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2nd movement of Beethoven's sonata Op. 49, No. 2. Bar 7. One edition seems to show two sets of fingering numbers: 4-3-2, and 4-4-2? What does it mean?

Schenker edition, "Tempo di Menuetto", mm. 1–12

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It means that either is a possibility, and you can choose whichever best fits your technique and musical intention.

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    @seamurmurs You're correct that editorial fingerings are just suggestions and there are alternatives. In this case, I can only make an educated guess: sliding finger four from C# to C-natural is a bit unusual, especially in Beethoven, so it's possible the editor felt it should be explicitly mentioned.
    – Aaron
    Oct 11 at 0:38
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    Schenker, the editor of this edition, was a famous music theorist and editor. He really went to town on the fingerings in his edition of the Beethoven sonatas. Strangely, although he provides two choices here, he doesn't provide the one I would automatically use - 4 3 1 (and then land on the G with 2).
    – cruthers
    Oct 11 at 1:08
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    @seamurmurs The Schenker edition is one of the standards — and very distinctive looking. You can find it on IMSLP.
    – Aaron
    Oct 11 at 1:25
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    @cruthers - you got me there. Why put 2 over onto G? It's moving the whole hand in the wrong direction, considering what comes next.
    – Tim
    Oct 11 at 8:45
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    @Tim it's all personal preference, but I also find cruthers's suggestion natural. I just find the hand-shape with 4 on C#, 3 on C, 1 on A more comfortable than the one with 2 on A instead. Different if there were an octave's leap up on the next quaver, but I don't feel an issue about moving the hand in the wrong direction when the next note is just a third above and there's a whole beat's rest in between.... Oct 11 at 10:47
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Your example and a few others showing multiple sets of fingerings.

Your example...

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...shows fingering alternatives.

Sometimes you see this in technique manuals...

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...in that example the "German, English, French" labels help show the stacked up numbers are rows of alternate fingerings.

Also, multiple sets can be shows not so much as alternate fingers, but to give the meaning more of you should be able to do this movement with all digit combinations...

enter image description here

Fairly common is fingerings above and below notes on a single staff...

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...in that example, the RH and LH markings make clear the two sets of numbers are for right hand and left hand instead of taking up more page space with a grand staff. That's really about simplifying the printed page.

Stacked fingering numbers are also used for chords or playing double notes in one hand...

enter image description here

enter image description here

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  • I remember the (confusing) days when fingers were numbered 1234, and thumb was +. So 1 was index finger.
    – Tim
    Oct 11 at 13:51
  • I new a pianist who told me that long ago - I think he meant Renaissance and Baroque - the thumb wasn't used on keyboard. He said is was considered vulgar! Not sure how historically true that is, but the 1-4 fingering from old seems to match up with the idea. Oct 11 at 16:08
  • Perhaps, then, thumb should have been x, but + seems the right one.
    – Tim
    Oct 11 at 20:07
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Clearly, they're options. The idea of using the same finger to play a black key and the adjacent white key either up or down, is one technique that piano players have developed and particularly here, where the two notes are marked as slurred, it's an easy option. Not necessarily a necessity, as there's enough fingers left using even the top fingering, to land on G with the thumb, especially when the next note is only up by a third.

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A typical convention for multiple sets of fingerings is that the upper fingering is the musically preferable version while the lower version is more accessible. Now my experience is from playing the violin where this quite commonly corresponds to the top version assigning phrases better to the different strings while the bottom version tends to focus on using "simpler" positions (according to the order in which learners tend to acquire and utilise positions and their changes).

I don't know whether there are similar semi-objective measures of difficulty vs musicality on the piano or whether there is not really a similar division and this is just an offer of alternatives, possibly related to hand size.

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Interestingly, in Beethoven sonatas, the alternative fingerings are often his own suggestions.

I used the Henle edition when I was studying them, and they put italic numbers for Beethoven's suggestions. I don't remember whether your example is one of Beethoven's suggestions, but I suspect that it is.

Like Beethoven's pedal markings, his fingering suggestions have to be taken with a grain of salt, because his piano was very different from the ones we have at present. The notes don't last as long (so some long pedal markings get muddy on a modern piano), and the action is lighter, so some fingerings won't work well on a modern piano.

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  • Thanks for the interesting info! In this particular case, I have since found that alternative fingering (sliding finger 4 from C# to C) works pretty well--it fits the hand shape better. I hope it's Beethoven's preference :) .
    – seamurmurs
    Oct 31 at 23:59
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    @seamurmurs That is the sort of fingering that I often have noticed in what I know to be his suggestions, so I suspect it is. Although "preference" is perhaps too strong a word in the sense of whether he expected others to use it, his suggestions give some insight into how he wants things to be articulated, so it's a good idea to experiment with them.
    – BobRodes
    Nov 2 at 4:46

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