At The Piano: a study series by G. Henle Verlag

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


My Publications:

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.


 

 

“Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!”*) – Four Famous Composers at the Wiesn**)

My guest writer this week is Dr. Wolf-Dieter Seiffert, president of the world-renowned Urtext publishers G. Henle Verlag. This light-hearted story takes place at the famous beer festival and features several rather well-known composers; written by Dr. Seiffert, it was first published on the G. Henle Verlag blog. You can read the original, here, which has been directly translated from the German version. Over to Dr. Seiffert…


Yesterday evening I was once again sitting in the party tent at the world-famous Munich Oktoberfest with a good Mass Bier***). Facing me sat four rather odd-looking men who introduced themselves as “perennial musicians”. I didn’t really quite catch their names (for the band in the tent was very loudly playing “music”). But their appearance and their speech certainly seemed somehow weird to me, in fact, “old-fashioned” – then suddenly it hit me, WHO they were, sitting at my table. Hard to believe, but for sure!!

“Well, gentlemen, shall we now order another Mass Bier?”, asked the most elegant one in a cultivated Garmisch dialect. “High time, very high time!” exclaimed the pudgy one with glasses on his nose, grinning, “I’m dying of thirst!” – “I’m not counting, valued Fugue-Reger, he he, Reger-Euguf, and go ahead, of course, indulge in your 11th Mass Bier. But don’t you think we ought to go about it a bit mezzo-piano?” weighed in the one with the high-pitched voice, whom they fondly called Amadé (or some such). “Oh, come on, let’s still enjoy the good Bavarian beer at least once a year”, reckoned the one from Garmisch, “especially as we Bavarians do indeed drink beer so temperately” – thereupon, Amadé pipes up again: “You probably mean – dear Kapellmeister Richard – temperate in volume?” – “How do you actually like the new G. Henle publishers’ cover, esteemed Bavarian colleagues? Henle is certainly genuinely Bavarian – but don’t you think the cover is pushing it a bit too far?” asked Max in the round. His question, though, totally disappeared in the band’s A-flat major Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit! and mugs were raised all around in a toast. “Now where is our Ludwig? Wasn’t he just here?” observed Amadé, looking around. At that, Kapellmeister Richard said: “He’s probably gone searching again for his distant beloved; there are certainly a lot of really pretty Madln****) here …”. – “Next year, we’ll bring Franzl along again as a guest from Himmelpfortgrund [Vienna], he’s so much more amusing than the perpetually grumpy Ludwig from the Rhineland”, opined Max, who gratefully beamed at the waitress as she set before him a fresh Mass Bier. “Now let’s all toast the angel Aloysius who year after year has us come down here to the Wiesn. Bottoms up, gentlemen – and three cheers!”

I would really like to have toasted their Aloysius with the gentlemen, also absolutely wanted to discuss with them our new cover and Urtext basics, and just get into a conversation at all with them, but then unfortunately they somehow got lost to sight in the beer-tent turmoil.

PS: Here, but only for my hardier Bavarian readers, is the ever wonderful, original Bavarian story of the Munich angel Aloysius.

PPS: You can see Aloysius with his harp soaring in the beer-tent canopy, incidentally, in the brief video clip at the beginning of my text.

*) “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” = A toast to cheer and good times.
**) “Wiesn” = Oktoberfest (famous beer festival in Munich/Germany), in Bavarian dialect.
***) At the Oktoberfest beer is served in one-litre mugs, called “Mass”.
****) “Madln” = young ladies, in Bavarian dialect.


You can find out much more about G. Henle, which is based in Munich, Germany, here. For those interested in Urtext editions, the following video provides a fascinating insight into the traditional craft of engraving on metal plates which was traditionally used by G. Henle Verlag:


My Publications:

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.