Episode 154: Chopin Publishing Chopin

Prelude in F-sharp Major, Op. 28 No. 13

rc-publish-200The composer’s aversion to concertizing left him with two ways to earn a living: teaching piano and publishing compositions.

Chopin’s dealings with his publishers reveal what Biographer Benita Eisler calls an “unknown side of the composer,” adding, “[he was a] tough and shrewd negotiator, aware of the market value of his music and determined to wrest the highest possible prices from its sales.”

There was no copyright law in place to protect French publishers’ rights; pirated editions would pop up in other countries unless publishers arranged for simultaneous editions to appear. Chopin tried to deal with foreign publishers himself. But as Eisler laments, “…Chopin…was the last artist who should have represented himself. With his low tolerance for frustration, uncontrollable outbursts of anger, and a peasant’s suspiciousness, negotiating on his own behalf exposed him at his worst.”

Case in point: Chopin’s Opus 28 Preludes.

After much badgering, Chopin the perfectionist turned in the long-overdue manuscript, but publishers were left scratching their heads as to how to present it. Was this a single, unified work or twenty-four self-contained expressions? And did they have to be so bizarre, so “gloomy,” as one publisher complained?

Oh, and who had the rights to publish them? Pleyel had given Chopin an advance of 500 francs for the rights, but failed to out-bid another publisher, Maurice Schlessinger. Fed up with both, Chopin broke contracts and held out for a third. Ultimately, the title, opus number, and dedication appeared differently on first editions in France, Germany and England. The printing of the Preludes turned out to be as thorny as some of the pieces themselves. - Mike McKay & Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 154: Chopin Publishing Chopin

Prelude in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 13