Music editions and Frederick Chopin (Ballade No.4 Op.52)

Performers often find themselves in a situation where they have to choose which publication to use. There are many different editions, by different publishers and music editors. If you compare editions in detail you may find that firstly the fingering numbering differs, then the articulation, the dynamics, the pedal markings and even some notes.

When a publication is edited, the editor usually chooses and adds specific fingering that they believe works out the best. Some notes may be wrong due to the copyist’s mistake and so on.

The questions that rise are:

  1. Which is the most reliable edition to use?
  2. ‘Which edition is closer to what the composer actually wrote?

Firstly, there are the Facsimile Editions. Facsimiles are basically a photographic reproduction of the earliest sources, such as the autograph or even the first edition. Facsimiles are mostly used by specialists for further studying. There are also the Printed replicas, which is the music of the original notation, yet it uses printed fonts and not photographs.

Then there are the Historical Editions, which is printed music that includes scholarly/critical editions, collected/complete works and monumental editions. 

Scholarly/critical editions are the closest editions closer to the composer’s intentions. These editions are created by examining in depth all versions of a specific piece, such as facsimiles, autographs (the composer’s  manuscript), first editions, early printed editions etc. Are the surviving autographs early sketches, the first published edition or a revision? If there are not surviving autographs, then one has to take into account whether an existing copy is a reliable one by considering how close the copyist was to the composer and whether it actually reflects the composer’s style. This is done in order to create the most authentic and accurate edition by employing a deep musical understanding, and historical knowledge. These editions include a preface and critical reposts with descriptions of the different versions and/or the performance practice of the time. Additionally, footnotes may be included which they usually provide the different variations of other editions. One thing that is challenging is that many early printed editions contain mistakes that are usually copying mistakes. Or it may be that the composer decided to make a change.

The Urtext editions (meaning the “original text”) are considered to be the “original” music written by the composer. The original aim was to present the composer’s original intention. Nonetheless, their purpose could not be succeeded. Firstly, the autograph and the first edition are not always identical. Therefore, the editor had to decide what to print in the Urtext edition, which is more about a choice of the available sources. Secondly, the surviving autograph does not ideally mean that it was the composer’s intention, but it may have been a first sketch. At the end of the day is all about the editor’s interpretation of what it should be and not what it actually is. Thus the use of the word ‘Urtext’ is quite problematic in regards to musical editions. Nonetheless, most musicians uncritically accept Urtext editions as thoroughly researched editions, that respond to the actual intention and original aim of the composer. The musician trusts the edition especially when it appears ‘correct’ such as having good fingering markings. Then the musician does not consider alternations. If the edition was double read, and the editor chose what to print, why would a musician bother to read the critical notes?

Collected/Complete Works editions are multi-volume sets of the music of specific composers (also called Gesamtausgabe), or of specific musical repertory. The Monumental Editions (also called Denkmäler) usually contain music of specific time period, genre, or geography. For instance there is the Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst (Monuments of German musical art) which covers the Baroque and Classical period and the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich (Monuments of musical art in Austria).

On the other hand there are also the interpretive/performance editions, where the editors edits the music in way they believe it should be performed. They usually choose a specific edition and eventually create their own interpretation of the composer’s work by altering the dynamics, the articulation, the musical expression etc. For instance, interpretive editions by performing musicians are by Artur Schnabel (especially in Beethoven’s music) and Ignacy Paderewski. In some interpretive editions one may recognise the editor’s additions since they are usually distinguished by parentheses, font size etc.. from the composer’s own markings.

Frederick Chopin’s editions

The best example regarding different editions is by Frederic Chopin. Chopin published most of his music simultaneously in three different countries, France, England and Germany.

Because of the laws of the time, Chopin published his music simultaneously in order to avoid piracy of his music that would cost him to lose control of his printed music. The copyright protection laws were different in each country. For instance, the music published by Chopin early in his life in Warsaw, was not legally protected in the other countries, therefore Rondo Op.1 exists in two French and two German editions. In France, the copyright lasted 10 years after the author’s death, in Chopin’s case until 1859, in Germany and Austria 30 years, therefore until 1879. In England, music that was published before July 1, 1842 was legally protected for the composers life or for 28 years after the first publication. Music published after the amendment of 1842, was protected for 42 years or for 7 years after the composer’s death.

Additionally, in France in order for an author to be in a position to resell his rights, the work should have been published either simultaneously abroad and in France or firstly in France and then abroad. In England, if the work was published simultaneously or firstly in Britain then a foreigner author was permitted to copyright protection. In Germany, if foreign publications were firstly published in France and in England then the works could have been reproduced freely in Germany without the author having any rights to copyright laws.

So, not only there were more Stichvorlagen of Chopin’s music, but there were three first editions of his music. Autographs are usually not reliable because of the changes they undergo through the process of printing before the first edition comes out, which also applies to the first editions since sometimes the composer would still correct and alter them. Chopin’s first editions can be found in the CFEO in OCVE.

The three first editions of Chopin’s music are not always identical to each other. Some of the differences may have been mistakes by the copyist, or even deliberated alternations. In some instances, Chopin made different corrections for each publisher. Despite that , in many cases the German edition is very similar to the French edition. In general, composers continued revising their music even after the first published edition, therefore the second edition may be slightly different to the first edition. When the editions differ, one thing to consider is were was the author at the time of the publication.

For instance, Chopin lived in France, therefore he could have made more alterations to the autograph already given to his publisher Schlesinger. Whereas, once the British and German autographs were sent to the publishers, Chopin could have only requested changes through letters. Before an edition was published it was firstly proofread. Chopin himself proofread most of his French first editions and sometimes he would ask his friend Julian Fontana to do it instead. The English first editions of Op. 1, 3, 5, 10, 11 have information that on their title pages that they were proofread by Julian Fontana during his stay London. It also seems that Clara and Robert Schumann have revised some of Chopin’s late works in the first Leipzig editions.

Op.1 rondo wessel
Rondo op.1 Wessel&Co “Nouvelle Edition corrigée par son élève J. Fontana”

Ballade No.4 op.52

During my master’s degree for an exam essay for one the modules I have compared two editions of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4. I will give an example of my research (not including the comparison of the editions since my aim is not to analyse music) in order to show how the different editions and researches are done to determine which edition is the most reliable and authentic.

The two editions I compared are:
  1. Frédéric Chopin. Complete Ballades, Impromptus & Sonatas edited by Carl Mikuli published by Dover.
    • The particular score is an exact reprint of G. Schirmer. This is seen from the bibliographical note; “a new compilation of works originally published by G. Schirmer, New York, in separate volumes of Schirmer’s Library of Musical Classics under the group title ‘Frederic Chopin. Complete Works for the Pianoforte’.
    • It includes a Vorwort (foreword) by Mikuli firstly published in Leipzig in 1879 by Fr.Kistner; Pianoforte-Werke, revidirt und mit Fingersatz versehen (zum grössten Theil nach des Autors Notizingen) von Carl Mikuli (Chopin’s works, revised and fingered by Chopin’s pupil Carl Mikuli).
  1. Frederic Chopin, Ballads edited by Frank Merrick and published by Novello.
    • There is only the bibliographical note referencing the source of the edition -reprint of G.Schirmer – and a three-paragraph introduction, followed by Mikuli’s Vorwort.


Chopin diagrapm (1)
Stemma of the Dover Edition

Firstly, the three first editions of Ballade No.4 op.52 are not identical. The publishers tended to make mistakes or deliberate changes, hence corrected reprints followed. For the case of Op. 52, Breitkopf & Härtel published quite a few corrected reprints all of them using the same plate number, thus at the time it was impossible to tell which was the first edition.

The most reliable first edition is the French edition by Schlesinger. According to Karol Mikuli, Chopin would made changes or add improvements during the engraving. This is also seen through Chopin’s letters with Maurice Schlesinger.  So, as previously mentioned once the German and English Stichvorlagen left Chopin’s hands, Chopin did not have any control over them.

When Chopin’s works entered the public domain, new editions started being published with the names of the editors on the title page – such as Chopin’s pupils. On the other hand, the successor of Schlesinger – Brandus – released an edition of Chopin’s complete works titled as being the only authentic edition, without changes or additions and the corrections made were corrected by Chopin himself;

Edition originale / Oeuvres complètes pour le piano de Frédéric Chopin / Seule édition authentique sans changements ni additions, publiée d’après les épreuves corrigées par l’auteur lui-même.

This shows the contrasting variants that were published. The following figure shows the first editions – not having a specific editor but ‘strictly’ deriving from Chopin’s autographs – even though the editors of the publishing firms interfered, specifically in Germany and England.


Out of the three Stichvorlagen of the ballade, only one survived and it is held at the Oxford Bodleian Library as part of the Margaret Deneke Mendelssohn collection. There is a facsimile with a commentary discussing the physical condition and the history of the autograph by Jim Samson. The autograph, as stated by Samson, “is mounted in an oblong album bound in dark red morocco with gilt tooling and edges”.[1]

There is also a rejected autograph surviving which is held in a private collection in the USA. Maurice Brown calls it a sketch of the ballade.[2] On the other hand, Samson argues that Brown is wrong and “there are no extant sketches for any of the ballades”.[3] He adds that the autographs and manuscripts “have been incorrectly classified”.[4] Nevertheless, the rejected manuscript has no title, consists of the first 79 bars, is in 6/4 instead of 6/8 and only the first four bars have pedal markings and articulation.

The Stichvorlage of the Margaret Deneke Mendelssohn collection is incomplete and it includes only the first 138 bars. On the right top of the page, the title of the ballade and the dedication are found; “Ballade, pour le piano, dedié à Madame la Baronne C. Nathaniel de Rothschild par F. Chopin | Leipsic Haertel. – Paris Schles. – Londres Wessel et Stapleton.  Oev. 52.”

Autograph part.png

The layout of the note proves that it is the German Stichvorlage sent to the German publisher by Chopin since the layout of the German title page is the closest to the autograph’s  note.

Breitkopf & Härtel

In addition, according to Samson, the Stichvorlage was owned by Breitkopf & Härtel and was then passed down to Felix Mendelssohn. In 1844, Mendelssohn gave to his wife – Cécile Mendelssohn – an album as a Christmas present, which included Chopin’s Stichvorlage. This album was then passed down – after Cécile’s death – to their daughter Frau Geheimrat Lilli Wach and then to Maria Wach – Lilli’s daughter. Maria Wach then sold the album to the Bodleian Library, where her friend Margaret Deneke “had already deposited a substantial Mendelssohn collection passed on to her by the composer’s grandson, Paul Victor Mendelssohn Benecke”.[5] Therefore, the album is part of the Margaret Deneke Mendelssohn collection.

A question raised by Jeffrey Kallberg is what was the purpose of the different manuscripts since it is observed that the autographs “did not have the same function” since “the degree of compositional completeness varies greatly from one autograph to another”.[6]

Kallberg believes that Chopin’s attitude of allowing “different readings of a work to appear in print at the same time” is what it “distinguishes” him. He writes that “it seems that Chopin did not feel compelled to mask all traces of the act of composition; nor did in a sense the creation”, thus “in a sense the creation of a work becomes part of its aesthetic property”.[7] All these point to the conclusion that Chopin intentionally allowed his music to be published simultaneously in three different countries, knowing that they will not be identical. Even though only one Stichvorlage survives for Op.52, we may assume that the three Stichvorlagen were not identical, thus the differences. In agreement with Kallberg, “Chopin [most likely] knew he was mailing different versions…but chose not to bring them into agreement”.[8] Therefore, there is not an ideal authentic and correct version of his music.

In regards to op.52, the different editions that exist all derive from the Stichvorlagen and the first editions. Mikuli’s edition is more reliable since his aim is to provide the performer with a music score as close as possible to Chopin’s interpretation. He does that through his personal experience, his notes and his own editions as well as from other pupils’ editions marked by Chopin and through Chopin’s autographs, whereas Merrick’s is a performance edition aiming at students.

It is observed that Merrick is influenced by the English edition and Mikuli’s edition. He bases notation on Mikuli’s edition – except one instance which may be due to personal preference – but not articulation which is sometimes influenced from the English edition. Additionally, he only gives importance to the dynamics and the pedal. He does not shape his phrases, barely articulates and treats ritardando, ritenuto and smorzando the same. The rhythmic flexibility connected with expression in Merrick is left upon the performer since ritenuto and ritardando are not distinguished, thus all of them are performed in the same way. Merrick is only concerned with the technique of the student – fingering, pedal – and not the expression of the ballade. Phrasing in Chopin is important since it shapes the melodic line together with the dynamics. Merrick only gives expressions and dynamics in brackets, however they do not have to be followed by the performer. If the performer follows only the ones that are not in brackets though, then the performance of the ballade will be too simple.

Due to the different variants that were published by Chopin it seems that there is not an ideal edition. One of the reasons that Chopin may have allowed different interpretations of his music may be because Chopin never played his music alike. Eigeldinger quotes; “Chopin never played his compositions twice alike, but varied each according to the mood of the moment”; “Chopin never played his works twice with the same expression”.[4] This shows that Chopin interpreted his music differently; hence this may be why he leaves behind different autographs and editions of his music. Nonetheless, Mikuli’s edition is more reliable not only because of his sources but also because it is not his own interpretation of the ballade.

Even though there are different interpretations by Chopin himself, it seems that he is specific with his expression markings since each marking serves its own individuality in expression which adds to Chopin’s aestheticism. Overall, Mikuli’s edition may seem as too detailed and Merrick’s as too simple while simultaneously too mechanical in the dynamics and the pedal. Nonetheless, I believe that Mikuli’s edition is indeed more reliable. Even if it is not completely authentic it reflects Chopin’s style and expression. Interpretations of Chopin’s music are acceptable since even Chopin himself ‘never played his works twice with the same expression’. Additionally, due to changes of the mechanism of the piano, the resonance of a piano in Chopin’s time is not identical with a modern piano. Nevertheless, interpretations should not distort the originality of the piece and the composer’s style.


[1] Frédéric Chopin, Fryderyk Chopin Ballada F-Moll  Op.52 | Ballade in F minor, Op.52, Komentarz źródłowy | Source Commentary, Jim Samson, (Warszawa: Narodowy Instytut Fryderika Chopina, 2009), 21.

[2] Maurice John Edwin Brown, Chopin: An Index of his Works in Chronological Order, (London: Macmillan & Co., New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1960), 141.

[3] Jim Samson, Chopin: The Four Ballades, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 20.

[4] ibid.

[5]  Frédéric Chopin, Ballade in F minor, Op.52, Source Commentary, Jim Samson, 21.

[6]  Jeffrey Kallberg, “The Chopin sources: variants and versions in later manuscripts and printed editions”, (Diss. University of Chicago, 1982), 3.

[7]  Jeffrey Kallberg, “The Chopin sources: variants and versions in later manuscripts and printed editions”, 1.

[8]  Jeffrey Kallberg, Chopin at the Boundaries: Sex, History, and Musical Genre, (USA: Harvard University Press, 1998.), 218.

[9] Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: pianist and teacher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 55.








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