Robert Estrin - piano expert

Did Classical Composers Make Mistakes?

Interesting insights in the history of sheet music

In this video, Robert talks about mistakes in sheet music... are those really coming from the original composer?

Released on October 23, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at, with a really interesting show for you today, mistakes composers almost made. Or, did they? We're going to find out today. I'm going to have three examples of questionable compositional aspects. The real challenge is composers who lived hundreds of years ago, how do you know what is authentic? What comes to mind is Beethoven's Ecossaise, the famous G major Ecossaise. I want you to hear the way it appears that it was written, listen to this.

Now, there's one part in there where you hear that kind of funny chord. In a lot of editions it corrects it. Well, are we correcting Beethoven? That's kind of, takes a lot of guts to do that. But, listen to it and see what you think of this altered version, which you find in many editions that doesn't have that funny sounding part in it.

you can hear that it kind of took away that odd harmony there. Whether it's correct or incorrect, did Beethoven make the mistake, did the editors make the mistake? It's really tough to know. A lot of times it's interesting that what is often times correct, is what doesn't sound good. Because, editors throughout the ages, try to make things sound right, because there's often times questions. If you've ever seen Beethoven's calligraphy, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

I've got another example for you here, the Etude ... Actually, pardon me. The Nocturne of Chopin in E minor, published posthumously after his death. It's got a really strange harmony in one place in many editions, and I want you to listen to it, listen to it with that. You'll hear what I'm talking about, and then I'll play it the way it's found in many other editions. Which one's authentic? You know, to tell you the truth I have not researched this. I'm probably going to get a bunch of comments from you, and I welcome them. Listen first, just to know which Nocturne this is. I'm just going to play the beginning of it, just so you know which E minor Nocturne we're talking about.

In the middle section there's a strange note, and I want you to listen to this, and you'll spot it. You probably will if you're familiar with this Nocturne. I don't know if you heard the funny sounding third there, I'm going to play it the way it's written in other editions that sounds better to my ears, and I'm interested in your opinion as well. Listen to it this way. Did you catch that difference? Just so I can pinpoint where it is, I'm going to play it for you with the original, with the notes that sound funny. Then, I'm going to play the corrected notes so you can just know what I'm talking about.

So you know, it's a funny thing. Even though I heard this piece so many times growing up, when I studied it I just took out a urtext edition, learned it. Then, one time I was playing it for my sister and she said, "You know Bob, that's a wrong note there in a lot of editions." I said, "You know? I thought so." I ended up playing it the second way, the corrected way, the way that sounds better whether it's authentic or not. We find a lot of challenges like this.

Now, the last one I'm going to bring to your attention is truly an almost epic fail in my opinion. One of the greatest Sonatas of all time is the Liszt Sonata in B minor, a grand work. It's all in one movement, essentially it's all played without pause. And, it's about a 30 minute work. It's absolutely monumental, and interestingly there was an alternative ending that Liszt wrote first, that ended incredibly heroically. I mean, all the fireworks you could imagine, he saved for the end.

Well, Clara Schumann, who Liszt was friends with just hated it, and encouraged him to rewrite the ending. Which, he did, and thank goodness he did. Because, the ending of the Liszt B minor Sonata is what brings that whole work together in my opinion. Because, it has all the heights, and the depths, and the end, there's a solace. What I'm going to do for you, I don't play the alternative ending. There are YouTube recordings of it, and I find it almost laughable because I'm intimately familiar with the Liszt B minor Sonata. And, to think that he could have ended it with this big, long, where it doesn't seem to end, it just keeps getting more and more exciting. It's antithetical to what this whole piece is about.

I'm going to play just a little bit of the end of this. The last heroic part, going into the solitude that ends this 30 minute work that's truly a profound piece of music. If you've never heard it, it's worth a listen. Listen to the end of the Liszt B minor Sonata, the way it was written. Keeping in mind that after a 30 minute work, imagine raring it up again at the end, with no holds barred. That was what he originally wrote, not this where it ends quietly and poetically.

I think we all have a debt of gratitude to both Clara Schumann, and Franz Liszt, for making this one of the milestone compositions of the piano repertoire. It really is a great piece, and it's good that it ends this way I think. Love everybody's opinion, if any of you listen on YouTube to other performances where they show the alternative ending that Liszt originally wrote, love your comments on that. I wasn't even aware of this until quite recently, by the way. I find it pretty fascinating. Hope you think this is interesting too. Again, it's Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store. And, look forward to more viewer questions, see you next time.
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