Posts tagged ‘Avdeeva’

December 30, 2011

More Chopin (More Chopin!)

I’m learning a new “easy” piece by Chopin, the Polonaise in G Minor, BI 1. I have little hope of ever advancing much beyond “easy” in Chopin (most of his work is rated at level 8 or 8+). I can play the Waltz in A Minor, op. posth. more or less straight through without too many mistakes, but I think I’ll have to learn to accept that I will rarely play anything without hitting some false notes. It’s not my fingers’ fault, it’s more a question of vapor-lock. But I can live with that if what I do play expresses the music and my own emotional response to it in a palpable way.

At first I thought playing so-called easy pieces by Chopin would mean playing something less than the real Chopin. I should’ve known better. No great artist is ever anything less than himself or herself, no matter what the medium or the occasion. Everything that is in the more difficult compositions like the Sonata in B Minor, op. 35 or the nocturnes is in these simpler pieces as well. Only, the thundering passages that require the use of both hands moving rapidly up or down, or down and up, the keyboard, in the case of the Polonaise in G Minor minor require the use of only one finger. But, oh, what that one finger can accomplish!

I hear in the Waltz in A Minor all the dread and beauty and anger that I hear in his more virtuosic compositions. After exploring the exquisite beauties and disappointments of what it means to be alive, it progresses to a harsh and despairing pronouncement about where life must inevitably lead, ending with a quarter-note two-tone chord that can only be interpreted as a shrug of disgust and angry resignation. A remarkable ending. And yet, I have not heard anyone play this piece without drawing out that final chord well beyond what the score indicates.

I play the waltz slowly, as I play most things, not entirely out of interpretive preference but because at this point it’s the only safe way for me to play anything. But I find it remarkable that all the other interpretations I have listened to play it rapidly, as if it were a bouncy little piece that Chopin tossed off and then put aside as hardly worth his attention. My saving grace is that it seems you can never play Chopin too slowly — I heard one of the premier pianists, it may have been Emil Gilels, remark that even the Études when played slowly are very beautiful. In any case, I can’t imagine playing the Waltz in A Minor much faster than I do play it without losing the emotional impact I described in the previous paragraph. And I’m not sure I would play it faster even if someone could show me that Chopin himself played it that way. I sometimes think a composer’s, like a writer’s, interpretation of his or her work should be regarded with the same skepticism as anyone else’s interpretation of it.

I have to confess that I only got up the nerve it requires to play this music, or any music, with this kind of expression from listening to the performances of Yulianna Avdeeva — although there was some encouragement to be got from a few of her predecessors, such as Alfred Cortot (1877-1962). If Ms. Avdeeva, or anyone else, could play the work of other composers for whom I feel merely a lukewarm response in the same revelatory way she does Chopin, I don’t doubt new musical worlds would be opened to me.

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.