Henle/Rostal edition of Beethoven Sonatas

September 29, 2009 at 07:21 PM ·

I've discovered the secret of using the Henle edition of the Beethoven Sonatas by Max Rostal:  somehow the symbols for upbow and downbow were reversed.  If you play a downbow wherever an upbow is marked, and vice versa, you'll come out right.

Maybe there's some violinist for whom the fingerings and bowings work.  I know that Rostal was a distinguished teacher with many successful students, but still . . .

The Henle edition does have one big advantage:  as with all Henle editions, it's very legible.  The engraving is clear, in fact, quite beautiful; the notes are well-spaced; and page-turns are convenient.  This is in sharp contrast to some of the other editions--the notes are too small in the International/Oistrakh edition and in many of the older editions the plates are so worn out that the notes are barely legible.  But the Henle edition sure has some weird fingerings and bowings.  You have to go through yourself and mark it up extensively. 

Replies (28)

September 29, 2009 at 08:27 PM ·


if you read the Rostal book on interpreting the Beethoven violin sonatas then a lot of his bowings and fingerings make more sense.



October 1, 2009 at 03:35 PM ·

I'm beginning to see the logic of some of the fingerings and especially the bowings in the Henle/Rostal edition.  I retract my previous comment.

October 1, 2009 at 03:56 PM ·

I'm using Henle, but I prefer the Oistrakh edition. I pencil in his markings into the Henle part.

October 2, 2009 at 04:08 AM ·

The problem with some "Urtext" versions like the Henle Beethoven is that they include bowings and fingerings. An urtext version should be devoid of editorial markings. The best solution for a publlisher is to provide an edited version and also an urtext to compare. However, the edited version should be done by a competent person.

October 2, 2009 at 05:23 PM ·

Bruce is right, Urtext editions should be clean. 

I own the IMC Francescatti, Schirmer Brodsky, and Henle Rostal editions, and although they offer valuable ideas, I would love, LOVE a clean urtext copy of the sonatas.  I'm guessing many pianists would too!

I wish Barenreiter would put out a Beethoven piano/violin sonata set.  Barenreiter has gorgeous, clean, high quality Urtext editions of Bach keyboard/violin sonatas, not to mention the solo S&Ps.  Beethoven sonatas aren't exactly obscure repertoire!

October 2, 2009 at 08:37 PM ·

 I always use the Henle/Rostal parts.

Unfortunately, I don't stick with the bowing inflexibly, but hadn't notice anything odd...in fact the opposite.

I am preparing 2 sonatas for recital performance and most of the original ideas are in tact.

One of my students brought the Allegro moderato from op.96 and played measure 55-57 all down-up. We discussed the issue (Rostal marks up -down) and both concluded that either way works BUT the triplet figure is more pleasing up-down.

In Op.30 no.3 (not one of my current) my markings are identical almost throughout.

October 3, 2009 at 02:27 PM ·

I regret my original post.  I'm just an amateur who shouldn't be offering advice to anyone.  My pianist partner and I have been working on the "easy" one, op. 24 and I'd been using the Oistrakh edition, but the small size of the notes got to be too hard on my eyes.  As I mentioned, the Henle edition is much easier ot read.  I don't slavishly follow printed fingerings and bowings, but I'm not averse to trying them out.  At first blush, some of Rostal's fingerings and bowings (particularly the bowings) seemed wilfully perverse, but now I've come to see the logic of many of them.  So please disregard my original post, and I apologize for rashly commenting on matters that are above my head. 

Now I need to propitiate the spirit of Max Rostal.

October 3, 2009 at 05:07 PM ·

 Panic not Bill. Long sections of music will often be written backwards compared to another copy.

The trick is to a) try the printed b) try the reverse and c) see how it fits in with where you have come and where you are going....NEVER forgetting that the music (and your interpretation) always wins any battle. A bowing that offers a credible musical outcome can never be wrong. I heard a version of a Mozart concerto (live) once and the player put in some bowings and combinations that I'd never seen before or never discovered on purpose or by accident. I enjoyed that performance greatly. What was remarkable was the player was a concertmaster/leader and an auditionee playing this way wouldn't get past the preliminary hearing.....

October 3, 2009 at 09:56 PM ·


Bill, you are being too polite. You@re first post was both reasonable and amusing.  It also raised some interesting questions which is what we are her efor and it doesn`t mater a jot whether you think you are an amateur or professional or whatever.

Rostal`s editions of everythign are well thought out but thta doesn`t make them the be all and end all. They are somewhat idiomatic in the sense that they conform to his concept of how the violin should be played. You can see this very clealry in his excellent edition of the Dont etudes.  His priority was getting very smooth and legato bowing.  Othe rplayers have commented on how the articulationside (as perhaps Galamian would see it) was sometimes a little too abenst in his approach.

I share a complaint voiced everynow and again by people here.  Henle claims to be producing new Urtext editions and when I order them I getone bow and fingered,  often in the weirdest ways (to my mind) by people I have never heard of. The Oistrak editins are still pretty much the gold dstandard for me for the reaosns stated. He had the knack of puttting down fingerings and bowings that made musical sense and yet were the safest.  Sort of like the Occams Razor of the violin....

Editions I would`t touch with a barge pole are thse of Francescatti which hail from an era when greta individual violnists were paid to produce great individual editions.  Interesting but not too useful at times.  Rostal perhaps scomes somewhere in the middle.



October 4, 2009 at 12:29 AM ·

I would like to respond to this by saying that in the next month or so, I will be coming out with performing editions of Bruch G minor, Mendelssohn, Saint Saens #3, and Lalo Symphonie Espagnole. This will include an unedited, urtext version and piano part. This will be in pdf form.

The editions are in "the Galamian tradition", in other words sensible and logical bowings and fingerings. I have notated all on Finale so the parts are totally legible. I have also been in touch with such respected violinists as Gerald Fischbach (UMaryland), Joseph Gatwood (Catholic U.) and Kenneth Goldsmith (Rice U.) to check about alternate possibilities. You will note that I studied with Galamian for 8 years (BS, MM, DMA) and previously with Josef Gingold.

This has been a 5 year project. Due to being granted  a Sabbatical leave from Baylor University to complete this  the project it is basically finished and I intend to offer  the editions for free download on my website.

October 4, 2009 at 01:44 AM ·

Wow, Dr. Berg! What a wonderful thing for you to do! I'm very much looking forward to seeing your editions!

October 4, 2009 at 03:23 AM ·

Thanks for letting us know about your forthcoming editions, Dr. Berg!

Buri, thanks for your very helpful and thought-provoking advice about the trade-off between smoothness and articulation, as exemplified in Rostal's edition, which favors smoothness.  I'll keep that in mind in trying to evaluate fingerings and bowings.

In op. 24, I just couldn't get the sixteenth notes in the opening measure of the first movement to come out smoothly and evenly and seamlessly until I tried starting with an upbow, as Rostal suggests.   That's probably a limitation of my own technique, but for me the upbow works much better (I hesitate to say perfectly).  For some reason the string crossing, which was giving me trouble, is much smoother with an upbow.  Also starting the turn figure in measures 10 and 38 of the second movement (which echoes the figure in the first movement) with an upbow works much better for me.  Oistrakh (whom I admire immensely) marks these downbow.


October 6, 2009 at 11:51 AM ·

I have a hardcover Henle edition of the complete Beethoven Sonatas. But they are edited by Walter Lampe (I presume on violin) and Kurt Schaffer. Then I have another complete edition from International, edited by Kreisler. And I have the "Kreutzer" (#9) by itself, put out by Carl Fischer, and edited by Auer.

I completely agree with those who prefer that an urtext edition be unedited. I mean, isn't it a contradiction in terms to call an edited version an urtext? In fact, I generally prefer that any edition of anything that I work on have a minimum of editing. When people ask me what I edition I use of this or that, I often say "it's the Klayman edition!" I really don't mean that in an egotistical way. It's just that I prefer to try to work out my own solurions to bowing, fingering, and phrasing challenges. That, among other things, helps make my practice room feel like a creative labratory. Only on rare occasions when I get stuck, will I willingly look at what others have suggested. When a student asks me for an edition recommendation. I usually just recommend that they look for, if they can physically browse, (-oh Patelsons, why did you leave us?-) for the edition with the most comfortable print and pagenation. Otherwise, by the time we're through working out what's best for the student, it will have become our edition!

Speaking of 'getting stuck', I heard this story about Kreisler. He was working on recording the complete Bethoven Sonatas. In one session, in one passage, even the great K. got stuck. After a number of attempts he said to his pianist "I wish Jascha (Heifetz) were in town. I'd have him come in here to the studio, punch in this passage, and hopefully, no one would be the wiser." His pianist said "well I believe that Mischa (Elman) is in town." Kreisler got annoyed. "I need technique, not tone. Tone, I have!"


October 6, 2009 at 02:17 PM ·

i think that what Henle means in using the "Urtext" label for its editions is not that they're not marked with fingerings and bowings, but rather that  they have been carefully edited to produce a version that's as close as possible to the what the editor believes to be the composer's intentions.  The editor is supposed to remove the many small errors that have crept into other printed versions (including, quite often, the original editions, which were not necessarily carefully proofed before publication) and if the composer's manuscript is extant, to make sure that the printed text conforms to it (except where the editor thinks the composer made a mistake, for example, by forgetting to note an accidental).  Preparing an Urtext, however, involves a considerable amount of editorial judgment and is a process that itself is not necessarily infallible.  Usually the Henle editions make it clear which fingerings and bowings have been added by an editor  and which slurs are "original."  The Baerenreiter editions don't add fingerings and bowings.  But they don't simply reproduce the original edition, either.

October 6, 2009 at 02:36 PM ·

While I prefer a clean urtext edition, I am satisfied so long as the "urtext" edition differentiates between the original and the edited version so you know what was the composer's and what was the editor's.  With Beethoven, I have found particular problems with edited editions of the violin concerto because 80-90% of the slurs are not Beethoven's but the editor's.  If I recall, Rostal puts out the only clean urtext of this piece I have ever seen (and it is only the violin part).  I suspect the sonatas may have the same problem.  I think this might be done in an attempt to "Romanticize" the music by editors who are usually from an earlier generation.

October 6, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

Tom Holzman:

You might be interested to know that a new Baerenreiter Urtext edition of the Beethoven violin concerto has just been or is about to be published:


This edition is supposed to be more accurate than any previous edition, including the Henle edition.  Consistent with Baerenreiter's practice, it will likely not include any extraneous fingerings and bowings (i.e., fingerings and bowings that the editor thinks Beethoven didn't or wouldn't have put in the score).  But you still have to be aware that preparing an Urtext edition necessarily involves a certain number of judgment calls on the part of the editor.

October 6, 2009 at 04:29 PM ·

Bill - thanks.  I am aware of the potential problems involving editors of urtexts.  Some of Bach's slur notations in the manuscript of the S&Ps are quite ambiguous and cannot be resolved with reference to similar passages which are clearer because there does not appear to be consistency.   It would not surprise me to find out that Beethoven presents similar problems. 

October 6, 2009 at 06:02 PM ·

A few months ago I bought the Peters edition of Mozart's first violin concerto (in B flat, K 207). To my surprise, the editor had put in extra sort-of-virtuoso runs of semiquavers where Mozart had written long notes. The nerve! "There's a long note, but it's only Mozart. My sixteenths are much better!"

I then did what I should have done in the first place: consult the Petrucci Library. They have an old edition, Breitkopf & Härtel, 1877. Again surprisingly, the editor had been Johannes Brahms. Of course, that edition is as faithful as can be.

It is food for thought that Brahms should have prepared Mozart's violin concertos for publication in the years prior to writing his own. It illuminates him from an unexpected angle.

October 6, 2009 at 08:35 PM ·

 I have to say I am more and more impressed with the Barenreiter and Henle Urtext editions.

The more taken out and the more "likely" the accuracy of the markings, the better!

Over the years things have got so out of hand with editorial marks. I have *at least* two dozen virtually unusable copies of many concerti edited beyond sense. I shan't point fingers....

However, I am still keen on the old International edition for Romantic works


all good for me.


Having said that, I still haven't found an answer to Brahms (mine is obliterated with marks) and don't get me started on Beethoven......

October 6, 2009 at 08:36 PM ·


Bart, it`s interesting thta sometimes really old `romantic` editions are actually more accuarte than modern ones.  My favorite example is the firts movement of the Devil`s Trill.   I don`t think any modern edition contians the double stopping in the opening bars found in the Hubay.



October 7, 2009 at 12:19 AM ·

David, for the Brahms concerto there is a new Henle "Urtext" edition.  But you could try the Simrock edition, which was edited by Joachim.   That's about as "authentic" as you can get!  For the Beethoven, as I mentioned earlier, there is a new Baerenreiter edition.

Buri, are you sure those double-stops in the Devil's Trill are original and not additions by Hubay or one of his 19th century predecessors?  Not that I'm such a purist that I can't enjoy a 19th century version of an 18th century work--the "Vitale" Chaconne is a case in point.

October 7, 2009 at 01:27 AM ·

Bill - if I recall correctly from having seen an urtext of the Devil's Trill, there are an amazing number of double stops in various movements that most current editions do not contain.  My impression is that  this is because most of the modern editions are based on Kreisler's edits.  His edition, I believe, removed many of the double stops.

October 7, 2009 at 03:30 AM ·

Well, you're probably right.  After all, Tartini liked double stops so much that he discovered Tartini tones.

October 7, 2009 at 07:34 AM ·

I'm somewhat of a fan of backward bowings.  I haven't played any other version besides the edition in question, and I haven't learned all of the sonatas yet, either.  But long before I ever saw Rostal's opus 24, I thought that two-bowing phrases make the most sense when begun on an upbow.  Think about it: why begin the shape of the phrase with the strongest part of the bow, peak at the tip, and then wrap it up at the frog?  It makes no musical sense.  Who came up with this notion that we should begin everything downbow?  We're not playing a march here.  His bowings really gel with me.  That being said, the really good violinists can turn a beautiful phrase regardless of bow direction. 

Rostal's fingerings, however, are sometimes awkward for my hand shape.  I like to try them out anyway, just for the mental stretch.  But my favorite finger-ers are Galamian and Barenreiter.

By the way, this is an excellent thread, Bill.  I used to think there was a "one best way" to do things.  Then I sat by a dozen different stand partners, and every one of them had their own style of fingerings.  I came to discover that there is a realm of common sense, but it is a broad realm, and within that realm, you can find what works best for you. 

I also discovered that the section leader will help you see things their way.

October 7, 2009 at 02:18 PM ·

"I'm somewhat of a fan of backward bowings.  I haven't played any other version besides the edition in question, and I haven't learned all of the sonatas yet, either.  But long before I ever saw Rostal's opus 24, I thought that two-bowing phrases make the most sense when begun on an upbow. "

The opening of op. 24 (and the figures beginning in mm. 10 and 38 of the second movement) seem to me very similar to the opening of op. 18 no. 1, which many quartets (at least the upper strings) begin with an up-bow.

October 7, 2009 at 03:09 PM ·

The news of Barenreiter's new edition of the Beethoven Concerto just made my day.  No, week.  Or, perhaps, month.  Thank you, Bill!

October 9, 2009 at 02:28 PM ·

again an excellent thread,  just made me get out my Henle/Rostal edition and follow along, thank you all for these practical hints, incl. the Baerenreither news!


January 6, 2010 at 04:35 AM ·

 Bill:  I saw the Takacs play Beethoven's Op 18 Nr. 1.  The first violinist started up-bow, and the 2nd violinist started down-bow.  It didn't matter, because it was still beautiful.

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