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<<  -- 2 --  Angela Lear    THE INTERPRETATION OF CHOPIN


The disparity between the interpreter and Chopin is not exclusively confined to differences between original sources and editions. Where score markings are correctly stated in editions his compositions still fall prey to all manner of alteration in performance. Such 'revisions' from those who seek to remould his music into something that suits their purposes better generally remain unchallenged. There are those in the music 'business' who defend (and applaud) what is loosely described as a 'flexibility of expression', or 'personalised interpretation', on the misguided premise that Chopin was forever changing his mind about score details or that his compositions actually benefit from an approach that is given a large helping of Romantic sentimentalise. Chopin would occasionally pencil into the scores of selected pupils an altered dynamic or variant to suit their individuality, but it was only his prerogative as the composer-pianist to make any such revisions. On the subject of the sentimentalise/Romantic approach, we know that Chopin had an ardent dislike of all forms of excess or exaggeration and was never a Romantic composer in the Lisztian or Byronic sense. Rather his music essentially belongs to the earlier forms of art-music and Classicism.

Where this most elusive and poetic of composers is concerned it should surely be absolutely vital, from an artistic and aesthetic point of view, to give his specified intentions the highest priority. All interpretations of Chopin must remain within the 'guidelines' specifically marked on his texts, as these are our most fundamental link with his expressed intentions. To clarify these 'guidelines', albeit simplistically, I refer to the composer's specific score indications that are (or should be) the basis of an interpretation. It is important to adhere to these indications, e.g. that a piano marking is not substituted for a preferred forte, or a broad Largo tempo not exchanged for the faster pace of an Allegretto, etc.. Additionally, there is infinite scope in the wide variety of musical terminology that form the interpretative performance instructions. Chopin would revise his compositions endlessly before arriving at his final decisions on these matters. From his autograph copies it is clearly evident that he would endeavour to leave nothing to doubt when correcting his scores, crossing out changes with webs of thickly drawn diagonal lines that rendered it impossible to read what he had previously written. To further avoid any misunderstandings about his scores he would often write messages on them for engravers when he wanted to clarify notational details.

Several elements are fundamental to the performance of Chopin's compositions, and far transcend the basic mechanics of technique. Of the many aspects to Chopin's art one that must be mentioned is his love of singing, bel canto (from the vocal school of the 1830's) and opera especially. Pupils were strongly advised by him to take singing lessons: '...sing if you wish to play'. Instinctively he expressed vocal art through the 'voice' of the piano and stylised the vocal techniques of declamation, the arc-shaped fioriture and portamento. His passion for the art of singing reflects his musical aesthetic. Finely contoured phrases require careful shaping and must be counter-balanced against accompanying background textures. Beauty of sound and a tonvolle (full-bodied) legato are at the very heart of his compositions. Chopin was insistent on correct 'sound production' and the art of touch - the cornerstones of his pianistic credo; 'All technique originates in the art of touch and returns to it'.

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Copyright © 10 September 2000 Angela Lear, UK




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