Episode 15: Chopin the Control Freak

Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9 No. 2

rc-chopin-score-200Fryderyk Chopin once wrote, “Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. “ Which may explain the composer’s restless rewrites, updates, and revisions of his miniature masterpieces.

What he slurred over in one edition, Chopin might dot, dash, or even DELETE in a later version of the very same composition... which has given publishers fits from Chopin’s time to our own. In fact, the editors behind the launch in 2004 of The Complete Chopin: A New Critical Edition base their work on two key premises:

One - There can be no definitive version of Chopin's works, in that variants form an integral part of the music.

Two - A permissive conflation of readings from several sources, in effect producing a version of the music that never really existed, should be avoided.

According to pianist Garrick Ohlsson, "It’s always revealing to see what a composer thinks, and in the case of Chopin, where you can have three first editions, all approved by him, with different phrasings in them, and sometimes even a different note or two…You know, he was of course widely criticized for this, for being inconsistent. We now see it as a sign of his genius that he viewed music as a living process, rather than a piece of architecture to be finished, necessarily, although he had the highest, highest standards, control freak if you will, he was very conscious of what he was leaving behind, and he even wanted the posthumous works, what we call the posthumous works … he wanted them burned after his death. He wasn’t as compulsive as Brahms, who, you know, destroyed 20 string quartets before he left us one. But he was probably close.” - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 15: Chopin the Control Freak

Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2

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