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Work / Chopin Sources / First Editions



Chopin Sources: First Editions


Chopin's first editions are without doubt the most valuable printed sources related to the composer's music. Scholarly interest in them dates almost as far back as the earliest publications of the works themselves. The first editions provided the basis of critical studies written in the late 19th century. Along with Chopin's autograph manuscripts and copies prepared for different publishers, they are the chief source for many Urtext editions, which for years have dominated the market in printed scores.

Our present knowledge of the first editions of Chopin's works is fairly complete. The list that appears in the final section of this article shows that researchers have succeeded in identifying the first impression of all but a few editions. In recent years research has focused on establishing a detailed history of these editions, many of which were commercially available as recently as the early 20th century.


Legal background

During the first half of the 19th century the laws protecting authors' rights significantly differed from present-day copyright legislation. In France and England works which were released prior to their publication in other countries tended to be protected. Hence many composers, including Chopin, attemped to have their works brought out in several countries at the same time, which effectively reduced the risk of pirated reproductions.

Before leaving Poland, Chopin published only a few works, in each case using a single publisher and without giving much thought to protecting his own interests. It was only after his arrival in France, when his local reputation had given way to a more international renown, that he became aware of the financial benefits to be gained by having his works published in several countries simultaneously. This fact is evidenced on the title pages of his early compositions published in Paris (Opp. 6-11, Grand Duo Concertant), where the French publisher is indicated alongside the German one. The Variations Op. 12 were the first composition by Chopin whose French and German editions also displayed the name of their London publisher. Obviously the pieces Chopin wrote before Op. 12 were also published in England sooner or later, but only after they had appeared in France and Germany. Italian first editions of the Tarantella Op. 43 and a piece called Hexameron, containing a variation by Chopin, were also produced. Neither the Sonata Op. 65 nor the Mazurka dedicated to Emile Gaillard was published in England at the time their first editions appeared elsewhere. The German first edition of the latter work came out as late as 1855.

The works published earlier in Warsaw were not legally protected in other countries, hence the existence of two French and two German editions of Rondo Op.1. This was also the case with the Variations Op. 2 and the Polonaise Op. 3, which were published in France on two or even three separate occasions during Chopin's lifetime. There also exist two English editions of the Mazurka Op. 63 No.1 and the Waltzes Op. 64. The souring of Chopin's relations with Wessel put the composer in an awkward position as he needed all of a sudden to find another English publisher for his Opp. 63-65. The negotiations with Jullien & Co., the firm indicated on the title pages of the French first editions of these compositions, were never finalised, which gave Cramer, Beale & Co. a free hand to publish them. Wessel, too, published Opp. 63 and 64 in the same year.

The copyright to Chopin's works expired after a period which differed from country to country, the shortest being in France - ten years after the composer's death. Germany and Austria had a thirty-year period of copyright protection. In England works of music published before the amendment of the copyright law (1 July 1842) were legally protected for 28 years after their publication or throughout the composer's life, whichever was longer. Works published after the amendment date were subject to a copyright protection period of 42 years from their publication or until seven years after the composer's death, if the latter was more advantageous to the composer's heirs. French and English copyright legislation required that copies of a published work were to be given to specified institutions. In Germany and Austria publishers were obliged to deposit a copy with the Leipzig-based Verein der deutschen Musikhändler for one year, a period which was needed to enter the work in the society's register.

Many works by Chopin were not published until after the composer's death. This article deals only with the first editions published prior to the end of 1879, the date marking the expiry of copyrights in the German states. Reissues of the official first editions are also excluded; these appeared in other countries probably without the composer's permission or that of his heirs. Information on these sources, whose bibliographic and historical value is considerable, can be found in The Catalogue of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin compiled by Józef Michał Chomiński and Teresa Dalila Turło.


The first editions and their sources

One of the major challenges facing Chopin experts is to trace the relationships between the various sources of each published composition, and especially those between the first editions of a work. Chopin seldom gave each and every publisher an autograph or scribal copy to be used as a Stichvorlage. Often a first edition provided the basis of the other first editions of the piece, whether in the form of proofs or in its definitive state. This applies to many compositions published between 1832 and 1836, when the German and English editions were usually modelled on the printed French version. From 1837 onwards Chopin would routinely send autographs to his German publishers. It was only in the mid-1840's that the composer circulated original manuscripts to his London-based publishers.

The aforementioned affiliation models are presented in a schematic way. There were quite a few exceptions, however. For instance, as regards his last three works (Opp. 63 to 65) the composer returned to his earlier practices because it is generally known that their German editions were based on proofsheets for the French edition, whose final version provided a model for the English publication of Opp. 63 and 64. Another interesting case is the series of works, including Opp. 21-24, 26 and 27, which came out over a relatively short period of time between December 1835 and October 1836. To facilitate the preparation of these editions, Chopin divided his manuscripts into two parts. He gave Opp. 22, 23, 26 and 27 to Maurice Schlesinger and sent the remaining works to Leipzig. Thus the French first editions of Opp. 21, 24 and 27 were based on the proofs or final versions of the Breitkopf & Härtel publications, which had clearly been corrected by the composer. The English editions were based on the Parisian version, although the finishing touches to each work were unique.


Preparing the first editions

The production of a first edition was a tedious, labour-intensive process, one that frequently required the simultaneous use of several printing techniques. In a typical French or English first edition, the title page and the text were engraved. The score itself was contained within a coloured wrapper of thin paper, which reproduced either the title-page or a half-title and often excerpts from the publisher's catalogue, usually printed from movable type. In the English publications letterpress advertisements (i.e. excerpts from publishers' catalogues) were also placed between the title page and the music text or on the reverse of the last page of music text. The German first editions differed from the others because they frequently were produced using a lithographic technique: indeed, the overwhelming majority of the title pages were lithographed. In the late 1850's the contents of the engraved plates were systematically transferred to a lithographic stone by means of a special technique called Umdruck in German. The technique was also used during Chopin's lifetime but only to produce publications with large print runs, which were circulated free to readers of the music periodical published by Maurice Schlesinger.

Before a first edition was released onto the market, every element therein would have been thoroughly examined. We know that Chopin himself proofread the music of a large number of French first editions and only occasionally asked his friend Julian Fontana to do this for him. It would be much harder to find evidence of the composer's input into the preparation of the German and English first editions. The composer's correction of a mistake in the Tarantela Op. 43 is nevertheless documented in a letter that he sent to Schuberth. Also, in the case of a small number of compositions published in Germany there is some evidence that Chopin proofread them. The title pages of five English first editions (Opp. 1, 3, 5, 10, 11) bear information that Julian Fontana checked the texts during a four-year stay in London. The correspondence between Clara Schumann and Hermann Härtel implies that both she and Robert Schumann provided input to the revision of the first Leipzig editions of some of Chopin's late works. The total lack of reliable information means that it is impossible to identify other German and English proofreaders, most of whom would undoubtedly have been professionally engaged.

The refinement of a first edition did not end with the release of its first impression. Corrections were frequently made in the months following its publication. After the composer's death, only one such correction was found in the French editions. The German and English editions, however, were often heavily corrected after 1849. In fact, most corrections to these editions were made in that period. According to Clara Schumann's aforementioned correspondence, she was asked to proofread an eight-volume series of Chopin's music, which was based on the first editions and published between 1867 and 1869. Although Clara agreed to do this, she insisted on anonymity. The corrections she made were included not only in the text, which was engraved anew, but also in the first editions reprinted at that time by Breitkopf & Härtel.


Identification of the first editions

Documentation on the first editions is both diverse and abundant because in an overwhelming majority of cases there exist at least three first editions and the successive impressions thereof. It has been determined that on average two additional print-runs were made every year, rarely more, usually not exceeding a hundred copies each. Only works which were exceptionally popular were printed more often and in a larger number of copies.

First editions are often extremely hard to identify. All currently available catalogues offer a classification of Chopin's works that is based almost entirely on the evolution of the title pages. Examination of the subsequent changes to the music texts is left to the editors of critical publications, who seldom work with a complete set of documentation. Consequently, they may arrive at wrong conclusions or even regard someone else's corrections as ones made by Chopin.


List of the first editions of Fryderyk Chopin's works

Christophe Grabowski

English translation: Jerzy Ossowski

English editor: John Rink




Breitner, Karin: Katalog der Sammlung Anthony Hoboken in der Musiksammlung der Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, vol. 17: Sammelwerke aus dem 17.-19. Jahrhundert, Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 2000.

Breitner, Karin and Thomas Leibnitz: Katalog der Sammlung Anthony Hoboken in der Musiksammlung der Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, vol. 4: Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1986

Brown, Maurice J. E.: Chopin: An Index of his Works in Chronological Order, (2nd edition), London: Macmillan, 1972.

Chomiński, Józef Michał and Teresa Dalila Turło: Katalog dzieł Fryderyka Chopina/A Catalogue of the Works of Frederick Chopin, Cracow and Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne and The Fryderyk Chopin Society, 1990.

Deutsch, Otto Erich: Musikverlags Nummern. Eine Auswahl von 40 datierten Listen 1710-1900, Berlin: Verlag Merseburger, 1961.

Devriès, Anik and François Lesure: Dictionnaire des éditeurs de musique français, vol. 2: 1820-1914, Geneva: Minkoff, 1988.

Grabowski, Christophe: ‘Les éditions originales françaises des oeuvres de Frédéric Chopin', Revue de musicologie, 82/2, 1996, pp. 213-243.

Grabowski, Christophe: ‘Les premières éditions anglaises des oeuvres de Frédéric Chopin. Une mise à jour documentaire', in Artur Szklener (ed.), Chopin's Work. His Inspirations and Creative Process in the Light of the Sources, Warsaw: The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, 2002, pp. 101-111.

Grabowski, Christophe and John RinkAnnotated Catalogue of Chopin's First Editions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Kobylańska, Krystyna, 1977: Rękopisy utworów Chopina. Katalog / Manuscripts of Chopin's Works. Catalogue, vols.1, 2. Cracow: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1977.

Platzman, George W.: A Catalogue of Early Printed Editions of the Works of Frédéric Chopin in the University of Chicago Library, Chicago: The University of Chicago Library, 1997.

Platzman, George W.: A Descriptive Catalogue of Early Editions of the Works of Frédéric Chopin in the University of Chicago Library, (2nd edition), Chicago: The University of Chicago Library, 2003.

Steegmann, Monica (ed.): ‘...daß Gott mir ein Talent geschenkt': Clara Schumanns Briefe an Hermann Härtel und Richard und Helene Schöne, Zurich and Mainz: Atlantis Musikbuch-Verlag, 1997.






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