Ferdinand Rebay (1880–1953) was an Austrian composer, arranger, choirmaster, pianist, and piano teacher.
A former prize-winning student of Robert Fuchs at the Konservatorium der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Conservatory of the Society of Friends of Music) in Vienna, he achieved recognition in Vienna during his life as a vocal composer, carrying on a melodic tradition that can be traced back to Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert. Today, Rebay is becoming increasingly recognized as an extraordinary composer for the guitar, having written close to 400 works for it, from solos to chamber and vocal music. Nevertheless, much of this music remained unpublished until recently and still awaits assessment by guitarists and audiences.
This article is a scholarly outcome of an artistic project that started with the premiere recording of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major for Guitar in video and will also include a critically-oriented performance edition. The performance film was funded by the Hermann Hauser Guitar Foundation and released by GuitarCoop on their YouTube channel.
It was filmed at the Kaisersaal of Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria, where Rebay sang as a choirboy and whose music archives currently hold half of the composer’s musical estate. In the process of preparing this sonata for recording, I went through a systematic revision of the musical text. This was necessary because, like most non-guitarist composers who started to write for the guitar in the 1920s, Rebay often needed help from guitarists to make sure that his music was entirely playable. For reasons that will be speculated on later, this did not happen with this sonata, and the original text remained essentially untouched for 80 years, until I decided to engage in what I will later describe as a “posthumous collaboration” with the composer.
The goal of the article is twofold: first, to introduce Rebay’s seven solo guitar sonatas—with emphasis on the Second Sonata in E major—and then to discuss my procedures for solving the issues faced during the realization of the text. Before entering the main discussion, however, I will contextualize the Viennese environment that supported Rebay’s guitar output on the basis of historical investigation and documental findings. This section will approach the emergence of the guitar curriculum at the Staatsakademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien (State Academy for Music and Performing Arts, Vienna; from now on simply referred to as Wiener Akademie) in 1923 and the circumstances that drew Rebay’s attention to the guitar, highlighting his urge to compose multi-movement sonatas for the instrument. It will also present his niece, the guitarist Gerta Hammerschmid (1906–85), and explain what her role was in performing and spreading Rebay’s music, including the collaborative process that can be attested from the music manuscripts.
I will then survey Rebay’s seven solo guitar sonatas by outlining their structure and looking at significant contextual facts, such as the circumstances of composition and performances, past and present. A detailed investigation of the Second Sonata in E major will follow, including a study of the sources and an informed speculation about its connection with the First Sonata in E major (n.d.). Finally, I will explore the score-based issues encountered in the piece, categorizing them according to their nature (unplayable, unidiomatic, or technically challenging) and offering guitaristic solutions.
In many ways, this is a continuation of my PhD research, conducted at the Royal College of Music in London between 2015 and 2019.
Although I did not strictly engage with an autoethnographic methodology in it, I adopted some of its principles, such as the emphasis on personal experience to justify my artistic choices. As an artist-scholar, I could not have conducted this sort of investigation in any other way, since musicians are ultimately appreciated by their individual interpretations, which, although framed by collective convention, are always shaped by a personal understanding of the composer’s text. In doing so, I find it important to clarify that I do not hold up my solutions to score-based issues as definitive. Rather, I hope to create an avenue for exchanging ideas with other artist-scholars who engage in similar research, looking critically at their repertoire and helping to build interdisciplinary bridges. 1. Rebay and the Guitar
In this introductory section, I will contextualize the guitar activity in Vienna at the time when Rebay started to write for the instrument in 1924, introduce some important characters that will reappear in direct association with the Second Sonata in E major, establish his importance as a guitar sonata composer, and outline the collaborative context that accompanied his creative process. This guitar activity was part of the so-called twentieth-century guitar renaissance, which started in the 1920s and freed the instrument from its former niche environments, like those of the amateur guitar clubs. Although usually associated with the international career of Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893–1987), this movement had many local and regional chapters as well—among them, the Viennese one with which Rebay interacted.
In 1926, the president of the Gitarristische Vereinigung (Guitar Society) in Munich, Fritz Buek, described the recent developments in the classical guitar literature in an optimistic way:
Newer composers also gave the guitar many a task in their works, such as Gustav Mahler in his Seventh Symphony and Hans Pfitzner in his opera Die Rose vom Liebesgarten… One should also mention Arnold Schoenberg, who assigns a significant part to the guitar in his Serenade for Seven Instruments, and a chamber work by Rebay for oboe and guitar, which was performed on a chamber music evening in Vienna on March 31, 1925.
Buek was clearly celebrating what he considered the guitar’s assimilation into the symphonic and chamber music environments, but his examples are inconsistent when looked at from the perspective of the instrument’s role. While the score of Pfitzner’s
Die Rose vom Liebesgarten (1901) did not originally include a guitar part (had Buek witnessed a performance with an alternative instrumentation?), Mahler indeed employed a guitar and a mandolin in the fourth movement of his Seventh Symphony (1904–5), “Nachtmusik” (“serenade”). However, there the guitar plays a simple accompaniment that does not even demand a professional guitarist and can be taken up by an available orchestral player with minimal guitar skills. On the other hand, Schoenberg’s Serenade, op. 24 (1924), and Rebay’s Sonata in E minor for Oboe and Guitar (1925) assign the instrument a much more sophisticated and technically demanding part. As will be seen, it is no coincidence that they were both chamber music works written in Vienna in the 1920s.
 In 1923, the Wiener Akademie implemented what was possibly the first ever conservatory-level guitar program in Europe.
This happened thanks to Jakob Ortner (1879–1959), a native of Innsbruck who had taught there under fixed-term contracts since at least 1920, gaining permanent status in 1924 (see figure 1). Figure 1: Jakob Ortner (in the center) with students in 1926; from left to right, Luise Walker, Walter Endstorfer, Ilse Hofmann, Hans Schlagradl, and Friedl Hinker (photograph by Max Schneider); by courtesy of Gitarre-Archiv Österreich
This unforeseen opportunity for professional education attracted young guitarists from Austria and abroad, and Ortner taught some of the most important guitarists active in Vienna throughout the twentieth century, such as Luise Walker (1910–98) and Karl Scheit (1909–93).
A unique feature of the Viennese guitar scene of this period was its emphasis on chamber music, as opposed to the solo-oriented repertoire of the leading guitarists of the time, Miguel Llobet (1878–1938) and Andrés Segovia. Ortner often organized
Kammermusikabende (chamber music evenings) with his students, and these events included not only the vast repertoire from the Biedermeier period but also new chamber music with guitar. This was such a novelty that news quickly reached beyond borders, prompting Buek to mention the performances of both Schoenberg’s and Rebay’s pieces in his book. In fact, the guitar part of both pieces was played by an advanced student of Ortner shown in the picture above, Hans Schlagradl (1897–1975).
It was through Ortner that Rebay was first acquainted with the guitar in the 1920s. After many years leading two important Viennese choral associations, the Wiener Chorverein (Vienna Choral Society) and the Schubertbund (Schubert Association), Rebay started to teach piano at the Wiener Akademie in 1920, gaining permanent status one year later. His early steps as a guitar composer are described in an article from 1926, published in the first number of Ortner’s quarterly, the
Österreichische Gitarre-Zeitschrift (Austrian guitar journal). There, he calls Ortner “the guitar master of Vienna,” criticizes the current guitar repertoire, and praises the instrument’s suitability for chamber music, encouraging other composers to write for it.
The repertoire criticized by Rebay was most likely that formerly cultivated in the amateur guitar clubs, which privileged lieder with easy guitar accompaniment, unpretentious instrumental miniatures in salon style, and didactic works, generally lacking scope and sophistication.
Rebay’s reaction to this kind of music was to write full-fledged sonatas for the guitar, a genre rarely explored in those niches and virtually absent in the instrument’s Romantic repertoire. Despite the conservative connotations that the sonata had carried since the mid-1800s, Rebay relied in writing sonatas for the guitar on the genre’s enduring association with greatness and prestige, thus potentially elevating the instrument in the eyes of the Viennese audiences. A survey at the main repositories of Rebay’s manuscripts, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library, A-Wn) and the Music Archive of the Cistercian Abbey Heiligenkreuz (A-HE), revealed more than thirty original sonatas or sonata-structured works for the guitar (see table 1). This is in sharp contrast with the few non-guitar sonatas by Rebay, most of them youthful works from his conservatory years under Fuchs. The number of pieces, in combination with the sophisticated concept behind them, undoubtedly makes Rebay the most significant composer of guitar sonatas of all time.
Sonata in E minor
Oboe and Guitar
Quartet in D minor
Violin, Viola, Violoncello, and Guitar
Sonatina in B-flat major
Clarinet and Guitar
Quartet in G minor
Terz Guitar, 2 Guitars, and Quintbass Guitar
Sonata in A minor
Septet in A minor
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon, and 2 Guitars
Trio in D major
Flute, Bassoon, and Guitar
Trio in G major
Terz Guitar and 2 Guitars
Septet in A minor
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon, and 2 Guitars
Trio Sonata in A minor
Oboe, Violoncello, and Guitar
Sonata in D minor
Viola and Guitar
Großes Duo in A minor
Guitar and Quintbass Guitar
Terz Guitar, Guitar, and Quintbass Guitar
Sonata in D minor
Clarinet and Guitar
Quintet in D major
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, and 2 Guitars
Trio in A major
Flute, Clarinet, and Guitar
Second Sonata in E major
Sonata in D minor
Sonata in E major
Flute and Guitar
Sonata in C major
Oboe and Guitar
Sonata in C minor
Violin and Guitar
Sonata in E minor
Violin and Guitar
Sonata in D major
Flute and Guitar
Sonata in A minor
Clarinet and Guitar
Quartet in A minor
Flute, Guitar, Viola, and Violoncello
Großes Duo in A minor
Guitar and Piano
Sonata in D major
Sonata in A minor
Trio in D minor
Violin, Viola, and Guitar (Terz Guitar)
Sonate in einem Satz
First Sonata in E major
Sonata in C major
Guitar and Piano
Sextet in A minor
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon, and Guitar
Table 1: Survey of sonatas or sonata-structured works by Rebay at A-Wn and A-HE
Rebay entrusted some of the finest Viennese guitarists of his time with performing his music, such as Walker and Carl Dobrauz (1900–63)—both graduates of the Wiener Akademie—as well as Alfred Rondorf (1895–1972).
But in the early 1930s the name of Rebay’s guitarist niece, Hammerschmid, started to appear recurrently in association with performances of his guitar music (see figure 2). She eventually became his main champion and is a central figure in the genesis of the Second Sonata in E major, as will be detailed later. Figure 2: Gerta Hammerschmid in 1933 (photograph by Georg Fayer); by courtesy of California State University’s Oviatt Library, Vahdah Olcott-Bickford Collection, box 155, folder music personalities G-H, 1904–54
Hammerschmid had been a student of Ortner at the Wiener Akademie, earning a pedagogical degree. She worked as a private guitar teacher in Vienna, also teaching at the Bundes-Lehrerbildungsanstalt Wien (Federal Training Institute for Teachers in Vienna), the Pädagogisches Institut der Stadt Wien (Vienna City’s Pedagogic Institute), and the Privat-Lehrerinnenbildungsanstalt der Töchter des göttlichen Heilands (Teacher Training College of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer).
As a performer, Hammerschmid did not achieve the international scope of Walker in her career, but she performed regularly in Vienna and was regionally known as a chamber-music specialist. In 1933, at only 19 years old, she played a concert of new chamber music for guitar at the Konzerthaus’s Schubertsaal, including world and local premieres of music by Rebay, Karl Schöfmann, Paul Pisk, Paul Hindemith, and Franz Salmhofer. Such a program was quite adventurous for the time and conceptually unthinkable only one decade earlier, when the repertoire still reflected the tastes and values of the amateur guitar clubs. It is a further sign of how chamber music played an important role in the Viennese guitar environment.
In my PhD thesis, I speculate that Hammerschmid may have intended to use Rebay’s music as a stepping stone to her performance career.
This may even have been Rebay’s own motivation for writing so much for the instrument, as she was the main dedicatee of his guitar works, and from 1935 onwards most documented performances of his music list her as the main performer. Other guitarists—apart from Walker—would only participate as collaborators, and young Hammerschmid partnered with Rebay’s established Viennese colleagues, such as Alexander Wunderer (oboe), Josef Niedermayr (flute), Max Weißgärber (violin), and others. The privilege to perform her uncle’s music is further suggested by a letter she wrote in 1933 to the American guitarist and pedagogue Vahdah Olcott-Bickford (1885–1980) regarding the latter’s interest in acquiring Rebay’s music. In the letter, Hammerschmid writes, “I reserve myself the right to premiere the chamber music works [by Rebay] and, therefore, the works that I have not yet performed are currently unavailable.” Hammerschmid’s attitude may have prevented the dissemination of Rebay’s guitar music, thus failing to establish a solid and shared performance tradition. This scenario is aggravated when one considers that his most sophisticated music—such as the sonatas and sonata-structured works—remained unpublished during his lifetime. After he died in 1953, his musical estate was inherited by Hammerschmid and later split between A-Wn and A-HE, remaining inaccessible to the public until the first modern publications came out in the early 2000s through Geneva-based Philomele Editions.
 Before focusing on Rebay’s solo sonatas, it is important to understand the collaborative process with his guitarists, most notably Hammerschmid. As a composer who did not play the guitar himself, Rebay wrote for it sitting at the piano with an “ideal guitar” in mind. Although he understood the guitar’s mechanism well, like most non-guitarist composers he still relied on the advice of professional guitarists to make sure that his musical ideas were feasible. Many of his autographs contain annotations and fingerings, particularly in the case of music that was performed during his lifetime. These are clear signs of collaboration. When it involved chamber music, parts would later be prepared for performance, often by his sister Emilie Rebay (1887–1963), who worked as a professional copyist in Vienna. The guitar parts would normally incorporate suggestions that had been annotated in the autographs. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate this process in the Sonata in C major for Oboe and Guitar (1942).
Figure 3: Excerpt of the autograph of the Sonata in C major for Oboe and Guitar; by courtesy of the Austrian National Library, F40.Rebay.12 Figure 4: Excerpt of the manuscript guitar part of the Sonata in C major for Oboe and Guitar; by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, FRWV IV 6/H-2/V
From the autograph excerpt above, it is possible to assume that the passage in thirds that starts after the double bar proved difficult to realize, and for this reason many of the top notes were crossed out. This probably happened during Rebay’s workshopping stage with his collaborative guitarist—in this case, Hammerschmid. The manuscript guitar part, which can be understood as the
Fassung letzter Hand, suggests that Rebay eventually agreed to simplify the texture.
From the perspective of a twenty-first-century guitarist, however, the results of Rebay’s collaboration with his niece may be challenged. This is not only because the instrument’s technical standards have evolved significantly since Rebay’s time but also due to the lack of a true performance tradition on which today’s guitarists could rely. In fact, such a tradition is only developing now, as more and more guitarists finally get in touch with his music worldwide.
On the basis of my broad experience with Rebay’s music as both guitarist and scholar, I have devised the concept of “posthumous collaboration.” It symbolically illustrates my process of revising his music for guitaristic suitability, as well as critically examining the interventions of his collaborative guitarists. This collaboration happens by means of a tripartite strategy that considers not only technical aspects of guitar playing but a thorough understanding of Rebay’s notation and the performance style associated with his original environment.
Ultimately, it is akin to the act of editing, which, in the words of Grier, “consists of the interaction between the authority of the composer and the authority of the editor,” not shying away from intervening in the text, since “editorial intervention is unavoidable, if not outright obligatory, no matter how undesirable.” The main difference between my posthumous collaboration and an editorial activity is that, while the latter’s goal is an authoritative edition, the former aims at bridging the gap between the original text and a convincing realization on the instrument.
A posthumous collaboration was necessary to prepare Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major for performance. In this case, considering Hammerschmid’s interventions in the text was not a critical step, because as will be examined later, the autograph shows no signs of collaboration with her in three of its four movements.
2. Introducing Rebay’s Solo Guitar Sonatas
This section will present an overview of Rebay’s seven solo sonatas, looking at their structure as well as the circumstances of composition, current manuscript sources, and performance history. Compared to the chamber music, Rebay’s solo guitar music is still underperformed, a tendency reflected in the scholarly literature. In his pioneering article of 2006, the founder of Philomele Editions Johann Gaitzsch only mentions in passing that A-HE holds seven solo sonatas by Rebay, focusing instead on the duo sonatas for melodic instruments and guitar.
My own PhD thesis, after discussing the importance of his more than thirty guitar sonatas or sonata-structured works, concentrates on the sonatas for woodwind instruments and guitar, as well as the Großes Duo in A minor for Guitar and Quintbass Guitar (1940).
Nevertheless, Rebay also produced a large corpus of solo music that comprises multi-movement sonatas, variation series, characteristic pieces, and miniatures. Like the chamber music, the solo music circulated poorly in manuscript copies, remaining largely unpublished during Rebay’s lifetime.
At the time of writing, however, most of Rebay’s solo music is already available in print. This includes the seven solo guitar sonatas, which are published in their entirety by Ediciones Eudora (edited by Gonzalo Noqué) and partially by Bergmann Edition (edited by Milena Valcheva). Table 2 lists all of them, along with important information gathered through an examination of the available manuscripts as well as catalogs and concert archives.
WORK AND DEDICATION
Sonata in A minor
1925 (n.d. in MS, date taken from a 1932 catalog)
I. Gut bewegt
II. Ruhig und zart
III. Scherzo. Lebhaft und mit Humor
IV. Lustig bewegt
A-HE FRVW VI 1/1/VI
(MS copied by Emilie Rebay)
Fingerings, note corrections, and paste-overs (possibly by Gerta Hammerschmid)
Uncertain, but annotations and fingerings suggest that it could have been performed
Sonate in einem Satz
n.d., probably 1940–45
(piano original from 1901)
I. Allegro, ma non troppo
II. Allegro molto (scherzando)
III. Adagio (molto)
IV. Frisch bewegt
A-HE FRVW VI 1/2/VI
(Autograph, includes a full draft)
Second Sonata in E major
dedicated to Gerta Hammerschmid
I. Moderato con espressione
II. Scherzo. Presto
III. Adagio. Sehr ruhig und ausdrucksvoll
IV. Finale. A la Marzia [sic]
A-HE FRVW VI 1/29/VI
(Autograph; includes MS of 4th movement copied by Emilie Rebay)
Fingerings on MS of 4th movement (probably by Gerta Hammerschmid)
Sonata in D minor
January 23, 1942
(end of May 1941)
I. Allegro (großes Alla-Breve)
II. Variationen über ein Tema [sic] von Schubert
III. Scherzo. Presto
IV. Finale. Alla breve (aber nicht zu schnell!)
A-HE FRWV VI 1/30/VII
Likely, by Luise Walker, February 2, 1943, Brahms-Saal, Musikverein
First Sonata in E major
n.d. (certainly before November 1943)
I. Fließend bewegt, aber nicht zu lebhaft
II. Variationen über das Volkslied “Verstohlen geht der Mond auf”
III. Scherzo. Gut bewegt, aber nicht zu schnell!
IV. Finale. A la Marcia
CZ-Bm A24980, Fritz Czernuschka Collection
(MS possibly copied by Gerta Hammerschmid)
Fingerings (identical to those in MS copy of the Second Sonata in E major)
Yes, by Gerta Hammerschmid, November 27, 1943, Brahms-Saal, Musikverein
Sonata in D major
dedicated to Gerta Hammerschmid
December 23, 1943
I. Thema mit Variationen. Andante (grazioso) con sentimento
II. Scherzo. Allegro, ma non troppo (sempre un poco pesante e rubato)
III. Rondo. Moderato
A-HE FRWV VI 1/5/VI
Sonata in A minor
February 10, 1944
I. Allegro moderato
II. Variationen über das Volkslied “Schwesterlein Schwesterlein wann gehn wir nach Haus.” Ruhig und zart
A-HE FRWV VI 1/34/VII
Table 2: Rebay’s seven solo guitar sonatas
As the table shows, Rebay’s first solo sonata was the Sonata in A minor, from 1925, written just a few months after his first works for guitar. This was just one of the many sonatas or sonata-structured works he wrote that year, possibly reflecting the enthusiasm that Ortner and his students demonstrated for this new and unusual repertoire that was emerging right from their Wiener Akademie environment. It was also in sync with the developments that were happening in the guitar mainstream, that is, the repertoire that was commissioned and performed by Llobet and Segovia. Indeed, the only twentieth-century non-guitarist composers to predate Rebay in writing solo sonatas for the instrument were Manuel Ponce with the
Sonata mexicana (1923), Eduardo López-Chavarri with the Sonata I (1923), and Federico Moreno-Torroba with the Sonatina (1924).
 I have not found evidence that the Sonata in A minor was performed in public, despite the presence of an MS copy with fingerings, note corrections, and paste-overs, all signs that a collaborative guitarist—possibly Hammerschmid—interacted with the music at some level. However, it is curious that in 1934 Rebay adapted this sonata as the Trio Sonata in A minor for Oboe, Violoncello, and Guitar. It may well be that the original was considered technically too difficult at the time and a chamber arrangement was devised to facilitate the performance.
Rebay did not venture to compose any other solo sonatas until the 1940s. This period coincided with the turbulent years of the Anschluss, when he had his Wiener Akademie position downgraded due to disagreements with the regime-appointed director and his health started to deteriorate, eventually leading to his retirement.
The Sonate in einem Satz (n.d.), which is actually made of four interconnected movements, is an arrangement of a piano sonata written in 1901, while he was still a student of Fuchs. This is not the only case of a guitar arrangement of an earlier piano sonata, suggesting that Rebay still had a high opinion of his youthful works and thought that they would gain a more perennial place within the guitar repertoire than in their original setting. The Sonata in D minor (1941/42) is likely the sonata premiered by Walker at the Musikverein’s Brahms-Saal in 1943. The First Sonata in E major (n.d.) was premiered by Hammerschmid at the same venue nine months after Walker’s premiere, and the Second Sonata in E major was apparently neither performed nor revised, as will be scrutinized in the next section. Both the Sonata in D major (1943) and the Sonata in A minor (1943) show no signs of interaction with guitarists in their autographs and are the only ones in the group with three movements, being somewhat lighter in character and structural scope. As seen, only two of the seven solo guitar sonatas were unquestionably performed publicly during Rebay’s lifetime. Whether this is related to the inherent technical difficulty of these pieces or to Hammerschmid’s controlling attitude towards the access to her uncle’s music is only a matter of speculation.
As previously mentioned, more attention has been paid to Rebay’s chamber music since the revival of his guitar music starting in the early 2000s. Only now is his solo music, and particularly the solo sonatas, starting to gain wider recognition and be featured in concert and competition programs, as well as in professional audio and video recordings. The pioneering recording was an album released by the duo SoloDuo in 2010.
Besides the Großes Duo in A minor for Guitar and Quintbass Guitar, the duo members also recorded the Sonata in D minor (Lorenzo Micheli) and the [first] Sonata in A minor (Matteo Mela). This recording helped immensely to project the name of Rebay within the guitar community. However, it took ten years for new recordings of selected solo sonatas by Rebay to appear on the market. In 2020, Leopoldo Saracino recorded the two sonatas in three movements (the Sonata in D major and the [second] Sonata in A minor), Eduardo Fernández recorded the Sonate in einem Satz, and Michael Kolk also recorded the [second] Sonata in A minor. The Second Sonata in E major received its premiere recording with my 2022 film, and a recording of the First Sonata in E major has just been released by Enrico Barbareschi, in 2022. Therefore, as of May 2022, all of Rebay’s seven solo sonatas have been professionally recorded.
At the beginning of my investigation on the solo sonatas, both sonatas in E major had not yet been recorded, and—based on an informal internet search—seemingly not even performed publicly by renowned guitarists. While the First Sonata in E major had at least been premiered by Hammerschmid in 1943, I questioned why the Second Sonata in E major was still neglected, since, at first sight, it appeared to me as one of the most interesting among the seven. The possible reasons for that will be discussed in the next two sections.
3. The Second (and the First) Sonata in E Major for Guitar
After surveying the seven solo sonatas, I will narrow the discussion down to the Second Sonata in E major, first presenting a structural overview of it and then a detailed study of the manuscript sources. As shown above, this sonata exists in an autograph from May 1941, sharing the last movement with the First Sonata in E major. This might appear confusing, since using the same movement in two unrelated pieces is not typical for Rebay. Although a conclusive explanation is not possible given the available data, I will attempt to shed light on this question by looking at the circumstances that surrounded the emergence of both sonatas.
Like most of Rebay’s sonatas or sonata-structured works, the Second Sonata in E major is in four movements, following the traditional post-Beethoven sonata structure, and written in a conservative style. The eleven-minute first movement (Moderato con espressione) is in sonata form, strictly following the textbook model.
However, Rebay surprises the listener with a clever harmonic design that explores the full range of the guitar, creating surprising modulations and unusual textures within the strict boundaries of the form, particularly in the development. In contrast with the moderately paced first movement, the energetic Scherzo and Trio (Presto – Etwas ruhiger) comes second, again exploring the instrument’s full range but this time in a virtuosic way. The trio is reminiscent of a Viennese waltz, an almost mandatory feature in Rebay’s sonatas. The third movement (Sehr ruhig und ausdrucksvoll), in large ternary form, is a recreation of the slow movement of his Sonate in einem Satz, transposed from A major to A minor. It is surprisingly unstable at times due to the expert use of chromaticism and diminished chords, being arguably the expressive focal point of the piece. The lighter last movement (Finale. A la Marcia) is also written in sonata form, but now the development presents an entirely new theme in harmonics, instead of the traditional elaboration with former thematic material. This new theme is recapped in the coda, ending the piece in a contemplative way, which is also a signature of Rebay. The full sonata lasts around 26 minutes, which is slightly longer than average for his solo and duo sonatas.
 The Second Sonata in E major was written as a birthday gift to Hammerschmid in 1941, as shown by the dedication in the upper right corner of the autograph’s first page (see figure 5). While Rebay often dedicated pieces to his niece on festive holidays like Christmas or Easter, writing an extended solo sonata in four movements for her thirty-fifth birthday seems very symbolic. By this time, Hammerschmid had already established herself as a guitar teacher and chamber musician in Vienna, and this solo sonata could have been a stimulus for her to cultivate solo ambitions as well. This is particularly plausible when considering that by this time Rebay was in close contact with the great Austrian guitar soloist Luise Walker (who had succeeded Ortner at the Wiener Akademie in 1940) and may have been inspired by her to write more solo guitar music. In fact, the Sonata in D minor, which was probably premiered by Walker in 1943, has similar proportions and may be seen as a “sister sonata” to the Second Sonata in E major.
Figure 5: Title and dedication of the Second Sonata in E major; by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, FRWV VI 1/29/VII
Judging from the clean aspect of the autograph, Hammerschmid never performed the piece, despite the special circumstances that surrounded its composition. Apart from a few places in the fourth movement, the autograph shows no annotations, note corrections, or paste-overs, as would be expected in the case of music that had been revised by Rebay’s guitarists prior to performance.
Before digging into the question of why this sonata would have been neglected by Hammerschmid, however, it is necessary to examine the multiple sources of its fourth movement.
The fourth movement (Finale. A la Marcia) exists in three manuscript sources, written by three different people: as part of the sonata’s autograph, as a separate manuscript copy by Emilie Rebay, and as part of the manuscript copy of the First Sonata in E major, made by a third hand (see figures 6, 7, and 8).
Figure 6: Beginning of the fourth movement of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, autograph; by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, FRWV VI 1/29/VII Figure 7: Beginning of the fourth movement of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, MS copy; by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, FRWV VI 1/29/VII Figure 8: Beginning of the fourth movement of Rebay’s First Sonata in E major, MS copy; by courtesy of Moravske Zemske Muzeum, A 24 980
The first two sources are bound together at A-HE, preceded by a cover page not written by Rebay that reads “2. Sonate in E-Dur” (Second Sonata in E major). As can be seen from figure 5 above, the ordinal number does not appear on the first page of the autograph, suggesting that the numbering could have been a later arrangement, perhaps even by Hammerschmid. The manuscript copy of the fourth movement is preceded by a page written by Emilie Rebay that identifies it as the finale of the second sonata, also specifying that “it should also be played as the finale of the First Sonata in E major” (“auch als Finale [IV. Satz] in der 1. Sonate in E Dur zu spielen”). The musical text of this manuscript is identical to that of the autograph, except that it is fully fingered by Hammerschmid, a usual procedure for music that she had prepared for performance.
Finally, the third source of this movement comes from the manuscript of the Sonata in E major that is part of the Fritz Czernuschka Collection, available from the Music Archives of the Moravske Zemske Muzeum (CZ-Bm) in Brno, Czech Republic.
The musical text is identical to the manuscript copy at A-HE, including the fingerings. The manuscript is undated and has no number ascribed to the sonata; however, there can be no doubt that this is the First Sonata in E major, premiered by Hammerschmid at the Musikverein in 1943. It was obviously known to Czernuschka, who might even have attended the performance and later requested a copy from Hammerschmid. Since she had already performed the piece, it was available for purchase, as per her customary procedure. Oddly, no autograph of this piece is currently available.
Based on the circumstances described above, it is possible to speculate on a sequence of events regarding the origin of these two sonatas in E major. It is plausible that the Second Sonata appeared first, in May 1941. However, upon receiving the piece Hammerschmid encountered technical difficulties—which do exist, as will be diagnosed next—and considered the piece unsuitable for the instrument, apart from the fourth movement. She then proposed that Rebay write another sonata incorporating that movement, and this became known as the First Sonata in E major.
There are a few objective reasons to support this speculation. The First Sonata in E major is shorter, technically easier, and musically straightforward, possibly better suiting Hammerschmid’s solo-playing skills. In addition, the movements of the Second Sonata in E major seem to share musical material on thematic and motivic levels, suggesting that the finale was originally conceived as part of this sonata. This can be seen, for instance, in the similar arc design of the first themes in the first and fourth movements (see figure 9).
Figure 9: First-theme similarities in the first and fourth movements of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, autograph; by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, FRWV VI 1/29/VII
In both themes, Rebay starts with an anacrusis built on the flattened sixth degree of E major (C-natural). Their first phrases have similar lengths and melodic ranges, reaching the subdominant on the third measure and coming to a close via a descending scale that starts on C5-sharp, although ending on different scale degrees. This sort of cyclical treatment happens in other passages as well as between the third and fourth movements.
 However, considering the scope of this article, what matters most is not the possible sequence of events speculated on above but the reason why the Second Sonata in E major was neglected by Hammerschmid, not receiving its official premiere until my film was released in 2022. The answer became clear to me right from the first realization attempts, around May 2021: the piece lacked a revision by a guitarist in order to fully explore the guitar’s mechanism and idiom, beyond what a non-guitarist composer could possibly predict alone. The solution was to engage in a “posthumous collaboration” with Rebay.
4. Fine-Tuning Rebay’s Guitar Writing
In this section, I will examine my process of revising the text of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major for Guitar, preceded by a discussion on the nature of the score-based issues faced by the guitarist during realization. In 1932, Rebay prepared a catalog for a guitar composition competition in Innsbruck, listing a total of fifty-three pieces for guitar he had composed to date. He, or possibly Hammerschmid, marked each piece with one to three x’s, surely referring to their degree of difficulty. Twenty-four pieces were classified as difficult (xxx), twenty-one as intermediate (xx), and only ten as easy (x).
Based on this classification, Rebay’s average writing could be considered intermediate–difficult for 1930s standards. While this is probably true even for today’s standards, one should not mistake difficulty of execution for difficulty of realization.
While difficulty of execution refers to technical problems that can be solved with an efficient practice strategy (good fingering, time devoted to practice, etc.), difficulty of realization pertains to problems intrinsic to the musical text and its realization on the instrument, being more complex to solve and occasionally involving performer intervention. Often the boundaries are not so clear, and the guitarist must deal with both within the same excerpt. When working on Rebay’s music, particularly his Second Sonata in E major, I was faced with three categories of score-based issues, demanding a greater or lesser degree of intervention in the text. They can be summarized as: 1) unplayable, 2) unidiomatic, and 3) technically challenging. Although it would be beyond the scope of this article to approach every single score-based issue, I have chosen a few excerpts of the piece in which my intervention in the text or a creative approach to fingering was significant and illustrative, according to each of the three categories listed above. The solutions to score-based issues are all fingered, so guitarists can experiment directly with their instrument if wished. Most excerpts were taken from either the first or third movements, since these were the ones with the most score-based issues, at least when considering categories 1 and 2 above.
4.1 Unplayable Passages
The first category occurs when what Rebay wrote is not at all playable, usually for purely mechanical reasons. This is uncommon, as he had a very good knowledge of the fingerboard geography and developed an instinct for what fits the instrument’s mechanism. But when score-based issues meet this category, intervention in the text is unavoidable.
Figure 10 shows an excerpt of the Second Sonata in E major in which I had to discreetly intervene in the text to make it not only playable but also efficient, due to the difficulty of execution. The excerpt is taken from the development of the first movement, when the top voice holds a melody derived from the exposition’s first theme, while the accompaniment happens in quick and light figurations.
Figure 10: Example of an unplayable passage and the solution in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M1, mm. 46–47 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
In the shadowed passage, the only way to keep the G4-sharp for its entire length is to have the fourth finger stop this note while the remaining left-hand fingers deal with the accompaniment. However, the way Rebay distributed the notes on the arpeggiated chord demands a shift of position that, besides forcing a melody interruption, is also technically clumsy to execute. By substituting the two G3-sharps in the accompaniment with two E3-sharps (part of the same C-sharp seventh chord), it is possible to remain in position and efficiently execute the fast arpeggiated chord, thus leaving the melody undisturbed. In addition, a slur between the C4-sharp and the B3 was added to facilitate the right-hand arpeggio.
Figure 11 shows another excerpt from the sonata’s first movement (this time from the recapitulation’s coda), to be executed pianissimo and, considering the passage’s unwinding character, with as little technical struggle as possible.
Figure 11: Example of an unplayable passage and the solution in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M1, mm. 97–99 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
Here, Rebay’s original diminished chord is perfectly feasible in fourth position, but the bass line demands a sudden shift to first position to play the F2 and E2, thus releasing the chord too early. The solution involved inverting the chord’s inner notes: by dropping the C4-natural one octave, the whole passage became playable in the first positions. In addition, a slight revoicing was necessary on the subsequent chord to ensure smoothness. From a guitarist’s point of view, this is a very intuitive and simple solution, and the fact that Rebay left it as is in the autograph is a further sign that the piece was probably never revised by Hammerschmid.
Finally, figure 12 shows an excerpt from the beginning of the third movement in which a syncopated melody regularly forms suspensions with the supporting harmony.
Figure 12: Example of an unplayable passage and the solution in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M3, mm. 1–3 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
 While the A minor chord is playable in fifth position as is, it would demand that the ensuing chord and melodic notes also be fingered in higher positions. This generates uncomfortable stretches and an eventual long-distance shift to play the F major chord at the end of the phrase, compromising the length of the melody’s G4-sharp. This scenario of technical struggle can be entirely changed if the original A minor chord is simplified as suggested. Although some of the original chord boldness is lost, it avoids long-distance shifts and allows the melody to unfold in a natural and fluent way. Additionally, while the ensuing C-seventh chord did not need to be simplified, I noticed that the left-hand stretch necessary to perform it in full while keeping the fourth finger holding the A4 led to intonation problems. This would perhaps not be an issue for guitarists with bigger hands than mine, but considering my upcoming recording and an instinct to minimize risks, I decided to simplify this chord as well, removing the E3. Although optional, the limitation of not playing the chord’s third was compensated for by the better phrasing results. Another optional change can be seen in the A5 at the end of the phrase, which I decided to play as a harmonic, for similar reasons: avoiding an uncomfortable stretch to reach the A4 with the fourth finger in such a delicate phrase ending. Ultimately, my goal was to underline the harmonic subtleties of Rebay’s writing as much as possible, but never at the cost of melodic clarity.
4.2 Unidiomatic Passages
The second category of score-based issues does not necessarily involve playability per se but has to do with fully exploring the guitar’s idiom, that is, what sounds natural and convincing on the instrument, even if this involves difficulty of execution. Besides expertise on the instrument, a familiarity with Rebay’s idiom is essential for correctly categorizing excerpts as unidiomatic and successfully intervening in the text. In my long experience with Rebay’s music, I often associated this kind of score-based issue with phrasing and articulation, either marked or not by the composer.
Rebay’s sonata-form movements usually present very symmetrical expositions and recapitulations. The excerpt shown in figure 13 is part of the exposition’s coda in the first movement, set in B major. It is almost exactly mirrored in the recapitulation’s coda (see figure 14), but now in E major. While E major is an excellent key for the guitar, particularly because of the availability of open strings, B major often demands more difficult fingerings. Consequently, the same material in the recapitulation sounds more fluent than in the exposition, and a degree of intervention was desirable.
Figure 13: Example of an unidiomatic passage and the solution in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M1, mm. 31–33 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht. Figure 14: Mirrored passage in the recapitulation of Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M1, mm. 94–96 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
The first issue involves the repeated B2 basses in measures 32 and 33, while the chord changes in the top voice demand tight left-hand horizontal movements at a higher fingerboard position. The only way to realize what Rebay wrote is to use the third finger for the first B2 bass and then cut the second bass short to be able to play the upper chords. This is nothing like what happens in the mirrored passage of the recapitulation, where the equivalent basses are played with an open string and the chords are fingered in the first positions, thus facilitating left-hand movement. Rebay was probably aware of potential issues and marked the B2 basses as quarter instead of half notes. While other solutions could be employed—like a simplification of the ensuing chords—I chose to play the second B bass of each measure as a natural harmonic on the seventh fret of the sixth string. This way, the left hand is free to deal only with the top voice, almost like in the recapitulation. It implied that the B2 bass would be transposed one octave higher, but I did not see this as compromising, because Rebay himself used this alternating octave bass pattern in the second theme of the exposition and recapitulation.
The issue from the second shadowed passage in the excerpt involves preserving a legato articulation between chords, particularly within the dotted-rhythm gesture. One of the main technical hindrances to playing legato on the guitar is shifting positions, because it necessarily stops notes or chords from ringing, separating what came before from what comes next.
This is exactly what happens in this passage, when realizing Rebay’s original notation. When the two chords are simplified, shifting is no longer necessary and the whole gesture meets the passage’s expressive demands.
The excerpt in figure 15 illustrates the same kind of score-based issue. It is taken from a predominantly homophonic passage in the third movement, in which the focus is always melodic, despite the dense chordal texture.
Figure 15: Example of an unidiomatic passage and the solution in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M3, mm. 13–14 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
The first shadowed passage shows a simple way to avoid shifting during a unified legato gesture. By dropping out the inner C4 in the passing chord, one can play the G3 with an open string and the passage sounds effortless, with no gaps between chords. The next issue follows the same rationale, but this time taken to an extreme level. After unsuccessfully trying to deal with this chord sequence while maintaining legato, I decided to simplify the first chord and keep only the top melody, anticipating the thinner texture that Rebay writes in the next measure. Chords are important here for marking the meter pulses and lending the passage a certain solemnity, but they should not jeopardize the subtle forward motion required by phrasing.
 Figure 16 is a rare example in this sonata of a modification that was probably prompted by Hammerschmid, since it comes from the fourth movement, which she publicly performed.
Figure 16: Example of an unidiomatic passage in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, corrected by Rebay, M4, mm. 93–95 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
It is visually clear from the autograph that the original sequence of E3 written by Rebay in the bass line was dropped one octave, taking advantage of the open-string E2. The ensuing A major chord was also revoiced to optimally distribute the notes along five consecutive strings. Although the whole passage could have been realized the way Rebay originally wrote it, the use of open basses and the alternative chord voicing facilitates execution, also helping with the loud dynamics.
4.3 Technically Challenging Passages
The third category of score-based issues is associated more with the concept of difficulty of execution than with realization. Some passages are extremely complex to execute and require “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to devising fingerings and employing unorthodox techniques, as well as enough practice time to overcome the technical challenges. Since these issues are numerous and did not demand a “posthumous collaboration” with Rebay, one example will suffice to illustrate (see figure 17). However, it is a very significant one, because the excerpt comes from the very beginning of the piece, which might have immediately discouraged Hammerschmid to keep working on this sonata when she received the autograph.
Figure 17: Example of a technically challenging passage in Rebay’s Second Sonata in E major, M1, mm. 1–5 Ihr Browser kennt das HTML5-audio-Element noch nicht.
When I first read through this movement, I was startled by the melody’s “bowed-string” quality, suggesting the use of portamento, intense vibrato, and a particular treatment of the grace notes. In fact, I initially considered that this theme would be more appropriate for a sonata for violin and guitar! Not only is the melody alone challenging to execute, but the accompaniment demands constant shifts of position and releasing of melodic notes, thus obstructing melodic motion.
I initially considered this passage a category 2 issue and started to experiment with interventions in the musical text. The most obvious one was to eliminate most of the grace notes, thus facilitating the melodic motion, despite still not addressing the shifts of position. However, on second thought I realized that the grace notes have structural importance in the theme, as they progress with the melody in ever-increasing intervals, starting with a major sixth and ending with an octave. Therefore, eliminating the grace notes would also deprive the theme of an essential structural feature.
I eventually devised the fingering shown above, which, while not strictly orthodox, allowed the theme to unfold in the best possible way. It demanded much practice, however, and this turned out to be the sonata’s excerpt with the highest difficulty of execution. Two chords on measure 3 were simplified, but I would not categorize the passage as unplayable or unidiomatic just because of them. As in many other instances in this piece, it is just extremely complex to execute, demanding creative fingering and steady practice to overcome.
In my PhD thesis, after investigating and performing several chamber sonatas or sonata-structured works by Rebay, I argued that this music establishes “a bridge between the curtailed early-nineteenth-century guitar sonata and the post-Beethovenian sonata. It gives the guitarist an opportunity to exercise a genre and form virtually non-existent otherwise.”
The same is true of his solo sonatas. When analyzing the solo guitar sonata output from the first half of the twentieth century, one finds music inspired by the nineteenth-century Viennese tradition, like Ponce’s Sonata Romántica—an homage to Schubert—or Alfred Uhl’s neoclassical Sonata Classica. Rebay, however, was not just a twentieth-century composer writing in an older style but the result of a Brahmsian environment carried over by his former teachers Eusebius Mandyczewski and Fuchs. Paradoxically, if he can be labeled as an “arch-conservative,” he was also an innovator for having written so many multi-movement sonatas for the instrument, proving that the guitar could also handle sophisticated music.
Among the over thirty sonatas or sonata-structured works by Rebay, his seven solo sonatas had not yet been given enough scholarly attention, a gap this article proposes to fill. As shown, the performance history of these works is uneven or nonexistent, and this has to do with the fact that not all of them were revised or performed during Rebay’s lifetime. A certain mystery surrounds the Second Sonata in E major for Guitar, an ambitious piece written as a birthday gift to Hammerschmid in 1941. For reasons that can only be speculated about, she did not engage with it and possibly asked her uncle to compose another sonata—the later called First Sonata in E major—that would incorporate the former’s last movement. Consequently, the Second Sonata in E major remained virtually forgotten for 80 years and I decided to do what Hammerschmid did not: critically address the score-based issues that hinder realization and offer guitaristic solutions based on what I call a “posthumous collaboration” with Rebay. The results were the recently released film of my performance as well as this article, which among other things aimed to document the revision process.
In my career as a guitarist, I have regularly collaborated with non-guitarist composers in their guitar works. However, revising a piece by a dead composer requires a different approach because of the impossibility of directly addressing the composer. Ultimately, it demands a thorough understanding of the composer’s idiom that can only be gained through practical experience with the music. When faced with score-based issues, a differentiation must be made between difficulty of execution (solved with practice) and difficulty of realization (solved with intervention in the musical text). While working on the Second Sonata in E major for Guitar, I categorized three types of score-based issues—unplayable, unidiomatic, and technically challenging—that are flexible enough to be adapted to any kind of repertoire that needs a similar critical approach from the performer. While intervening in the text, the guitarist must obviously pay attention not only to technical convenience but also to textural, phrasing, and voicing coherence, as the discussion above demonstrates.
Given the unsteady performance history of Rebay’s guitar music and the existence of many unrevised autographs (as is the case with the Second Sonata in E major), I argue that his music urgently needs critically-oriented performance editions. These should not be mere reproductions of the manuscripts but authoritative revisions prepared by guitarists who are well acquainted with Rebay’s idiom and not afraid to “posthumously collaborate.” I myself am preparing such a performance edition of the Second Sonata in E major, and I hope that this article stimulates more guitarists to dive into Rebay’s world and help build a solid and renewed performance tradition of his guitar music.
Cover picture: Ferdinand Rebay in 1931 (photograph by Georg Fayer); by courtesy of Stiftsbibliothek Heiligenkreuz, uncatalogued.