Chopsticks (music)

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For a different piece of piano music often called "Chopsticks" in the UK, see Der Flohwalzer (the "Flea Waltz").

"Chopsticks" (original name "The Celebrated Chop Waltz") is a simple, widely known waltz for the piano. It was written in 1877 by the British composer Euphemia Allen under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. She never published any other musical composition.[1] Allen, whose brother was a music publisher, was supposedly only sixteen when she composed the piece, with arrangements for solo and duet. The title Chop Waltz comes from Allen's specification that the melody be played in two-part harmony with both hands held in a vertical orientation, little fingers down and palms facing each other, striking the keys with a chopping motion.


A group of Russian composers—Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Anatoly Lyadovcollaboratively composed three-hand piano variations on this theme for Borodin's daughter Gania. (Modest Mussorgsky did not participate, thinking that the composition would be meaningless.) The original edition of this collection dates from 1879. The second edition was published the following year (1880), under the title Paraphrases: 24 Variations et 15 petits pièces sur le thème favori et obligé. Franz Liszt was thrilled with this volume and composed a short tribute for piano solo to be inserted before Borodin's Polka. Later editions of the work saw it grow from 15 to 17 other pieces, including a contribution from Nikolai Shcherbachov when it was reissued in 1893.[2]

In cinema, music and television[edit]

"Chopsticks" was used as the introductory music to Edgar Kennedy's series of short comedies made at the RKO Studios, from 1931 until his death in 1948.

American composer and educator John Sylvanus Thompson published a set of variations on "Chopsticks" in 1941.[3]

The first three Pooch the Pup cartoons used "Chopsticks" as their opening music.

In the 1946 William Wyler film The Best Years of Our Lives, a story chronicling the difficulties facing returning servicemen from overseas, the famous song composer Hoagy Carmichael performs a duet of "Chopsticks" with Harold Russell, a World War II Navy veteran who lost both of his hands in combat. He played the simple piece (including variations) with Hoagy taking the lower part. Mr. Russell's hooks that served as hands seemingly did not deter him from delivering a rendering of the tune, complete with a final glissando up the keyboard.

In the 1952 Stanley Kramer film production The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, co-written by Dr. Seuss, the boys play Chopsticks toward the end of the dream sequence, after Dr. Terwilliker is dragged away and before the atomic "music fix" blows up.[4]

Liberace plays a virtuoso "Chopsticks" accompanied by full orchestra early in the film Sincerely Yours (1955).

The opening notes of "Chopsticks" are often utilized in film and TV productions to illustrate a character's relative lack of ability in playing the piano (example: "The Beauty Queen" episode of My Living Doll).

In the 1955 Billy Wilder film The Seven Year Itch, Tom Ewell played this together with Marilyn Monroe and tried to kiss her, only to fail.

In the 1955 season 4 episode of I Love Lucy "Ethel's Home Town", "Chopsticks" is played by Fred Mertz (William Frawley).

In the 1972 Columbo episode "Etude in Black", Columbo plays chopsticks as a way to get under the skin of the pompous murderer/conductor Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes).

The Celebrated Chop Waltz is sometimes confused with "Der Flohwalzer" (the Flea Waltz), which in the UK is also known by the name Chopsticks.

In Sesame Street, the lyrics were added where a music video showed people eating food with chopsticks while the music was used.

The melody is the basis of "Christmas Chopsticks", recorded by Guy Lombardo (1952) and Bobby Vinton (1964).

"Chopsticks" is the second song played by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the famous piano scene at FAO Schwarz in the film Big.[5]



An equivalent of this rudimentary two-finger piano exercise was known in Russia in duple meter as "tati-tati" or the "Cutlet Polka". This version alternates the notes between the hands, rather than playing them at the same time in harmony.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Celebrated Chop Waltz". IMSLP. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  2. ^ Downing, Patrick (24 February 2011). "The Origin of "Chopsticks"". Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  3. ^ "Chopsticks with Variations (Thompson, John Sylvanus) - IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music". Retrieved 2016-07-04. 
  4. ^ The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T, YouTube
  5. ^ fraames (2011-10-09), big - film scene, retrieved 2017-03-25 

External links[edit]