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26.02.2010
Category: Scores

THE NATIONAL EDITION– SEARCHING FOR THE AUTHENTIC TEXT OF CHOPIN’S MUSIC

Every musician with professional awareness sooner or later faces the question of the authenticity of composers’ intentions or, in other words, the truth of the reproduced work. The „ideal” piece of music that originates in the composer’s mind reaches the audience through the score and the musician who reproduces the musical notation it contains. As far as the manner of existence of a musical work, nobody has come up with anything better so far (apart from „new media” and the pieces written in the last decades of the 20th century which, however, are still somewhere in the margin of the mainstream musical life). A performer who specialises in the music of the Romantic era, for instance, has no choice but to use the score. Yet, the question to be posed is what the score actually transmits and what can be read from the notes and signs put down on staved paper. Is it what the composer intended us to hear, the image of the musical work as close to the Ingarden’s „ideal being” as possible, or is it only its distorted version falsified by interference of editors and publishers? 

Paradoxically, musicians who undertake to perform music written by composers still alive are in the most comfortable position; they can always consult their vision of the composition with its author. However, the deeper we delve into the past, the smaller the probability of reaching an authentic text, as in the Polish proverb that says „The farther into the woods, the thicker the trees”.

Another paradox is that Fryderyk Chopin, who was extremely sensitive to the authenticity of the texts of his works, struggled almost all his life with his editors who used to make mistakes, interfere with his scores and distort his creative intentions. To a certain extent this resulted not from ill will but from the specific nature of Chopin’s work and his creative process. First, the composer noted down the draft of a piece of music, captured the basic musical ideas that originated from piano improvisation; then made a complete fair copy of a new work which was handed over to the editor or copied again (by Chopin himself or by a copyist) so that every one of his three main publishers - in France, Germany and England – could receive a separate copy. Discrepancies occurred at the copying stage already, and more differences originated from Chopin’s corrections of printed versions. Additional variants are derived from notes made by the composer in the scores used by his pupils during piano lessons with Chopin – a very important source for contemporary researchers and musicians apart from hand-written originals. According to Prof. Jan Ekier, this abundance of variants „seems to be a genuine feature of Chopin’s creative thinking”, as the composer altered and modified the notation of his works to the very last moment.

Small wonder, then, that we ask ourselves the question which musical text we should perform and which edition we should use. At the beginning of the 21st century we can hardly be expected to use nineteenth-century editions of dubious exactness, or even the outdated Fryderyk Chopin’s Complete Works edited by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, with actual editorial work done by Ludwik Bronarski and Józef Turczyński. A remedy for such dilemmas is to be found in the National Edition of the Complete Works of Fryderyk Chopin, published for thirty year now with Professor Jan Ekier, an irreplaceable „detective” of the authenticity of Chopin’s scores, as its Editor-in-Chief. This monumental edition of Chopin’s work, still unfinished (27 volumes have been published so far out of 37 planned for publication) has a number of fundamental assumptions that make it unique as compared with other editions. The major purpose of the National Edition is to „present the entire extant work of Fryderyk Chopin in its authentic shape”. Besides, this publication edited by Professor Jan Ekier serves a number of other important functions that combine to make it truly remarkable.

The National Edition is a source-based edition – it takes into account all the available sources of Chopin’s text: autographs, hand-written copies corrected by the composer, first editions and also „teaching copies” used by Chopin for his pedagogical work, in which we may find his original fingering. Secondly, the National Edition is a critical edition, which means that the authenticity of sources has been verified and their relations to one another examined. The editors of the National Edition, Professor Jan Ekier and Paweł Kamiński, put a special emphasis on the analysis of numerous existing sources instead of reproducing the notation of a given work on the basis of a single source, or just a couple of them. Therefore, each volume of the National Edition is published with an extensive and comprehensive Source Commentary explaining the editorial intentions and the manner of interpretation of particular scores.

Finally, and perhaps the most importantly, the National Edition is a practical edition, designed to serve researchers but first of all performers! The original Chopinian text is clearly distinguished from editorial interference by different font type. Next to genuine Chopin’s fingering, the fingering tested in contemporary concert practice is given (suggested with great expertness by Professor Ekier and always based on solutions applied by Chopin). The Performance Commentaries appended to each volume explain all the elements of the musical notation that may be unclear. Performers will find there useful remarks on the execution of ornaments, advice on pedalling (in the performance of which one has to take into account the differences in the sound of 19th century pianos and contemporary instruments) or proposals concerning the execution of „harmonic legato”, a performing device on the piano which Chopin liked to use but which today is largely forgotten, consisting in holding the elements of the harmony with the fingers.

The structure of the National Edition reflects the artistic path of Chopin and the history of his output. The division into the two groups of works: series A – Works Published During Chopin’s Lifetime and series B – Works Published Posthumously, clearly indicate which works Chopin intended for print and which ones he chose not to publish. That is why we have Waltzes, Mazurkas or Polonaises broken down into two separate volumes. This editorial concept ordered the entire Chopin’s legacy and at least to some extent reflected the composer’s will – although Chopin actually wished all his drafts and inedita to be burnt after his death, a wish that his testament executors fortunately ignored.

The National Edition also has its vital pedagogical aspect. This year will witness the publication of important volumes of series B: Polonaises, Mazurkas and Various Works, i.e. works generally considered „easier to play” and suitable even for pianists from primary schools of music. The last-mentioned volume, Various Works, contains such gems as Lento con gran espressione (popularly known as Nocturne in C sharp minor), Impromptu in C sharp minor (known under the artificially coined title Fantaisie-Impromptu), Nocturne in E minor, Eccossaises or Contredanse. Using the National Edition scores, one can be sure that young pianists will study from their earliest years the texts that reflect as much as possible the authentic Chopin’s intentions.

To conclude, we need to mention that the text transmitted by the National Edition is recommended by the Rules of the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition, the great musical event initiated by Prof. Jerzy Żurawlew to popularize authentic Chopin’s music throughout the world.

Marcin Majchrowski

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