Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

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Knut
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 19 Dec 2015, 03:18

John, after reading all your very insightful and interesting comments, I'm inclined to agree that the manuscript represents the cleanest and clearest notation for the particular instrument in question.

There is, however, one particular case where the Breitkopf edition differs from Chopin's original without obscuring the phrasing, simply, as I see it, improving the vertical spacing. Considering the 'flexibility' of piano notation, I don't see why it's necessary for the pickup 16th notes (and subsequent similar instances) to be stemmed up. Those notes are slurred with the first beat of the following measure, and clarity is retained even if the notes are stemmed normally. Stemming those notes up looks strange to me, so long as there are no rests to collide with, particularly when placing the slur above the notes. What do you think?

In case you missed my question about recordings reflecting Chopin's original intensions, I would love to hear a faithful interpretation. All recordings I've heard treat the first system as a single phrase.

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John Ruggero
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 19 Dec 2015, 14:36

Knut, if you reread my last post you will have my answer to your question about the 16ths. (-:

Sorry, I got all wrapped up in the other stuff and didn't answer your question regarding recordings. It IS a single phrase and should be performed that way. However, the chordal sub-phrase in measure 1 should be subordinated somewhat within the phrase.

I went YouTubing for a recording and the first one I choose was by Artur Rubinstein, who plays the opening phrase beautifully, as one would expect. The only thing missing is the "wildness" I mentioned. Rubinstein tended to lose his spontaneity in a recording studio, but he also emphasizes the maestoso more than I would.

Artur Rubinstein
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiwmOJPGMjs The winner!

The following are "graded" on the basis of the opening and our discussion only, not on the overall performance.

Martha Argerich
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI7tZVKVkdo Almost as good as Rubenstein and more spontaneous.

Daniel Trifonov
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUI90rbdUBU Almost right and with good spontaneity.

Alfred Cortot
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNHZlKB0WHM Not so good because there is more emphasis on the chords than the opening motive

Emil Gilels
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yHIkXz98kY Not good because it adheres to the "Breitkopf" interpretation of the D.

Mitsuko Uchida
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up-XOE2tqOk Like Cortot, too much emphasis of the chords over the opening motive.

Ivo Pogerelich
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F-uJwUMydE Quite bad, because everything is out of perspective..

Lief Ove Andsnes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrXcmDLIs_8 Almost good, but too much emphasis later on the chords in bar 1. This seems to be the new "traditional" approach.

Maria Jaao Pires
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KtTnzEHobg Same as Andsnes

Krystian Zimmerman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEU_rzYwTCo Same

Maurizio Pollini
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IUM-ropDro Same

I went to check my Murray Perahia and Dinu Lipatti recordings, but my turntable just quit. Maybe someone else can check. Perahia usually gets things like this right and the Lipatti is a classic recording of the piece.
Last edited by John Ruggero on 20 Dec 2015, 15:02, edited 3 times in total.
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Knut
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by Knut » 19 Dec 2015, 15:16

John Ruggero wrote:Knut, if you reread my last post you will have my answer to your question about the 16ths. (-:
Sorry, should have read the last paragraph more carefully. Then it's just a question of which side the slur should be on. The French 1st edition places it below, as opposed to Chopin. Given that the sub phrase also has the slur above the notes, the printed version seems the most appropriate way to distinguish between the two phrases, in addition to saving some vertical space.

Thanks very much for the list of recordings. I can't say that I immediately get how Chopin's notation reflects the more 'correct' performances, though. Then again, I'm not an expert on classical piano music. Hopefully, I'll have an epiphany upon continued listening.

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John Ruggero
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 19 Dec 2015, 15:59

Knut wrote:
I can't say that I immediately get how Chopin's notation reflects the more 'correct' performances, though.
I should have been more clear about that.

Just as Chopin shows the opening notes with up stems as the "upper" voice, he shows the sub-phrase in measure 1 with down stems, as if they were lower voices. This is an unusual notation that should alert the player to the fact that these chords should be subordinated as if they were "under" the opening motive. It is for this reason that it is good for the slur be above the first five notes to show that they are the "upper" voice. The second slur might have been written under the sub-phrase for the same reason, but he wanted to show that all the notes in both the left and right hands were to be played legato here, and placing a slur above everything was the standard way to do this during the 18th and 19th centuries when both hands are playing in the same rhythm. Note the same slurring in measure 3 which avoids having to write slurs in both hands and thus simplifies the notation.

My objection to most of the recordings is the big build up in measure 1 which makes beats 3 and 4 far too important for their role in the phrase. The legato mark should alert the player to the fact that these notes are to be played warmly and actually taper off rather than building up. Even Rubenstein doesn't quite taper off and is tempted to build a little toward the downbeat of measure 2. Chopin clearly marks where he wants the build up: the cresc. in measure 2 where the chords are played non legato, adding impact to the build up.

In my opinion, most of the recordings do not play the opening notes aggressively enough given the clear indication of F and the obvious nature of the motive. Playing the opening notes more loudly and with abandon makes interpreting the following chords much easier, because they would not have to played so softly to show their subordinate role. Simply playing them with in a warm style might do the trick. It is this contrast between an aggressive first idea and a sustained response that is not well shown by many of the recordings. This kind of direct contrast is, of course, integral to the classical sonata style from its inception, and Chopin captures this well.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Composers vs Engravers: stem direction

Post by John Ruggero » 20 Dec 2015, 20:21

I was finally able to get my turntable going and listened to the following pianists play this opening phrase:

Tomas Vasary played the phrase in accordance with the idea I presented almost as well as Rubenstein and at a faster tempo.

Vladamir Ashkenazy gave the right idea by changing the character of the music for the sub-phrase, while still playing it rather strongly.

Dinu Lipatti was very much the same as Ashkenazy

Murray Perahia was the weakest of this bunch and played it in the new "traditional" style noted in the my post above.

Interestingly, most of the pianists I listened to presented the motive—sub-phrase relationship much better when the music returns in E minor in a P on the next line. It is a well-known phenomenon that pianists tend to lose their heads at higher dynamic levels, even the very best!
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