Historical background

Chopin’s first editions pose major challenges to musicians and musicologists alike because of their diversity and complex interrelationships, not to mention the practical constraints that have prevented the comprehensive comparison and evaluation required to understand their creative history. Inadequate copyright protection between the principal European countries during the early nineteenth century led Chopin to employ different publishers in France, England and the German states, thus giving rise to three ‘first editions’ of most pieces. Each is unique, as a result of his idiosyncratic editorial methods and ongoing compositional revisions. At different stages in his career Chopin provided his publishers with various types of Stichvorlage, including autographs, annotated proofsheets and scribal copies. In each case, the music continually evolved as autograph or scribal copies were prepared or proofsheets corrected, resulting in significant differences between the multiple first editions. Further differences arose from the interventions of house editors and professional correctors in successive impressions which until recently have collectively been regarded as ‘first editions’ – an error of judgement that has undermined much Chopin scholarship. Only recently has there been greater recognition of the importance of these differences – likewise that of the first editions as a whole, which constitute one of the principal sources of knowledge of the composer’s music. Without thorough analysis of these sources as well as the nineteenth-century practices that gave rise to them, Chopin’s output cannot be understood in its historical context nor its content accurately reproduced in any modern edition. The very identity of the Chopin work is at stake.

Chopin’s First Editions Online has been assembled on the basis of information contained within the Annotated Catalogue of Chopin’s First Editions, significant excerpts from which are included in the CFEO resource itself. Users should consult the Annotated Catalogue for a survey of the publication history of Chopin’s music within each of the countries concerned (including Poland and Italy, where a number of Chopin editions were produced). Observations are also offered about music publishing in the nineteenth century more generally. Although focused on the Chopin first editions, the conclusions that are reached potentially apply to the music of contemporary composers, most of whom worked under similar conditions and often with the same publishers.