Beethoven Sketch Books by By J. S. Shedlock, B.A. On Musical Time (1892 – 1895)

XIII) – MUSICAL TIME June 1, 1895


Everything that has belonged to a great man possesses interest, down to the clothes which he wore or the furniture which he handled. In some, perhaps many, cases, no doubt, the curiosity is a vulgar one; but in others it proceeds from a proper feeling of admiration, nay, reverence. But of all relics, autographs, whether of books or of music, are the most precious. In the very handwriting of a great man lies something of his genius; on beholding it one seems to get closer to the man’s feelings, closer to the meaning of his words or notes; penstrokes have in them life and individuality.

A fac-simile has just been printed of the whole of the autograph of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat (Op. 26), the first attempt, we believe, to give one of the master’s compositions in complete form. Some little time ago Sir George Grove, in a letter to The Times, suggested that the autographs of Beethoven’s Symphonies should be dealt with in similar manner. His scheme has, unfortunately, not yet been carried into execution ; the appearance of this Sonata may, however, be the means of drawing fresh attention to it. The publishing of the autographs, whether of sonatas or symphonies, in fac-simile would satisfy the curiosity, and a very legitimate one to j, of all musicians; but it would effect something of higher importance. A time, however remote, will come when it will be said of the autographs of Beethoven, as Carlyle said of “rough” Samuel Johnson and “sleek wheed- ling” James Boswell, that “they were and are not ” Discussions arise from time to time as to the correctness of this or that note, this or that

mark in Beethoven’s music, and then reference to the autograph copy, when obtainable, becomes of essential importance. When time has destroyed the autographs, fac-similes will be invaluable (1)

Not only for the publication,* but for the discovery of the autograph of the Sonata in A flat (Op. 26), musicians are indebted to Dr. Erich Prieger, of Bonn. In the year 1878 he found the precious document among some old books on medicine and theology—a juxtaposition which, if only the theology were sound, would surely have met with the approval of Dr, Martin Luther — in a private house; and ever since then he entertained the idea which he has now carried into execution. Dr. Prieger’s interest in all matters relating to Beethoven is great; and so, too, is his enthusiasm. We may, therefore, find this publication followed by others. Of the thirty- two Pianoforte Sonatas, some of the autographs are unfortunately lost; but among those preserved are some of the finest (Op. 53, 57, 90, 109, no, in). In an interesting preface Dr. Prieger refers to the principal sketches made by Beethoven while working at this A flat Sonata. The early one of the Funeral March is indeed characteristic of the master; it shows, as Dr, Prieger observes, a strange evolutionary process: something simple, almost commonplace, becomes something deep and mighty. Allusion is also made to three Sonatas (Op. 23, Nos. 1-3) composed by J. B. Cramer, and dedicated to Haydn, by which Beethoven is said to have been influenced while writing his work; and two passages are quoted from the first Cramer Sonata, likewise in A flat, which certainly may, as Dr. Prieger admits, have suggested the form of certain passages in the Finale of Beethoven’s Sonata. More than this cannot be said.

And now let us turn to the Beethoven autograph, and by mentioning one or two points, show that the possession of this, or of other facsimiles, is not merely a matter of passing interest, but of lasting value. They may solve doubtful points, or, as in the publication before us, enable us in places even to trace the music in course of development. The treble of the tenth bar from the end of the theme of the Andante con Variazioni is printed, in all editions with which we are acquainted, as follows :—

But in the autograph, after the D natural, we find two notes added—

They are, of course, the notes which one wouLi naturally play; but if indicated by Beethovtn they ought, most certainly, to have been printed* The proof sheets which the composer corrected for the press could alone decide the matter: it may be that at the last moment Beethoven ran his pen through the notes in question. The interest here is not in the notes themselves, which are unimportant, but in the fact that there is a difference between the autograph and the printed version. If this be an oversight, it seems just possible that in other works omissions of greater moment may have been made. In the printed version of the Finale there is a passage—

which looks strange, and which sounds somewhat unsatisfactory. The reason for the omission of the single octave in the second bar is, however, clear. The movement is in quick time (Allegro), and were the octave played the left-hand thumb would come in the way of the right one. The passage in question occurs three times during the movement and each time it is printed the same way. Now, on examining the autograph, one finds in all three passages unmistakable signs of an erasure of the lower c; in the third passage a portion of the stem can still be traced (the fac-simile, it should be stated, is wonderfully distinct). Beethoven, therefore, had originally written the octave note. By whose hand was it erased ? By his own or by that of the publisher ? The erasure by means of a knife is, to say the least, not Beethovenish. In other parts of the Sonata a wrong note or chord is carefully scratched through with pen, and the correct note or chord written in to the left or right of the original one, and even over or under it.  There are other interesting variations, of which we can briefly notice only one or two. The first bar of the Trio of the Funeral March appears thus in the autograph—

Beethoven marks the sordino with the loud notes ; also, senza sordino during the piano tremolo. So, too, in the last bars (the Coda) of the first movement, we find, after the pp9 crest. senza sordino. And we would allude to the frequent printing of dots, where dashes are clearly indicated in the autograph. A notable passage occurs in the hrst variation —

and the two following bars. The dashes here seem most appropriate. Beethoven has written dots in the Coda  of the first movement, and again in the Scherzo, so that there is no possibility of mistaking the one for the other.

And so we could go on to speak of bars scratched out and re-written, of marks oi expression, &c. Pianists probably know the work by heart, and it will, therefore, be best to leave them to study the autograph for themselves, and to note other differences and features of interest.

 (1) As-dur Sonatc (Op. 26). Von Ludwig van Beethoven. Fac-simale. Herausgegeben von Erich Prieger. Verlag von Friedrich Cohen, in Bonn, 1895.

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