"Scholars have come to realize that a definitive edition of Chopin's music may not be possible or even desirable." ("Chopin and his publishers" - University of Chicago Exhibit April 1998 - introductory text)
Introductory by Idil Biret to her new edition of Chopin's complete piano scores for International Music Company (New York)
In the draft for his book on piano method Chopin wrote, "There are as many different sounds as there are many fingerings. One has only to know how to find the right fingering". Chopin's own fingerings that he abundantly and generously noted on the handwritten manuscripts or autographs have reached us through the various scores of his pupils and printed editions. The English musicologist and pianist Alfred Hipkins who met and heard Chopin play wrote in his notes about the composer, saying, "Chopin always chose the easiest fingering, the one which came naturally to his hand without fearing to go against the strict fingering rules and traditions established by the theoreticians and the music editors". The ideas of Chopin are truly revolutionary in this field. Among the most striking we could mention:
- The use of the thumb on black keys which often have melodic fragments;
- The fingers which cross over at the extremity of the hand in chromatic passages which are expressive as well as the chromatic fragments in thirds;
- The repeated notes with the use of the third finger.
The legato playing was an element of great importance in the reproduction of the Bel Canto at the piano and correct fingering was vital to achieve this. Mikuli wrote that when Chopin played, the piano had nothing short of the violin's harmonious bow or the deep sound of the wind instruments; the sounds fusion with each other with the smoothness of the most accomplished vocal art. Mikuli goes on to say, "The Nocturnes of John Field as with those of Chopin belonged also, to a certain degree, to the category of the piano studies (etudes). By practicing these works, the pupil had to become familiar with the legato and learn how to love and reproduce the beautifully linked united sound of the singing. A pianist unable to link two notes together was blamed severely by Chopin". In his teaching of legato, Chopin took a lot from the classical school of Cramer and Clementi. But, he enriched this knowledge with a large variety of different ways in the apprehension of touching the keys. He often used the same finger to play two notes succeeding each other (not only for sliding from one black to one white key) without the slightest loss in the sound continuity.
Through the information we are fortunate to possess, I tried to find in my own performances the fingering which would be in line of Chopin's conception of piano playing. I noted that a true sense of the legato often necessitates substitutions or changing two or more fingers on the same note, without letting the key come up, in order to prolong the length of the initial sound. I also took in consideration that for Chopin the ideal position of the hand was the one adopted naturally by playing the notes of E, F#, G#, A# and B (right hand), B, A#, G#, F# and E (left hand). Chopin's exercises were based on this position. These exercises, aimed to guarantee the independence of the fingers, were performed in various keys without changing the initial position of the hands which allowed the equality of the sound, the quietness and well-being of the hand. A comfortable fingering was a basic principle to obtain this result. In the above described position both hands are slightly turned towards the exterior (in reverse position) which is the key to equality in the playing.
A correct fingering allows any indicated accents to fall naturally in the hand or a bowing to be played naturally and without effort. Clarity in the articulation of the phrases is of utmost importance. It has first to be achieved only with the fingers and without the help of the pedal. The right way to pedalling means a totally independent mechanism which only relies on a good ear. Chopin used the pedals with consummate art. For him its study meant a lifelong practice. But, he always reminded his pupils that pedal has to be used very sparsely. Therefore, the right fingering was of vital importance for executing a work properly. Chopin was consequently very severe in the use of appropriate fingering and he said that one learns a fingering once for all and thereafter there would not be any further changes made to it. Here, one has to note that there are as many ways of fingering as there are hands. It is not realistic for everyone to use the same set of fingering since the physiology of the hand changes with the individual.
The fingerings recommended here are those which I use myself through a long association with the performance of the works of Chopin.