It is part and parcel of the idea of a musical Urtext that the original intentions of the composer be respected also on the level of the instrumental setting. So, coming from Henle publishers will not be any Bach inventions for guitar, Schumann lieder for viola and piano or Chopin’s funeral march for trombone quartet. Nor any such creative ‘instrumentations’ of Für Elise…

Still, aside from such obvious arrangements, the question is often posed, for instance, of a sonata’s ‘correct’ solo instrument. Found in our catalogue are also numerous works with alternative optional settings – is Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione-Sonate for cello really ‘original’? And how come we offer Robert Schumann’s Adagio und Allegro, Op. 70, in three versions for horn, violin or cello and piano?

There are, it is true, two distinguishably fundamental cases. On the one hand, composers have occasionally written works for temporarily fashionable instruments, instruments that today are virtually unknown, not to mention no longer being played. Schumann’s works for pedal piano, Opp. 56 and 58 (HN 367), can at least still be performed with three or four hands on a conventional piano and don’t require for this purpose any interventions in the music text.

Schubert’s wonderful sonata for arpeggione – a kind of guitar-cello hybrid, of which we can get an impression from the Music Instrument Museum in Berlin
– would, on the other hand, be lost in this original form to present-day music practice. Given the similarity in sound to the cello and viola it would therefore seem to us legitimate to offer a practical setting for playing the piece on these two instruments (HN 611/612). It goes without saying that the original arpeggione part is likewise available for specialists. Apart from that, there appear in the entire music text only (minimal) interventions such as occasionally necessary octave transpositions or the re-writing of unplayable chords marked in order to inform the player of all differences from the original part, and for consultation by way of comparison. Hence, since this does not concern adding arrangements for other popular instruments, but substituting the sonorous equivalent of a virtually obsolete instrument, we believe this decision is justified.

A similar consideration underlies our edition of the gamba sonatas by J.S. Bach (HN 676) and C.P.E. Bach (HN 990/991). Although the gamba, as directly part of historical performance practice, has regained currency amongst string players, it was also, though, as a special instrument already being replaced even in Bach’s time by cello (or viola), a practice documented by contemporaneous copies. So, in our editions we include in addition to the original gamba part also parts for these two modern string instruments, showing, just as with the Arpeggione-Sonate, only a few (and always documented) interventions.

If in the above cases the present-day editorial interventions are more in the nature of ‘reconstructive’, just with the handing down of 19th century works in numerous parallel settings, the actual intentions of the composer with respect to settings have to be separated from the mercantile interests of the publisher. It has always been part of the latter’s strategy to offer parallel settings for works composed for less popular instruments (wind instruments, primarily) in order to broaden the customer base – often, but not always, in line with the composer’s intentions and with his approval. Typical combinations are, for instance, flute/violin, horn/cello or clarinet/viola. The editor’s task consists here of figuring out in every individual case whether the parallel version was prepared by the composer himself or at least authorized.

So, it is obvious that in the case of Robert Schumann’s Adagio und Allegro, Op. 70, alongside the horn version the parallel setting for violin or cello goes back to the composer himself. Schumann explicitly writes to the publisher Kistner that he ‘has just written an Adagio with a rather brilliantly developed Allegro for pianoforte and horn (or cello)’, and upon sending the engraver’s model he added: ‘so then you are getting […] the manuscript of the Adagio and Allegro for pfte and horn, with which are also enclosed the cello and violin parts’. In fact, the first performance on 26 January 1850 took place in Dresden with the version for violin (HN 1023/1024/1025).

A similar, strong legitimacy can be cited, for instance, for Johannes Brahms’s clarinet sonatas, Op. 120, Nos. 1 and 2, of which he personally made a viola version, with notable changes as compared to the clarinet part (HN 274/315). The Romances, Opp. 36 und 67, by Camille Saint-Saëns also originated in parallel versions for horn and cello, and the composer himself accompanied both versions at the piano (HN 1167/1168).

Where there is no such direct involvement, the principle of ‘passive authorization’ is often consulted for an alternative version. But this requires good evidence, as, for instance, a galley proof read by the composer – merely his agreement to arrangements by others cannot be taken as legitimizing thoughts of Urtext. An example of this is Gabriel Fauré’s well-known Berceuse, Op. 16 – a ‘hit’ that his publisher put on the market in innumerable arrangements for effectively all melodic instruments. Even if Fauré apparently tolerated (or suffered?) this, his original composition was written only for violin and piano (later still Fauré wrote an orchestral accompaniment just for this version), which is why we also offer only this original (HN 1101).

Piano arrangements of orchestral and musical stage works are another, very broad field – but that is the subject of another blog….

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2 Responses to »Setting, version, arrangement – how far may Urtext go?«

  1. Thank you, M. Rahmer, for this interresting discussion.

    In the case of Schubert’s sonata for arpeggione and fortepiano, you mention “It goes without saying that the original arpeggione part is likewise available for specialists.”.
    Does it means that a real arpeggione part has been published as well? (How can I acquire it?)
    In this case, what has been the notation used? (treble clef with octave transposition and bass clef without octaviation, as in the Schubert manuscript?)
    I wonder, in the improbable case that the arpeggione would become again a fashionable instrument, if Henle would then discontinue the arrangement for cello and for viola?
    I believe that it be a better solution in the case of this Schubert sonata to publish only the arpeggione real urtext part and to leave the business of adaptation for other publishing compagnies or simply to performers themselves, if they cannot play directly on the original part (which is doubtful since it is in any rate a work for advanced players).
    Thank you,
    Best regards, Nicolas Deletaille

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