Episode 170: Chopin's Editors: Mistakes and Misguided Intentions

Piano Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35: i

rc-manuscripts-200“The most scandalous thing is that in the 19th Century, when editors actually edited, that is, they changed, in other words the job of an editor was to improve something," says pianist Garrick Ohlsson. "Chopin was bowdlerized terribly.”

Just why are some of Chopin’s greatest creations full of Mistakes and Misguided intentions? Mostly, says Ohlsson, out of ignorance: “In the 19th Century, it was often common that a man of such refined delicate sensibility as Chopin surely had a slip of the pen, he could not have meant this brutal, ugly dissonance … It’s like putting a figleaf on a statue or bowdlerizing.”

Sometimes that can lead to what author Charles Rosen calls “awkward nonsense,” as is the case in one of Chopin’s most radical creations: his Piano Sonata No. 2. The opening, declares Rosen, “is a shock.” For one thing, it suggests the wrong key – D-flat, before settling into B-flat minor.

Too shocking, apparently, for the German editors, who moved the repeat of the first section UP by four measures, as almost all pianists play it to this day.

The result, argues Charles Rosen, is “musically impossible…not even piquant enough to be interesting, and it merely sounds perfunctory. The repeat is clearly intended to begin with the first four bars are not a slow introduction but an integral part of the music.”

And here, the musicologist tips his hat to composer – and Chopin fan - Johannes Brahms for fixing the score. Brahms was, in Rosen’s words, “Too intelligent to perpetuate the error.” - Benjamin K. Roe

Radio Chopin Episode 170: Chopin's Editors - Mistakes and Misguided Intentions

Piano Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35: i