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Chopin Prelude Op. 28, No. 20 Largo

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Syeles, Nov 1, 2008.

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E natural or E flat? (C major or C Minor?)

  1. E natural (C major )

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  2. E flat (C Minor)

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  1. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    UPDATE: Thanks to good feedback from several members, I have reworked my performance a little. I have attempted to eliminate or reduce most, but not all, of my "hesitations". The feeling is quite different for me. The attachement is new 7-Nov-2008.


    CONTROVERSY: The question is E natural or E flat? That is, in the third measure, is the last chord C major or C minor? I have sheet music for both and many recordings that are about half and half.

    Anyway, I'd really appreciate some education on this. Which way did Chopin play it. How did this conflict arise? (A natural sign could be read as a flat or vice versa. And a natural would be redundant here - so was it's presence doubted? Was Chopin's penmanship sloppy? Did the publisher need a new monacle?)

    I play it here with a C major, the way I learned many years ago. It just sounds right to me, especially as a pick-up into the fourth measure.

    Once again, I don't perform this the usual way here. Much slower than the 44 BPM suggested, and as usual very rubato with dynamics that are somewhat opposite of the written instructions. It's such a short piece that I like to play it different ways. This is my current favorite style.

    Chopin - Prelude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Hi Albert - long time no see.

    And wow, that sure is a different interpretation!! To be perfectly honest, I'm not crazy about it. But it's because I am so used to it sounding the way it is normally played. I know you have very high-end equipment and you really sound very, very nice, here. I think my one main gripe is the way you hold the last notes of each measure. I also noticed that you brought out the inner RH notes in bar 5 but then switched to the upper notes in bar 6. I'm not used to that, either. One more thing is at bar 9 where it is supposed to be pp but you play it ff. I know, you said this is your current favorite interpretation, so 'to each his own'.

    As to the controversial E-natural versus E-flat. I grew up with the E-natural also. And besides it sounding correct to me, I also think it leads better into the next measure. There is a little note from the publisher in my Preludes book that reads: According to the editors of the Oxford edition, Chopin is supposed to have added a flat sign before the E in a copy belonging to one of his pupils. It does not appear in the Autograph or the original editions.

    That last sentence is to me proof that it should be an E-natural, and yet people still argue about it.
     
  3. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I don't have a clue about the controversy with the E or E flat. I always thought that this is a C minor there but I can't back it up.
    I just loved your rendition. Fantastic. And I wouldn't say no to C major, you have convincingly played that point.
    I really admire your musical patience. You seem very sure, calm, not predictable and at the same time very, very patient with the tempo. I also envy your dynamics. You get full sounding chords at whisper level.

    The last two chords and especially the closing chord, I think were the cake's icing. Marvellous.
    Thanks for sharing this performance.
     
  4. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Hi Monica,

    Great comments. All right on. That's why it's so much fun to play this piece differently every time. Music is so much more interesting when it surprises you, even if it's not comfortingly familiar. As for holding the last notes of each measure, I guess it's a habit I can't shake, and may define my style.

    Re: high-end equipment. That's my Yamaha Motif ES 8 keyboard, which has nice action, hooked up to GPO's massive Steinway through Sonar with a tiny bit of reverb. I'm very happy with it.

    E flat? The Oxford note is revealing, but still subject to interpretation. Did he actually add a flat sign, or a poorly scribbled natural, to corect a common student mistake. As you discerne, if he was aware of an issue in that copy, he would have had it corrected. Fascinating.
     
  5. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Thanks. Again, it's the equipment. Great action keyboard and a fantastic piano patch. I do try to play as softly as possible in parts of any performance or composition to maximise the dynamic range. It helps to have good tools.
     
  6. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I've just sent off a note to someone who is the top expert on Chopin. Hopefully, he will reply someday soon and we will have an answer to this. I'll let you know....
     
  7. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I stick to the E flat as I think it sounds better. The E natural has something forced and unnatural about it IMO. May it's just because I have been accustomed to the E flat for so long (I wasn't even aware of the alternative before I joined PS). If the flat is really Chopin's second thought than it is just as valid as the E natural, or maybe more so.
     
  8. alf

    alf Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Here's what I know.
    The Fontana's copy and the first editions have no accidentals (so the C chord is major).
    The same happens to an autograph copy dated 30 January 1840 (Count Dubois de Beauchesne ).
    However, whatever the reason (the correction of a previous omission, or a change of mind), all the late sources have a flat before that E. In the Stirling copy it was added in pencil by Chopin himself; it was notated in another autograph copy dated 20 May 1845 and finally it can be found in the Tellefsen edition (Tellefsen was a pupil of Chopin from 1844 to 1848). So, no doubts that it is a C minor chord.

    By the way, this Prelude originally consisted of the first 2 phrases only (8 bars). It was Pleyel who convinced Chopin to repeat the second phrase.
     
  9. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Ok, well…I can see that I am outnumbered. But I have just received information from my source – a very, very reliable source. He is Jeffrey Kallberg whom some of you may have heard about. He is the man who as recently as three years ago was called upon to authenticate a newly discovered Beethoven manuscript. He is also responsible for reconstructing and publishing an article on Chopin’s “Devil’s Trill” prelude. He knows a lot about Chopin. You can read about him here (as well as hear that prelude!): http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~kallberg/

    This is what he told me about the prelude:

    The passage in the C-minor Prelude is famous for its ambiguity, the problem being that Chopin himself was responsible for the different readings. The majority of early sources show the natural on the last e. But several important sources do have the flat: an autograph Chopin wrote out for the Cheremetieff family, a correction he made to Jane Stirling's copy of the French first edition, and the actual printing of the English first edition. What remains unclear to scholars is if the flat represents a later change of mind on Chopin's part, or a vacillation. This is why, in the latest and best modern edition of the Preludes (edited by Eigeldinger for Peters of London) the flat appears, but in parentheses, meaning that the choice ultimately lies with each pianist.

    So...that is that. At least I’m not totally wrong. My choice is still the E-natural, but many of you will no doubt stick to your E-flat.

    J. Kallberg also pointed me to a link, which I am very excited about. Maybe some of you know of this site already, but I did not. It’s really cool! http://www.cfeo.org.uk/dyn/index.html

    Of course the first thing I looked at was the c-minor prelude. Unfortunately, you cannot see the first French edition of this piece, but you can see the first German and first English edition. The German has the E-natural and the English has the E-flat.
     
  10. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Well, the E natural still sounds right to me. And the E flat.... that's just wrong! Oh my. :)
     
  11. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Like Monica, I grew up with the E natural, which sounds best to me. Whereas the first two measures are clearly minor in sound, and since the forth measure ends in a major chord, for symmetry, the preceding third measure better prepares the ear for the outcome by sounding the E natural in my opinion.

    As to anything being the publisher's fault, it's not very likely. I once read (would have to go back to find the source) that Chopin only gave the most cursory look at publishing galley proofs returned to him for review and approval. Liszt, by contrast, went over his proof copies with a fine-tooth comb! That's why there are so very many discrepancies among Chopin editions, not only of this prelude, but a number of his other pieces as well. Also, when Chopin would change a note in a student's score, one would have to wonder whether he believed he had originally submitted it for publication that way (again, had he reviewed his proofs carefully, he would have known for sure and made necessary corrections then), or whether he was recomposing the piece in the moment to make it more to his liking.

    syeles, on your rendition, where it's your favorite, you should probably stick with it. I don't share your enthusiasm though in playing it that way. Chopin progressively lowers the dynamics three times during the piece for a purpose. The prelude is actually a funeral procession. The imaginary is that of an observer, standing at the wayside as the procession passes by, watches it as it continues down the road, receding farther and farther in the distance. As that happens, the sounds from the the carriages, horses and mourners also diminish in volume accordingly. Although you do end on a very quiet note (I've actually heard some play the ending fff!), as you move through the piece there are some abrupt loud chords that defeat the sense of the procession receding into the distance (and, therefore defy the laws of physics in how sound travels). Also, all the hesitating stop-and-go effects accentuating the bar lines or interrupting phrases are too distracting and do violence to the overall phrasing of the musical line in my view. I have no problem with your tempo--that's about the pacing I use as well to set the mood.

    David
     
  12. Mark

    Mark New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I had always played it with the E-natural, but playing back and forth, there's no obviously superior alternative. I listened to my recordings of this piece, and found that Argerich, Gulda, Katsaris, Kissin & Sokolov all play it with the E-flat, while Cortot plays it with the E-natural.

    Regarding your performance Albert, I'm sorry to say I really dislike it. I understand that you're trying to find a way to make your performance different from the myriads of performances of this piece that all sound mostly the same, but the changes you're making are not interesting IMO, they're just self-indulgent. The rests/fermatas you are inserting after every couple of chords and the haphazard dynamic changes simply serve to obliterate the arch shape of the melody that Chopin clearly delineates with his phrase markings. This reminds me of a time I was working on a Beethoven sonata with my teacher, and I thought I had figured out some really clever alteration to make. She immediately noticed, and told me with a smile, though serious: "no matter how smart you think you are, Beethoven's always smarter." I think this applies to Chopin and any other major composer as well. Everyone's performances of this piece sound the same because it's really a simple piece, and there's not much room to express your individual voice.

    Sorry to be harsh :(
     
  13. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I have to agree with Mark on this performance - I did not like it either. It sounds like you just want to be different for the sake of being different. Maybe this is not so, and you feel the piece like this, in which case the performance is honest. But we can only tell you how it sounds, and IMO sounds like you want to go one better than the composer. Mabe this comes from being a composer yourself ? I think as a rule, composing performers take more (sometimes too much) artistic liberty with their material.
     
  14. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Fascinating imagery. I had not heard it described in such vivid detail. Indeed, the piece is usually referred to as a funeral march. As I originally stated, this style of performance dynamics is however my "current" favorite. It's the way I enjoy playing it at right now. But I'm most concerned and grateful for the predominant constructive criticism of my hesitations. This is not something I have given much thought, and has appeared in other of my rendtions. I need to pay more attention to that. Thanks everyone! :)
     
  15. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Mark,

    I appreciate your sincere remarks and take them for constructive criticism... to a point.
    However, your teacher's advice and your concluding thought are autocratic and pretentious.

    Can one only enjoy listening to or performing music if all effort is thrust toward an "approved" ideal? Yes, such striving can be challenging, yet leave room for some personal expression, but must it dictate a limitation?

    You and others may not like my interpretation and that's fine.
    If this performance is not good enough for PianoSociety consensus, that's a fair judgment call. But just because it's a different interpretation should such deviation be discouraged?

    I'm often bored with standard interpretations. If so inclined, I may say so and express some alternate preferences. Otherwise I might offer some specific observations, critiques or suggestions. But I would never ridicule someones choice to follow the usual time-honored path. My preferences are just that - mine. I do not speak for Chopin or some Supreme Court of Music.

    Yes, there is great wisdom in attempting to follow the composers' intent, plus the guidance and example of established great performers, teachers, collegues and friends. But musical interpretation can be pleasurable in many different forms and methods. That includes a performance of this Prelude by Rubenstein, de Larrocha, Pollini, Manilow or Mary the third-grader. Is then the only way to perform "Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht, Op. 49, No. 4" the exact way that Brahms wrote it, or can we allow Percy Grainger, Kenny G or Celine Dion to perform "Berceuse de Brahms" (Brahms Lullaby) their ways?

    Is performing for pleasure "self-indulgent", as you allege, if some listeners do not find pleasure in it?
    Orthodoxy can be stifling to creativity. Teachers and critics beware: think before issuing such unconditioned assertions.

    Sorry to be harsh.

    Albert
     
  16. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    OMG have mercy... not Celine Dion.... :shock: The Screeching Bat From Hell.....

    I see both your points in this discussion. There's a fine line between interpreting and reinventing. Whether you want to cross that line, or appreciaye someone doing that, is a matter of personal taste.
     
  17. Mark

    Mark New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Albert,

    I agree with you 100% that slavish adherence to some sort of generic musical standard is rather boring. Personally, the pianists I most enjoy listening to (Gould, Horowitz, Cziffra, Katsaris, etc) have all been accused of self-indulgence. When I think about it though, "self-indulgent" is really just a catch phrase that means a performance deviates past our own arbitrary standards of acceptability. There's certainly a continuum of standards, but in the end, it IS all arbitrary. I often find listening to a performance that I don't like more interesting than a performance I like, because it gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own performance values. But musical philosophy aside, you're the one who made yourself vulnerable to all of us by showing us your creative work, and I apologize for reacting so strongly against it.

    Just to be clear, I didn't mean to suggest that we shouldn't be trying to insert our own personal voices into the music we play. I just meant that the shorter and simpler a piece is, the fewer tools we have at our disposal to put our own stamp on it.

    As a composer, have you perhaps considered using this prelude as a basis for a work of your own? If the pauses etc that you enjoy playing now were somehow used in whatever creative structure you like, I think that could be very interesting. Are you familiar with the variation sets on this prelude by Rachmaninoff and Busoni (and perhaps others)?

    Mark
     
  18. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I think the distinction lies between what we like and what we agree with. Life would be poor and dull if we only liked what we agreed with.

    I personally liked this performance although I didn't agree with it. I mean, I wouldn't play the prelude this way. But it was refreshing and interesting to hear the different view Syeles shared with us and I would support his right to play it in his own manner even if I didn't like it.

    And the rest of us who choose to play by the norms and sometimes feel very proud adhering to the score, are we sure that the composer would consent to our playing? And what would be the reply to someone who didn't like our strict-by-the-standards performance or found it to be uninteresting? "Look, I followed the score to the last bit, you should like it".
    I firmly believe that even if we had a recording of Chopin himself, we would not be able to match it musically no matter how close we were technically.

    Gyorgy Sandor interviewed about standards in interpretation said: "Luckily, Rachmaninoff recorded all his concertos and unluckily, people do not listen to those".

    So you are happy with Kenny G then?
     
  19. Syeles

    Syeles New Member

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    Mark,

    Fair enough. I objected to your choice of words more than to your underlying sentiment. However, I still disagree. With this and other short, simple pieces, I often find dozens of very different ways to play them without changing a note. In fact, I almost never play them exactly the same. Granted, I routinely take liberties with dynamic markings and tempo, but that makes it fun for me. This all may be a function of the fact that I am not a performer and don't have the endurance or patience to learn longer more challenging and more flexible works. But is not all performance to some extent self-indulgent?

    While I often hear wooden performances that have essentially no "interpretation" at all, sometimes even they can be preferable to the occasional extreme perversion - even to me. But I usually prefer the surprises of a unique approach to a good underlying piece of music. I feel the similarly about popular music. So much of it is based on the hackneyed basic blues progression, but a good performance can overcome and even exalt that.

    As for Kenny and Celine. Can't stand anything he does. Love her.
    To each his own.

    Regards,
    Albert
     
  20. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    To be honest, I have never heard of Kenny G :D
    Can't be worse than Celine Dion's high-pitched ear-drilling screeching though.... Or can it ?
     

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