Do the world-renowned classical composers ever seriously or in minor ways modify their music compositions after their works got published by publishers and after their works are already openly performed in public concert halls or theaters?

I would like to know historical facts/stories, do such situations happen to the world-renowned classical composers such as those we can read from any western music history textbook:

  • Bach
  • Haydn
  • Mozart
  • Beethoven
  • Brahms
  • Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, etc
  • and so on...

The reason I asked this is that in academia, it happens often and commonly to scholars to revise their published books/articles in the second, third, fourth, ... revisions. (Because the first version of books/articles is seldomly flawless, far from perfect, so the revisions are acceptable.) I wonder whether it happens to world-renown classical musicians in the past?


Many composers have modified their works.

A few selected examples (an exhaustive list would fill a book):

  • Bach often re-used his own pieces
  • Mozart also re-used his own pieces, for example turning his oboe concerto (K314) into an flute concerto by transposing it up a whole tone.
  • Bruckner modified several of his symphonies after the first performances
  • Stravinsky published modified versions of some of his works (sometimes so he could retain the copyright which was about to expire). He was still revising "The Rite of Spring" thirty years after had written it.

Composers will often produce a version of a piece for a reduced or expanded orchestration, or orchestrate a piece originally written for a solo instrument with piano.

  • +1! thanks so much, if you can provide the literature, which music pieces, which publishers (if they have 1st, 2nd, 3rd versions), then this will be wonderful! I think that Bruckner and Stravinsky are more directly relevant to my question. (Bach and Mozart's examples are good to know, though their re-used their works do not count as seriously revising their earlier works [due to imperfect earlier versions] ...) – wonderich Mar 1 at 20:10
  • @wonderich I added a couple of links – PiedPiper Mar 1 at 20:46
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    It's such a complicated issue in Bruckner that scholars have actually named it "The Bruckner Problem." – Richard Mar 1 at 21:25
  • So your answer is - only rarely. – Laurence Payne Mar 1 at 23:33
  • 1
    St Matthew Passion may be a good example; arguably one of Bach's all time greatest works it is commonly credited with heralding the "Bach Revival". While AFAIK only posthumous editions exist, Bach wrote and performed substantially different versions over many years. – Albert.Lang Mar 2 at 9:59

Jean Sibelius revised many of what would become his best-loved pieces after the premiere:

There are probably more but this is just what I was able to find quickly from wikipedia. Some of these (Swan of Tuonela, Oceanides, 5th Symphony) were revised several times. Sibelius was harshly self-critical and famously unsure of himself; he wrote an 8th symphony which doesn't survive because he burned the score. It's thought that this had something to do with his drinking habit and ultimately his decision not to compose for the last 30 years of his life, but that's all speculation.


One of the more interesting modifications was Liszt's addition of the 4th movement to his transcription of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

There was a substantial gap between his first examination of the symphonies and the final version. Though he called the work "complete" with only 3 movements, Liszt later felt that the piano itself had improved to the point where it could represent the orchestral composition.

When Liszt began work transcribing the ninth symphony, he expressed that "after a great deal of experimentation in various directions, I was unable to deny the utter impossibility of even a partially satisfactory and effective arrangement of the 4th movement. I hope you will not take it amiss if I dispense with this and regard my arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies as complete at the end of the 3rd movement of the Ninth." (He had in fact completed a transcription of the Ninth Symphony for two pianos in 1850.)

Nevertheless, he made another attempt after an expressive letter from Breitkopf & Härtel, and expressed "the range achieved by the pianoforte in recent years as a result of progress both in playing technique and in terms of mechanical improvements enables more and better things to be achieved than was previously possible. Through the immense development of its harmonic power the piano is trying increasingly to adopt all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it is able, with only a few exceptions, to reproduce all the characteristics, all the combination, all the forms of the deepest and most profound works of music. It was with this intention that I embark on the work which I now present to the world."

Source (paragraph break mine)

Another body of Liszt's work, his 12 Transcendental Études, underwent three revisions, including one that was intended to simplify them.


You seem to assume, that openly performed or first printed somehow established a definitive version, from which it would be difficult to deviate.

This is not the case for various reasons:

  • quite a few works were never printed during the lifetime of the composer (handwritten copies were sufficient for performance)
  • others were printed unauthorized and in such a poor quality, that the composer to was urged to provide his own edition (Mr Walsh comes into mind, see also here under section instrumental music)
  • operas had to be adjusted to the singers available, frequently parts were replaced by something significantly different (e.g. alto castrato by tenor); especially Handel did this routinely for re-staging earlier works; whole arias were cut, inserted, rewritten, so sometimes place and year were added to the work title
  • Glucks Orfeo ed Eurydice was Italian in the 1762 version and translated to French and reworked for the 1774 Paris performance.
  • who would have noticed the difference in the absence of recordings?

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