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Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2? (Read 5506 times)

Offline dabbler

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Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
« on: January 07, 2007, 03:14:11 PM »
The 1/16 chords played by the right hand at the beginning of every fourth are notated as separate voices in the score (i.e. chromatic line = stem up, chords = stem down). This seems to indicate that they should be played in a way that this voice is distinguishable from the bass chords (l.h.) and the chromatic line -- otherwise the stems would be connected to one of those lines. However, I've just listened again to a hand full of op.10/2 recordings (Pollini, Gavriolov, Berezovsky,...), and in none of those can I hear a distinct middle line. Also in Cortot's comments on the etude (in his edition at Salabert) I cannot find any remarks. So probably my question is completely stupid....

But still, to me, it seems a bit paradoxical that this line is not played more markedly. If it's not played, the piece sounds a bit like Kors-Rach's bumble bee, only that it's much more awkward to play than the latter, and you never get it to a comparable speed. In a way I would have guessed that in a concert etude, any additional difficulty should be justified musically. In other words, it would make no sense to "trap" the right hand by some additional chords, if these chords are not clearly audible. That's why I still wonder if these chords should not be played as a kind of middle voice.

On the other hand, the "melody" you get from these chords is not really cantabile, so it could even hurt the piece to bring it out too loudly. Still, I think it's a funny theme that you get if you play the upper notes from the r.h. chords (exluding the chromatic line) in the first four bars. However, from measure 19 on, it sounds more like some small children's tune that has just discovered singing...

So, I'd be very interested to hear your opinions:
* do you think Chopin wanted a middle voice, or is it just a notational idiosyncracy?
* if it's just an idiosyncracy, why didn't he write the chords connected to either the r.h. chromatic line, or to the bass?
* but if you also :
- would you play it throughout the piece, or not in measures 19ff?
- why don't the "famous" pianists play it then? Is it a tribute to their sheer speed that the voice is lost?
- have any of you recorded their own versions? Or do you know any commercial recordings with middle voice? I'd be interested in hearing any those.

Any comments appreciated... :-)
-Tobias

piano sheet music of Etude


Offline nicco

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #1 on: January 07, 2007, 03:49:30 PM »
I would think those chords serve 2 purposes. They are harmony fillings and give no choice in fingering. Without them it would just be a single boring cromatic line, and it could easily be played with 1234 fingers. With those extra chords, its not possible to play the chromatic line with anything else then 345, wich is the purpose of the etude.
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Offline counterpoint

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #2 on: January 07, 2007, 04:04:06 PM »
I don't understand the question. The chord notes of the right hand do combine with the note of the upper voice mostly to triads. Why should one accentuate 2 of 3 notes of a triad? If there were a melody in it, it was 1 note to accentuate. But 2 accentuated notes as "melody" at the same time make no sense to me.
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Offline dabbler

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #3 on: January 07, 2007, 04:10:22 PM »
Thanks nicco for your answer. But I always thought that in the Chopin etudes, all difficulties are justified musically. Adding some "harmony fillings" to the right hand for the only reason to prevent 1234 fingerings sounds to me a bit like Czerny/Hanon....

Offline nicco

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #4 on: January 07, 2007, 04:15:30 PM »
Thanks nicco for your answer. But I always thought that in the Chopin etudes, all difficulties are justified musically. Adding some "harmony fillings" to the right hand for the only reason to prevent 1234 fingerings sounds to me a bit like Czerny/Hanon....

Well it is an etude, isnt it? :) There is no melodic line in those chords, i merely see them as guidance to understanding the purpose of the etude.
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Offline dabbler

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #5 on: January 07, 2007, 04:18:47 PM »
I don't understand the question. The chord notes of the right hand do combine with the note of the upper voice mostly to triads. Why should one accentuate 2 of 3 notes of a triad? If there were a melody in it, it was 1 note to accentuate. But 2 accentuated notes as "melody" at the same time make no sense to me.

Well, it makes perfect sense to accentuate 2 of 3 notes of a triad, _if_ both are part of an independent melodic line, as happening in all kinds of polyphonic music. The question is only whether the notes just below the chromatic line should be perceived as a melody or not? Did you try to play them alone? It's certainly not a cantilene like in op.10/3, but I think it makes an odd/funny theme with a clearly recognizable character. In that case, I would actually try to accentuate _only_ the middle voice, since the chromatic line is so prominent to hear that you could even think about it accompanying the middle voice... Does it still make no sense?

Offline opus10no2

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #6 on: January 07, 2007, 04:45:26 PM »
It can be played either way, but yes - there is a hidden melody in those lower 2 notes in the right hand, if you wish to uncover it.

Personally, I prefer the chromatic line to be pianissimo, with the lower notes louder and more prominent.

There are quite a few ways to play it, and that's one of it's charms as a piece.
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Offline counterpoint

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #7 on: January 07, 2007, 05:16:14 PM »
In that case, I would actually try to accentuate _only_ the middle voice, since the chromatic line is so prominent to hear that you could even think about it accompanying the middle voice... Does it still make no sense?

That's the difference between theory and practise. Theoretically, the idea sounds interesting, but the result at the piano doesn't convince me. I prefer to accentuate the whole chords of the right hand (inclusive the one note from the chromatic line). That sounds much better for my ears  :)
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Offline dabbler

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #8 on: January 07, 2007, 05:39:44 PM »
That's the difference between theory and practise. Theoretically, the idea sounds interesting, but the result at the piano doesn't convince me. I prefer to accentuate the whole chords of the right hand (inclusive the one note from the chromatic line). That sounds much better for my ears  :)

I agree with you counterpoint that very often a theoretically nice idea doesn't carry over to an aesthetically appealing interpretation. But in the case of op 10/2 I haven't made up my mind yet (so all comments are very interesting to me), as I couldn't find any recording  that tried to emphasize the middle voice (opus10no2, can you recommend some, or upload your own).

To make the discussion less theoretical, here are the first four measures in a "normal" version, followed by one that (over-)emphasizes the middle voice. I'm learning the piece, so please ignore all dynamics/agogics issues, and only consider the question of the relative loudness of the voices. I could well imagine that in the hands of a skilled pianist, the second version could sound much more thrilling, giving the impression of a three-hands playing....

Offline counterpoint

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #9 on: January 07, 2007, 05:44:02 PM »
The second one sounds much more interesting :D
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Offline assante

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #10 on: January 09, 2007, 06:08:22 AM »
i always treated them almost like overtones.
I don't see them as a melody to be clearly defined.They are there, on their own but unassuming, discrete.
they're also a darn hindrance, hahahaha, especially in the middle sequences. What was the man thinking, life could have been so much easier.*sigh*  ::)
they kind of mess up your beautiful legato line , but one has to live up to the challenge, or die.




Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #11 on: January 15, 2007, 02:35:42 PM »

So, I'd be very interested to hear your opinions:
* do you think Chopin wanted a middle voice, or is it just a notational idiosyncracy?
* if it's just an idiosyncracy, why didn't he write the chords connected to either the r.h. chromatic line, or to the bass?
* but if you also :
- would you play it throughout the piece, or not in measures 19ff?
- why don't the "famous" pianists play it then? Is it a tribute to their sheer speed that the voice is lost?
- have any of you recorded their own versions? Or do you know any commercial recordings with middle voice? I'd be interested in hearing any those.

The inner chords are definitely intended to be played melodically, and the answer to your question about famous pianists not playing them that way is depressing: they are too lazy.  And most probably go for the outer thrill of the chromatic scale.  For a recording that really does serve those inner chords up melodically, listen to Alfred Cortot.  You may find it a revelation.

Berezovsky, in his Chopin/Godowsky recording, doesn't pay much attention to them for most of thep iece, but I found in the last line he plays the distinction between the inenr chords and the scale so succesfully, it sounds like 3 hands.  This is the way the whole piece should sound!

Walter Ramsey

Offline dabbler

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #12 on: January 15, 2007, 05:21:05 PM »
Thanks a lot for your comments, Walter. Since writing the original post, I'm also more and more convinced that I'd like to play the inner chords as an odd little melody. But if even the "famous guys" are too lazy, how should an ordinary dabbler cope with the speed additional speed burden? :-( Of course, I'll try anyway, and maybe I can post an attempt in the audition room soon...

I'll definitely get Cortot's recording, thanks for this suggestion. I have his editions of the etudes, but not his playing. As for Berezovsky, I probably have listened too much to the Godowsky parts on the CD, and I didn't remember that he brought out the middle voice in the end.

-Tobias

Offline gerry

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #13 on: July 26, 2007, 04:21:03 AM »
I think the value of this etude lies in mastering the ability to play the crablike chromatic right hand smoothly in spite of the added chordal harmony - in otherwords, while the chords reinforce harmonic structure, they also serve to add a layer of difficulty to keeping the three upper fingers playing "sempre legato". I don't see a significant countermelody. Of course one could attempt to bring one out, but I think this would only amount to bravura to show off the pianists ability and would miss the intent of this particular Etude.
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Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #14 on: July 26, 2007, 02:16:50 PM »
I think the value of this etude lies in mastering the ability to play the crablike chromatic right hand smoothly in spite of the added chordal harmony - in otherwords, while the chords reinforce harmonic structure, they also serve to add a layer of difficulty to keeping the three upper fingers playing "sempre legato". I don't see a significant countermelody. Of course one could attempt to bring one out, but I think this would only amount to bravura to show off the pianists ability and would miss the intent of this particular Etude.

I lightly disagree.  First I recommend listening to Cortot's recording, because you can hear the substance of the inner parts.  Second, I don't think the chords add a layer of difficulty as you mention, but just the opposite: they make it easy.

Imagine if you had to play the chromatic scale, with the 3-4-5 fingering, without chords.  It is actually much harder.  The reason is the chords give you an impulse on each beat, that allows you to lighten the subdivisions and divide this incredibly long melody into manageable pieces.

Walter Ramsey

Offline cmg

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #15 on: July 26, 2007, 02:51:55 PM »
wonderful thread.  thanks "dabbler" and "claude."
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Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #16 on: July 26, 2007, 05:36:42 PM »
 :)
 :-*

Offline franzliszt2

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Re: Middle voice in Chopin op.10/2?
«Reply #17 on: July 26, 2007, 06:04:56 PM »
I lightly disagree.  First I recommend listening to Cortot's recording, because you can hear the substance of the inner parts.  Second, I don't think the chords add a layer of difficulty as you mention, but just the opposite: they make it easy.

Imagine if you had to play the chromatic scale, with the 3-4-5 fingering, without chords.  It is actually much harder.  The reason is the chords give you an impulse on each beat, that allows you to lighten the subdivisions and divide this incredibly long melody into manageable pieces.

Walter Ramsey


The chords make the etude hard I think. The whole point of the etude is legato in the chromatic runs. The bottom although marked crotchets must be like pizzicato strings almost. The problem with them is the accent every 1st note of 4. Which presents the big problem...bumps in the line. A true legato is in sound as well as in the notes connecting. You don't want 12341234 in this etude, you want a long line. Listen to Cortots recording and see how he phrases it.

Playing it without the chords is  easy if you relax the thumb. The thumb will tense much worse without the chords, or at least it will make a more noticable difference. With the chords you can sort of get away with it if you don't listen carefull enough. The thumb is a massive problem in this etude, just as much as the strength of 345.