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Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel - The fair copy  DAS JAHR (The Year)

The story of the use and evaluation of the fair copy of Das Jahr ("The Year")

I read with joy the announcement of a Fanny Hensel Festival in Berlin in June 2005 on the occasion of the 200th birthday of the composer Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

The very first event was dedicated to the piano cycle Das Jahr (“The Year”) from 1841-42. In the introductory text we read that Prof. Dr. Beatrix Borchard found “Fanny Hensel’s auto-graph fair copy in the possession of a descendent.”

How can that be possible? After all, already in 1979 the composer-pianist Barbara Heller (then Heller-Reichenbach), together with other members of the Internationaler Arbeits-kreis Frau und Musik Köln (Research Group: Woman and Music, Cologne) “discovered” this autograph in the possession of poet Werner Bergengruen’s widow, a Mendelssohn by birth, and was allowed to borrow it for four days for examination.

Mrs. Bergengruen very gladly consented to the plans for a publication, which then however came to naught as a result of objections raised by the then director of the Mendelssohn Archive in Berlin, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Elvers. He recommended to the widow that the autograph be kept in a safe at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library). It was there-fore widely known that after Mrs. Bergengruen’s death this valuable autograph would come into the possession of her children.

Had one photographed or photocopied the fair copy (for which, of course, permission would have been necessary), the first printed edition by Furore Verlag, Kassel, edited by Barbara Heller and Liana Serbescu (1989) would have been of the authentic version authorized by the composer and not, as it turned out, of the preliminary sketch in an unfinished state.

In the summer of 1997, the fair copy of Das Jahr was pur-chased by the Berlin State Library for the Mendelssohn Archive. A year later, in August 1998, the world premiere CD recording by pianist Wolfram Lorenzen was released on TROUBADISC (TRO-CD 01419). This recording was based on the autograph, since a printed edition was not available. I myself noted all the composer’s alterations and new compo-sitions, and came to the conclusion that one had to consider this an entirely new work.

The musicologists Christian Thorau and Beatrix Borchard speak of “an entirely different work form these are thus not “ self-contained individual movements – and much more, so that it is not possible to speak of a “series of individual pieces.”, after all, “June” is a completely new composition, “August” is now in a new, self-contained third version (the first printed edition mentions only two versions), and “October” is shortened by thirty measures; there are many other cuts, new decisions that lead to the formation of the cycle: “January” attacca, “March” has no final cadenza be-cause the tonic is lacking (this finally sounds in the opening chord of “April”), “April” attacca without a final cadenza –

The fair copy contains 389 altered measures from a total of 1358 measures. This reworking naturally changes “the complete character and the musical substance” of the cycle.

In December 2002, VG Musikedition, Society for Reproduction Rights of Editions of Musical Works, Kassel, filed a lawsuit against TROUBADISC for information about the sales figures of our CD Das Jahr (the amount in dispute ultimately came to all of 115.15 EURO!)

My argument against a payment obligation by reason of the intellectual property rights of the Furore Verlag was that the so-called fair copy is an independent work, or even the actual work Das Jahr, since the Furore Verlag’s first edition repre-sents only an unfinished, incomplete preliminary sketch.

Alas! The Munich district-court judge indicated that, lacking the expert knowledge (“I can’t read a single note, and am entirely unmusical!”), he would make his finding on the basis of an expertise by a court-appointed expert.

To support my appraisal of the work, I suggested that Prof. Dr. Rudolf Elvers, the person with the best knowledge of Fanny Hensel’s autographs (co-editor of the Complete Edition of the Works of Felix Mendelssohn, published by Breitkopf & Härtel), be appointed as the expert, whereas the plaintiff suggested Dr. Hans-Günter Klein. Prof. Elvers was dismissed as being “to old and no longer up-to-date in terms of knowledge of edition rights”, and so Dr. Klein produced an expertise dealing with the following questions:

1. Is the work Das Jahr by Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn, a series of individual movements or a unified work? The court-appointed expert came to the (correct) conclusion “that the cycle Das Jahr has to be considered a unified work and not a series of individual movements” (while at the same time expressly excluding “June” and “September”).

2. Do the first and second manuscript versions represent different works? The court-appointed expert: “Even the two lengthenings (‘January,’ ‘August’) and the three shortenings (‘April,’ ‘October,’ ‘November’), which can be considered ‘sub-stantial,’ do not constitute a ‘new’ work, since they only effect individual form sections of a piece, and do not change the res-pective piece as a whole. Even the replacement of a complete piece – ‘June’ – does not constitute a ‘new’ work.

Since, in view of the negligible amount in dispute, it did not pay for us to pursue this conflict any further before a court that had expressly declared itself to be not competent, we decided to put this whole affair behind us.

Unfortunately, we now have the ridiculous situation that nobody listening to a radio broadcast, a concert, or a recor-ding can know which version he/she is hearing, the frag-mentary version or that of the fair copy.

According to Furore Verlag, the currently available printed edition of the work is the preliminary sketch version “revised” on the basis of the error-free fair copy. Absurd! Even in their CD catalogue, the publishers do not point out the differences between the various recordings. Since according to the still valid ruling it is always the same work, it is not necessary to indicate which autograph manuscript a recording is based on.

Indeed, it is apparently of no importance which “June”, “August”, “October”, “January“, etc., is played, since the “musical substance” is the same in any case, and the work has already experienced a correspondingly large number of “premieres”. After all, women composers have to be “pro-moted”.

That there should be a strict, unambiguous concept of a work, which is not to be softened in any manner to accommodate the publishers’ interests, has unfortunately been forgotten entirely. This is a disservice to the composers, but that doesn’t matter. What a shame!

The abovementioned festival program text contains the following statement about Das Jahr:

For many years musicologists have been trying to fathom the meaning of Fanny Hensel’s piano cycle Das Jahr, and to draw parallels to biographical events, to events related to specific months, and to year’s cycles by other composers.

Perhaps it would also be advisable to consider for once the responsibility vis-à-vis the work of a creative human being with which we want to integrate this composer’s legacy in musical perception and historiography.

Renate Eggebrecht-Kupsa

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Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel,  1845




























Wolfram Lorenzen