Chopin's Waltzes - A historical research
By Robert Ståhlbrand 2003-11-08 (email@example.com)
During the lifetime of Frederick Chopin (1810 – 1849), the Waltz became very popular, both as a dance and as saloon music. No worthy middle-class home could afford to be without the piano and the Waltz was the perfect piece for the pretty daughter or wife to play.
The dance was intimate and one cannot help to reflect how uneasy mothers and fathers were, watching their daughter in familiarly arms of a stranger. The grace sweeps and close body carriage in which the freedom is returned to the females.
Chopin himself had poured scorn on the Waltz, writing home from Vienna. “They actually call Waltzes works”. And so eventually did he as the businessman he was. His own Waltzes undoubtedly reached their finest flowering in Paris but he first discovered the form in Warsaw. He took special pains over the structure and continuity and the organic principle of developing variations lies in one way or the other behind most of them. Musical analysts can expose layer upon layer of thematic correspondences and derivations, which are useful to reveal the inner unconscious logic of the compositional process. Most which are irrelevant to most people but for the pedant analyser of structure.
Waltzes published during his lifetime
As the history as well as the authenticity of some sketches of some of Chopin’s posthumous Waltzes are uncertain, I decided to make a research among them to make a complete listing together with analyse information for each Waltz.
To start with, I will list all Waltzes publish while Chopin was still alive. They are:
- Waltz no.1 Op.18 in Eb-major (1831 – 1832)
- Waltz no.2 Op.34 in Ab-major (1835)
- Waltz no.3 Op.34 in A-minor (1834)
- Waltz no.4 Op.34 in F-major (1838)
- Waltz no.5 Op.42 in Ab-major (1840)
- Waltz no.6 Op.64 in Db-major (1847)
- Waltz no.7 Op.64 in C#-minor (1847)
- Waltz no.8 Op.64 in Ab-major (1847)
Numbered posthumous Waltzes
So there are only 8 Waltzes published with the acceptance of Chopin himself but J. Fontana published in 1855, on the wish of Chopin’s sister and mother (asked him 1853), several other numbered Waltzes (along with many other works as the famous Fantasia Impromptu and many Mazurkas). They are the following:
- Waltz no.9 Op.69 in Ab-major (1835)
- Waltz no.10 Op.69 in B-minor (1829)
- Waltz no.11 Op.70 in Gb-major (1832)
- Waltz no.12 Op.70 in F-minor (1842)
- Waltz no.13 Op.70 in Db-major (1829)
So far, there seems to be little doubt that these were really composed by Chopin.
Unnumbered posthumous Waltzes
Later on, researchers and relatives, friends etc. to Chopin have published a numerous of Waltzes often included in the general listings. They are generally the following four Waltzes:
- Waltz no.14 Op.posth. in E-minor (1829)
- Waltz no.15 Op.posth. in E-major (1830)
- Waltz no.16 Op.posth. in Ab-major (1830)
- Waltz no.17 Op.posth. Eb-major (1830)
I have found very little information about the Waltz no.14.
Waltz no.15 seems to be published for the first time by Chaberski, Cracow in 1871 but there are contradicting information as in the book of 15 waltzes by VALZER, Edizioni Curci, Milano. A qoute from this book:
"This waltz has been published for the first time in 1872 by Mikuli. It is evidently a piece that goes back to Chopin's youth, but its authenticity cannot be doubtful. It has been published here for this reason, at least, as a curiosity. -Alfredo Casella"
Waltz no.16 and no.17 were discovered in an album belonging to Emily Elsner who was the daughter of Chopin’s piano teacher, Josef Elsner. They were published the first time in 1902. The sketches are still in the possession of the Elsner family.
Some listings also include an 18:th and a 19:th Waltz.
- Waltz no.18 Op.posth. in Eb-major (1840)
- Waltz no.19 Op.posth. in A-minor (1847)
The Waltz no.18 is also referred to as the Sostenuto Waltz but both no.18 and no.19 Waltzes are not accepted as authentic Chopin compositions by some researchers. The form and development are not genuine Chopin compositions. After playing and recording these Waltzes, I too agree that the form and structure does not perfectly match with the other Waltzes of other Chopin compositions. However, they are produced from weak sketches and likely, these were not finished. The 18:th Waltz has the sharpened 4:th as in the lydian scale, which is the mark of Chopin. Also, several 5:ths are sharpened as in the melodic lydian scale.
The 19:th Waltz has no traces of the lydian scale but is Mazurka alike and during the end of Chopin’s lifetime, he began to be more daring as in the unmodulated change from A-major to A-minor in the C-part of the Waltz. Contradicting information exists whether this Waltz was composed 1847 or 1849 (when Chopin was very weak). The piece is gloomy and one cannot help wonder if it was composed as a result of that Chopin realised that his life was about to end.
These two Waltzes were discovered by the american Byron Janis who have a particular interest in Chopin and have been the student of the legendary Horowitz. He actually discovered them twice! Janis found previously unknown manuscripts of Chopin Waltzes at Chateau Thoiry, near Paris. Remarkably, five years later, he also uncovered two other unknown versions of the same Waltzes at Yale University. Subsequently, the French asked him to make a television film (showed in 1978) about the life of Chopin called, "Frederic Chopin: A Voyage with Byron Janis." Janis published the Waltzes in 1955.
There is also a 20:th Waltz that possible is an authentic Chopin composition.
- Waltz no.20 Op.posth. in F#-minor (1838?)
It seems to be very hard to find any information at all about this Waltz and I have not so far been able to understand from which sketch the sheet is produced, nor who published the work, when it was published the first time or who is in the possession of the sketch today. This Waltz is referred to as Chopin’s Melancolique Waltz and too differs in form and structure from his other works. This Waltz is more or less an A-B-A Nocturne but in the form of a 3/4 Waltz. It is indeed beautiful with lovely tonic balance and dim modulations. Produced to paralyse its audience with its lento tempo.
It might as well have been composed by some of Chopin's students. Possible by Thomas Tellefsen (1823-1874) or Karol Mikuli (1821-1897).
Sketches in private collections
There are two more Waltzes in private collections. One is in the possession of Arthur Hedley in London and this Waltz should, according to the information available, be a Bb-major Waltz composed in 1849. The Waltz was discovered in 1952, but due to Chopin’s family wishes, A.Hedley has not published this work.
Another unfinished Waltz have been in the possession of H.Hinterberger in Vienna. It was discovered in 1937 but with the death of H.Hinterberger, no traces of this A-minor Waltz (composed in 1829) have been traced to this date. It is assumed lost and probably destroyed by Hinterberger.
There are many Waltzes, which were lost in the fire 1863 in the house of Chopin’s sister Ludwika. These are the following:
- Waltz in C-major (1826)
- Waltz in C-major (1826, I have not made duplicate lines, there are two different Waltzes from the very same year in the very same key)
- Waltz in Ab-major (1827)
- Waltz in D-minor (1827)
- Waltz in Eb-major (1829-1830)
- Waltz in C-major (1831)
There is also a Waltz mentioned in a letter dated the 12:th of December of 1830 to his family in Ab-major. This Waltz differ in composition year from any other Ab-major Waltzes.
A third C-major Waltz composed in 1826 along with a Waltz refereed to as the “Departure Waltz” composed in 1828 in D-minor were lost during the years and have to this date been untraceable.
Sheets and MP3 recordings
I made example recordings and produced sheets for the reason that people might be interested of listening or learn the rare Waltzes no.18, no.19 and no.20. Free to download (however copyrighted, see the footer text of the sheets) below.
- Robert Ståhlbrand