Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

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In my recent post Discovering Chopin I included two editions of the complete works, both brought to us by PWM Edition: firstly the celebrated Paderewski Edition beloved by performers, and secondly the more recent scholarly Chopin National Edition, edited by Jan Ekier.

The latter has established itself as a benchmark urtext edition by which other versions are presently judged, although sources of Chopin’s music are so many and surprisingly varied that, often, definitive readings are elusive.

Further underlining this point, were it in any doubt, comes the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition from Edition Peters, prepared under the watchful eyes of editor-in-chief John Rink.

Joining the first six volumes in this work-in-progress series, the latest addition is the Trois Nouvelles Études of 1840, edited by Roy Howat.

I will start with a full review of this new publication, EP 73229, and then gracefully segue into a more detailed consideration of Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition, and take a quick look at the solo piano issues in the series so far.

Trois Nouvelles Études

Chopin’s two sets of twelve Études, his Opus 10 (1829-32) and Opus 25 (1832-36) are popular staples of the core piano repertoire; as Howat puts it, his “particular genius in the field of the étude” is reflected in the fact that his music in these collections suffuses keyboard studies with,

“a wide, unpredictable range of musical and technical challenges that distract attention from the purely mechanistic; likewise infusing them with a narrative and expressive power that has made them independently appealing concert pieces…”

No less impressive, the later Trois Nouvelles Études were composed by Chopin in 1840 for inclusion in the collaborative Méthode des Méthodes, an effort jointly compiled by François-Joseph Fétis and Ignaz Moscheles, which included eighteen specially commissioned Études de perfectionnement in its second volume.

Within a year of their first publication, Chopin’s contributed études reappeared independently as Trois Nouvelles Études, the name by which they have subsequently been known, although it’s fair to say that they remain far too little-known, surprisingly so given their composer’s evergreen popularity with both players and listeners alike.

Each of the three pieces lasts for just two pages in Howat’s new edition, and as he notes,

“Avoiding overt virtuosity, they might be seen as the most quietly sophisticated of Chopin’s études, combining multiple layers of musical and technical challenge, and so skilfully structured that they might equally be read as études in composition.”

The pieces are all first diploma level, currently appearing in both the DipLCM and DipABRSM syllabi (and hence also ARSM).

The first two études are studies in polyrhythms, respectively triplet crotchets against quavers (“threes against fours”) in the first (F minor), and triplet against duplet quavers (“twos against threes”) in the second (A flat major). Debussy reportedly once said he had ‘worn his fingers down’ playing the second étude.

The third (D flat major) is a study in articulation, with staccato and legato pitched against each other within one hand, as well as between hands.

And as in all Chopin’s music, there’s an exquisite melodicity and eloquent poetry to each of these three miniatures.

The New Critical Edition

As is so invariably the case with Chopin’s music, an abundance of contrasting and conflicting sources obscures the composer’s definitive wishes.

In this case, Howat lists more than a dozen sources: drafts, fragments and complete autograph manuscripts, pre-publication proofs, the 1840 publication, subsequent separate first publications from France, Germany and England.

These are inevitably given a hierarchy of importance, and Howat delivers his edition based on a principal source, the manuscript Chopin carefully prepared for his friend Ignaz Moscheles; in addition, some changes that Chopin introduced after publication feature here as variants, allowing pianists to choose options in performance in full awareness of where they come from.

According to Edition Peters,

“After 180 years it seems extraordinary that new details can still be found in the pieces, but Howat’s edition prints some for the first time, notably a number of melodic variants in the first Etude, plus notes in the second Etude that all previous editions ‘bowdlerized.’ Acting literally as a pivot in the second Etude’s structure, these authentic notes – sensitively restored here – alter our perception of the music’s texture and voicing just as the piece takes wing on one of Chopin’s most breathtaking strings of modulation.”

A detailed Critical Commentary runs to three pages of additional information, which is quite something bearing in mind the music itself only takes up six pages!

Delivered in Edition Peters high-class house style, with its distinctive green cover, staple binding and top-quality cream paper within, this edition is one to both cherish in use and to rely on for its scholarship.

Included, there is a full page image of an autograph score in Chopin’s hand, and a detailed Preface in English, French and German.

For further information on the editorial method and practice, we can now turn to look at the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition of which this publication is a part…

Editorial Method and Practice

The publication includes a two-page essay on the overall scholarly and editorial approach of Editor-in-chief John Rink and series editors Jim Samson, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger and Christophe Grabowski. What follows is the briefest précis of salient points.

Rink tells us,

The Complete Chopin is based on two key premises. First, there can be no definitive versions of Chopin’s works; variants form an integral part of the music. Second, a permissive conflation of readings from several sources – in effect producing a version of the music that never really existed – should be avoided.”

With those values in mind, the editorial team across the series have adopted the procedure of identifying a single principal source for each piece and preparing an edition based on that source. Rink and his team go on to include variants either adjacent to or incorporated within the main text, in footnotes, or in the Critical Commentary.

No editorial fingerings are added; when Chopin’s own fingerings are included in the primary source selected for the edition, these are included; significant fingerings from other sources appear in italics, their provenance identified in the Critical Commentary.

Elsewhere however, “redundant” cautionary accidentals are omitted, as are unnecessary pedal releases and other minor details deemed by the editors to be “superfluous”. According to Rink:

“The Critical Commentary will discuss only those elements which are open to debate”.

By this point it is probably clear that the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition is a work of very serious scholarship, and that Chopin-editing is a tricky and complex business!

The present team must be highly commended for the extraordinary efforts and extreme lengths they have gone to in the process of preparing these scores.

Towards a Complete Chopin

Compared to the Chopin National Edition, the Edition Peters series is in its infancy, but the publisher kindly supplied all the scores produced thus far, which has made it easier to see the direction the series is heading in, and how that might contrast with the other popular editions.

The Waltzes  Edition Peters No. 7575 Available Here
editor Christophe Grabowski

This 140-page edition includes all the waltzes, including those with opus numbers and the many without. For those looking for a complete urtext in a single volume, this contrasts the Chopin National Edition, which splits published and unpublished works into two separate volumes.

Due to the significant differences between sources, several waltzes appear in multiple versions. For the academic this is superbly illuminating, but for the performer it introduces a need to study and make significant choices prior to the business of learning these works.

The Preludes Edition Peters No. 7532 Available Here
editor Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger

In addition to an exemplary text of the 24 Preludes Op.28 and the individual Prelude Op.45, this edition includes earlier versions of the G major and A flat major Preludes, which are not included as separate scores in the Chopin National Edition.

The Impromptus  Edition Peters No. 71906 Available Here
editors Grabowski & John Irving

This edition includes the Impromptus opp.29, 36, and 51, followed by two versions of the C# minor Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. posth.66.

The second of these accords with the Paderewski Edition that I used when learning the piece as a teenager, such that I found the first version included here perplexing to play: there are significant differences to the LH figurations and even harmonies in the famously beautiful central section. Fascinating!

The Ballades  Edition Peters No. 7531 Available Here
editor Jim Samson

An exemplary and spaciously presented edition, delivering Chopin’s four Ballades. Controversies, though minor compared to those of the Fantaisie-Impromptu, are shown above/below the main scores.

Choices, Choices….

In a crowded field, Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition is certainly shaping up to be an attractive alternative, and especially so for those with a keen interest in the evolution of these scores.

The revered Paderewski Edition will always hold a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts, and is in a sense definitive because of its history within the performing tradition. Henle Verlag’s urtext editions are more controversial, but they offer clean performing editions that are broadly reliable.

The closer competition for Edition Peters is undoubtedly Jan Ekier’s Chopin National Edition, so widely acclaimed for its balance of recent scholarship and impeccable presentation.

It is subjective of course. Ekier’s decision to split “published” opus number works and posthumous ones into separate volumes can be frustrating when tracking pieces down, and the page turns aren’t always ideal. But the Chopin National Edition remains, for playing at least, my go-to choice, its outstanding scholarship less obtrusive, its spacious music font delivering superlative clarity.

But for those of us who thought the Chopin National Edition would offer the final word on Chopin’s works in our lifetime, Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition is an eye-opener, and a stunning one at that.

The key strength of these new Edition Peters versions is surely the abundant and authoritative scholarship, which remains imminent throughout, making these versions indispensable to the pianist’s and scholar’s libraries alike.

And they are a pleasure to play from. Having recently mentioned page turns, it is fitting to point out that Edition Peters have clearly gone to great lengths to make them work as well as possible here: thank you!

When it comes to the Trois Nouvelles Études, the main publication under review here, Howat’s Edition Peters release can surely be found at the summit of the Chopin mountain.

It can also be found on the Musicroom website. Do take a look for yourself, and let me know what you think!

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.