Piano Trios

Ed. S. Grossmann. Henle/ Novello


This volume contains the score and parts of the two piano trios op. 49 in D minor (1839) and op. 66 in C minor (1845), edited from (a) an autograph of op. 49 and (b) the two first editions with Mendelssohn’s own corrections. For details of these corrections and other relevant data we are referred to Mendelssohn's letters to his publishers (ed. Elvers, 1968) as though such matters were no direct concern of a new edition.

     The music has been acceptably placed in chronological order, as the editor puts it. Other arrangements are more controversial. Thus we might have expected some access to the unpublished piano trio of 1820; but even its key has been withheld. No doubt some slight gaps can be overlooked. But so apparently can an important source. The first place to explore should surely have been Leipzig, the home of both composer and publisher at the source material times. And sure enough an interesting and useful catalogue of Mendelssohn items kept there (Autographen, Erstausgaben und Frühdrücke der Werke von Felix Mendelssohn in Leipziger Bibliotheken und Archiven, Leipzig, 1972) includes an autograph piano part of op.49, and reproduces the first page of its finale (no. 188). Textual comparison indicates, and the Henle preface confirms (by thanking only Berlin libraries for the supply of source material) that the Leipzig autograph blushed unseen – at least for this edition.

     In fact the only avowed indication of any editorial intervention is that brackets have been added to show features which “are not in the sources, from which they have clearly been omitted through over­sight”. In op. 49 “the sources” may mean (a) or (b) above. But (a), on the evidence, is not a source at all. Indeed, we are told that “it differs greatly from the final printed edition”, while the Leipzig autograph bears the Breitkopf stamp and the engraver's pencilled annotations (op cit. p. 68). So some of these brackets will be directing our attention to an absence from a non-source; in short, a nonsense. And really all the brackets seem open to question, in both works. They indicate places is here in the editors opinion the correct reading is not in doubt. But surely on that reasoning everything ought to be in brackets, including the editor? It seems misguided to place them mainly where no support is required. especially when almost all the passages thus identified are (apart from the brackets) printed in exactly the same way as in previous editions, some of which are of respectable antiquity. If most of the errors or omissions were made, confessed, corrected, forgiven and forgotten some time last century, why rake up old scores? The crowning eccentricity is that this same furnishing with brackets, on which the whole editing procedure hinges, can on occasion be given up (rightly, I think) as a bad job. For where in certain staccato passages “the required brackets for every dot needed to be supplied would have made a load too heavy for the look of the score” they are quite simply left out - in its way a welcome sign of detachment.

     Of course this Henle edition looks as handsome as ever on the printed page, which in clarity of contrast and texture appears wholly worthy of Mendelssohn’s masterly music. But otherwise its main advantage over other editions, so far as I can see, is that for about £3 extra you can get brackets put round a job lot of rather useless old tics, braces and hairpins, together with sonic singularly pointless dots.  


The Musical Times, Jul., 1974 (p. 576) © the estate of eric sams