Piano Bulletin (EPTA)

Year 41, 2023 nr. 3

Diabelli opus 149 (28 melodische Übungsstücke)
Diabelli opus 189 (Prüfungs-Stücke)

What aspiring pianist hasn’t enjoyed their first quatre-mains playing with their fellow student or teacher? And for whom was not the extremely popular album 28 melodic Übungsstücke, opus 149, the first introduction to four-hand piano music by a real composer from Beethoven’s time? The chance that a younger generation of pianists played this music in childhood is somewhat smaller than the older generation, because ‘Diabelli’ seems to have fallen out of favor in favor of much more recently composed didactic teaching material for the beginning pianist.

What seems certain is that everyone who played these pieces did so from either the Universal or the Peters edition. Both editions are quite dated. It is all the more gratifying that this year, for the first time, an Urtext edition of Diabelli’s opus 149 has been put on the market by the Dutch fortepianist/piano teacher/music publisher Bart van Sambeek.

Van Sambeek also used the old, familiar Diabelli editions in his teaching practice. However, he noted that although opus 149 was not published until the 1830s, Diabelli had still written the pieces in the style of around 1800. That was the time when there was still articulated music making. In his editions, Van Sambeek saw numerous legatato arcs and other prescriptions that did not seem to fit very well with the Viennese classical style, leading him to conclude that Peters and Universal were romanticized editions. When he finally saw the first edition, which was published by Diabelli’s own publishing house in Vienna in 1837, he noticed that an Urtex edition indeed needed a good polish. This resulted in a much more bare-bones edition, especially when it comes to arcs and other articulation requirements. In an accompanying letter to the review copies, Bart van Sambeek writes to the editors of this magazine: “The teacher will now have to explain more to his student about the use of staccato and legato in these pieces. In that respect, this edition is not very instructive. But it invites you to think for yourself and make choices, which is better than those of an editor employed by a publishing house who also does not provide any accountability.” Van Sambeek does do the latter, as befits an Urtext edition, in an English-language explanation at the back of the volume.

In his edition, Van Sambeek corrected a few notes in passing that deviate from the first edition in the modern editions. He also adjusted the layout by offering each piece sufficient space on a page. The result is a beautifully presented, easy-to-read note image. The bundle is printed in landscape format on heavy, cream-colored paper. This gives the album a somewhat early nineteenth-century appearance.

Once working on Diabelli, Bart van Sambeek came across a similar album by the same Viennese composer, the Prüfungs-Stücke, opus 189. He also released an Urtext edition of this. This album of four-handed pieces is much less known than opus 149. Here too, the primo part is by far the simplest in terms of texture and always written in a position in the range of six notes per hand (the index fingers dip over the thumbs here and there ). Nevertheless, the average level of difficulty is much higher than that of opus 149. This also applies to a lesser extent to the much more complex and orchestral secondo part, which is intended for the teacher.

There are many attractive playing pieces in opus 189. The work differs from opus 149 in that each piece is preceded by a very short, separate cadenza of almost always four bars. It introduces and confirms the key and character of the actual composition. Some pieces have a title, such as Marcia funebre en Hongroise, or simply Polka or Valse. For those who are tired of opus 149, Diabelli’s Prüfungs-Stücke are a more than welcome alternative.

Christo Lelie