Story and Origins of Famous Songs Chopsticks

About the history, origins, and story behind the song and piano waltz Chopsticks.

STORIES BEHIND THE SONGS YOU GREW UP WITH

"CHOPSTICKS," "Arthur de Lulli" (Euphemia Allen)--1877

"Chopsticks," that quick little waltz that anyone can play, and which drives parents who own pianos to distraction, seems--like jump-rope rhymes--to be something passed down from one generation to another. It is hard to believe that it was composed. But it was. Its creator was Euphemia Allen, a 16-year-old British girl, who published the tune under the pseudonym of Arthur de Lulli and never, so far as we know, wrote anything else. The tune appeared in 1877 in London and Glasgow as "The Celebrated Chopsticks Waltz, arranged as a Duet and Solo for the Pianoforte." On page 3 were these instructions: "This part (primo part of the duet) must be played with both hands turned sideways, the little fingers lowest, so that the movements of the hands imitate the chopping from which this waltz gets its name."

Some people think the name of the waltz comes from the Chinese eating utensil, because the piece is sometimes played with just the forefingers and this looks like someone spearing a morsel of food with chopsticks.

In the same year that Euphemia's "Chopsticks" was published. Aleksandr Borodin, the Russian composer and scientist, overheard his daughter playing a few bars of music that sounded a lot like Euphemia's masterpiece. Borodin named what he heard "The Koteletten Polka." (Koteletten is German for the whiskers called muttonchops.)

Though no actual evidence exists, it is possible that both Euphemia and Borodin's daughter had heard an anonymously written version of "Chopsticks." Certainly, at the time, one-finger piano pieces were popular with children.

Borodin and three other composers--Cesar Cui, Anatoli Liadov, and Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov--all wrote variations on "Chopsticks" and published them in a book called Paraphrases in 1878-1879. In 1880, a second edition was published, which also included variations on the theme by Franz Liszt.

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