Music text

Each component of a Chopin first edition was subject to modification throughout its commercial life, and the music text was no exception. Indeed, many editions evolved quite significantly in this respect. In addition to the changes resulting from lithographic transfer (see ‘Printing methods’ under ‘General characteristics of Chopin’s first editions’), the following modifications can be observed within successive impressions of a given edition:

  • revisions external to the music itself but on pages containing music text
    These range from elements at the top of the page (headline, caption title, sub-caption, pagination) to those at the bottom (title, publisher’s name and address, plate number, name of engraver and/or printer, copyright notice, publisher’s note, advertisement text), all of which could be added, removed, modified, re-engraved and/or repositioned. Such changes were made in accordance with the musical and commercial prerogatives of individual publishers as well as the quality of their work.

  • revisions to the graphic content of the music text
    These did not affect the content of the music and were probably carried out at the engraver’s discretion.

  • revisions intended to improve the quality of the music text
    Changes of this type were made to correct engraving errors, to amend tempo indications, and to add accidentals, articulation marks (staccatos, accents, etc.), pedallings (both onsets and releases), fingerings and new variants stemming either from the composer himself or from a house editor or professional corrector. The vast majority of such changes were sound, though some ill-conceived revisions attributable to an inept engraver, corrector or house editor caused altogether new problems.

Most reprints of the English editions contain numerous revisions of the first type, i.e. external to the music itself but on pages with music text. Indeed, a good many of the elements listed under the first category were changed more than once – and sometimes frequently – with the exception of the name of the publisher, which was updated by Wessel’s successor Ashdown & Parry in only three impressions catalogued in this volume.[1] In the French and German editions, such changes also occurred regularly but to a lesser extent,[2] whereas only three Polish editions were revised in this way (see 74–1e-G, PolG#m–1a-K, and Polish voice part of Op. 74 No. 10 in 74/10–1a-KO, 74/10–1a-KO).

In just a single case – the impression of the Mazurkas Op. 6 classed as 6–2b-KI – was a revision made to the music text’s graphic content. For some unknown reason, the engraver removed the double strokes above and below the repeat signs which were present in the two earlier impressions of this edition. This change – which was not the only one in this reprint[3] – was rescinded soon after, however (see 6–2c-KI).

Revisions intended to improve the quality of the music text are the most interesting but also the most complex.[4] Table 1 lists all of the first editions affected in this way, divided into two broad periods. It reveals that during Chopin’s lifetime the French first editions underwent the most extensive revision. This is hardly surprising, given his presence in Paris and thus his ability to refine the French prints on an ongoing basis. By extension, it can be confidently concluded that he instigated most of the ameliorations to the French editions. During this period, approximately one-quarter of the English first editions and a lesser proportion of German prints were revised. After Chopin’s death in 1849, the situation was reversed. Apart from one insignificant revision (see 9–1d-BR), the French editions remained stable: the definitive texts achieved with Chopin’s input did not change during their ensuing years on the market, even when the first editions were reprinted by new publishers who had acquired the original rights. In contrast, modifications were made to almost all German and English first editions, often in great quantity. Only three of the editions brought out posthumously in Poland changed over time; those published before 1830 were on the market for a relatively limited period, which explains not only the lack of corrections therein but also their extreme rarity today. As for altogether new editions, Table 2 identifies the second, third and later Chopin editions retaining original plate numbers, as well as those second editions with new plate numbers.[5]

The following conclusions can be drawn about the evolution of the music text in the Chopin editions. First of all, the vast majority of the French scores exist in a single ‘first edition’, revised impressions of which were often produced as described above.[6] In none of the second editions that appeared in France (with either original or new plate numbers) was the music text modified after publication, nor in the reprinted first editions brought out by other publishers who had acquired the original rights. The situation is more complex in the case of the German prints. Here one notes two contrasting practices: replacement of the original plates, in other words, production of a new edition; and retention of the plates but with ongoing refinements being made to them (i.e. the process of revision discussed above). Both methods were adopted by Breitkopf & Härtel: very few of their Chopin editions were not revised in some way, and many were re-engraved once if not twice. The same applies to Hofmeister, Schuberth and, to some extent, the Austrian publishers Haslinger and Mechetti, in proportion to the number of Chopin compositions on their respective lists. In contrast, Kistner and A. M. Schlesinger tended not to revise their existing editions but instead to produce altogether new, re-engraved ones. (Indeed, very few revisions were made within successive impressions of given Kistner editions, and almost none in the case of A. M. Schlesinger.) That does not mean the two publishers attached limited importance to the quality of their publications: on the contrary, an evolution did occur in their Chopin output, but from edition to edition rather than impression to impression. The relatively high number of new editions that emerged is remarkable, with as many as six editions of one work brought out by Kistner.

Few second editions of Chopin’s music were published in England; in fact, during the composer’s lifetime, only one such edition appeared, bearing the original plate number. No further new editions were released by Wessel or his successors until the 1870s, when a more systematic process of renovation began.[7] Nevertheless, this firm undertook an extraordinary amount of revision and refinement of its original editions, virtually all of which were modified at some point. In contrast, very limited revisions were carried out to the Polish editions identified above, i.e. Źyczenie (Op. 74 No. 1), Op. 74 No. 13 and the E minor Waltz.

In concluding this section, it is important to emphasise that a Chopin first edition cannot be reliably identified until each of its components has been thoroughly scrutinised. Moreover, rigorous and comprehensive comparison is required of all surviving impressions of the edition in question, given that revisions typically were made over several decades if not longer.[8]

[1] See 7–1k-A&P, 13–1b-A&P and 33–1h-A&P.

[2] Examples include the following:

[3] The sub-caption was also re-engraved.

[4] Because the original intention of these revisions was to ‘correct’ a previous version, we refer to impressions in which the music text has been modified as ‘corrected reprints’. It must be stressed, however, that such changes may themselves have amounted to errors rather than corrections as more commonly understood. See ‘Reprint’ in the Glossary.

[5] The table comprises only those new editions released by the original publishers or their successors, as follows: Maurice Schlesinger → Brandus → G. Brandus, Dufour et Cie; Stern → Friedländer; and Wessel → Ashdown & Parry → Edwin Ashdown. The numbers shown include the first impression but exclude the multiple editions of works which had entered the public domain. Reprinted first editions prepared using the original plates but with new plate numbers arising from the transfer of publishing rights from one firm to another are also excluded.

[6] The following works were released in a single French edition which did not change after publication (cf. Table 1): Opp. 4–6, 8, 11, 12, 14–17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29–32, 34, 42, 43, 50, 51, 53, 59–62; Op. 64 Nos. 2 & 3; Op. 65; Grand Duo Concertant, Mazurka dedicated to Emile Gaillard, Mazurka from La France Musicale, Hexameron, Variations on a German National Air, Posthumous Works.

[7] Table 2 encompasses only those new English editions which are catalogued in this volume; however, according to Chomiński and Turło (1990: 252), new editions of all of the nocturnes, ballades, etudes, mazurkas and waltzes were published by Ashdown & Parry or Edwin Ashdown.

[8] The detailed textual analysis that we have undertaken of Chopin’s music within various albums and the Méthode des Méthodes (i.e. 15–1a-Sm, 23–2-B&H, 32/1–1-Sam, 32/1–1a-Sam, 32/2–1-Sam, 33/1&2–1a-B&H, +45–1-Sm, 45–1-Sm, 45–1-ME, 50/1–2-Sm, 62/2–1a-BR, 64/1–1a-BR, MEG–1-CH, MEG–1a-CH, MFM–1-E, MFM–1a-E, MFM–1-SCH, MM–0-Sm, MM–1-Sm, MM–1-Sam, MM–1a-Sam, MM–1b-Sam, MM–1c-Sam, MM–1-CHAP, MM–1a-CHAP) has not been extended to the works therein by other composers. Such an investigation is beyond the scope of this catalogue, notwithstanding its potential to reveal textual discrepancies between impressions presented here as ‘identical’, which would necessitate a different interpretation of their identity and respective status.