Historical background

The complexity of the Chopin sources could hardly be greater, given the varying ways in which each work was drafted, prepared for publication (usually in three or more different countries) and subsequently revised in successive impressions. 

For all of the works within the resource, OCVE presents as comprehensive a range as possible of the relevant primary sources, which are defined as follows:

Sketches (see Kallberg 1996 and 2001 for discussion of Chopins notational habits in sketches and other types of manuscript)

Rejected public manuscripts – i.e. Stichvorlagen or presentation manuscripts originally intended for distribution to others (e.g. publishers, friends, students) but abandoned by Chopin


  • autograph

  • copies (with or without autograph glosses; prepared with or without Chopin’s authorisation)

Proofs, whether uncorrected or corrected

First editions – including first and subsequent impressions released during Chopins lifetime and after his death 

  • French

  • German and Austrian

  • English

  • other (e.g. Polish, Italian, Russian)

Other autograph sources

  • fair copies not used for publication, including presentation manuscripts (e.g. those inscribed in albums)

  • autograph glosses in scores of students/associates (especially Camille Dubois, Marie de Scherbatoff, Jane Stirling, Zofia Zaleska-Rosengardt and Ludwika Jędrzejewicz)

Other non-autograph sources 

  • copies not used for publication

  • glosses in scores of students/associates (especially Camille Dubois, Marie de Scherbatoff, Jane Stirling, Zofia Zaleska-Rosengardt and Ludwika Jędrzejewicz)

Editions of pieces for which no other primary source material survives.

In no single instance does material exist from all of these categories and sub-categories, but the rich creative and publication history of Chopins music means that for many works the primary sources encompass an extraordinarily broad spectrum of different types.

The first editions pose particular 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.

The Online Chopin Variorum Edition 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 OCVE 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 sources, 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.