CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


The "Morons" at Henle Reply

Dear ionarts, in response to your interview with Rudolf Buchbinder and his comments about our Urtext Editions I would like to make the following points:

Buchbinder's definition of Urtext is much too literal and stems from the early years of the Urtext movement. "Urtext" in the modern sense is in fact a scholarly or musicological edition because an Urtext editor compares all relevant (i.e. authentic) sources. It is always a process; a composer like Beethoven very rarely stops correcting and improving himself in the process of performing and publishing. Buchbinder very strictly votes for the practical use of the source itself (which source, though?); his point is that Urtext editions erroneously mix readings of different sources, add things (like the "forte" in m. 107 of op. 31/2, first movement), correct things that are simply correct in the source.

That is not entirely correct. Let's look at the example of the "Tempest" Sonata: For starters, there is no Beethoven autograph. We only have the first edition. But this print is full of engraver's mistakes. Beethoven was so disgusted with this first edition that he wrote a letter to the publisher asking for immediate corrections. He mentions a list of 80 corrections which he enclosed. (This correction list, put together by Ferdinand Ries, is unfortunately missing today.) So we have to compare the corrected version with the first one. There are numerous discrepancies, some of them make sense in a musical way (ergo on Beethoven's list?) others are quite obvious mistakes. Buchbinder may well use this second edition as a reference edition, but I doubt that he is going to play all the nonsense that you can still find there. He simply has his own point of view and presumably he himself will correct that according to his taste and feeling.

We do not argue with taste and feeling, but we do argue when it comes to sources. Our Urtext editions generally list all major text problems in the critical apparatus (a must for a good Urtext edition). We deliver precise comments on every single sign that we correct and change. That's the real scholarly part of it. We do not 'arrange', quite to the contrary. And we have to correct here and there, otherwise we would print musical nonsense. (You can find the full texts of our editions on our homepage. There you will also find the Critical report on op. 31/2 on the net, for free. Scrolling through the remarks you will easily understand what I am talking about here.) Here and there the editors are convinced that an important sign (important for the performer!) is missing in all sources. Like the (f) in m. 107. And so the editor wishes to add that. It is printed in parentheses ( ) to show explicitly that this is an addition by the editors. (Therefore you will find no comment in the notes, the parenthesis already indicating a non-source based addition.) You can ignore it and play other dynamics. (In my opinion "piano" here makes no sense at all, but that's neither here nor there.) One can discuss such additions, of course. We are always open to comments, to learn more and to improving our editions.

I could go even more into detail in arguing in favor this "(f)" by quoting parallel passages etc., but I will stop here. My conclusion is: Back to the sources is important, but back to one single source and ignoring the others and/or ignoring the deficiency of those source(es) is… most unwise.

I apologize if this seems a bit heated, but it's an emotional topic for us as well! We do work very hard every day in trying to create the best possible musical texts for performers. It is our profession, and we think we have gathered some experience and expertise in the years since first issuing our first Urtext edition in 1948. We (and all the publishing houses that have since started their own such editions) call the result "Urtext", and we feel fortunate that many musicians appreciate that. And then comes a prominent and well respected pianist and knocks us into the face with some questionable remarks in a funny interview. No fun at all for all of us at Henle.

Wolf-Dieter Seiffert
G. Henle Verlag, General Manager

1 comment:

Charles T. Downey said...

This was exactly the sort of reply I was intending to write to Buchbinder's comments but did not have time to do! Many thanks to Mr. Seiffert for this letter. First editions are important sources, but many composers have complained about errors in the printed versions of their works and worked for years to make them right. It would be folly in most cases to consider a first edition as superior to a carefully prepared scholarly edition like the Henle scores.