Piano Trios

Ed. E. Herttrich. Henle/Novello,


The sources are the autographs, first editions, and Brahms's own copies of opp.8a, 87 and 101 plus the first edition and reprint of op.86 and the engraver's copy of op.101. There is no significant background information; just the rather bleak results of close textual comparison, or what might  be called cold collation. Even the cover looks appetizing. But it conceals a rare treat - the first 1854 version of op.8 as well as the second.

     It is customary to praise-the-latter version; which is later by some 35 years. But the practice of putting new patches on old garments has not escaped challenge. Brahms's refashioning was arguably more eccentric still; what he did was, in a real sense, to put old patches on a new garment. Indeed, some of his additions suggest a beard assumed in order to cover up some vulnerable young features. This edition facilitates comparison and further critical comment. I hope that the early version will be more often played and recorded (for the first time?) as a result.

     An edition really designed to sell would have made more capital (and hopefully revenue) from such notions. It would have presented biographical documentation (Max Kalbeck is interesting, informative and out of copyright). It would have provided details of the disputed A major trio published as Brahms's by Ernst Bücken in 1938. It would have striven, that is to say (like the best of Eulenburg), to be a useful work of reference as well as a score. While retaining its scholarly Urtext standards, it would have taken more pains with its Euro-text. Everyone seems to be bilingual these days except translators. Here the English text tells us that one work has an “engraver's model” (and incidentally forgets to say which one it is).

     The Wiener Urtext volumes have similar faults, but look altogether cleaner and keener. The dashing colour of their covers compare to Henle's as a hussar's uniform to an Uhlan's. At the moment this Henle Brahms may command the field. But it seems to me that so far from being designed to sell it might with advantage be redesigned to sell; and a large and potentially handsome volume like this one would have made a good starting-point. This is not of course to deny that the present format, preface or notes are anything short of admirable within their self-imposed limitations. In particular the musical text is readable and exact; and it is agreeable to note such details as the correction of the violin's first semiquaver in op.87/II/53 to E from the distracting F of the old Simrock miniature score.


The Musical Times, Mar. 1974 (p. 229) © the estate of eric sams, 1974