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Schenker's edition of four of the last five piano sonatas of Beethoven, published separately, and based in each case on surviving autograph manuscripts and early editions, and drawing on Gustav Nottebohm's publications and private notes. This edition is in each case accompanied by Schenker's elucidations (Erläuterungen); these describe the sources, analyze structure and thematic content (with copious music examples, and in the case of Op. 101 Urlinien), provide detailed guidelines for performance, and encompass a survey of the previous secondary literature and editions. The four volumes were published by Universal Edition of Vienna between 1913 and 1921.

First Edition

The format of each volume is the same:

  • Vorwort: a short, dated foreword
  • — Schenker’s edition of the sonata
  • Vorbemerkung zur Einführung: preliminary remarks, often polemical in character
  • Einführung: an analysis of the sonata, section by section, along with detailed discussion of the autograph score, early editions, and, for Op. 110 and Op. 111, Beethoven's sketches
  • Literatur: extracts from writings about the sonata by A. B. Marx, Wilhelm von Lenz, Willibald Nagel, Paul Bekker, and others, together with Schenker's dismissive remarks about them; for Op. 101, Schenker also quotes from and comments on Nottebohm's account of the sketches.

The motivation for this edition was to discredit the 19th-century editions, not only of these works but of those of the German and Austrian classical composers in general, against which Schenker had for many years polemicized; to show that with the exception of fingerings little or no editorial intervention was usually required ‒ i.e. that Beethoven's orthography, when correctly understood and explained, provided all that was needed for understanding a work's structure and performing it according to his wishes; and ultimately to reveal the processes of mind of a supreme "master" of musical composition ‒ to uncover the workings of genius.

To underscore a novel approach to editing, which seeks to understand the composer's intentions through his orthography, Schenker planned to begin each volume with a "Vorrede," a general introduction to the series. This does not survive; and it is possible that Schenker was not intending to write it until he had received assurance from Emil Hertzka, director of Universal Edition, that such an essay could be included. Hertzka, ever mindful of the negative impact that Schenker's polemical tone could have not only upon the project but also on his publishing house, evidently objected to the "Vorrede"; and it was abandoned shortly before the first volume (Op. 109) went into production. (Schenker sent Hertzka a revised version of the "Vorbemerkung zur Einführung" for Op. 109, to compensate for the loss of the "Vorrede.")

Because these volumes were prepared for the most part during World War I, they served also as a principal vehicle for Schenker's German nationalist feelings, and his intense antipathy toward the nations of the West, and this polemical stratum of the work relates directly to the leading article "Von der Sendung des deutschen Genies," in the first issue of Der Tonwille (1921), and his Preface to Kontrapunkt 2 (1922). (Indeed, Schenker told Hertzka that his "Vorrede" was addressed to the "youth," i.e. a new generation of musicians; this word appears in the subtitle of the Tonwille pamphlets.)

The five volumes of the work, which were to have been published one per year (contract: OC 52/494, August 25, 1912) but for the impact of the war upon both Schenker's research and the commerce of publishing, were:

New Edition

A new edition was produced in four separate, smaller-format volumes in 1971–72 by Oswald Jonas, pupil of Schenker and Hans Weisse. Jonas excised from Schenker's original all the polemical material and the entire discussion of the secondary literature, and also replaced Schenker's editions of the sonatas by Erwin Ratz's edition of 1945 with the effect that the scores contradict some of the textual argument in Schenker's elucidations.

English Translation and Study

The recent English translation by John Rothgeb is likewise in four separate, small-format volumes and a website:

Beethoven's Last Piano Sonatas: An Edition with Elucidation, transl., ed. and annotated by John Rothgeb (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

  • Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109
  • Piano Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 110
  • Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111
  • Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 101
  • [secondary literature only]

This edition follows the text of Schenker's original, thereby restoring all the material excised by Jonas in his 1970‒71 edition. Significantly, it incorporates numerous annotations made by Schenker in his personal copies of the volumes (now in the Oster Collection). There are, in addition, explanatory and citational footnotes by Rothgeb, some of which incorporate observations made by Jonas. Schenker's surveys of the secondary literature appear not in the print volumes but on the website. The scores of the sonatas, however, appear neither in the print volume nor on the website.

Complementary to this edition is the study by Nicholas Marston of Schenker's unpublished draft texts and sketches (now in the Oster Collection, OC 65) concerning Op. 106:

Marston, Nicholas, Heinrich Schenker and Beethoven's 'Hammerklavier' Sonata, Royal Music Association Monographs 23 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, with the Royal Musical Association, 1913).


  • Bent, Ian, "'That Bright New Light': Schenker, Universal Edition, and the Origins of the Erläuterung Series, 1901–1910," Journal of the American Musicological Society LVIII/1 (Spring 2005), 69–138
  • Drabkin, William, "The New Erläuterungsausgabe," Perspectives of New Music 12 (1971–72), 319–30
  • Note: Much of the evidence for the genesis and publication history of this work is contained in the correspondence between Schenker and Universal Edition and in Schenker's diaries in the period 1913‒16 and 1919‒21. The correspondence for January to July 1913 is at present available on the old SDO website (, and will be transferred to the current website. The diaries for 1919‒21 are already on the current site, and those for 1913‒14 will appear there within the next two years from the time of writing (March 2016).


  • Ian Bent and William Drabkin

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