Fantaisie Impromptu

(Apr 9, 2019)

Two recordings of the same thing by Arthur Rubinstein…

First of all, the Fantaisie Impromptu is another extremely popular and famous piece of music that was not supposed to be published. You can look up the Wiki article on the history of this composition – it’s pretty good – but the bottom line is that it was composed  and sold to the Baroness d’Este and was therefore considered by Chopin to have been private property. So when it was published by Julian Fontana after his death, it was against his wishes. So here is yet another composition we apparently were never meant to hear.

Because of the confusion about when it was written, and for whom, and which version is final or the best, there are actually considerable differences between scores. The first recording by Rubinstein is more traditional. It is the version published by Fontana.

The second version was bought by Arthur Rubinstein in 1960 and performed by him according to that score. Most people will not hear a difference, but to me the differences are huge, countless details or small changes which apparently Chopin made for the Baroness d’Este. Because of variations between what Chopin originally wrote, what he sold and other versions we now have, no one exactly agrees on all the notes. There are even other small changes in the middle section that are not written down but that have heard from famous pianist from earlier 20th century recordings.

The first recording, the traditional Fontana version…

The second recording, same player but from the private score bought in 1960.

12 thoughts on “Fantaisie Impromptu

  1. Chopin is a composer known for his incredibly difficult music. Yet in a sea of difficult pieces by Chopin, this one really stands out. The many tone changes and many effects created near the end keep this piece interesting and entertaining all the way through. From the speed demon main section, to the slow and beautiful development section. Its all great. Personally this is my second favorite Chopin piece, behind Ballade in G of course.

  2. I liked the second recording. The changes in dynamic and tempo were much more dramatic and pronounced. I noticed a few of the note changes towards the beginning and around the 4-minute mark, I think.

    1. That may be true, but the differences are subtle. The public score was written later and may incorporate ideas shared by the composer. I think overall it is better. When I teach it, I teach ideas from both scores. There is a playing tradition of around 170 years. Chopin died in 1849. I think sticking strictly to the private version, what he sold, is a big mistake.

  3. I don’t know them well enough to tell them apart, this is the first time I hear the auction version. Figures that it’d be Rubinstein that’d buy it. He’s really the only Chopin recordings I have. I have that brown box set that makes the thumbnail image in the Fontana version here.

    1. I suppose I might not hear most of the differences if I did not know one of them cold. I’ve been playing this in some form since I was young. I knew the Fontana version first, and I still think it is better. Rubinstein sort of flipped to the “newer version”, and so did Claudio Arrau. But to me that’s sort of jumping on the new bandwagon.It’s kind of like “new” vs “old” instruments, like it has to be one or the other. It’s easier that way, because you just make an A/B decision.

      A better solution is to mix and match, pick the best element of both versions.

    1. We would have discovered it by now because it came to light around 1960. The lady for whom Chopin wrote the music kept it, and that’s how it got auctioned to Rubinstein. But it might have remained unknown for something like 120 years.

  4. I found the story fascinating. I didn’t know any of that. I was not able to hear the differences and would like to, and also wonder why he made those changes.

    What I especially liked in this piece is the ending, where it seems to end, the RH plays this rippling water sound, and suddenly the LH came in down in the bass, reiterating the theme and then melds in with the ripples.

    1. Since I know the common version, called the “Fontana edition”, it’s pretty obvious when I hear something that is different. Neither version is obviously superior, so as a player it’s up to you which to choose. The majority of all pianists still play the Fontana edition. The other has been around for almost 60 years, so they know of it but choose the Fontana because they prefer it. So do I, but I play some things from the other. I mix and match. Most do not.

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