The story behind Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu

Julian Fontana (1810-1869) was one of Chopin's closest friends and they spent time together from their very youngest days.  

Their relationship whilst they were in Warsaw was very close.  In 1828 at Bucholtz Hall they performed the Rondo in C major for two pianos, Opus 73, together.  

After the November Uprising was put down Fontana met Chopin in Paris in 1832 and for some time was his student – a fact he would emphasise in later years.  

He then settled in London, where he performed alongside Ignaz Moscheles and others.  In 1835 he returned to France and lived with Chopin.  They worked together closely from this time with Fontana acting as Chopin’s copyist and personal secretary. 

Up until 1841 he made around 50 publication copies of Chopin’s compositions, which served as the foundations for French, English and German editions.  This work increased particularly from 1838, when Chopin met George Sand.  No longer in Paris himself, Chopin entrusted all his business affairs to Fontana: negotiations with publishers, the making of copies and the correction of manuscripts being prepared for publication.  Fontana often suggested to Chopin certain alterations to his pieces (Polonaise in C minor, opus 40, dedicated to Fontana).  

He dedicated himself to making an edition of those Chopin pieces that existed only in manuscript form (Oeuvres posthumes, opus 66-74), authorised by Chopin’s family and he also took part in concerts to promote the posthumous edition (at the Salle Pleyel, 1856 and 1857). 

Even though the Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66 was composed in 1834, the world had to wait until 1960 to hear the piece as Chopin intended it. 

The version published by Julian Fontana contained 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 Baroness d’Este. The album contained a manuscript of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in the 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 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, all pianists prefer to play the much more familiar Fontana edition. 

Let’s look at a few excerpts from the autograph score so we can see some differences that can sound a bit surprising. 

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 D flat 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 sextuplets groups, whereas in Fontana’s version we find groups of 4.


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