Anyone practicing Robert Schumann’s In der Nacht, the fifth number in the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, from the Henle edition (HN 91 or the anthology HN 922), will come across footnotes to two passages in the music text that refer to comments in the critical report. In both cases the music text is reproduced from the first edition supervised by Schumann himself (Breitkopf & Härtel, 1838); but in the comments attention is drawn to the fact that here Clara Schumann – following suggestions by Johannes Brahms – altered the music text for the editions of her husband’s works published under her editorship. One of these editions published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig is the ‘old complete edition’: Robert Schumann’s Werke, series VII, no. 50, 1879, the other is the so-called instructive edition: Klavier-Werke von Robert Schumann. Erste mit Fingersatz und Vortragsbezeichnung versehene Instructive Ausgabe [‘Piano Works by Robert Schumann. First Instructive Edition with Fingerings and Performance Markings’] vol. II, no. 12, 1886).

  • In question in the first passage is the c or c sharp in measure 105:

In analogy with the neighbouring measures the idea of a forgotten accidental does indeed stand to reason. Nevertheless, the ♮ before the c does not hark back to the editor of the Henle edition, but is to be found in all known sources: in the first edition, in the copyist’s manuscript used as engraver’s model and even in the autograph where evidently Schumann initially notated a ♯ analogous to measure 81, but explicitly changed it subsequently to a ♮):

That said, the intervention by Brahms and Clara Schumann – the alteration of the 2nd and 5th semiquavers to c sharp – does not appear as an obvious correction, but rather as a stylistic interpretation. So far as the sound goes both variants are possible, that with c has the advantage harmonically of better and more decisively preparing the g minor in measure 106 – which may possibly have been Schumann’s point. Though, mind you, when the first works of the representative complete edition were being prepared in 1878, the manuscript sources for Op. 12 were not available to either of the trustees of Robert’s musical estate; so they must have had to rely on their own sense. Brahms, who as a matter of principle really had to struggle with alterations in the face of the first edition revised relatively thoroughly by Schumann, must have felt the mentioned analogy to measure 81 (albeit with differing harmony) as weightier than the explicit ♮ before the c.

  • The second passage (measures 142–143) at the end of the retransition to the recapitulation looks at first glance even more obviously like a mistake:


The switch in the order of the repeated left-hand semiquavers from the middle of measure 142 (c-a flat-c-a flat instead of a flat-c-a flat-c) is not only surprising, but even appears downright nonsensical in comparison to the analogous measures 140–141. Consequently, in his personal copy Brahms indicated an alteration to the continuation of the chain a flat-c-a flat-c, which Clara adopted for her editions:

Nevertheless, Schumann notated the passage in the autograph this way, just as it appears so in the first edition, and he thoroughly went through the copyist’s manuscript serving as engraver’s model, as shown by the added dynamic markings and pedalling. If it were a mistake, Schumann would thus have had to overlook his error at least twice (in the engraver’s model as well as also in the galley proofs) – not to mention the absence of a correction in Schumann’s extant personal copy of the print in his estate.

Could there still not have been a reason for an intentional switch? Such as perhaps the emphasis resulting from the reorientation of the dominant tone c as preparation for the return of the beginning?

Clara Schumann was at that time naturally viewed as the authority in all questions concerning the music of her late husband – who could know better than she how the definitive music text sounded and how it was to be played? Not for nothing did the subtitle of her practical edition read: Nach den Handschriften und persönlicher Ueberlieferung herausgegeben von Clara Schumann. [‘Edited by Clara Schumann from the manuscripts and personal communication’.] With the ‘personal communication’ she had a surety of which she could make the most. With that, her direct closeness to the composer, as a decisive factor she was way ahead of all other editions – dumped in great numbers on the market after 1886 (expiry of the then 30-year term of copyright). So it is understandable that the editors of competing editions basically followed the music text edited by Clara. For that matter, this also applies to the Henle publishing house with the first issues of the Fantasiestücke for which Otto von Irmer was responsible; only with the change of editorship to Wolfgang Boetticher (as of issue D in 1975) were the readings of the first edition incorporated into the main text, with, in addition, ever since Ernst Herttrich’s revision (as of issue N in 2004), the important explanatory remarks on the changes by Johannes Brahms and their adoption by Clara Schumann.

Over and above the ‘Schumann’ case, the example shows that for the edition it is indeed essential to factor in posthumous sources, no longer authorised by the composer himself, provided that they demonstrate such ‘personal communications’ from spouses, children, friends or pupils. Whether we ultimately adopt in the music text certain readings of these secondary sources is, on the other hand, another question entirely…

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