Printing methods

Three different printing methods were employed by music publishers during the first half of the nineteenth century: engraving, lithography and movable type. A good many editions exploited all three techniques.

Most of the Polish first editions published before November 1830 (when Chopin left Warsaw in pursuit of a career as composer-pianist) were lithographed; these include the Rondos Opp. 1 & 5 (see 1–1-BRZ, 5–1-BRZ) and the Mazurka in G major (MazG–1-KOL). Exceptionally, the Polonaise in G minor was engraved throughout (see PolGm–1-CY), as was the collection of songs Zbiór śpiewów Polskich, which appeared in 1859 (see 74–1-G). Wojak and Źyczenie made use of two techniques: engraving for the common title page and music text, and letterpress for the extracts from Kocipiński’s catalogue (see 74/10&1–1-KO, 74/10–1a-KO, 74/1–1a-KO). Post-1830 Polish first editions which were lithographed include the Polonaise Op. 71 No. 2 (see 71/2–1-CHR), the Mazurkas in D major, B- major and G major, and the Lento con gran espressione  (see MazD,B-,G,Lento–1-L). All other Polish first editions from this period contain lithographed TPs and engraved music text. Movable type was also used to prepare the pages with poetic text in the album published by the Towarzystwo Muzyczne in Lvov (see WaltzE–1-TM).

Virtually all of the French, English and Italian first editions released during Chopin’s lifetime were engraved. Exceptions among the French output include the lithographed scores published in the Keepsake des Pianistes anthologies (see 45–1-Sm, 50/1–2-Sm), while the album of La France Musicale, which contains a Chopin mazurka, has a lithographed album title page and engraved music text (see MFM–1-E, MFM–1a-E). Three techniques were employed in producing the separate volumes of posthumous works brought out in 1855 by J. Meissonnier fils: colour lithography for the attractive passe-partout, engraving for the music text, and movable type for the catalogue extracts located on the verso of the last page of music text. Movable type was also used by G. Brandus et S. Dufour and their successors in most of the reprints produced from late 1859 onwards, namely in printing the series title page ÉDITION ORIGINALE|OEUVRES COMPLÈTES POUR LE PIANO|DE|FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN (hereafter ‘EO’); the music text itself was engraved or, exceptionally, lithographed (see 9–1g-M, 31–1a*-BR, 34/2–2a-BR).

As for the Chopin first editions produced in the German states before 1850, the vast majority have lithographed title pages and engraved music text; exceptions include the Austrian editions of Mechetti (Opp. 3, 50) and Tobias Haslinger (Op. 2), likewise certain publications of Hofmeister (Op. 1, 5–1f-HO), A. M. Schlesinger (Op. 32, Grand Duo Concertant) and Schuberth (Op. 43), all of which were engraved throughout. For the Posthumous Works published in 1855 by A. M. Schlesinger, movable type was used for the TP and Julian Fontana’s explanatory text, and engraving for the music text. Otherwise, the basic model described above also prevailed in German first editions from the 1850s.

Almost all of the advertisements integral to an edition (i.e. located between the TP/CTP and the music text or on the verso of the last page of text) were printed using movable type. Only rarely were they engraved – specifically, for two French (see 42–1a-P, MEG–1b-CH), four German (see 32/1–1a-Sam, 32/1–1b-Sam, 32/1–1c-Sam) and four English catalogue extracts (see 1–1-W, 2–1-W, 12–1-CRA&B, 14–1-W).

Lithographic transfer was frequently employed during the second half of the century, and in Chopin’s case it was first used in 1836 (see 24–1a-Sm, 26–1a-Sm). By the end of the 1850s it had become ubiquitous throughout the German states, but not until the late 1860s did the technique gain a similar foothold in England. Three principal reasons explain its introduction into nineteenth-century music publishing. First and foremost was the reduced production costs arising from the use of lower-quality paper: whereas printing from engraved plates required paper of sufficient thickness to withstand high pressure from the machinery in operation, lithography could be carried out with much lighter and thus less expensive stock. Secondly, it effectively prolonged the life of engraved plates which, despite their natural resistance and robustness, began to wear out after one or two decades of heavy use.[1] Through lithographic transfer the contents of engraved plates were easily conveyed to limestone and then reproduced on the impression plate; the original plates thus took on the status of a back-up copy. The third reason stems from developments within music publishing more generally, notably the introduction of powered presses – among them the cylindrical Schnellpresse (literally ‘rapid press’) invented by Georg Sigl in 1851, which achieved greater speed and efficiency by using a lithographic stone which was mechanically damped and inked. At first used in the production of music periodicals,[2] machine presses such as Sigl’s started churning out music editions towards the middle of the 1860s, soon overtaking the production of music from engraved plates, a technique which by contrast did not evolve and thus became outmoded.[3] It endured for the longest time in France, where all of the reprints of Chopin’s first editions were produced by means of this technique until c. 1880.

As noted above, the purpose of lithographic transfer was to obtain a copy of the content of an engraved plate on limestone. To achieve this an intermediate stage was required, namely the transfer of the plate’s negative image onto special paper using slow-drying ink; then, to obtain another negative image, the positive was immediately transferred from the paper onto a lithographic stone. The quality of copies thus produced often left much to be desired: details at the edge of many pages or staves – among others slurs, ties, pagination, plate numbers, footlines and other text at the bottom – came out faintly or disappeared altogether. The relative frequency of imperfections of this type can be inferred from the sheer quantity of references to them in this catalogue, in which such ‘technical’ omissions are distinguished from deliberate modifications.[4]

Maurice Schlesinger’s lithographic transfer of the Impromptu Op. 51 – published as a supplement to the Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris of 9 July 1843 (see 51–1a-Sm) – offers a typical example of the faults that could arise from this technique. During the transfer process the pagination disappeared from several pages; it was then restored directly onto each lithographic stone but with pages 3 & 5 transposed. Chopin wrote to Schlesinger on 22 July 1843 complaining that this inversion ‘renders the music incomprehensible’, and requesting the publication of an erratum in the RGMP to alert subscribers to the mistake. A late reprint of Hofmeister’s edition of Op. 51 likewise contains numerous imperfections arising from lithographic transfer: not only did the footline disappear from several pages, but so did important elements within the music text. Moreover, errors rectified at earlier proofreading stages resurfaced as a consequence of the intensive use of the plates, the previous corrections to which simply wore away (see 51–1b-HO, 51–1c-HO).

The edition of the Mazurkas Op. 6 classed as 6–4-KI reveals another difficulty associated with lithographic transfer, namely the fragility of the stone used in production. Two pages of its music text were engraved whereas the rest were printed through lithographic transfer, yielding a unique hybrid without parallel in this catalogue. It is likely that pages 3 & 4 of the music text were transferred along with the rest but that the stone in question broke;[5] to save time the printer simply used the original plates to produce these pages rather than undertaking the transfer anew.

In Chopin’s first editions colour printing tends to be limited to title pages, partly because polychrome output generally required successive print stages using different inks.[6] Kistner’s editions of Opp. 6 & 7 (see 6–1-KI, 7–1-KI) have TPs printed in sepia – the earliest and indeed simplest use of colour in the catalogued scores. A much greater range can be found in the Mechetti prints: the TP of the Polonaise Op. 44 exists in blue, green and black versions (see 44–1-ME, 44–1a-ME), while for the Prelude Op. 45 Mechetti variously used reddish brown, reddish pink, blue or charcoal grey ink (see 45–1-ME, 45–1a-ME). The TP of Tobias Haslinger’s second edition of the Variations Op. 2 is also printed in blue (see 2–2-HAt), likewise the TPs of two late reprints of Hexameron published by A. M. Schlesinger (see HEX–1b-Sam, HEX–1c-Sam). Only a single English first edition of Chopin – the Fantasy-Impromptu Op. 66 – contains a TP in colour, or rather in one of two colours, blue or green (see 66–1-EW).

Multiple colours can be found on the TPs of the Trio Op. 8 (see 8–1-KI, 8–1a-KI), Concerto Op. 11 (see +11–1-KI, 11–1a-KI), Nocturne Op. 32 No. 1 (32/1–1b-Sam) and Hexameron (HEX–1-HAt), all four of which have decorative backgrounds (in blue for Opp. 8 and Hexameron, in blue or green for Op. 11, and in pale green or pink for Op. 32) over which the main text was printed in sepia in the case of +11–1-KI, in black for 11–1a-KI, Opp. 8 & 32, and in blue and black for Hexameron. The TPs of Opp. 8 & 11 were lithographed in toto, whereas for those of Op. 32 No. 1 and Hexameron lithography was used for the decorative background and engraving for the text in black ink. Colour lithography was also employed for the TP of a late impression of the Tarantella Op. 43 (see 43–2b-SCHU): the decorative frame and some of the text (e.g. printer’s imprint and publisher’s name and address) are in violet, while the remaining text is in black.

An even greater diversity of colour characterises the title pages of the albums containing the Nocturnes Op. 32 (see 32/1–1-Sam, 32/2–1-Sam) and Prelude Op. 45 (45–1-ME), likewise those of the French edition of the Posthumous Works (Posth–1-MEIf) and of Leitgeber’s Polish edition of three mazurkas and the Lento con gran espressione (MazD,B-,G,Lento–1-L). Sumptuously decorated and resplendent in colour, these title pages required as many separate print models and passages under the press as there are inks on the page.

This discussion of printing methods would not be complete without reference to the techniques used to produce the wrappers and covers of Chopin’s first editions. The front page of most wrappers and covers was either engraved or lithographed; only exceptionally was a front page both engraved and lithographed (see half-title of HEX–1-HAt) or printed from movable type (18–1a-Sm, 45–1-Sm, 50/1–2-Sm, MFM–1-E, MFM–1a-E). Letterpress printing was employed for all of the catalogue extracts on other pages. Wrappers and covers printed in colour are very rare: green, dark blue, ochre or gold was used for 23–2-B&H, while 32/1–1-Sam and 32/1–1a-Sam feature red and 32/2–1-Sam dark green. The wrapper of the first Austrian edition of Hexameron (HEX–1-HAt) is unique in its use of polychrome printing: the lithographed floral motif enclosing the title is printed in dark red, whereas the Habsburg coat of arms and the rest of the text are printed in black.

Thus, taking into account each constituent element of a score, the entire range of printing techniques employed by music publishers during this period may well have been put to use in producing a given first edition of Chopin. The same holds for the works of innumerable contemporary composers.

[1] It is worth noting, however, that a lithographic stone could yield many fewer copies of high quality than an engraved plate. In general, production via a lithographic technique was reserved for editions of limited longevity, whereas engraving was favoured for publications intended to remain in print over an extended period. On the other hand, numerous lithographed TPs in the German editions of Chopin (i.e. Opp. 12, 13, 16, 20, 24, 30, 35, 39–41, 46–50, 52, 54–56 & 60–63, and the Mazurka from La France Musicale (separate edition)) as well as one Austrian edition (Op. 44) remained in use over several decades.

[2] The Berliner Musik-Zeitung Echo was produced on a machine press from 1851 onwards.

[3] Certain publishers, among them Lemoine, nevertheless replaced their manual presses with much more efficient mechanical ones; see Devriès and Lesure 1988: 277.

[4] Note that in the case of Op. 74 a more sophisticated transfer technique was used with excellent results (see, e.g., 74–1a-H).

[5] Unlike metal plates, both sides of lithographic stones were typically put to use; furthermore, stones could be recycled simply by being sanded, whereas plates had to be melted down and in essence made again from scratch. The downside of lithographic stones was their fragility and the relatively limited number of high-quality copies that they yielded.

[6] In the score of the Mazurkas Op. 30 (see 30–1a-Sm) and the Prelude Op. 45 (see +45–1a-Sm), a decorative orange border frames not only the TP or ATP but also all remaining pages. These are the only known examples where colour is used on the inner pages of a Chopin first edition.