Beethoven: The Tecla edition of the 32 Piano Sonatas. How this edition can be useful to pianists. Very practically.

I have been meaning to write this note ever since this edition was first published in 1989, to explain in detail exactly why this Tecla edition of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas might be useful to pianists, with examples from the sonatas themselves.

Is it practical to use these first editions for playing from? In my opinion it is very practical, and enables one to play straight from the earliest known sources without passing through the intermediary of an editor. Here are some examples, with comparisons with a modern edition. I have chosen the Henle Urtext edition for the comparisons, because it is known as a source which serious pianists use, but the same issues will arise with all modern editions.

Let’s look at the Pathétique sonata, op. 13. Here are the first bars as they appear in the original edition as reproduced in this Tecla reprint:

And here are those same bars as they appear in the Henle Urtext edition which is currently (January 2005) on sale in music shops in London (Beethoven: Klaviersonaten, Urtext, Band I, edited by Bertha Antonia Wallner, Munich, Henle, no date, copyright 1952/1980):

In bar 1 in Henle we immediately notice fingering. But the original edition doesn’t have any fingering. Personally, I would prefer as a player not to have fingering added. I would rather work out my own, and indeed in special cases such as a keyboard with a narrow span, there may be particular reasons for so doing.

We also see that the chords in the second half of the bar are placed differently. In the original edition the A and the B in the middle voice are placed on the bass stave where they continue on from the G’s which are in the bass stave in the first half of the bar. But in Henle they have been moved up to the upper stave as though to imply that the bass now has a single clear line from F sharp to G. The unsuspecting player could easily think that he or she should bring out those two notes in singing fashion, but that isn’t what the original edition implies: rather, the original edition maintains a unity by continuing the same chord-distribution as is present in the first half of the bar.

I’ll pass over the added slurs in Henle bar 2. No huge problem here, but I wouldn’t have added them myself.

Now the sonata op. 27 no. 1. The opening bars in the original edition:

and Henle:

In bar 6 the original edition has a slur and a tie. Henle also has a slur and a tie, but has placed them differently. Have a look! The interpretation could be different.

In bar 7, the same phrase again. The original edition has a slur and a tie placed in EXACTLY the same way as they are in bar 6. Henle also has a slur and a tie, but has altered them but not in the same way as it altered them in bar 6. In other words, the original edition gives identical slur and tie in bars 6 and 7, a very simple piece of notation, whereas Henle makes the two bars different in this respect, which again might affect the interpretation.

In bar 7, the original edition has a long slur. Henle also has a long slur but places it differently. Again this could affect the interpretation. Personally, if I were performing this sonata, I would prefer to have the simple information which the original source gives.

Here is the closing bar of the first movement of op. 27 no. 1, in the original edition:

and in Henle:

The original edition shows a chord marked pp followed by a single note also marked pp. But Henle gives only one pp which the unwary player might well think applies only to the chord and not to the single note. Personally I prefer to know what the source said, namely that there is a pp on the chord, and also a pp on the single note.

But more serious for the interested player is that the original edition says “senza sordino” but Henle changes it to Ped. One might think that this doesn’t matter, and indeed often it doesn’t. But still, I prefer to keep to what the original says. For example, if one is playing an early instrument or replica of one, in which the pedals may very well not be the same as on a modern instrument, one needs to know that the original specifically said “senza sordino” and then one can make one’s own interpretation, rather than seeking to find the meaning from modern signs.

There are many, many other such examples in the other Beethoven sonatas.

By the way, the Henle edition, and indeed all modern editions, cannot have got the changes from some other early source, because there isn’t any other early source for those two sonatas, the manuscripts not having survived. There is little doubt that the Henle edition, and indeed all modern editions, must derive from these same early printed editions which are reproduced in the Tecla edition. (They don’t say which edition and which copy of which edition they used.)

Added indications of dynamics etc

Most modern editions add indications such as f or dolce. This is the case, for example, also in this Henle Urtext edition. Thus, in the sonata op. 27 no. 1, eight bars before the end of the sonata, the original edition has no dynamic indication, but Henle adds (f). True, it is in brackets, but it is still a modern addition. Personally, I would prefer to have only the indications which are in the original edition. Here is the original edition:

and here is Henle:

As I said, I have only mentioned Henle here because it is known as a source which serious pianists use. Exactly the same type of questions arise with all other modern editions of music of this period (including my own). Henle is an excellent edition in many ways, it is only that all modern editions find themselves forced to make changes of this kind, they cannot avoid it. “Keine Ausgabe kommt umhin, Kompromisse zu schliessen” (“No edition can avoid making compromises”) wrote Hans Schmidt in the preface to his edition of these sonatas also published by Henle (Beethoven: Werke, Abteilung VII, Band 2, Klaviersonaten I, 1971). It simply cannot be avoided in the act of making a modern edition, largely because the early 19th century editions left things to the player which today are more spelt out.

So what is the use of modern editions at all? Indeed, I have made modern editions myself. Shouldn’t people use them? Well, I would suggest that any player who wants to make a serious historical interpretation should first use the original editions. Then, check them against modern editions which may (as I hope is the case with my editions of Sor and Giuliani and others) have solved certain problems which are in those early editions such as misprints or unclear repeats. But as one comes to know the music more and more and more, it is the early editions which have a knack of revealing details of interpretation which at first one hadn’t seen.

To me, it is very simple: I prefer to start from the earliest known source because, frankly, I can’t see any good reason for doing anything else. Any modern edition, no matter how worthy and excellent, must make changes. I prefer to go to the original and also check with good modern editions, and indeed that’s what I did when I played (lute and guitar) in public.

It can also be said that for serious historical interpretation, the original editions come as close as it is possible to get to the composer.

By the way, I don’t find these early Beethoven editions at all hard to read or play from. Try out the examples above.

Brian Jeffery
London, January 2005

Back to the main page for Beethoven- The 32 Piano Sonatas

Tecla home page