"Chopsticks" is one of the most famous and most-performed pieces of piano music in the world. Although you might include it in a list of "The playing of the following four songs anywhere near a pianist is prohibited", only the most boring and heartless person should sneer at it. The simple tune has brought pleasure to countless children, often being the first piano piece they master. It is far more fun than the monotonous dirge "This is C, Middle C, Left hand, Right hand, Middle C" with which I began my formal piano education.
As befits its simplicity, "Chopsticks" was not written by a famous German with big hair, but by a sixteen year old British girl, Euphemia Allen (1861-1949) in 1877. Perhaps in a desire to be taken more seriously, it was published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. Sadly, this was the only work by Allen (or de Lulli), and little else is known about her.
The title of Allen's composition does not relate to oriental eating tools (although its unusual harmonic structure may recall non-Western music to some listeners). Rather, the word "chop" relates to the motion of the player. The instructions on the original piece read: "play with both hands turned sideways, the little fingers lowest, so that the movements of the hands imitates the chopping from which this waltz gets its name." For this reason, the tune was originally called "The Celebrated Chop Waltz", and was known in Russia as "The Cutlet Polka".
"Chopsticks" has been performed by a large number of professional artists, often in a spirit of parody, but sometimes in simple joyfulness. Liberace recorded it, and it is available on his compilation "The Legendary Liberace". Techno band Orbital have also included it in their live set. Classical composers have produced variations on the piece, including Alexander Borodin, who composed variations for his daughter Galia. These were published alongside contributions by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov as "Paraphrases on the Cutlet Polka". Allen's original piece can be found in many books of children's piano music.
Ditty Box Enterprises, "Euphemia Allen", Composers of Recorder Music, http://www.grainger.de/music/composers/allene.html, viewed December 12, 2002.
Esther Kathryn, "The Origin of 'Chopsticks'", Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg, http://www.uuwinnipeg.mb.ca/articles0202.htm, viewed December 12, 2002. (Includes references to authoritative sources.)
Stump Me, "Stump Me Questions Answered in December 2000", Mindless Crap, http://www.mindlesscrap.com/stumpme/12-00.htm, viewed December 12, 2002.
Ian Watson, "Well-Rounded: Orbital / µ-ziq, Albert Hall, London" from Melody Maker, May 25, 1996, reproduced at
http://www.songtwo.demon.co.uk/orbital/ofm.html, viewed December 12, 2002.
This write-up is definitely not a part of Everything Quests - Classical Music