Alina Mądry


2010 was Chopin Year. That was how the entire world celebrated the bicentennial of Fryderyk Chopin's death. It led not only to a great number of new recordings and sheet music editions, but also books. Those which have enriched the Polish publishing market deserve special notice. Without the slightest doubt, the work written by Wojciech Bońkowski is one of them. The author – musicologist, Italianist, translator of contemporary Italian prose as well as 19th and 20th-century Italian poetry (Tabucchi, Saba, Pasolini etc.) – has addressed a subject that had been a "blank spot" thus far, not only with regards to Chopin studies, but also to musicology studies as such. The editions of Chopin's works and their history have not been discussed yet in any synthesising work within the abundant bibliography regarding our musical prophet.

Considering new Polish publications only, we can note at present a great many editorial initiatives for publishing the Opera Omnia of the most significant composers for the Polish cultural heritage as well as editions of their selected works from the past ages, preserved in the Polish national archives as music manuscripts. One example is the initiative of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute with the purpose of releasing all available music manuscripts of the composer in facsimile, with commentaries by Chopin scholars in six languages: Polish, English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese. Works by Chopin. The Facsimile Edition by Zofia Chechlińska is the first of its kind for international academic publishing projects on such a grand scale. Another, rather local example, is the "Early Music from Jasna Góra" project primarily aiming to publish scores from the manuscripts of Polish composers preserved in the Archives of the Jasna Góra Monastery of the Pauline Fathers in Częstochowa, with a source commentary in Polish and in English. Both initiatives are indisputably praiseworthy and much needed, however, it is Bońkowski's book which makes us realise to what extent we lack a historical perspective, seemingly essential for us to learn the ropes of music editing. 19th-Century Editions of the Works of Chopin as an Aspect of the History of Reception superbly organises and complements the reader's knowledge in this respect. The fact that its scope is limited to Chopin's editions does not undermine its value by any means. One of its advantages is a clear and precise methodological and research technique that may be projected onto and used in other fields of music history. Bońkowski is undoubtedly a pioneer of such works in Polish musicology. And it is a good start!

We ought to mention that, as part of the introduction, the author refers to a book which allows him to limit his job to the editions only and to exclude transcriptions, namely 19th-century transcriptions of the Works of Chopin: historical, theoretical and aesthetic aspects by Barbara Literska (Musica Iagellonica, Kraków 2004). Literska explores the issues related to the 19th-century transcriptions of the works of Chopin in a similar way.

The fundamental objective of Bońkowski's book – as we can read in the Introduction – is a holistic approach to the edition history of Chopin's works released from the composer's death until the end of the 19th century, from a historical, analytical, social and aesthetic perspective. The author makes us realise that the "one and only" normative perspective which has dominated hitherto is unjustified. If our vision of the past and of the research topic chosen is to be representative and complete, all possible aspects have to be considered.

The scope of the issues taken into account, as one can see solely from the table of contents, is truly impressive. This appreciation does not change once the book is read, as its contents are as remarkable. The work is composed of five chapters, the essential part being formed by chapters III–V, since the first two are an introduction. In chapter I, of primary importance for the rest of the work, the author presents the current state of research (pp.15–34). Bońkowski discusses works on the theory and history of music editing, referring in the very first paragraph to the fundamental dissertation by James Grier, The Critical Editing of Music. History, Method, and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1996). The origin of music editing may be located in the middle of the 18th century (with the edition of Händel's works). Music editing as a kind of scientific editorship did not fully develop until the mid-19th century and is associated with the Bach-Gesellschaft founded in 1850. A great number of editions were released at that time in order to form a canon of the concert repertoire.

Those initiatives perfectly reflect the specificity of the time the author focuses on. The works of the most prominent German composers as well as those by Chopin answered the demand of the concert "market" of that time. That was only little over 150 years ago, thus music editing may be considered as a relatively young scientific sub-discipline.

Subsequently, Bońkowski reviews in depth those works on music reception history in the 19th century where issues related to music editing were present to a smaller of greater extent. The respective literature encompasses a large number of publications and reveals the variety of issues considered, such as social and historical conditions, cultural life (e.g. concert culture), or philological analyses focusing on amendments to the musical texts and aspects of interpretation. Once the broader context is discussed, the author proceeds directly to the main topic of his work, i.e. the reception and editions of Chopin's works.

The state of research has provided the author with a basis for indicating the sources and classifying the editions of Chopin's works (chapter II, pp. 35-72). The corpus of selected sources is very large, even though it is limited to the second half of the 19th and early 20th century. It includes more than 140 19th-century and around 30 of the most significant 20th-century editions of Chopin's works, starting from complete editions, through editions of selected works (e.g. including specific genres), to single work editions. Multiple reprints of a single edition in many copies have also greatly increased the source corpus examined. The material has been collected by the author through numerous inquiries in Polish libraries (The National Library of Poland, the Fryderyk Chopin Society or the Library of the Warsaw Music Society) as well as abroad (Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, British Library, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek and others). Out of this vast collection, the author has selected about 40 editions as the most representative from an editorial and historical point of view.

The selection of editions from this period is not accidental, since this was a time when music editing developed both as a scientific sub-discipline and as a publishing market. Another major feature of the editions chosen is that they were published after Chopin's death (1849), and therefore the composer did not influence their final form. This is why they represent a perfect material for revealing the various processes of music reception, publishers' attitudes towards Chopin's manuscripts, and the understanding of the eminent composer's works upon his death. As the author tells us, they became the text of a culture whose contents he has tried to discover and interpret in this book.

19th-century music editions lack clear and precisely defined methodological grounds, however the publishing procedures and techniques, introductions, notes, comments, footnotes, title cards or other non-editorial accounts (reviews, letters or memoirs) provide us with enough information to create a general classification from the perspective of contemporary musical research. This is the task undertaken by the author, based on the 40 editions mentioned above (see p. 36). Chronologically, they start with the first editions of complete works released as of 1859 in France, and end with the second version of the Alfred Cortot edition published in 1947. The corpus of the editions selected for analysis covers all typological categories indicated by the author as well as all relevant cultures (German, French, English and Polish), and is representative of the whole period, essential for the editing of Chopin.