The commentary in this section focuses on particularly significant textual features of the relevant CFEO editions, undertaking a text-analytical comparison of these sources with occasional (but by no means systematic) reference to the manuscript sources listed under the preceding heading. These analytical studies tend to comment first of all on the respective layouts of the available first editions for any given work, largely because of the insight that can be gleaned about the publication process from the way in which the music is set out on the page. As a rule of thumb, two editions prepared by different publishers which are identical or near-identical in the distribution of bars on the page may well have a common source, or alternatively one may have served as the base text of the other.
Here it will be helpful to flesh out in somewhat greater detail the discussion found under Historical background. During his first five years in Paris (1831–36), Chopin generally provided his French publishers with autograph manuscripts to serve as Stichvorlagen, forwarding corrected or uncorrected proof sheets of the French editions to his German and English publishers for the same purpose. Midway through his career, he began furnishing German houses with additional autograph manuscripts or, more often, scribal copies of the original Stichvorlage while still sending annotated French proofs to England. Finally, from 1841 to 1847 (when his last published work appeared), he typically wrote out a separate autograph Stichvorlage for each of his publishers, although the earlier practice of sending French proof sheets to England continued in some cases. At all stages, the music continually evolved as scribal or autograph copies were prepared and proof sheets corrected, resulting in differences of detail and of substance between the simultaneously published first editions. Further differences in the German and English editions arose from the interventions of house editors and proofreaders, which, in general, were not subject to Chopin’s approval.
On the basis of layouts and other physical characteristics of the scores in addition to the contents thereof (including not only the music text itself but also the information found on title pages, wrappers etc.), a publication process is proposed for the work in question. This may be only conjectural, in that the available evidence might lend itself to different, i.e. conflicting interpretations. (Thus, discrepancies may be found between the source descriptions in CFEO and those in available Urtext editions of Chopin’s music.) In other cases, however, the evidence is clear and a filiation chain can confidently be proposed.
Two basic approaches have been taken to the analysis of the sources:
- detailed scrutiny of a nominated case-study passage (this is typical of the large-scale compositions in particular, for which an exhaustive analysis of all the differences between the multiple first editions would be beyond the scope of this project)
- a broad-brush approach highlighting the principal differences between the first editions, including variants that may have emanated from the composer himself.
In cases where only one edition appears in the CFEO resource (e.g. Waltz in E minor), a more ad hoc analytical method has been chosen in accordance with the nature of the score and the special philological or other issues that it raises.
In all cases, the analytical discussion identifies unique features in each source, including errors, omissions, distinctive typography, idiosyncratic musical elements etc. The imperfections common to two or three sources are also highlighted. Even when a detailed study of the type referred to above has been undertaken, users should carefully consult the sources themselves in that innumerable features do not lend themselves to summary description and therefore cannot be addressed in the discussion here.
It is endlessly fascinating to compare multiple sources for a given work and to attempt to derive a clear and consistent explanation for the differences between them as well as an understanding of the musical and philological implications that they raise. In this respect, the work of the CFEO team is more indicative than exhaustive. Users will need to examine the CFEO materials carefully and form their own conclusions about the issues alluded to here and throughout this resource.
Additional information about the publication history of Chopin’s first editions can be found in numerous outputs listed in the Bibliography, including Breitner 2000; Breitner and Leibnitz 1986; Brown 1972; Chomiński and Turło 1990; Devriès and Lesure 1988; Grabowski 1996, 2001, 2002 and 2005; Kallberg 1983; Kobylańska 1977 and 1979; Platzman 1997 and 2003; and Rink 2002, 2005 and 2013. See also the Annotated Catalogue of Chopin’s First Editions.