A Rant

My blog, my place to rant. And do forgive me! (Or just don’t read.)

So (universal beginning-of-story indicator), a friend on FB linked to a video of a talk by some famous musician in which the famous musician is inspiring his audience to love classical music.

I watched that video and I was enjoying it. The famous musician (from here on out identified as FM, since it’s unfair to name him when I can’t discuss all this with him directly) chooses a very famous piano piece, Chopin’s E minor Prelude, to entice his audience into loving classical music. He plays a few measures, points out some of the structure that is happening, gets the audience to sing part of the melody, summarizes the structure of the entire piece, talks about the intense feeling of the music, encourages his listeners to make a personal connection to that intense feeling by thinking of someone they have lost. It’s all interesting, enlightening, even inspriring.

And then he plays the prelude. And it’s horrifying.

Okay, maybe I’m just a snob. But I do think that when a piece is marked Largo, even intense feeling (espressivo) doesn’t mean that the upbeat-to-downbeat goes very slowly and then the rest of the measure rushes along four times that fast! On every measure. I’ve heard the prelude performed this way before, and every time it sounds anti-musical to me—disrespectful to the music, the composer, the listeners.

[An aside: yes, yes, I was taught by Ivan my Hungarian piano teacher to place the downbeats, which does result it a little bit of extra time for them. But even that little bit of extra time should be smoothly integrated into the entire measure of beats; not sloooooooow eighth-note on beat 4&1/2, sloooow eighth-note on beat 1, "okay we got past that, wheeeeee can go as fast as wheeee want!“ Those eighth note chords are an integral part of the whole, and in this piece we could certainly hear them as heartbeats. Steady heartbeats, not afib.]

Also, the unrelenting-ness of the LH chords is a primary means by which Chopin builds the intense pathos of the piece. That just goes away when we rush through them. They turn into annoying noise in the background; worse, it sounds like the pianist thinks they are annoying noise in the background.

Then, on the repeat of the melody FM got to a spot that he had called “fancy notes you can ignore” (not his exact words, but very close). Yes, the RH has more notes than it had on the first statement of the melody, but this is just an ornamented version of that melody, and it’s extremely beautiful. Maybe he meant that the notes don’t impact the architecture of the piece, and they don’t. But in playing, to rush through it like, “Oh well, la di da, these notes don’t really count because there are a lot of them,” is insulting to Chopin and to the listeners.

As a composer I can tell you: EVERY NOTE COUNTS! If the composer doesn’t care about some notes, s/he will have dropped them already. Every note builds toward what we are doing our best to express outside the limitations of words. Every note is an important part of the aural experience we are creating. Yes, some are structurally more important, but every note that’s there counts. 

And, as far as these particular notes go, they add to the pathos of the music, just as much as the new, more dissonant chords beneath the ornamented melody add. If you cannot play them musically and beautifully, back to the practice room with you. If you CHOOSE not to play them musically & beautifully, well, shame on you!

The ending, which really should rip our hearts out, was just … there. It could have been no other way, considering what came before.

The prelude as performed by FM wasn’t emotional, or intense, or powerful. It was manic. I hate that! If you are a piano player, don’t do that! (Save the manic energy for the manic music. There’s repertory, you won’t have to look far.) I hope that FM was just nervous, and rushed when he didn’t mean to; but I fear that he meant everything. It is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, it’s just not the kind of heartbreak Chopin meant.

I do apologize for my first blog post in months being a rant. If you didn’t like it, I hope you didn’t read it.

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