Best edition of Brahms sonatas?

November 28, 2018, 9:33 AM · I am about to buy sheet music for the Brahms sonatas and wonder if anyone here had a chance to compare the Henle and Bärenreiter Urtext editions? Reading the descriptions at least the Bärenreiter seems to come with both marked and unmarked violin parts. But the marked part is mentioned to have "fingering and bowing based on the practices of Joseph Joachim and his colleagues" and while that may be interesting to study I think it may be quite far from what is considered best practice now?
Does the Henle edition also include an unmarked part?
Any issues with page turns? (I think both these editions would be taking care to arrange for easy page turns when possible)

Replies (16)

November 28, 2018, 2:36 PM · I am not familiar with the various editions of the Brahms sonatas. However, I am familiar with Barenreiter and Henle editions generally, although I have not purchased a Henle for several years. I generally prefer Barenreiter simply because I find it more readable generally and like having the edited and unedited versions separate. Unless Henle has changed its practices in the last several years, the one version they give you shows fairly clearly what is in the original and what the edits are. So, depending on what is important to you, it may or may not matter much which edition you purchase. If you can see them in a music store (or for that matter the two urtext editions for any piece), you can see what you think of readability, etc. With regard to the Barenreiter edits, remember that these pieces were likely written for Joachim, and he may have had some inputs, so his edits would be very revealing. The fact that his school is no longer in favor does not undercut the value of his edits. I have a version of the Brahms VC which he edited, and I would not trade it for an urtext, since Joachim had substantial input into it. Good luck! The sonatas are gorgeous.
November 28, 2018, 3:19 PM · I think you can also get a good range of options if you order the digital Henle editions. All kinds of choices for edits, and you can download to ForScore to make your own markings on top of whatever you choose.
November 28, 2018, 3:51 PM · I don't like the fingerings in either, but apart from that, both are nice editions.
November 28, 2018, 4:42 PM · Kate - that's why I want an edition with an unmarked part.
Stephen - I don't (yet) have a tablet large enough for digital sheet music, so I am after a good paper version.
Tom - I also prefer Bärenreiter for readability, so I will probably go for that.
November 28, 2018, 4:49 PM · Whoops. Yeah, I think the Barenreiter has an unmarked part.
November 28, 2018, 7:32 PM · It looks like these are available as Wiener Urtext and I really like the printing and binding quality of what they do. No unmarked parts though.
November 28, 2018, 9:04 PM · Interesting: I have always found Henle more readable than Bärenreiter. Clear contrast and never overcrowded pages. Though I admit I don't have their Brahms sonatas. I have the Beethoven sonatas and love them though I could do without the highly idiosyncratic fingerings. Their Haydn and Beethoven quartets mercifully to not have fingerings (except for those few that are in their sources).
Edited: November 29, 2018, 6:49 AM · I'm always amused by these discussions where people say they hate the fingerings in edited parts. Okay sure, I get that it's anyone's prerogative to prefer urtext parts. But I have to wonder, what percentage of the fingerings are really that bad? How is it that an editor (often the likes of Ivan Galamian) got them so terribly wrong? If you're playing the Bach E Major Prelude and there are two or three fingerings that don't work for you, does that mean Carl Herrmann was a complete dumbass? Moreover, were none of the other fingering suggestions helpful, or were they all completely obvious? I think the latter is really the main question. For me, I find the fingerings useful. I overrule some others, and so does my teacher. That's what pencils are for. But I also like the Bärenreiter because (at least with concertos) you get an edited part AND an urtext part which is the best of both worlds. Of course also significantly more expensive.
November 29, 2018, 11:37 AM · Henle fingerings are usually German editors, which doesn't use semitone shifting as often. If anything it's something fun to try out ...
November 29, 2018, 11:58 AM · Paul, I think differences in fingering can really reflect other trends in music, like movements like HIP. I have the Barenreiter of the Beethoven Romances, and there are some fingerings and editing choices that seem odd to me, and like a turning away from a previous generation's style of playing (which I happen to like). I also have the Rode Caprices edited by Max Rostal, and he must have had a big hand, because there are a number of places where the fingerings just don't work for me, and it seems clear that they come from his personal approach.

I guess the question is whether I'm missing out on something fundamental by not following these examples, or what. Should an editor aim for fingerings that are going to be most broadly applicable to most hands and set-ups, or should the editor go with what feels most comfortable for them, and if those two things are in conflict, can the editor really understand the difference?

At some point, it's good to trust your own approach and what feels comfortable to you, but I am starting to think that Galamian knew what he was doing broadly. I like the Szeryng edition of Bach, though.

November 29, 2018, 12:39 PM · I grew up with the Schirmer, Fischer, Peters and International editions - bowed and fingered - and other editions of similar print size - and that is what I have always liked (except for a short period as cataracts clouded my eyes and I had to enlarge the music I played).

I have found it a bit uncomfortable to sight read the larger format of some of the urtext editions; I guess I was used to a certain rate of eye movement.

I have sometimes enjoyed seeing bowings and fingerings specific well-know musicians have added to their edited versions. It says something about the way they play and sometimes their strengths and weaknesses.

In the 21st century I would no longer consider purchasing sheet music before viewing what is available at IMSLP.

And don't forget WHITEOUT!

Edited: November 29, 2018, 1:26 PM · Why many don't like fingerings in sheet music? There are a number of reasons.
- The fingerings cover up real estate that people would want to use for the fingerings they are actually playing. There is no erasing printed markings.
- Many of these fingerings are obvious. Duh! And--what is worse--where there is a real difficulty in finding a good fingering often none is there.
- Some are too individual: The editor trying to impose his/her idiosyncratic theory on the topic (like in the Henle Beethoven sonatas).

I agree though that having historic fingerings is interesting.

What is more is this: Coming up with fingerings is part of the process of making a piece one's own. Plus: It is not a very difficult task (after some years of violin lessons at least).

If there are fingerings: I want them to be "main stream", i.e. plausible for most players, with a preference for safe solutions over sophisticated solutions because printed fingerings are most useful for sight reading. And I want viable suggestions for the passages that are hard to finger.

November 29, 2018, 5:20 PM · I like International for its readability- it's what I'm used to, I guess. I also like thinking about why an editor chose a particular fingering over other options. However, I absolutely hate anything edited by Galamian and won't buy them. It can also be really fun to go through the decades of the same piece edited by different people and see how technique and style has changed throughout the years. Kreisler's Beethoven Sonatas (published by International) are fun to study.
For the Brahms, is there a version edited by a violinist whose performance you love? In other words, look at the editor, not the publisher.
December 1, 2018, 12:56 AM · "I recently played a Brahms sonata in a Barenreiter edition and had to change 80% of the fingerings. They were just unimaginable to my hand & ear. They had been written by a Baroque HIP expert (who for some reason was editing a Brahms score...) so that may have had something to do with it."

Um, is that Clive Brown's edition? Just for the record, he's an authority on Classical and Romantic HIP (and I'm sure extremely knowledgeable on Baroque as well). You liking/disliking his edition is for another discussion :). But just want to clarify that point so people don't get confused.

December 1, 2018, 7:04 AM · Kate - why did you not just use the unedited urtext and work out the fingerings that best suited you?
December 3, 2018, 11:12 AM · Kate - obviously, an urtext does not include bowing and articulation unless the composer put them in to begin with. As with the fingerings, you work those out also. That's the beauty of a true urtext. You fill in the interpretive parts the composer did not put in.

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