The violinist Yehudi Menuhin was without question amongst Günter Henle’s closest artist friends. Henle’s autobiography Three Spheres. A Life in Politics, Business and Music contains numerous amusing descriptions of mutual experiences, of which Henle said that Menuhin was ‘on his instrument probably one the greatest masters ever to have lived’. When both were together specific music-text questions were often also involved. Henle and his Urtext editions benefitted enormously from Menuhin’s really intuitive feel for wrong notes.
A particularly fine example is recounted here. Henle writes in his autobiography (p. 261):
‘On the day he was to give a concert in Düsseldorf, Menuhin called me in the morning and arranged to have lunch with us in Duisburg. He asked me to bring home a photocopy of the autograph and original edition of Beethoven’s last violin sonata, Op. 96; he was eager to know whether in its last movement, bar 218, in the piano bass the second eight note should not be G-natural rather than G-sharp, as it appears in most current editions. I looked up the passage in the sources and found that Menuhin was right.’
Günter Henle continued in his autobiography: ‘Menuhin inspected the passage in my photocopies and was impressed and satisfied with the prompt answer to his query. He had always wanted to hear G from his partner at the piano, not G-sharp.’
Just when and through whom the wrong ♯ sign for this note had slipped into the textual tradition could be researched. The text in the ‘Old Complete Edition’ by Breitkopf & Härtel (1862-65) is as yet correct. I suspect the error was initiated in the Peters Verlag (No. 8762) edition of the Beethoven violin sonatas edited by Joseph Joachim, which appeared in 1901, was reprinted many times, and is even today still available in the trade (Peters, EP 3031b) – that is to say, in the Walther Davisson edition first published in 1931 ‘from the edition by Joseph Joachim’. Joachim’s edition is also distributed by the American music publisher International Music Company (IMC 421), and so, alas, it is as of this writing very widely circulated in the USA (and well beyond). (Up until well into the 1950s the first issue of our publishing house’s Urtext edition also had the wrong G sharp – thanks to Menuhin that was then immediately put right.)
This wrong G sharp is incidentally only one of many wrong notes in the Beethoven violin sonatas still in wide circulation, which is why in concerts (and recordings) I can immediately tell at these spots whether or not the music is being played from ‘Henle Urtext’ editions.
On compositional grounds alone our specific spot in the finale of Op. 96 is a gem: namely, that at the start of the quite surprisingly introduced fugato (as of m. 217), Beethoven quoted the main theme of the finale, only it is not detected because, chameleon-like, it emerges transformed:
This motivic relationship alone clears up the question of G or G-sharp.
The friendship between Henle and Menuhin has also now been perpetuated in another document, and the issue, in particular, of ‘G instead of G sharp’; until yesterday this document was inaccessible to the interested public. As of today (!) it – the private guestbook of Günter and Anne-Liese Henle (in German) – is available online through the G. Henle Verlag website. With the present posting I am very pleased to draw your attention to this extraordinary book and our publication of it online.
Why is this guestbook so exceptional? Well, the handwritten entries of the guests who also frequently made music in the Duisburg Henle villa (sometimes even with Henle himself at the piano) read like the ‘Who’s Who’ of classical-music interpreters of that time. Just to name but a few of the way over 100 personalities:
Argerich, Arrau, Backhaus, Barenboim, Bolet, Busch (all of them), Fischer, Gieseking, Horszowski, Jochum, Kogan, Milstein, Oistrakhs (both of them), Rostal, Rubinstein, Schneiderhan, Suk, Szeryng, Zukerman – and even Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin.
Located on page 15 of the guestbook (1956) is the notation in Menuhin’s hand of the spot in question from Beethoven’s Opus 96 and added is the jubilant cry: ‘It is G! Bravo, and a thousand thanks!’ Seen on the very last page of the guestbook can be how sharply etched in Menuhin’s memory was, so to speak, the profound clarification of this text problem as related to Günter Henle. A few days after Henle’s death (on 13 April 1979) Menuhin met with the widow Anne-Liese Henle and recorded on page 109 the following moving words: ‘This late spring music of Beethoven’s shows the everlasting Newborn, the Amazing. A music that in my heart remains ever bound up with the most gracious Günter and the dearest Anne-Liese. Eternally grateful for the friendship, and the unity of our feelings and thoughts. Yours, Yehudi.’ Above this is once again the music incipit of measure 218 from the 4th movement of Op. 96; below it, ‘(the good (♮) Günter)’.
Why in his recording of 1970 Yehudi Menuhin then let pass of all things the wrong G sharp by his pianist Wilhelm Kempff in measure 218 will forever remain an enigma. Here, in conclusion, is the Menuhin-Kempff recording of this wonderful variation movement (Beethoven, Violin Sonata in G Major, Op. 96, 4th movement):