Performance Practice & Editions (Chopin)

[anti-rclick]July 3, 2011

What is “Performance Practice”?

This is the definition of “performance practice” by the Oxford Dictionary of Music:

“(German: “Aufführungspraxis”). The way in which music is performed, especially as it relates to the quest for the ‘authentic’ style of performing the mus(ic) of previous generations and eras. Its study covers notation, ornamentation, instruments, voice production, tuning and pitch, and the size of ensembles and choruses.”

In order to be more complied to the suitable performance practice and give a more “authentic” performance, one needs to have a better understanding of different editions of a work/composer.

In this post, I shall talk about Chopin’s editions.


First Editions

Back in Chopin’s time, the international copyright law was weak and ineffective. Therefore, from 1834 onwards, Chopin started to send his manuscripts (with sometimes deliberate differences among them) to three different publishers in three different countries: Maurice Schlesinger in France, Wessel in England, and Carl Friedrich Kistner /Breitkopf & Härtel in Germany. Here is how the publishing worked back in the days:

“During Chopin’s lifetime, no international copyright law protected the rights of publishers in France. A publisher who copyrighted a literary or musical work there could not prevent pirate editions from being published in other countries. To cope with this situation, French publishers routinely made arrangements with publishers in England and Germany or Austria for editions to be published simultaneously in all three countries. When all three publishers registered a work for national copyright on the same day, it became illegal for anyone else to publish it in those countries. Typically, composers sold their works outright to a single publisher, who then negotiated the rights for other countries with publishers of their choice. Composers with an international reputation were sometimes able to realize more profit from their music by selling directly to publishers in each country.”

(Quoted from “Case 6: Copyright and “simultaneous” editions”, a document about a Chopin’s exhibit at the University of Chicago Library)


To understand more about the first editions, please read my previous post, in which I have provided links for the Chopin Editions Online project useful for serious pianists.


Historical Editions

Note: There are many historical editions so I am only discussing some of the more significant ones here.

Thomas Tellefsen (1823-1874) and Karol Mikuli (1821-1897) were students of Chopin. To form their own editions of Chopin’s works, they used the early French editions as a starting point and inserted expression marks based on their notes and recollections of remarks Chopin made during piano lessons.

Mikuli especially took advantage of being Chopin’s teaching assistant, so that he not only took detailed notes of Chopin’s comments made in lessons but also interviewed witnesses of Chopin’s performances. His editions therefore became quite popular to almost authoritative, and his remarks were often quoted particularly in early biographies. One can still find Mikuli’s edition by Schirmer (New York), of 1895 editions, and Dover Publications, reprints of his 1879 editions.

“Copyright on Chopin’s music expired for England in 1856, for France in 1859, and for Germany in 1869. Not long after these dates, a variety of publishers, eager to profit from Chopin’s continuing popularity, hired well-known pianists to edit his music for contemporary performers. Pianists of the later nineteenth century expected many details of expression to be explicit in the music, so these performer-editors added phrasings, dynamics, articulations, and fingerings that were absent in the editions supervised by Chopin.”

Quoted from “Case 20: Editions by Chopin’s students”, a document about a Chopin’s exhibit at the University of Chicago Library)


Many publications had hired pianists to edit Chopin’s works in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The more significant editors were Herrmann Scholtz (1845-1918), Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932), Karl Klindworth (1830-1916) (Franz Liszt’s pupil), Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860 – 1941) and Alfred Cortot (1877-1962). Although such editions are of historical values, one should avoid learning straight from them (especially the earlier ones) and use them sparingly as references. Certainly, those by Paderewski and Cortot are of higher studying values.


Modern “Urtext” Editions

It is best to use modern urtext editions as there are clear indications as to what is added by the editor and what is written by the composer. One example of such is the Henle edition, edited by Ewald Zimmermann.

“Ewald Zimmermann has been preparing Urtext editions of Chopin for G. Henle Verlag since 1961. Zimmermann favors German first editions or the manuscripts on which they were based because the manuscript copies sent to Germany were often the last ones copied, even when the French first editions contain later revisions that Chopin made at the proof stage. Moreover, Zimmermann sometimes silently adopts readings that he considers superior from sources other than his principal text.”

(Case 24: Modern Urtext editions)


I myself have used Zimmermann’s editions on concerti, nocturnes, ballades, sonata, fantasie, études, Milkuli’s editions on mazurkas, preludes and nocturnes, Paderewski’s edition on polonaises, and Cortot’s edition on études. For me, Zimmermann’s editions are always reliable, while I like in particular the more recent “urtext” editions, such as the National Edition edited by Jan Ekier on nocturnes, but his editions are not easy to find in Hong Kong.

An additional note for students: you should always read the preface and editorial notes as there is much information available about the particular edition and the music (and the composer).

(Update: About the National Edition mentioned above, a student of mine told me that it is actually available now at one of the big chain music stores here in Hong Kong (you know the one-word-name(in English) store? I do not want to advertise for them here). So you can find the whole collection of Chopin’s works there. I the poor teacher who never has free time always buy books and scores online now, so I am not very updated on the current book/score sales out there in the real shops…)

Further reading at : http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/music/musex.html
The Chopin collection at the University of Chicago Library
www.cfeo.org.uk
National Edition of Chopin Works edited by Jan Ekier
A facsimile edition of all of Fryderyk Chopin’s music manuscripts


I shall talk about “Performance Practice & Piano (Chopin)” in the next post.



Teresa Wong


[ad#Google Adsense]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *