Chopin • Etudes Op.10

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

I think it is fair to say that Chopin’s Etudes Op.10 are, along with the second published set Op.25, among the few genuinely iconic works within the piano repertoire. An expected requirement in music conservatoires, a mainstay of Licentiate Diploma syllabi and competition programmes, they are comfortably ensconced alongside Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s Sonatas at the core of the standard professional repertoire.

As such, these twelve marvellous concert studies hardly need introduction; Roy Howat’s freshly published edition, however, does. The latest arrival in Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin: New Critical Edition, this is a publication which will be of interest and importance to all students of the work, and is the focus of this review.

What, Another New Edition?

The business of establishing authoritative urtext scores of Chopin’s music is a peculiarly complex one which has long vexed scholars and editors. The sources of his music are so many and surprisingly varied that, often, definitive readings are elusive.

In the case of Op.10, Chopin did not originally compose the twelve pieces as a set but rather collected together assorted pieces for the purposes of a commercial publication. The various autograph manuscripts thus range in date from the period of 1829-32.

The Etudes Op.10 were published in Paris in June 1832 by Maurice Schlesinger, with parallel publications in Leipzig and London, effectively leaving us with three “first editions”, French, German and English, which an editor can consult, alongside the many proof corrections Chopin variously supplied (and in this case, they are apparently very dense).

Add to the jigsaw the various copies of these pieces that were owned by the composer’s students, some of which include his handwritten amendments and suggestions, and the difficulty becomes still more acute.

Explaining the editorial method and practices which underpin Edition Peters’ New Critical Edition, Editor-in-chief John Rink and series editors Jim Samson, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger and Christophe Grabowski tell 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. Depending on the case, variants are often included adjacent to or incorporated within the main text; in other cases they appear either as footnotes or listed in the Critical Commentary.

Howat lists some 20 sources that he consulted during the preparation of his new edition. This compares to just two in the Ewald Zimmermann edition from Henle which I have previously relied upon (although that may have been updated). And when it comes to the varied primary sources Howat selects for each of the Etudes, he often jumps in a different direction to that older edition.

So, you may be thinking:

How different is Howat’s edition?

Given the ubiquity of Chopin’s Op.10, some will now be wondering whether the cost of purchasing a new edition may pay dividends. There are a number of points to consider, and of the many editions of Chopin’s works now available, each has its own appeal.

Some will prefer to stick with the score they (or their teachers) are familiar with, and might even find it distracting to try otherwise. And noting that the Edition Peters score only includes Op.10, some players will undoubtedly prefer to opt for an edition which also includes the Op.25 Etudes.

When choosing any edition, fingering (or lack of it, depending on preference) can be an important consideration, too. Here, no editorial fingerings are added. When Chopin’s own are included in the primary source selected for the edition, these are shown; significant fingerings from other sources appear in italics, their provenance identified in the Critical Commentary.

It is worth noting that Chopin’s own fingerings are significant; here, Edition Peters are to be commended for their clarity. By way of contrast, Hermann Keller‘s fingerings in the Henle edition are not distinguished from Chopin’s own. And the famous Paderewski editions of Chopin’s works (revered though they still are) do not always present Chopin’s fingerings at all.

Turning to the question of presentation, the Edition Peters score retains the publisher’s traditional aesthetic, and is beautifully presented with elegant and clearly engraved notation on cream paper.

The volume begins with a hugely helpful Preface in which Howat outlines the genesis of the work, the provenance of sources and publishing history, and gives detailed advice about performance touching on many of the challenges and controversies encountered when interpreting this music.

The practice of including variant passages printed alongside the main score may not be to all performers’ taste, however. There’s no denying that this is useful for comparative study, but having alternative readings side by side could distract when playing. In some cases, the pages inevitably become more cluttered as a result, too (Op.10 No.3 being a case in point).

The Critical Commentary occupies twelve pages of densely packed scholarship. I believe we can rest assured that this edition has an academic authority which is second to none. And that is of course hugely important!

Decisions, Decisions!

For those purchasing their first copy of the Etudes Op.10, Howat’s Edition Peters score has a strong competitor in PWM’s Chopin National Edition. This costs around twice as much, but includes the Etudes Op.25 and Trois Nouvelles Etudes; it is widely considered the current benchmark.

Those wanting the most recent research will note that Edition Peters are further raising the bar; if amenable to his approach of including alternate readings printed beside the primary text, they can confidently opt for Howat.

Those using older editions, such as the Henle, Schirmer, ABRSM and Paderewski editions, must be well advised to consider switching to the new Howat version, too. Simply put, access to the research in this stunning new edition will be a definite advantage for any student preparing a performance of this music.

Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin: New Critical Edition is continuing to develop into a leading choice for any Chopin player, and I look forward to seeing the future editions as they are added.

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Andrew Eales

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