Some more notes on the line

1. For pianists there is no more vexing question than how to play Chopin; this question is all the more problematic given the current vogue of postmodernism according to which such questions are no longer appropriate (or, at least, the problems are different when wondering how to play Stockhausen’s Klavierstücken). Chopin is perhaps the last among his era (with the exception of Medtner who was reactionary in precisely this regard) for whom this question is relevant precisely because of his use of the classical line (whose textures are transformed in romanticism proper–as Idil Biret has said, there are, without qualification, no two sound worlds farther apart than Chopin and Liszt, who are both classified as so-called “romantics”).

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to Chopin is the propensity to listen to him as a “romantic”, in either the technical or popular sense of that word. There is nothing in Chopin that permits of anything that even suggests sentimentality. Rachmaninoff has been criticized for not “wearing his heart on his sleeve” when playing Chopin (specifically in reference to his playing of the Bbm sonata), as if he were a sterile, anaesthetic Brendel. Rachmaninoff and Hofmann were perhaps the last of those rare minds with both the technical facility and intellect to manifest the subtleties of Chopin’s lines (too often playing Chopin becomes an obligation to be tossed off by those whose technical prowess are better whetted by transcriptions and Alkan).

2. Brahms reportedly fell asleep while listening to Liszt perform the latter’s own Bm sonata. One wonders by what right he did so. Tchaikovsky had said of Brahms’ music that it was merely “cold academism”; even aside from torturing the fingers on the keyboard, there is no better epithet to describe Brahms’ lines than Tchaikovsky’s. Merely look at the “great” Fm sonata or any of the piano trios.

3. One to watch: Vadim Chaimovich.


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