Publications of Wessel and his successors (Ashdown & Parry, Edwin Ashdown)

It is likely that Chopin and his principal English publisher first made contact in 1833, although the exact circumstances remain obscure. The earliest record of their interaction is the date ‘Nov. 1833’ added to the sales contract for Opp. 13–17 (signed on 4 April 1836). But if the publication dates proposed by Brown for Opp. 6–10 are correct – i.e. June–August 1833 – Chopin and Wessel would have been in touch by no later than April or May that year. Be that as it may, their initial meeting took place in July 1837 during Chopin’s first trip to England, and the second one occurred when Wessel visited Paris in May 1845.[1] There is no evidence that they met while Chopin was next in London (i.e. April–August and November 1848), nor is it likely that Chopin sought an encounter then given that their relations had been strained from late 1841 onwards.[2]

Wessel’s Chopin output encompassed more or less the entire oeuvre of the composer and was distinctive in a number of key respects. First of all, a significant number of the Wessel Chopin editions were marketed in series such as Album des Pianistes de Premiere Force (Opp. 2, 11, 13, 14, 21, 22), L’Amateur Pianiste (Opp. 1, 6, 7, 9, 15–20, 23, 24, 26, 27), Le Pianiste Moderne (Opp. 5 & 29–34, solo piano version of Op. 3), Les Agremens au Salon (Opp. 35, 36, 38–41) and Modern Trios (Op. 8).[3] Furthermore, all of the mazurkas up to Op. 59 were released with the subtitle Souvenir(s) de Pologne, which in essence functioned as a series title. Among other things, the creation of a complete collection of Chopin’s nocturnes confirms that Wessel’s successors took a similar approach to the marketing of his music (see 27–2-Ae, 27–2a-Ae, 55–2-Ae).

The clearest indication of Wessel’s tendency to classify and systematise can be seen in the launch in 1840 of the Complete Collection of the Compositions of Frederic Chopin, which, as its name suggests, was exclusively reserved for the Polish composer’s music. Throughout its long lifespan extending over some sixty years, the series title page experienced an extraordinary evolution whose different stages are outlined in Appendix I. The transcriptions for piano four hands were also packaged in different ways: initially in two series organised by genre;[4] then, from 1840 to 1851, in the Complete Collection (along with the original versions);[5] and finally in an independent collection of twenty pieces with its own title page.[6]

The approach taken by Wessel and his successors to refining the music text of their Chopin editions was no less distinctive. The first such initiative was carried out by Chopin’s friend Julian Fontana, to whom Wessel entrusted the correction of Opp. 1, 3, 5, 10 & 11 (either before or after initial publication) during his stay in London from 1834 to 1837. Fontana did not limit himself to the simple rectification of engraving errors, however: he also added fingerings to the editions of Opp. 10 & 11. In recognition of his role Wessel displayed Fontana’s name on the title pages of the five editions. Editorial review of this kind was exceptional prior to 1849,[7] whereas in the late 1850s and throughout the following decade Wessel and then Ashdown & Parry undertook a wholesale revision of their Chopin output (see Table 1). The unknown person(s) in charge of this work must have held the German first editions in high regard, given that a multitude of readings from the scores published by Breitkopf & Härtel, Kistner and A. M. Schlesinger made their way into the corrected English reprints.[8]

The constant presence of catalogue extracts is yet another distinctive feature of the Wessel editions. In the French and German first editions, this form of publicity appeared only rarely, whether within the score or on the reverse of the last page of music text; in the English prints, however, they regularly occupied one or both of these positions. Many editions go so far as to advertise other Chopin works on the TP or at the bottom of the last page of music text (see Opp. 3, 11, 13, 16, 17). This creative use of what would otherwise be empty space can be explained by the fact that, unlike Maurice Schlesinger or Breitkopf & Härtel, Wessel did not own a music journal and thus lacked similar opportunities to promote his output free of charge.

Most of the numerous publicity pages exist in several versions,[9] and classification of the ones found in scores from the Complete Collection parallels in virtually all cases that of the respective STP. The Prelude Op. 45 is exceptional in this regard, because each of the four copies listed under 45–1-W&S contains version 3 of the STP as against version 2 of Page E. Although this inconsistency challenges the classification of the relevant STP and advertisement, it must be remembered that Wessel’s publicity extracts at that time were produced separately from the rest of the score and by different means: advertisements were printed using movable type, whereas engraving was used for the rest of an edition. Analysis of the prices of Chopin’s music in the first two versions of Page E leads to the conclusion that they date from the very beginning of the Complete Collection: they appear only in copies containing versions 1 & 1a of the STP, apart from the four copies of Op. 45 referred to above. On the other hand, version 3 of Page E, which certainly post-dated versions 1 & 2, is present in only one score containing version 1a of the Complete Collection (i.e. 42–1-W), and thereafter principally in scores containing versions 2 & 4–8 of the latter (e.g. 48/1–1-W&S features version 2 of the STP and version 3 of Page E). In the light of all this, it seems likely that, in the production of Op. 45, the publisher made use of a stock of paper which had been mislaid or put to one side, and on which version 2 of Page E had previously been printed. For there to be consistency between the four copies cited above and the classification scheme that we have proposed, these scores would have had to contain version 3 of Page E rather than version 2.

A good many Wessel scores and some of those published by his successors have survived in an incomplete state, i.e. without their title pages. For reasons of economy, the bulk have been catalogued here along with complete scores but only when the descriptive elements of the defective copies (e.g. titles or subtitles in the header, printed text at the bottom of relevant pages, and DMFs) correspond in every particular to those of their complete counterparts.[10] Thanks to the advertisements within the imperfect copies, it is generally possible to establish their approximate publication dates and even to infer which versions of the TP might have been present when the volume in question first came out. Because these conclusions are speculative and cannot be confirmed on the basis of existing evidence, they appear in Table 16 rather than within the catalogue proper.[11]

To date it has not been possible to locate a significant number of Wessel’s first editions of Chopin, among them the very first impressions of Opp. 1, 3, 6, 10 & 11, Op. 9 Nos. 1 & 2 and Op. 48 No. 2. In the case of Opp. 14, 21, 46, 48, 51, 52 & 54, only the first and last impressions have been available for cataloguing, while for other editions – Mazurka from La France Musicale, and Opp. 56, 59 & 63 – the later impressions have disappeared, likewise the edition of Op. 33 No. 3 separately published in July 1842.[12] These lacunae may be filled one day, and only then will the particularly rich history of the Wessel output be more fully understood.[13]

No usage of colour can be attributed to Wessel, who did however employ lithographic transfer prior to 1860 when producing two reprints (see 18–1d-W, 34/1–1f-W). The latter technique was exploited more generally by Ashdown & Parry from the late 1860s onwards.

[1] See MW (29 May 1845), p. 263. Wessel also travelled to the continent in 1839 (see MW, 26 September 1839, p. 346); although he stopped in Paris to meet Chopin, the composer was at Nohant, having gone there directly upon returning from Majorca.

[2] See Chopin’s letter to Breitkopf & Härtel of 3 December 1841 in KFC 1955: ii/343.

[3] For individual work numbers see the catalogue entries for the first impressions of each opus. The transcription for solo piano of Op. 3, which is not catalogued here, was number 50 in Le Pianiste Moderne.

[4] The first series contained the Nocturnes Opp. 9, 15, 27 & 32, which were brought out with the same STP; the second combined four mazurka opuses (Opp. 6, 7, 17, 24) and similarly utilised a single passe-partout. Copies of Opp. 6 & 9 are held by D-Dl (respective shelfmarks Mus.5565.T.546 and Mus.5565.T.547).

[5] See Op. 34 Nos. 1 & 2 and Op. 42, which featured STP version 21 (GB-Lbl: h.472.(16., 17., 20.)), whereas Op. 34 No. 3 was published with STP version 22 (GB-Lbl: h.472.(18.)).

[6] See the GB-Lbl copy of Op. 29 (shelfmark h.473.(9.)).

[7] Ignaz Moscheles may have participated in the correction of the English first editions of Opp. 44–49, although at the behest not of Wessel but of Maurice Schlesinger in an unusual arrangement brokered by the latter. For details see Kallberg 1996: 210–213.

[8] For example, 9/3–1a-W, 23–1e-A&P and 32/1–1h-W are three English editions containing revisions derived from their German counterparts; refer to the respective DMF entries for details.

[9] These are described in Appendix II.

[10] Differences within the publicity extracts have not been singled out as a criterion for classification within this catalogue; for discussion see Classification criteria.

[11] The TPs of the following defective scores would have been identical to those of the complete scores classified under the same edition/impression codes: 17–1b-W (GB-Lbl copy), 24–1-W (US-NYp copy), 29–1c-W (GB-En copy), 30–1a-W (GB-Lbl copy), 44–1-W&S (GB-Lbl copy), 53–1-W (US-NYpm copy) and 53–1a-W (PL-Pglensk copy). This conclusion is based on the presence of the same catalogue extracts in the respective copies. In contrast, one cannot infer the TPs of the copies classed under 10/7-12–1d-A&P (GB-Bu copy), 19–1c-W, 28/15-24–1d-A&P (PL-Wbfc copy) and 55–1-W (first GB-En copy) because these contain no such advertisements. As for the defective copy catalogued under 32–2-Ae, it probably contained the first version of the STP EIGHTEEN NOCTURNES|FOR THE|Pianoforte – an inference that results from close comparison with the complete copies shown under 27–2-Ae, 27–2a-Ae and 55–2-Ae. Finally, the defective copy of Deux Valses Mélancoliques, classed under 70/2&69/2–1a-W, was published with ITP similar to that of 70/2&69/2–1-W, but with updated publisher’s address.

[12] The piece was entitled ‘Madame Oury’s favorite Mazurka’ in this edition. See MW (21 July 1842), p. 231.

[13] Consider for example the two arrangements of the Polonaise Op. 3. The one for piano and tenor – as yet unlocated – is known only through a press advertisement in MW (4 October 1838, p. 75), whereas the transcription for piano and flute, prepared by Sedlatzek and published by Wessel in 1840 (see MW, 6 August 1840, p. 95), does exist but only in a later reprint from 1856–60 (see 3–1c-W).