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    Wrong note in Chopin Mazurka?

    I remember a conversation on smt-talk a few years ago about a particular note in a Chopin Prelude (C minor?) that had appeared in various forms in different editions. It was fun to follow that conversation, since it was a rather crucial note.

    While preparing a lesson on chromatic sequences, I found what appears to be a similar case in Chopin's Mazurka Op. 6, no. 1. The first edition (Leipzig, 1833) has this passage:

    Chopin Mazurka, op. 6 no. 1, mm. 1-11

    The note in question is the C#4 in measure 5 in the tenor. It is the only note that breaks the linear chromatic sequence (should be a Cx, I think). Most of the editions I have seen use a C# here, so out of curiosity, I checked some other editions on IMSLP. It turns out that a few much later editions (Leipzig, 1879; Paris, 1943) do alter this note, but with a D-natural rather than the Cx I expected, which makes it look like more of an intentional editorial change rather than correcting a misprint.

    Anyone aware of an edition where Chopin corrected the first edition himself? Did Chopin just prefer the sonority with the C# in it, perhaps? Other thoughts?

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    • 9 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • In Chopin's later Paris years, he was in the habit of sending several fair copies of his pieces to two or three publishers within a few days of each other. This habit countered the lack of international copyright law. Often when Chopin sent a second or third fair copy to a second or third publisher, he would change his mind about a note here or there. The result is multiple versions of several passages in later works. This mazurka, of course, is earlier and is probably not the victim (I hate to use that word, since it poorly describes the cultural practice) of this habit. To make matters worse, though, Chopin was also in the habit of making changes in the scores of his pupils -- apparently, he would later decide that an earlier version WAS the better one (or that a new version was better). All of this suggests that our 20th and 21st-century obsession with the "right version" is a modern contrivance. The authoritative version is/are any versions that Chopin set forth into circulation. [Of course, there could still be misprints in addition to these issues.] Maybe if you asked Chopin (if we could call him forth) which version he prefered, he might change his mind again. If he were less fussy (a strange word to use for someone who seems to have changed his mind a bit about several passages of music; but by all accounts he was fussy in character), he might say "I don't know; which one do you prefer?"


    • The Chopin Early Editions website lists 7 scores of this Mazurka, all published before about 1860, in Paris, Leipzig and London, and all with the C#. One may conclude, I think, that this note is not "wrong". And one might indeed find arguments in favor of this C# dominant 7th in a piece in F# minor. A chromatic sequence should not make the listener loose track of the tonality...



    • I forgot to give the link to the Chopin Early Editions website, http://chopin.lib.uchicago.edu/.



    • As Nicolas said, there are potentially good reasons for the C#7 here.  Knowing that the piece subsequently launches into a chromatic sequence, we might want to change the note for the sake of consistency.  But it's useful to consider where the piece could have gone had that C#7 chord been interpreted as a functional dominant (albeit in weak inversion) and transitioned us directly back to F# minor.

      By using the C#7 sonority, Chopin could create something that subtly "points" back toward the tonic (and creates a weak expectation for the listener, following on the circle of 5ths motion from G#7 to C#7 to F#), but ultimately doesn't follow through.  (Note also that the two previous measures that began with a triplet motive concluded with a dominant-seventh to tonic type progression.)   That's a much more interesting ambiguity (to my mind) than the chord that results from the D/Cx, which is more tonally ambiguous and therefore doesn't create such an expectation or denial.

      Also, I have to say that if you made the substitution I'm not clear on why it should be a Cx instead of a D.  A Cx would be inconsistent with the spelling of chords in the following bars, it would imply an upward resolution (when it goes down), and that upward resolution tends to imply a motion toward a sonority based on D# (which doesn't happen).  All of these argue in favor of the spelling of D as more consistent with the function of the note (again, assuming we made the change).

    • In this regard it is also interesting to consider the parallel(?) editorial change of the note D in the same measure within the triplet on the downbeat in the upper register. In modern editions it is a D-sharp. The harmony on the downbeat is an inverted half-diminished chord on D-sharp (IInd degree in C-sharp minor). On the one hand the D in question creates a harsh diminished octave against the D-sharp of the harmony. On the other hand it still inhabits the main key and resists the modulatory impulse of the harmony. 


      Thomas Noll


      Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya, Barcelona

      Departament de Teoria i Composició


    • John, the reason I leaned toward a Cx was that it would be more likely for an accidental to be left out of a first printing than for a C# to be substituted for a D. The D makes more sense theoretically -- although I'm sure this wasn't Chopin's first concern. I also agree that he could have preferred the sound of the C#, despite the consistent pattern going on in the other voices. 

      Here's a comment from Steve Jablonsky that I hope he doesn't mind that I share here: 


      I have the Peters edition on my piano and it contains a D natural, not a C#. As a matter of taste and style, the D natural works better harmonizing the “blue note” B natural and establishes the model for the sequence which follows. And, as you point out it continues the downward chromatic line so common in much of Chopin’s music. Knowing Fred as I do, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt.


    • Brent - ah, I understand your reasoning now for thinking it might be a Cx that was misprinted as a C#.  I misunderstood your original post.

      I agree with Steve Jablonsky's reasoning too (were a D to appear there), though given the unanimity in early editions cited by Nicolas, it seems less likely to be a misprint.  I also think Thomas Noll's observation is important: such changes seem to go hand-in-hand.  The version given above then has two cues that tend to push back to F#, so the chromatic "turn" is delayed until the downbeat of m. 6. By altering the melody D to D# and the tenor C# to D, measure 5 now conforms to the sequential model, but it switches from "functional" to ambiguous "chromatic" progressions earlier.

    • Here's another reply I received (below). Just a reminder to everyone that replying directly to the email only sends your message to the SMT Discuss moderator. To post your response on SMT Discuss, you need to click on the "reply here" link.

      Daniel Roca writes:

      Sheer serendipity. It is exactly the same Mazurka I used for an analysis exam this week, and so I have corrected a couple of dozens of analysis of that piece this week! ;-)

      I think C# makes sense in the context. It is the beginning of a sequence that could be read as (starting in m. 5)

      //[IIº of] V of V of // [same root as previous chord but as IIºof] and so on..

      m. 5 is the first instance of this sequence. The chord is question is a [applied] dominant seventh chord. In subsequent measures the corresponding chord is always [applied] diminished seventh chord, what in my terms is essentially the same chord [I understand it as dominant minor ninth without root] or, as I think is more generally indicated vii diminished seventh. 

      This explains the difference you noticed.

      I have observed this more than once in sequences, where the 1st instance is a more “complete” chord [dominant seventh] and subsequent one more “subtle” [diminished seventh].

      So, I would regard it as a wrong note.

      This model follows until the end, where the last chord can be spelled enharmonically in two different ways (but that’s another story)

      I hope I have been able to explain myself properly.

      SMT Discuss Manager
      Somewhere in the Universe
    • You might be interested in checking out the Online Chopin Variorum Edition (OCVE) at   http://www.chopinonline.ac.uk/ocve/ .

      As explained on this page,  the OCVE eventually "will provide digital images of all the available primary sources of Chopin’s music - whether sketches, complete manuscripts (both Chopin’s and those of copyists), first editions, or later impressions. Thousands of pages from these documents are already available, and the entire site is free of charge. Users anywhere in the world can explore, compare and combine elements from the great composer’s music, comment on it as they go, and ultimately construct their own version of the Chopin work to an extent that has never before been possible. - See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/the-virtual-chopin#sthash.RBc922K5.dpuf ."

      Poundie Burstein