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The Chopin Delusion

Discussion in 'Repertoire' started by grandvalse, Jan 24, 2009.

  1. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    Every pianist who has studied the famous Polish-French composer Fredryk Chopin asks themselves if they are playing Chopinesque, and using his famous tempo rubato correctly.

    I am here to answer the age old question. Can you play like Chopin? The answer is NO! Chopin gave lessons to many students, but they all ended up amateurs! Chopin's style is dead, it died of tuberculosis, and it died with him.

    My suggestion? Let your fingers, and your heart, and your soul play Chopin, and stop worrying if it would have sounded like him, because odds are it doesn't. In fact, odds are no one has sounded like him, ever ever ever.

    This really irks me, but the truth is that Chopin is a chore emotionally to play... and if you can play with emotion, play with conviction, and play with vunerability, you are playing Chopin correctly.
    :)
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sorry, but I don’t agree with some of what you say. First of all, I have studied Chopin – his teaching, his music, his life, but have never asked myself that question. I don’t really think ‘playing Chopinesque’ is even valid because one does not ‘play’ Chopinesque; it is the character of his music that one can say ‘sounds’ Chopinesque. What I mean is that if you randomly listen to five different composers’ music, you can most likely tell which one is by Chopin. It sounds Chopinesque. All I ask myself is if I played a certain Chopin composition to the best of my ability and does it sound ok.

    Also, how do you know Chopin’s style is dead? We have accurate accounts from persons close to him on how his playing was so sublime and perfectly executed, but are there not other players since Chopin able to play as well? Part of me wants to answer that question with a big fat no, because I am a big Chopin nut. But the other part says that yes, there have been many, many players after Chopin that can play very well and probably as well as Chopin himself. Of course, we will never know for sure, but when you’ve listened to a top player play something so beautiful, compelling, gripping, or mind-blowing, you know that you just heard perfection and how could anybody play it any better?


    I don’t get that one at all. It may be a chore to learn the notes and train your fingers how to play them, but when you get to the point when you can insert emotions into the music - that is no chore, that is the most wonderful thing. That’s what it is all about and why we play the music we like to play.
     
  3. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    I think I misrepresented my point.. I'm having one of those days. I too have studied Chopin for several years, and I am simply trying to say that Chopin is difficult enough to play without having to worry about the elitism that goes with it. I'm tired of prospective students being discouraged because they're playing is not perfectly affected. The power of Chopin is in it's emotional simplicity. I, as a youth, believed Chopin to be extremely ambivalent, and complex... but it's so complex it's simple. What in your life has ever been as purely sad as his Prelude in B minor? What in life is as joyous as his Prelude in E Flat Major?

    Chopin belongs not to the elite pianists who touch his intention perfectly. He belongs to the simple Polish peasent, recreating a mazurka on his fiddle. He belongs to the amateur pianist discovering the world through the eyes of an expatriot. He belongs to the lowliest pianist, the person with the smallest ammount of musical knowledge, just as much as the greatest pianist.

    I am excellent at playing tempo rubato... but I do not draw from training. I draw from the simple emotions, the sadness, the happiness. I leave the piano a drained and broken man, and yet I do it to myself often. That's because Chopin is a wonderful chore, but a chore none the less.
     
  4. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    But in a way, that’s what makes playing his music so special. I think there is some elitism in playing and understanding Chopin. If someone who knows crap about playing piano sits down and plays a Chopin piece without paying very careful attention to phrasing, voicing, dynamics, etc…that person’s rendition of the music would be terrible and no knowledgeable musician/pianist would dare say it was acceptable. When a player is able to play Chopin’s music well, then that person is above the schmucks who think it is ok to toss off a piece without applying all the fine details and then calling themselves a “Chopin player”. The ‘better’ pianist has taken the time to learn, grow, and understand Chopin’s music and therefore can be considered part of the “Elite” club. Yes, Chopin’s music belongs to everyone, but not everyone can claim that they can play Chopin. That’s the elitism, I think, and something many of us here strive to obtain almost every day.

    Still don’t get your ‘chore’ thing, either. The word ‘chore’ has a negative connotation and playing with emotions is not a chore. It is a gift. You should be proud that you feel so emotionally drained after playing one of Chopin’s pieces. Like I said before, that’s what it is all about.
     
  5. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    I suppose your position makes sense to someone who has been playing for awhile like us. I guess I just think it's easy to hear the emotion in Chopin, it doesn't need to be a fantastic player. His intention is discernable even through the shoddiest performance.

    It all depends on how you look at it. Many pianists see Chopin's works as organic masses, from start to finish, all part of the same piece.

    I'm a composer first, and a pianist second, and I believe that gives me the notion to see Chopin's pieces as breakable phrases, each with it's own color, and magic. That is why I'm able to say, with all honesty, that there are some Chopin pieces that I love a part of, and hate another part of. (A great example of this is his Funeral March, Op. 72, I like the theme, but the development section is very weak to me.) Therefore, a terrible performace of a Chopin piece, still holds, for me, the magic of specific phrasings so indigenious to the Slavic region.

    I believe later that Dvorak would come closest to capturing Chopin's nationalism... but it's not the same. To say Chopin is the best composer of all time would be, to me, a bit rediculous. But he is mine, and your favorite... why? Because the things that make his music so wonderful are not his use of polyphony, his chord progressions, or even his oh so famous apoggiatora. It is coded in the notes and keys he chose. Therefore he is a sort of greatest composer, a genius without genesis, a motivator without motive. The world's first true tortured artist, and the world's last true Chopin recreationist.
     
  6. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    4th scherzo.
     
  7. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Ok, this makes sense.

    Getting a little confused, here. Now we are relating nationalism to playing Chopin correctly? That may be so in many of the mazurkas where his Polish roots are unmistakable and we try to get just that right kind of accent on the 2nd or 3rd beat. But I think that a lot of his music could be written by a person from anywhere. I hear no Slavic tones in many nocturnes, ballades, preludes.

    And it is the use of his polyphony, chord progressions, notes, keys, all of that. But I’ve never heard the term ‘famous Chopin appoggiatura’. Please explain.

    This does not make sense to me. There were plenty of tortured artists before Chopin’s time. Right off the top of my head, and not too much before Chopin, I think of Mozart and Beethoven. And what exactly is a Chopin recreationist? That’s another new one on me.
     
  8. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    They weren't as good, though. IMNSHO. :lol: Bach was as good (most would say better, and I don't know that I would disagree) but he was a remarkably non-tortured musician.
     
  9. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Obamanation, unfortunately...
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    agree.
     
  10. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    Apoggiatura means "leaning note". It is the technique of landing on a note, usually a dissonance, directly below or above the anticipated note. (his Nocturne in D flat is full of them)
     
  11. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Ok, I get what you mean. That happens to be my favorite nocturne. I've just never heard it called 'appoggiatura playing' before. Learn something new every day!
     
  12. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Chopin's use of it was just a complication of a practice that had been around for a long time, of writing on-beat dissonances as little grace notes marked before the beat, and the consonance on the beat. That way, they could pretend they were following the rules of aesthetics that demanded no dissonances be written on the beat, all the while intending exactly that.

    You could sort of look at Chopin's 25/5 étude (the "wrong note" étude) as being a bit of a parody of that practice, even though the "grace note" apoggiaturas are intended to be played before the beat - the subtle differences between his three ways of writing it are intended.

    And yeah, all of the appoggiaturas in the 27/2 are some of the most difficult bits to play artistically - the handling of those can make or break a performance of that nocturne. But I suppose that puts me at odds with the OP. 8)
     
  13. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    Haha, no I totally agree. I'm not for the dissolution of Chopin specialists, I'm for the spread of Chopin's popularity among young students.
     
  14. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    That I can agree with, but I see no problem there. Young students always want to play Chopin - I have found that it is the accomplished pianists who are reluctant to play Chopin far more often than the inexperienced ones. And that's a shame, really. One of my piano profs - by far the most accomplished one at my school - hasn't played any Chopin in her biannual recitals over the last two years I've been here. I thought at first that she bought into the attitude that is popular among some scholars, that Chopin is fluff with no substance, or badly written. :!: But I took a course in keyboard literature from her, and she nearly gushed with adoration when we got to Chopin. :lol:

    Also, we had a piano competition last spring, and the winner and runner-up of the competition were the only pianists competing who did not play any Chopin. I listened to many of the auditions, and I don't think that their omission of Chopin was the reason why they won - they were just simply the best pianists of the day.
     
  15. PJF

    PJF New Member Piano Society Artist

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    IMO, Chopin's "style" represents the ultimate in simplicity within extreme complexity. After all the hard work, his music should just "flow like oil" from one's hands. Not to say you shouldn't gain a few white hairs trying to attain that simplicity.

    Also, IMHO, there is no such thing as an elitist when it comes to Chopin's music. There's ALWAYS a different skillful way of executing it. Note the word skillful. It's much preferable to play a simple piece well than to "go for" a piece which is out of one's technical range. There must always be this evolution from simpler to more complex for any pianist to reach his or her potential.

    Are there elite pianists? I think so. Rachmaninoff, Perahia, Pollini, Horowitz, Ohllson, Schiff, and Annie Fisher - one could argue strongly, Abby Whiteside - are all elite in their own way. This is all highly subjective but I believe it's fairly obvious when one hears a great performance of Chopin's music.

    But how do they measure up to Chopin? I have no idea. Nor do I really care. In skilled hands, his music speaks for itself.

    Pete
     
  16. grandvalse

    grandvalse New Member

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    That makes total sense.
     
  17. alf

    alf Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Pete, that is a contradiction in terms!
     
  18. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    I don’t always get the time, but I came across this while skimming over previous threads today... I don’t know where to begin, but I feel compelled to say something in defense of Chopin and hope grandvalse will admire Chopin at the end...

    After his death, there were Chopin disciples all over Europe. Georg Mathias was viewed as the true messenger of the Chopin school; he became the head of piano teaching at the Conservatoire de Paris. Similarly, my fellow Armenian, Karol Mikuli, also formed a center in Lwów to keep the Chopin tradition alive. Then the torch was passed to Mikuli's pupils - Rosenthal, Michalowski, and Koczalski. Then it was onto Isidore Philipp and Pugno. All these pianists were far from amateurs. Chopin’s music helped to form one of the most important facets of Romanticism. Furthermore, without Chopin, there would be no Impressionist movement which followed – no Debussy or Ravel. Now that’s a legacy!

    As fashionable as it was in the 19th century, perhap's Chopin's plight of TB was not as portrayed as valiantly throughout history as Beethoven's deafness, but I would challenge any composer to accomplish what Chopin achieved by 39 in the face of a mortal illness. Throughout history, only a few have stepped up to the plate and swung the home run of life - they have either been canonized by the Pope or achieved legendary status throughout history. Chopin belongs to the list of select few.


    As far as the Preludes are concerned, they were composed along the distant shores of Majorca, in a time of contemplation, but not contempt. “Vulnerable?” Be that as it may; For the most part, it is a musical diary of thoughts of despair and struggle with imminent death during this time in his life. Everyone in his situation would go through a period of despair. Beethoven also went through this brooding and acknowledged his illness. But Chopin’s defiance is portrayed victoriously in his Op. 53 Polonaise – That’s his Heiligenstadt Testament.


    That argument is 100 years old. For decades, pianists of the early 20th century misunderstood Chopin's music, as being "vulnerable," frail, or fanciful. Then what is one to make of convictions found in the Etudes, Scherzi, and Polonaises? He knew he couldn’t physically play the technically demanding repertoire of his own music, and would have to revert to Liszt for the required stamina. He may have been physically “vulnerable,” but the intent of the music is far from vulnerable. It wasn't until Artur Rubinstein who first challenged and changed these "delusions," myths, and public perceptions of Chopin's music. Please, blame the pianists and teachers, not the composer for the lack of intention and understanding in the music. Discover the strengths and not the weaknesses in his music.

    I wouldn’t regard this “chore,” as an undesirable effect, but rather a form of frustration. One can agree that music is the language of emotion. Besides, how could we be musicians if expressing emotion through music was a chore for us? If there are “delusions” about Chopin, it’s up us musicians to affect a change in attitude or perception by searching out the truth for ourselves. It took Rubinstein 40 years before he reinvented Chopin. This “chore” that you allude to, demands a considerable expenditure of actual emotional energy that is above and beyond demands of physical energy of the performance. Finding the truth takes time and energy. As Aristotle said, the process of discovering the truth is a difficult one. But the end justifies the means once the goal has been achieved.

    It takes extra work to play Chopin with musical intent, you’re expending a great deal of emotional energy as well as physical energy. There is an untapped amount of power though emotional energy that humans produce in the brain. Musicians harness this tremendous potential through ‘higher energy states’ in their brain when expressing the emotions of music. The transfer of this potential energy is ultimately channeled to the listener and we perceive this transfer of emotional energy as a manifestation of the persuasive power of music. There is ongoing research in the field of Neuroimmunology, which focuses on understanding how these higher energy emotional states function in our brains. It’s being used to treat, heal, and improve our sense of being. Fortunately, music can be an integral part of healing and purifying our souls.

    I agree that Chopin's music requires a great deal of emotion, as there is more emotion than the amount of notes expressing it. Subjectively, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not a bad thing. As Jon Franklin said, “Simplicity, carried to an extreme, is elegance.” I would add further that elegance or even better, eloquence, is a higher degree of simplicity and a sense of nobility is a far more appropriate goal to achieve in Chopin’s music. Regarding this as an “elite” pursuit might be taken out of context, and shouldn’t be regarded as a form of arrogance on the composer’s or pianist’s part. To really understand a term like 'sense of nobility,' usually requires a degree of suffering in one's life, to live through the bad and good times. Life is full of contrasts, and music reflects the varied richness of all the events and circumstances that influence a particular composer. So, when I hear Rubinstein’s Chopin, there is no hint of elitism, but a sense of nobility, yes! The pianist and composer form an organic union and the music universally connects with any audience of all backgrounds.

    grandvalse, I hope you will perceive Chopin differently and find the intrinsic value of emotion in his music.
     
  19. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I don't think the original poster comes around anymore, but I like some things you said here.

    And some mental illness too, they say.

    Reading about how he suffered through all those constant days of rain, the dampness of the rooms in which he lived, the poor medical care, it’s a wonder he survived that trip at all!


    I totally believe that about taking time to find the truth. Just wish it wouldn’t always take so much time! :wink:
     

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