot have been the same as they are now. The early editions incorporate an approach to detail which is not the same as ours and which can appear merely inconsistent, whereas in fact it is more open, less restrictive, more human: an advantage and a wider dimension, not a mere annoyance. It is legitimate to speak in terms even of a deliberate ambiguity. A modern edition, on the other hand, by its very nature applies modern concepts of logicality and consistency to music of another age where those concepts, at least in their present form, did not yet exist. Consequently although the modern editions have a firm and important place in studying this music because of the scholarly conclusions which they incorporate, it is only the early editions which can take us immediately and without intermediary into the very ways of thought and musicality of the composer’s own time.

There is another point which arises when an early printed edition is used: namely, that when several copies of the same early edition are compared, it is most unlikely that any two of them will be exactly identical. This applies both to literature and to music. It was demonstrated by Charlton Hinman who collated approximately eighty copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, and found so many variants, differing from copy to copy, that it can scarcely be supposed that any two were identical (The Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare, two volumes, Oxford, 1963; see especially I, 228-230). It may be a surprise to some, but it is true, that even in the early nineteenth century the same often applied. Alan Tyson in 1962 compared six copies of Steiner’s edition of Beethoven’s string quartet opus 95, and, again, found that no two were identical (“Beethoven in Steiner’s shop”, Music Review, XXIII, 1962, 119-127). It seems that changes were continually made in the process of printing. All we can do in a reprint like this, or in an edition using a single printed source, is to present or refer to identified copies, and that is what I have done here. The copies of the 32 sonatas reproduced in this edition are the finest that can be found: all except opus 49 are from the Hoboken Collection of the Austrian National Library, some of the best, earliest, and clearest copies that can be found anywhere.

That collection was formed by Anthony van Hoboken, who is best known today for his great and lasting work on Joseph Haydn. It is perhaps less well known that Hoboken was also a collector of early music prints, and in the early years of this century assembled some of the finest specimens of them. He himself recounted how he employed a collector who travelled in the remote parts of Eastern Europe in those days and purchased editions which then were little valued. After Hoboken’s death, his collection was acquired by the Austrian National Library. In the introduction to the catalogue of the collection Dr. Günter Brosche, the Director of the Library, wrote “Die Erst- und Frühdrucksammlung Anthony van Hoboken . . . ist die bedeutendste Sammlung von Musikdrucken, die ein Privatmann im 20. Jht. zusammengetragen hat” (“The Hoboken Collection of first and early editions is the most important collection of music prints that a private collector has brought together in the twentieth century”) (Katalog der Sammlung Anthony van Hoboken in der Musiksammlung der Oesterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, Vol. I, Tutzing, Schneider, 1982, p. VII).

The brief bibliographical notes to each sonata given in this edition are based on the data assembled by Georg Kinsky and published after his death by Hans Halm in 1955 as Das Werk Beethovens, and updated in 1978 in the Beiträge zur Beethoven-Bibliographie, edited by Kurt Dorfmüller. The notes are of course intended only for guidance and are by no means exhaustive in this complex and fruitful bibliographical field. Although the data have been available for some years, the music itself in the form of these earliest editions has not, and it is hoped that it will be of value to performers no less than to scholars.

We have included here the edition of the sonata opus 111 which was published in London by Clementi and which has importance from the point of view of textual transmission. There are other English editions which it would have been desirable to include, but of which we were unable to obtain sufficiently clear copies. It is hoped to publish them as a supplement to this edition at a later date. On the subject of the English editions, see Alan Tyson’s book The Authentic English Editions of Beethoven, London, 1963.

A word about the notation used in these early editions: performers who are not yet used to the notation of Beethoven’s time need have no fear of it. Its conventions are not different in any major way from today’s, and the minor differences will take only a short time to become accustomed to. I hope, indeed, that performers will make full use of this edition, which presents this great music in the form in which it became known to the world in which it was created. [See How this edition can be useful to pianists.]

Finally, it is a pleasure to thank Mr. Alfred Brendel and his publisher Robson Books for permission to reproduce the words quoted in this preface. Also my thanks are due to many people who assisted with this publication: Carola Hertel, Solomon Ross, and those who helped to prepare the edition for the press: Michael Allis, Moray Lord, Hilda Paredes, Rachel Rhodes, Jenny Wormald, and Ling Yap.

Brian Jeffery

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