Chopsticks (music)

"Chopsticks" (original name "The Celebrated Chop Waltz") is a simple, widely known waltz for the piano. Written in 1877, it is the only published piece[1] by the British composer Euphemia Allen (under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli). Allen—whose brother was a music publisher—was sixteen when she composed the piece, with arrangements for solo and duet.[2] 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.[2] The similar "The Coteletten Polka" also was first heard in 1877, with the piano collection Paraphrases elaborating on the theme by 1879.[2] "Chopsticks" continues to be popular in various forms of media.


Original compositionEdit

In 1877, "The Celebrated Chop Waltz" was published with arrangements for solo and duet.[2] It was written by the British composer and sister of a music publisher Euphemia Allen under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli.[2] The piece is a simple, widely known waltz for the piano, popularly referred to as "Chopsticks". After composing it at age sixteen, Allen never published any other musical composition. 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.[2]


In 1877, Alexander Borodin's daughter played "The Coteletten Polka", with four bars of music similar to the beginning of de Lulli's work, though there is no hard evidence of a common source between the two pieces.[2] 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.[3]

In cinema, music and televisionEdit

  • "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.[4]
  • 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, 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.[5]
  • Liberace plays a virtuoso "Chopsticks" accompanied by full orchestra early in the 1955 film Sincerely Yours.
  • 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 (e.g., "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, lyrics were added where a music video showed people eating food with chopsticks while the music was used.[citation needed]
  • The melody is the basis of "Christmas Chopsticks", recorded by Guy Lombardo (1952) and Bobby Vinton (1964).[citation needed]
  • A simplified version of the tune is featured in the hit song "Blinded by the Light", created and performed by Mannfred Mann in 1976.
  • "Chopsticks" is the second song played by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the famous piano scene at FAO Schwarz in the 1988 film Big.[6]



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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Celebrated Chop Waltz". IMSLP. Retrieved 2010-05-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Fuld, James J. (2000). The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. Courier Corporation. p. 170-171. ISBN 978-0-486-41475-1.
  3. ^ Downing, Patrick (24 February 2011). "The Origin of "Chopsticks"". Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  4. ^ "Chopsticks with Variations (Thompson, John Sylvanus) – IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music". Retrieved 2016-07-04.
  5. ^ The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T, YouTube
  6. ^ fraames (2011-10-09), big – film scene, retrieved 2017-03-25

External linksEdit