Even though the Fantaisie-Impromptu was composed in 1834, the world had to wait until 1960 to hear the piece as Chopin intended it. This much-loved work was made popular through the version published by his close friend and musical executor, Julian Fontana, but it contains quite a number of textual discrepancies.
How Chopin’s autograph came to light makes a fascinating story. In 1960, Artur Rubinstein acquired an album owned by Madame la Baronne d’Este. The album contained a manuscript of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in Chopin’s own hand, dated 1835. It would appear that the reason Chopin had not published the work was because he had received a commission from the Baroness, and the piece was therefore her property. It is possible this manuscript might be a later copy of the work, which could explain the gap of a year between its composition and the date in the album’s copy.
Even though the autograph manuscript has since been published, many pianists prefer to play from the much more familiar Fontana edition. This is the version I learned as a student, and because it is very ingrained in my fingers, I have stuck with it. It seems like I am in good company.
Let’s look at a few excerpts from the autograph score so we can see some of the differences. In the opening material Fontana adds pedal, and removes the accents in the left hand. Some left hand notes are not the same – the autograph has G sharps in the second groups of bars 5 and 6, and the layout of the broken chord in the second group of bar 7 is different.
In the autograph, the broad melody that appears in bar 13 in crotchets (quarter notes) continues in the right thumb from the second phrase, there is no transfer to the 5th finger.
Fontana’s edition has copious pedal markings – not so the autograph, where we find only three (at the start of the middle section). They all indicate special (long) pedals – over the two introductory bars of Db major harmony and then whole-bar changes, but disappear thereafter.
Looking further along into the middle section, there are the occasional discrepancies between notes in the left hand (bars 59 and 61), with a variant of the filling material in the upper line in bar 60.
In the autograph, the left hand of the coda reverts to sextuplet groups, whereas in Fontana’s version we find groups of 4.
Since it was Artur Rubinstein himself who put Chopin’s original on the map, it is fitting that he should play us out with this 1964 recording. For those who are familiar only with Fontana’s version, you might find some of the differences a bit surprising.
New Study Edition
I’ve just published a new study edition for the Fantaisie-Impromptu featuring a score with detailed annotations, six video walk-throughs, fifteen demonstration videos and three practice worksheets.
Click here to purchase it from our store. The study edition is also available as part of our Annotated Study Edition bundle or is included with an annual subscription to the Online Academy. Click here to find out more about the Online Academy.