Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chopin: Now I Understand

I have always enjoyed listening to Chopin, and confess that when playing in the orchestra for his piano concertos, I can get a little bit emotionally connected, but I have never felt about Chopin the way I did yesterday.

I have been filling in the pianistic gaps in my life by playing the piano every day (with limited exceptions). First there was Haydn. I went through the Haydn Sonatas with my limited technique, and marveled at the genius of the man as a composer. Then there was Mozart, and I started to understand about how it feels to play particular harmonies, and how they sound different when they are coming from my hands. I admired (and still admire) the harmonic audacity of Mozart, and the way he manipulates form (and coming to know that there will usually be some more development in the recapitulation). Then I noticed how differently Mendelssohn made the piano sound from Mozart and Haydn, and wondered how this was possible. Perhaps it has something to do with Beethoven, a composer I feel I am still unequipped to meet personally through his piano music.

My brother's piano music (that I brought to Illinois with me from my father's basement a few years ago) included a volume of Chopin Mazurkas. I thought I'd try one or two in order to learn to use the pedal.

Now I have Chopin cravings. I wake up in the morning, and I want to play Chopin. The Mazurkas have a lot of repetition, so after the tenth or twentieth time playing a particular figure, my hand begins to learn it. My left hand wants to go to those singular, strange harmonies found in regions of the piano that Chopin bushwhacked, and my right hand wants to pounce, cat-like, on those non-chord tones, and then bring them to their resolutions, no matter where they lead.

I have heard great pianists play Chopin, and I have enjoyed listening immensely. But it is different when you can play it yourself. My Chopin will NEVER sound as good as Rubinstein, Horowitz, Argerich, Richter, Pressler, or even your average high school or college piano student, but that's not the point at all. The point is that playing Chopin is a different experience from listening to it.

Now I understand.

1 comment:

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

I really agree with that last paragraph. As I understand it, Chopin was pretty much the first major composer to get his hands on a modern piano, and I think his first take on how it can be played has an eternal freshness to it because of that.

Also, being a music therapist, I think playing music of any kind on any instrument is a whole different thing from listening - and has value in itself, as well as deepening one's listening skills.

Currently reading Gunther Schuller's 1st volume on jazz, and he makes the point that in the African experience music was nearly always associated with physical activity of some kind, whereas in European music that connection disappeared centuries ago. Playing music for yourself reconnects you to the physical side of music.