For almost ten years now I’ve been working with Murray Perahia as co-editor of a new edition of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonatas. Ten sonatas have appeared meanwhile, and I promise you it won’t take another twenty years to get the other sonatas ready!

Among the already published sonatas is that in G major op. 14 no. 2 (Sonata ‘No. 10’ in case you’d rather count them). Sad to say, as is the case with all the sonatas through Op. 22, it happens that there is no autograph for the G-major sonata. We don’t know a thing about the origin of this sonata, not even when exactly it was composed. Sources such as sketch material usually available for dating are totally lacking. To help us place this sonata chronologically is merely an advertisement from 1799 in the Wiener Zeitung for the publication of the original edition. Even whether the Sonata was composed the year it was published or a year or two earlier instead, has to remain open.

In the absence of a manuscript document, only the first edition can serve as a source for an Urtext edition (Beethoven most probably had no influence on later editions of the Sonata). This edition brought out by the publisher Mollo in Vienna poses something of a riddle for us in the 1st movement of the Sonata op. 14 no. 2, that, mind you, no matter how it is solved leads to a clearly audible difference in playing the sonata. Here it is:

We’re in the development of the 1st movement. Do you see which enigmatic note I’m talking about? Perhaps you’ve already played the sonata yourself? If so, then you’d have most likely stumbled over the d flat2, the 1st right-hand note in the 10th measure of our example. Most, if not all, modern editions print d2 instead, hence differing from the only source for this work. Doubtless, there are basically three reasons for this:
(1) The harmonic progression of the five-measure group from the 1st forte is: three measures in A-flat major; one measure, dominant-seventh chord on d, one measure diminished seventh chord on f sharp. The next five-measure group would accordingly have to begin with three measures in g minor and not have a diminished chord already in the third measure.
(2) In the measure with the d flat2 there is an essential flat sign missing before the b1. That’s why
(3) the engraver presumably made a mistake (after the page turn) and inadvertently stamped the flat sign a third too high.

It’s our opinion, however, that there are likewise three reasons not to depart from the source:
(1) In Beethoven’s time it was still not customary to engrave essential accidentals again in the case of note repetition or the repeat of note groups beyond a bar line. Similar situations are very often found in Beethoven’s manuscripts where these accidentals are NOT repeated after the bar line. Thus, it could easily be that also in our case there is no flat sign in Beethoven’s autograph before the b1 and so the engraver did not engrave it. (In the 3rd measure of the 1st group, for example, the flat sign was missing before the lower e in the upper stave.) It just might be that the engraver did not make a mistake, but engraved the measure just as it was in the manuscript.
(2) Robert Levin once wrote: ‘Editors want uniformity, artists love variety.’ 🙂 Why in the 2nd group should Beethoven have literally repeated the harmonic progression of the 1st group? Two measures later, in the 5th measure of the 2nd group, he also made a change in comparison to the 1st group!
(3) The d flat2 is definitely not wrong harmonically, only unexpected.

So, we’ve decided in the music text of our edition to go along with the sole source and publish the d flat2 with an appropriate footnote. Give it a try! I’ve heard it in concert on a number of occasions by Maestro Perahia. I really like it. How about you?

This entry was posted in Beethoven, Ludwig van, first edition, Monday Postings, piano solo, Piano Sonata op. 14 nr. 2 (Beethoven), variant reading and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to »Hit and miss? – A purportedly wrong note in Beethoven’s Sonata op. 14 no. 2«

  1. Then, we would have to play the des (d flat) together with h (b natural), right?
    This does sound fresh by all accounts.

    • Well, actually, we should play d flat and b flat. Beethoven often did not add accidentals which he had added in the measure before, if the musical “structure” is repetitive. So the b flat is still valid in the measure with the d flat.

  2. Donald Lowe says:

    I object, your honour! The d♭ (third measure, second group) weakens the harmonic progression to my ears (the persisting g minor sounding stronger than the diminished seventh). If d flat is played here (with b flat, of course) then the d natural in the next measure (left hand, and not made explicit as you would expect, as it contradicts the d flat) sounds wrong – also the d flat in the fifth measure of the second group (contradicting the d natural) is much less effective – if d flat has already occurred (if an octave higher) two bars previously. This, to me, weakens and blurs the progression to F minor, which consequently sounds weaker and less dramatic.
    Your original reason (3), starting “the engraver …” seems most likely to me. There are several instances of engraver carelessness (or ignorance) here: a missing flat sign (as you said) before the e in the third measure of the first group; also (most egregiously) the b natural (!) in the fifth measure of the second group. (That surely is wrong harmonically?)
    The point about essential accidentals not necessarily being repeated after bar lines doesn’t seem to hold that much water here: in most cases here they are repeated, only being missed apparently in error, so another reason I believe the rogue d flat is simply an accidental (literally!) being placed one stave line too high. I rest my case.

    • Dear Mr Lowe,
      Thank you very much for your excellent analysis. I can not get up and say “objection”, but I can reply that we will never find the “truth” here, and Murray and I still believe the d flat is correct or at least possible. The source at least is on our side, but there are arguments that speak for an engraver’s error, too.
      Best wishes, Norbert

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