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Schumann Forum 2010

Schumann/Chopin (Part 2)

by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

15. March

Not long ago I happened to read that Chopin’s favourite colour was „slate blue“. Just imagine – even the cover alone would have caused Chopin to appreciate our Henle Urtext editions.

However, what must certainly have been of much greater importance to Chopin is the true and exact reproduction of his music. It is known, and reliably so, that he himself never twice performed his own pieces identically, and, by improvising, consistently added new vivacity to his compositions. But in matters of print he was very keen on details; this is evident especially from his meticulous autographs, the copies corrected by himself, and his correspondence with his publishers.

The reason we, as editors of his music, still have a difficult time with Chopin is that he tended to publish his works simultaneously with different publishers - in France, England Germany – and seldom left us with one definite and authoritative version of a piece to rely on and refer to. Rather, the handwritten clean copies that Chopin forwarded to the individual publishers differed. In addition, the engravers of course would occasionally make mistakes that were not discovered by Chopin or his assistants. As a result most of Chopin’s works exist in two or three authorized editions that unfortunately are not identical in detail. What to do?

In such cases, one must have much experience with the history of Chopin’s works in order to come to the right conclusions and make correct decisions. Should you, dear Readers, wish to gain more insight into the intricacies of such differing print editions I can recommend a visit to the following site: it’s the fantastic offering of » „CFEO“ (Chopin’s First Editions Online), where you are able to leaf through all these early prints to your heart’s content.

But at this point at the latest, a wonderful, only recently published standard reference work absolutely needs to be mentioned. It is a must-read for any Chopin enthusiast and every bibliographically interested musician or musicologist:
» Christophe Grabowski, John Rink: Annotated Catalogue of Chopin’s First Editions. Cambridge, {Cambridge University Press} 2010

And I’d like to mention three other digital offerings that might not yet be known to many:

  • Firstly, the „University of London, Royal Holloway“, led by Professor Dr. John Rink, is working on a digital account and commentary of the complete Chopin sources (autographs and printed editions). It is to be expected that this singular project will soon offer much more precise information than the both currently introduced prototypes of Préludes from Opus 28:
  • Secondly the „Fryderyk Chopin Institut“ in Warsaw is planning a complete digitalization of Chopin’s autographs, his correspondence and other memorabilia as a part of the „National Digital Library“. These Chopin manuscripts have been accepted to the » „Memory of the World“-Programme of Unesco. So I would like to recommend that all Chopin fans visit this site from time to time to watch it develop
  • Thirdly, you can become better acquainted with Frédéric Chopin via a very well made, informative and quite complete multimedia Chopin encyclopedia (in Polish and English language):

It is both an obligation and a matter of course for an Urtext publisher to reproduce the works of a composer as accurately as is at all possible. This is a strong demand, and can in Chopin’s case only be achieved with very much effort. But at Henle we willingly accept the responsibility.


Several years ago musicologist Dr. Norbert Müllemann joined our editing staff. He wrote a much acknowledged thesis on Chopin’s early autographs. In the course of the years to come he will consistently and diligently review all of the Chopin Urtext editions in the Henle catalogue and, ultimately, we will publish new editions. The » Préludes and » Ballades have already been released. The Grande Polonaise op. 53 is to follow in a new Henle edition.

On 4. March, 2010 I spoke to Dr. Müllemann and would like to present our conversation in two separate parts:

» You can read the first part of our conversation (in German and English) in which we talk about the philological challenges in connection with the Chopin sources.

The second part of our talk is available as an audio file (in German). » Click here to read the English abstract. In this second part I discuss with Dr. Müllemann the impressions he was able to gather regarding the current research situation at the recent Chopin Conference in Warsaw which he attended and where he delivered a speech:


And now, dear Readers it is high time we bring our attention back to the main person this forum is dedicated to, Robert Schumann.

Following Evgeny Kissin (ref. 1. March) I would like to present the next famous pianist’s answers to my nine questions. Discover Maestro Gerhard Oppitz’ relationship to Schumann and Chopin.. 9 Questions for Gerhard Oppitz

But it is a wonderful new Henle publication that veritably links Chopin and Schumann. In honour of the Chopin anniversary in 2010 G. Henle Verlag has published a Chopin facsimile:


Frédéric Chopin
Polonaise A flat major op. 53
The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Preface by Ernst Herttrich
30,5 × 24,5 cm
6 pages, 26 pages preface
HN 3221 € 55,-




Chopin’s own autograph of his Polonaise in E flat major op. 53. This autograph contains all the characteristic features of the mature artist and is a pure delight. The original is in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Of course the printed facsimile is superior in quality and contains a critical commentary. The commentary also reveals why we claim that opus 53 provides a link between Chopin and Schumann: Clara Schumann was once the proud owner of Chopin’s autograph which she highly treasured. It was the first and only Polonaise that she included in her piano repertoire.

It is a shame that we will never be able to hear how Clara Schumann played Chopin’s famous piece. But I did find a recording of the great Vladimir Horowitz. He plays the A flat major Polonaise so overwhelmingly, with such perfect confidence that anyone with an inclination for music is moved to tears:

On 1. April the forum will continue. Possibly Robert Schumann was always a bit overshadowed by Chopin, but we will again, and gladly, focus our attention on him.

PS: » On 15. February I asked you to write me and name your personal favourite recording of Schumann's Piano Concerto. It's a pity that only few readers responded. But, anyway, the three prizes are claimed, and one of the letters I cannot refrain from sharing with you (with the consent of the author):

„By far my favorite is Sequeira Costa's recording (1994); Label: Naxos, Conductor: Stephen Gunzenhauser, Orchestra: Gulbenkian Foundation Symphony Orchestra Lisbon. Sequeira Costa was my teacher for many years (I did study the Schumann Concerto with him), and I have never met any musician quite like him. His concept of sound, his dedication to the spirit of the score, and his philosophy sets him apart. He recently finished the entire cycle of the Beethoven Sonatas, and even though he is 80 years old, he still concertizes on a very high level” (Suzanna K. Perez, USA).


Schumann Forum at a glance