After Mrs Bach, was this Chopin polka written by his pupil, Charlotte?

Further to the recent Mrs Bach furore, we present a modest discovery by the pianist, Philip Sears:

I regularly check the public domain scores digitized and released each week by the Bibliothèque nationale de France on its Gallica website.  Very recently they released a set of four piano pieces published c. 1860 and ascribed to la Baronne Nathaniel de Rothschild, aka Charlotte de Rothschild, a pupil (with her cousin Mathilde and mother Betty) of Chopin in Paris.

I was playing these through, and amazed to discover that two of the pieces are identical to posthumous works by Chopin himself, which are listed on worklists as being first published in the 20th century.  They are the  Nocturne in C minor, B. 108, KK IVb/8, P 2/8 (1837), first published in 1938 and the Waltz in A minor, B. 150, KK IVb/11, P 2/11 (1843), first published in 1955 (per the Wikipedia worklist).

The nocturne in the 1860 edition has barely any dynamic markings, but the waltz has performance instructions that do not appear in the Henle Urtext edition.  I am not only curious as to how these pieces came to be published under another name, but also as to the provenance of the other two pieces in the set, a polka in C minor and a waltz in F minor.  I can’t match these up to any listed work by Chopin, but they are certainly in his style.  I have recorded the polka on my YouTube channel here:

And the waltz in F minor here:
Charlotte_de_Rothschild
I am not a Chopin scholar, and would welcome any information your readers could provide on this.  The BnF score can be found here.

Reply below, please.

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  • According to Grove, both the waltz and the nocturne were composed in 1847. However, it may be pertinent to note that the waltz in question was first published (in 1955) as a facsimile in the Revue musicale, issue number 225 (according to Grove). It appears to be the only Chopin work to have been *first* published in the Revue musicale, which makes me wonder what the context of publication would have been. The nocturne, meanwhile, was published (in 1938) as part of the complete edition (the waltz does not appear to be present) promulgated by the Institut Fryderyka Chopina (in volume XVIII, according to the IMSLP).

    The hyperlink to the BnF does not appear to work, but it would be very interesting to know whether the Rothschild book were handwritten or engraved.

  • I can’t claim to be a Chopin scholar – though I must have listened to most of his extant music at one time or another over the last couple of years, and I’ve played most of what anyone with a licentiate diploma could reasonably expect to get their fingers round.
    Both these pieces seem to me very weak – the ideas are musically unremarkable and the harmony is dull and sometimes barely competent. Remembering that Chopin was properly trained as a composer (unlike some, he wasn’t just a flashy pianist who learned basic compositional techniques in order to show off his virtuosity), I find it difficult to imagine his writing anything as crude as these, unless very early indeed in his career.

  • I am no Chopin scholar either; both pieces sound to me “in the style of” Chopin but much too banal to be Chopin himself. However I can tell you that Arthur Rubinstein did not believe that the Nocturne in C minor op.posth. was written by Chopin. He always said that Chopin did not repeat himself in his compositions and that this nocturne is full of quotations from other works including, amongst others, the Fantasy on Polish Themes for Piano and Orchestra. Annabelle Weidenfeld.

  • There is also an autograph of the Waltz, attributed to Charlotte de Rothschild, here :

    http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b550016651.r=Charlotte+de+Rothschild.langFR

    This is all very troubling. The A minor Waltz is the first piece by Chopin I learned when I was a kid, and I’ve always been very fond of it (in spite of its obvious stylistic infelicities). And now I learn it’s by someone else. I do not know how I will ever be able to go on with my life.

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