I managed the other day to wheedle off the shelf of a friend of mine the two-volume Artur Schnabel edition of the Beethoven sonatas, originally published in 1935. My friend has the 1953 reprint, which was sort of an hommage to the pianist, who had died two years earlier.
Because I have the ancient so-called Urtext Schirmer edition, which is by Carl Krebs and dates from 1898 (I really should get a newer edition), it’s fascinating to see how Schnabel approaches each of these works. I suppose the most important thing is to say that it’s essentially the anti-Urtext, because Schnabel has advice for almost every measure.
For instance, just at random, I’ve opened Volume I of the Schnabel to the slow movement of the Third Sonata, Op. 2, No. 3, which is in C major. The slow movement, however, is in E, probably because that’s the dominant of A minor, the relative minor of C. I used to play this piece many years ago when I was a kid, and it was humbling; the whole sonata is far more difficult than it looks at first, and you need precise fingers and a real sense of bravura to pull it off.
I never wanted to work that hard when I was that young, and it cost me plenty in years afterward. But I could get through the slow movement all right, if not the outer two, and I find Schnabel’s emendations interesting. To begin with, he calls for two basic tempi, the first being the opening Adagio in which an eighth note equals 46 (metronome mark), and then a slightly faster motion (quarter note equals 52) 11 bars later when the music shifts suddenly to E minor.
He adds numerous expressive directions, to say nothing of extremely explicit pedal markings, tenutos and accents. At the top of the E minor section he writes: “Molto dolce, sempre un poco espressivo, ma senza rubato, egulamente,” which roughly means very sweet, lightly expressive all the way through, but don’t stretch the tempo, keep it steady.
At bar 26 he calls for the pianist to play the octave E in the left hand a full octave lower than written — “In my opinion, here both permissible and convincing” – and at bar 53, when the music abruptly shifts to a C major restatement of the main theme, fortissimo, he writes: “Con sublimita,” which I love (the footnote translates this as “lofty”).
The most fascinating thing about all this for me is how detailed it is, and how much it’s really a road map to the way he would play it, rather than editorial direction or guidance. He’s showing you how he would play it, and in a way it’s as though the kind of intense teaching that goes on in master classes is written out for you.
This kind of editing is out of fashion these days, but I find it not only compelling from a standpoint of the history of the piano, but actually helpful. Great food for musical thought, in any case.
Here’s Schnabel doing the slow movement of the Pathetique Sonata:
It’s sort of an unsual business model, in that the print copies contain, for the most part, digests and reruns of things that already are on the Web. But I think the readers it’s destined for are not primarily computer visitors, and while I hope this brings them to our site, it’s OK with me if they wait for another print edition, too.
The one in March will be bigger and have more space devoted to visual art, which didn’t get enough ink in this one (a planning error on my part). But just having this work in print makes me feel good; I like seeing acres of space devoted to close analysis of artistic endeavors.
Guess that just makes me old-fashioned.