JAVS Fall 2023

the concert for he greeted me with a menacing look and exploded: “I suppose the next thing is, you will be playing behind the bridge! The viola is not meant to be played high up – that is the pig department!” I felt like replying: “It probably is on your viola but not on mine!” However, that would have been rude coming from a student to a Professor of the Academy. 1 Whether or not Gibson had input regarding the viola transcription, this shows the prevailing thinking regarding the viola just two years after the sonatas were published. It also explains the many interpolations designed to keep the viola away from the higher registers. Continuous ascending lines, such as in mm.10, 112, 136, and 170, were acceptable; and forte A-string entrances after rests in both sonatas are preceded by grace notes that softened the attack of unskilled players. Had Brahms lived long enough to hear Lionel Tertis, he might have had a similar inspiration as with Richard Mühlfeld. At the very least he could have considered his transcription of this sonata in a different light. It is not without justification that we can adapt the viola part to current high standards. Doing so makes the sonatas even more “correct” than many of the urtext editions currently available. The rewriting of the viola part to accommodate a “restricted range” can now be considered anachronistic since the viola is no longer limited by range or technical difficulties. The E-flat Sonata can be played using the same range of pitches as the clarinet. Doing so preserves the original lines that join the piano and viola, while also improving balance issues. This is not a new idea: several notable violists play the sonata in the clarinet pitch range, with minor modifications, including William Primrose, Bruno Giuranna, Nobuko Imai, Paul Silverthorne, Paul Neubauer, Kim Kashkashian, Maxim Rysanov, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, Steven Dann, Carol Rodland, and Jordan Bak. Milton Katims made an edition that uses the clarinet pitches, but it is a performance rather than a researched edition. To my knowledge, there is no edition that is based on the Johannes Brahms Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke of 2010.

In his book, The Early Violin and Viola: A Practical Guide , Robin Stowell writes:

Viola players may wish to review various passages of the arrangement for their instrument, which Bruno Giuranna suggests is not by Brahms and which Brahms himself evidently described in a letter to Joachim as ‘ungeschickt und unerfreulich’ (‘unpleasant and ungrateful’). Giuranna particularly finds distasteful many of the sudden octave displacements and registrar changes in the viola part that destroy the musical continuity of several melodic phrases (for example, at i /18) and he recommends as far as possible restoring the original notes. 2

And in an email from Bruno Giuranna, dated 21 November 2022:

Hi Lawrence,

Thank you for sharing your edition of op. 120/2. As you know, I do prefer the original clarinet octaves so I would have done the same also in bars 113 to 116. 3 Actually, the only low octave that I consider is the one in bar 58 in the first movement. You did a very accurate job in your comments and the viola world should be grateful for that!

All the very best. Bruno

A Look at The Manuscript 4 The First and Second Movement

A viola transcription by Brahms was published but had many interpolations for technical simplification. In this edition, octave placements follow the original clarinet part (except where noted). Dynamics in parentheses match the piano score and phrasings are maintained, but with practical bowings for the viola.


Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2023

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