Posts tagged ‘19th century performers’

September 15, 2011

Chopin Come Alive

Welcome to my music blog.

Despite the title, pianomusicman, I’ll be talking about any kind of music that tickles my fancy, on any kind of instrument.

I’ve had a love affair with music for as long as I’ve been alive, but it was only well into adulthood that I realized how deep the feelings went. Although I grew up in a musical environment and even briefly, all too briefly, took up a musical instrument in my childhood, I had not been conscious of how profoundly I feel music until fairly recently. Of course, none of us realizes how different our feelings may be from those of other people and assume what we feel, they feel and vice a versa. If I had to do it over again, though, and knew about myself what I know now, things would have been different. But, isn’t that true for most everybody?

I’ve only recently started to read about music and musicians, partly no doubt as a consequence of my taking up the piano. So, I’ll have more to say about various composers and performers on that account as well as from my own personal experience, impressions which go back now many decades.

I hope you’ll find all or at least some of my musings interesting and share your own thoughts with me.

But I don’t want to conclude this first posting without mentioning my latest and, at least as performers go, perhaps my greatest musical love: Yulianna Avdeeva, winner of last year’s (2010) Chopin Competition in Warsaw.  If you haven’t heard or heard of her, I suggest you go to YouTube and check out the videos available of her performance in Warsaw:

This young woman made Chopin come alive for me. Till then he was in the grips of what has always sounded to my ears as ‪a kind of bloodless salon playing, no matter how skillful or subtle. Through her hands I hear what the music is really about: the tragedy and beauty that is life, and death.

Partly as a result of these recent readings (which I used to avoid, on the theory that anything I need to know about a composer I can find in his or her music), I’ve been listening to various pianists (God bless YouTube) from the present day going all the way back to those who were born deep in the 19th century like Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns. For the first time, I’ve begun to realize that there are styles and even fads to performance playing just as much as there are in literature or anything else (my own profession is fiction writing). This, rather late, realization explains a great deal about my lack of response to most 20th-century pianists.

I suspect what Ms. Avdeeva is doing is re-creating a kind of playing that was more typical, in some ways, of the performers of the 19th century. They apparently went overboard (she does not, though some critics seem to think she does), behaving more like our present day rock stars and getting much the same response from their audiences of screaming, and sometimes fainting, fans. All that disappeared in the 20th century (not that star performers didn’t still have groupies, viz. Horowitz), when technique, fidelity to the printed notes and other post-Romantic attitudes produced what sounds to my ear too much of a cookie-cutter approach.

Some sort of reformation of 19th-century excess was certainly in order. Performers were getting away with musical murder, even while virtuosic geniuses arose them. But a great deal, to my way of thinking, or hearing, was lost. Avdeeva’s playing may indicate a return to that earlier kind of very expressive playing, without the flimflam and hype that accompanied it. If so, I say three cheers.