<< -- 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'.
Copyright © 10 September 2000
Angela Lear, UK
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