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The music of Chopin has always posed a challenge to pianists. His compositions have retained a universal popularity and continue to be performed in virtually all corners of the world. They have also been recorded and re-recorded in their thousands, so he is apparently 'well-represented' - but has the challenge to his interpreter even been successfully met? To gain further insight into his unique musical language and stylistic practices it is essential to comprehend as far as possible his expressed intentions.

Our knowledge and appreciation can be considerably enriched by the combined study of not only his original manuscripts and related material, but also the many statements made by his associates, friends and pupils who knew his playing and teaching principles. Reviews and reports of his concerts (though not always laudatory!), supplemented by the very considerable amount of general correspondence, are additionally revealing. To this list I feel it essential to include studies of Polish folk-music - songs and dances - and a knowledge of the historical development of the Polonaise, Rondo, Krakowiak and Mazur.

When comparing the original manuscripts with various edited publications, many discrepancies are noticeable, which is surprising in view of the meticulous care and attention to detail that Chopin applied to his scores. Examples of the differences that exist between Chopin's scores and accepted editions are too numerous to list, but I will cite just one example here relating to his Study Op.10 No.5 in G flat major ('Black Keys'). This composition is commonly executed in brilliant style, Presto/Allegro con fuoco with 'highly charged' dynamics - forte and heavily accented to suit the 'virtuosic' display. This approach is, however, in direct opposition to Chopin's original score markings, which he clearly gave as leggierissimo e legatissimo - extremely light and delicate with a very smooth effect! There is no mention of the brillante, forte, fortissimo, Presto, Vivace or other markings that we find sprinkled on the scores of many editions, even those that profess faithfulness to the composer. In the closing Coda bars Chopin writes a series of double-octaves to be played a tempo, but when this Study is taken at an excessively fast tempo an inevitable slowing down of pace (rallentando/piu lento) is erroneously introduced. The beautiful lightness of touch he demanded is, of course, easier to ignore than to achieve technically. This example alone confirms the wide disparity that exists between interpreter and composer. A few pianists have appreciated the importance of referring to original sources, but many more have not. Although a celebrated interpreter of Liszt, Louis Kentner introduced me to these areas of study in my first lessons with him in 1972.

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Copyright © 10 September 2000 Angela Lear, UK




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