Many will know G. Henle Verlag as a sheet music publishing company with a difference: they are one of the few publishers who can claim to produce world-class Urtext editions. From music students through to professional musicians, G. Henle’s volumes are probably the most popular worldwide, with the familiar smoky deep blue covers adorning a fair few music desks.
Henle has always been my edition of choice and I have a rather substantial collection, including all thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas in both the hardback and soft cover editions!
Günter Henle was a keen amateur pianist and he formed his company in 1948. Based in Munich, Henle specifically focuses on publishing Urtext sheet music. ‘Urtext’ is characterised by using the correct musical text according to the composer, drawn up from following strict scholarly principles, often including extensive commentaries about the original sources and details regarding the readings. G. Henle publishes all the major composers, including the complete piano works of J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart, Schubert and R. Schumann.
More recently, Henle have added a study edition series (smaller study formats) to their score library, as well as facsimile editions of composer’s manuscripts. They have also created a pedagogy (teaching or study) programme intended for a specific student demographic. The first venture in this direction, the At The Piano series, features a collection of twelve volumes, each focusing on a particular composer. This series is primarily designed for those returning to the piano; predominantly more mature students who have played the piano to a considerable level, and who wish to return to this enjoyable but exacting past-time.
Each At The Piano volume contains a selection of original works which are generally considered to be amongst the composer’s more accessible, ‘easier’ piano compositions. The progressive nature of At The Piano encourages a carefully gauged return to playing the instrument, and a reintroduction and familiarization with a composer’s style and technical attributes.
The books follow the same format and they all begin with facts about the content, Urtext score, historical context, and information about the composer’s stylistic traits. This is all beneficial and interesting, particularly regarding the Urtext commentaries.
There are twelve composers from which to choose: J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, J. Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, F. Mendelssohn, Grieg, Chopin, R. Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy. The number of pieces included in the volumes differ depending on the length and difficulty of each work, but typically they contain between 10 – 15 pieces, a large proportion of them well-known; a vital component when enticing the returner.
Placed in order of difficulty, the pieces are beautifully laid out, as might be expected. Henle’s scores are lavishly presented with pristine, clearly defined print, set on rich, thick cream paper. And they are past masters of ‘spacing’ the music carefully, providing a sense of space between the notes. This might not appear obvious at first glance, but it cleverly leads us to believe the music is possibly slightly simpler than it really is, enabling students to learn with more confidence.
The levels of difficulty are displayed on Henle’s website and at the front of the books: level 1-3 (easy), level 4-6 (medium), and level 7-9 (difficult). This general guideline doesn’t adhere to the usual British graded exam system, and therefore, At The Piano would undoubtedly seem advanced for those expecting to see traditional examination levels. Some volumes that I examined began at around Grade 4/5 level (ABRSM), but others were more challenging. However, this may suit the returning pianist, who will probably be adept at note reading and will already know their way around the keyboard.
The pieces have been selected to complement one another, and they are also designed to prepare students for more advanced repertoire written by that particular composer. At the beginning of every piece is a commentary, commencing with a paragraph or two highlighting historical facts, informing readers about how or why the work was composed. This is followed by suggested performance notes. These practice notes vary in length depending on the complexity of the piece, and they tend to be a ‘walk-through’ with helpful guidance on phrasing, articulation and dynamics. Edited, annotated and fingered by German pianist and professor Sylvia Hewig-Tröscher, every publication contains reproductions of a page of the autograph or engraver’s copy. These are interpolated at various points throughout; an imaginative touch which extends the historical value.
At The Piano is an excellent series for students and teachers. Those who fancy learning a major composer’s ‘piano favourites’ will really enjoy working their way through each book. G. Henle have combined a scrupulous ‘pure’ score with plenty of valuable information, offering a fascinating glimpse into the history and style of each composer.
You can find out more about the pieces included in each volume, and purchase the scores here: At The Piano
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.