Composers vs Engravers: Flags vs Beams

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John Ruggero
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Composers vs Engravers: Flags vs Beams

Post by John Ruggero »

Chopin's Etude op 25 no 4 is an ingenious study in rhythm as well as in left hand agility. It also makes an excellent case study because the composer's MS with his own corrections still exists as does a copy of the same by his student Fontana.

Three kinds of texture alternate in this piece:

1. It starts with a two-handed um-pah pattern that includes both melody and accompaniment on one:
op 25 no 4 ex 1.jpeg
op 25 no 4 ex 1.jpeg (46.33 KiB) Viewed 2667 times
2. Before long some of the melody tones are held over, creating suspensions against the beat:
op 25 no 4 ex 2.jpeg
op 25 no 4 ex 2.jpeg (111.07 KiB) Viewed 2667 times
Note that in this case, Chopin uses flagged tied notes to show that the downbeats are to be clearly felt.

3. Still later the holding-over produces longer strings of quarter notes so that the listener begins to wonder where the downbeat actually is:
op 25 no 4 ex 3.jpeg
op 25 no 4 ex 3.jpeg (116.05 KiB) Viewed 2667 times
Note that here, Chopin corrected his manuscript, beaming over the barlines to show the intentional rhythmic disorientation. Please note also that he actually goes to trouble of changing the direction of the ties as well! And both beam and tie corrections happen each time this type of passage occurs.

Yes, he missed a tie direction change at the end of the example. Let's see if his copyist caught it and made the correction:
op 25 no 4 ex 4.jpeg
op 25 no 4 ex 4.jpeg (50.9 KiB) Viewed 2667 times
He did! In fact, the copyist records all aspects of the MS copy very faithfully but also with intelligence. Then Chopin added the new pedal mark that didn't appear in the first French edition but in the later first German and English editions.

The first and other 19th century editions honored Chopin's interesting notation of flagged notes vs. beaming over the bar line.

But what do the Paderewski, Wiener Urtext and the new National edition do? In their apparent quest for conformity, the flagged groups are replaced by beaming over the bar line wherever possible. Chopin's way of showing differences in accentuation is lost, performers are misled, and one more masterpiece loses an important and distinctive element of interest.
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