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Topic: Interpretation  (Read 12767 times)

Offline Baohui

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Interpretation
on: June 17, 2005, 08:54:18 AM
I've just been reading through some of the threads about interpretation, and found this post -

https://www.pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,7155.msg71315.html#msg71315.

Quote
stick to indications in the sheetmusic and create the painting on that canvas

So what do you 'paint on the canvas' if you're stricly obeying the written directions and how does this translate into physical actions and sounds at the piano?

Take an example: Chopin's prelude no.20. What would you add to the music? It looks to me like there is not much scope for interpretation.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #1 on: June 17, 2005, 01:21:42 PM
To answer your question properly I need to digress for a while. Bear with me.

A score is a model of the music. Just like a map is a model of a territory. In order to make a map of a certain area, or of a certain town, you must go through three processes: deletion, distortion and generalisation. In the case of a map these are pretty obvious: deletion – not everything in the territory/town can be represented in the map (e.g. people); distortion – the map is two-dimensional (usually) while the territory is not; the map is not the same size of the territory; generalisation – in a map one assumes that certain symbols stand for the same thing (e.g. tube stations) even though these things may not be the same at all in reality. These processes far from being nocive they are very helpful, in fact without them a map would not be useful, that is the usefulness of a model lies exactly in the fact that a model is a deleted, distorted, generalised version of reality.

Now what abut the reverse process, that is, once I have a model, how do I put back the things that have been deleted, how do I undistort what has been distort and how do I specify again that which has been generalised? This reverse process is of course interpretation. Reading a map is by no means trivial. You must learn how to do it. Likewise, reading a score is by no means trivial, one must learn how to do it.

Real problems only start however, when people start confusing the map with the territory.

Now back to Chopin’s prelude no. 20.

The very first level of interpretation is which notes to play. Our system of notation is pretty tight on this one, so you might imagine that there should be no problem in translating the symbols in the staves back into pitches.

Yet, look at the last chord in bar 3 (C minor inverted). Up to the 1950’s every edition of Chopin’s preludes had that chord as C major, that is, the E was not flatted. In 1955, the Jane Stirling (Chopin’s Scottish pupil) copies of Chopin music became available, and in them Chopin had corrected in pencil the aforementioned chord adding the flat. Now people can say whatever they want about “composer’s intentions”, but to my ears, the wrong chord sounds much better (most LP recordings of the preludes that have been remastered on CD have the “wrong” interpretation). So right here you have an interpretative decision: should you use C major as in many of the old editions (assuming that like me, you prefer it), or should you follow Chopin’s “intentions”, since he clearly corrected it?

Supposing you are a staunch defender of “Composer’s intentions” no matter what, the answer seems to be a straightforward “follow Chopin’s correction and play C minor”. But is it as simple as it seems? How can one be sure that the correction is really by Chopin? C minor at that moment in the piece sounds shallow and trivial. Maybe Jane Stirling herself “corrected” it to a more standard progression. This is by no means uncommon. Many an editor has changed notes in scores because the composer had used an unusual or unaccounnted for figuration by the musical theory of the day. (Consider for instance Bach prelude no. 1 of the WTC 1 where a full bar was inserted by some editor – and you still find it there nowadays in some editions – because it would then conform to the theory).

Now we get to the rhythm (understood here in its most basic sense as the relative duration of the notes in time). Our rhythmic notation is far less satisfactory then our pitch notation (ask any jazz player). The regularity of the chords (mostly crochets) may or may not have been intended. Did Chopin really wanted this piece to be right on the metronome beat, or did he write it so simply because there was no way to notate what he truly had in mind and this was the best approximation? I find highly unlikely that Chopin of all people would want this piece to be played metronomically. So some departure from the metronome is required. How are you going to go about it? Clearly right there, you have pretty much infinite interpretational possibilities.

What about tempo? Chopin tells us “Largo”, but such words (which originally referred to the affect of a piece rather than its speed) are vague to say the least. On top of that many of these words changed meaning with time. We tned to think of Largo as a very slow tempo, but in Purcell’s time (see the preface of this Sonatas - 1683), Largo was medium speed. Again there are numerous possibilities of tempo – admittedly within a limited range – that make up for very different interpretations, that is different “translations” into musical reality of the same model – the score. Some people show resentment about such vagueness, but it is obvious to me that it is an intentional vagueness. I am sure that Chopin himself did not play this prelude every time at exactly the same speed, but rather varied its speed according to his moods. Let us not forget that the metronome had already been invented, and if Chopin really wanted a specific, unchangeable speed, nothing would have been simpler than to provide a metronome marking instead of an affect word. What about the “ritenuto”? (by the way, the original edition displays only the first one on bar 7, there is no ritenuto on bar 11 as in your edition). How much are you going to slow it down?  In fact, it is not even clear that this direction may mean the same today as it meant in Chopin’s time. Nowadays we tend to take it as synonymous with ritardando (and to add to the confusion, both abbreviate to rit.) or rallentando, that is a gradual slowing down of tempo, but ritenuto (which actually means “held back”) in Chopin’s time was most likely interpreted as an abrupt slowing down.

Then there is the matter of bar lines. On a first level, they are very useful so as to not get lost in the music, but they also imply a metric straightjacket: In this case 4/4 implies that the first beat is strong the second and fourth weak and the third strong, but not as strong as the first. Many times this is an important piece of information that must be taken seriously, but other times, composers write in bar lines but do not expect one to follow such metrical implications (Scarlatti and Schumann come to mind). So which one is it? Again, a very different result accrues if you play this piece as written, or if you erase the bar lines.

Then we have the matter of voicing. Sure, as you look at the score all the notes are there. But are they to be sounded at the same volume? Here you have to consider that a high note sounded at the same volume of a low note will sound clearer. So even if you play all keys in a chord with the same hammer speed, the high notes (where the melodic line is) will naturally be overheard above the low notes. If you break down this prelude into seven melodic lines (there are seven notes altogether in the chord with the most notes), and play them in isolation, you may consider bringing up some of the inner lines. But which ones? Again the score gives you no clue about that, so again you have an interpretative decision to make.

Then we move to dynamics. The original autograph of this piece has slightly different markings from the one you provided. The only hairpins in the original are in bars 3-4 and on the last bar, where it faces the opposite direction (that is, decrease volume instead of increase it). The only the dynamic markings in the original are ff (bar1), p (bar 5) and pp (bar 9), plua a cresc. in bar 11. Are we to interpret this as level dynamics, that is, start playing ff, and keep at it until getting to the second part, when you suddenly drop to p, and then keep to that level until you reach the third part (pp) where again you drop to that level, or should you start ff and gradually decrease volume until getting to p, and then again gradually decrease volume until you get to pp? The hairpins in your edition could mean that Chopin actually played this way, but did not bother to specify it. And the editor, who might have heard Chopin play it (e.g., Mikuli, a celebrated editor of Chopin’s work was his pupil), added the extra dynamic directions. Then again, the extra dynamic directions may be the way the editor plays it him/herself. So again you are faced with more interpretative decisions.

Finally we have the matter of the pedal. Chopin’s piano was very different from nowadays pianos. Even if the pedal markings were his, surely you should not follow them blindly, but rather seek to produce in a modern piano the same effect that would be produced in a piano of Chopin’s time using these pedal markings. This means getting hold of a 1800’s Pleyel piano in good order, using the pedal directions as provided (assuming they are by Chopin), listening carefully to the end effect, and then altering the pedal in a modern piano to obtain the same sound. Again pedal notation is not satisfactory. Subtleties like syncopated pedal (a must in this piece) cannot be properly notated if the only symbols you have are Ped. and *. As it is, the original of this piece has no pedal markings whatsoever, except in the last bar. This of course does not mean that it should be played without pedal, but rather that Chopin trusted the performer to come up with his/her pedalling. The problem of course, is that many things that may have been obvious to a performer in Chopin’s time is not necessarily obvious to us today.

Then we have the slurs. Besides indicating legato playing, they indicate phrasing. Again they may have been supplied by the editor or by Chopin. Again, they may indicate how Chopin/editor played it, but you may wish to phrase it differently. So again, more interpretative decisions.

And what are you going to do at the end? For how long are you going to let the final chord ring. Sure, it is a whole note, but the fermatas above and below give you free rein to hold it for as long as you wish.

So as you can see, even if you have the firm resolve to follow a score to the letter, there will be infinite renditions of this piece, all claiming equal textual fidelity. The score is a map, and the map is not the territory.

Have a look here for more discussions on interpretation:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,2657.msg22806.html#msg22806
(composer’s intent – Charles Rosen quote)
See replies #6  and #11 here:
https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3202.msg28196.html#msg28196
(Bad habits – the three centres are mentioned here – some martial arts analogies – Fanny Bloomfield list of good practising habits – Maurice Hinson list – The score as a map – models and modelling processes – Interpretation as the reverse of modelling – comparison with actors)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3735.msg33547.html#msg33547
(Form and structure x emotion and interpretation – know the most about a piece)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4971.msg47287.html#msg47287
(comparison between interpretation and pronunciation and Ancient Egyptian – Problem with Baroque music interpretation – why listening to CDs is important)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,5496.msg54190.html#msg54190
(interpretation – Jack and Jill’s letter example)

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,5572.msg53918.html#msg53918
(how to deal with slips - concentrate on the music, not on the score – analogy with actors and lines on a script)

Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Baohui

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #2 on: June 17, 2005, 02:14:59 PM
Thankyou for your excellent post. :o It's given me a few things to think about.

About the edition, that was just one from sheetmusicarchive.net that I put up for reference. I'm playing from the ABRSM introductory album, which is much nearer to what you describe. For me, the C chord in bar 3 sounds better and makes much more sense minor. The F minor chord before it seems to suggest Eb/Cm.

Quote
Subtleties like syncopated pedal (a must in this piece)

What exactly do you mean by syncopated pedal? Are you referring to a technique or to a rhythm? If it is rhythm then where would you pedal?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #3 on: June 17, 2005, 06:41:56 PM
By syncopated pedal I mean the following.

1.   Play the first chord, and []immediately after [/] while you are still holding the keys depressed (and hence the dampers off the strings), depress the damper pedal. Keep it depressed until you play the second chord.

2.   As you play the second chord you release the pedal – co-ordinate the going down of the keys with the going up of the pedal.

3.   As the keys reach the keybed, immediately press the pedal again.

This is arguably the most common way of pedalling. It may be known by a different name. I call it “syncopated” pedal because that is how it was taught to me. I don’t think it has anything to do with rhythm, more with the fact that the pedal action is fractionally off beat with the key action. The end result is continuity of sound without letting harmonics built up.

(This is difficult to describe but easy to demonstrate).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline JPRitchie

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #4 on: June 18, 2005, 04:08:03 AM
You might want to check a 1974 book by Higgins (W.W. Norton, publisher, available on amazaon.com) for a critical edition of Op. 28. I used it for No. 7 and found the preferred score had simpler pedaling and other differences from what I found  in a lesson book. If you are serious about music interpretation, the autograph in the National Library in Warsaw, a Urtext or critical edition or at the very least an attributed edition gives you some protection from being trapped by unscrupulous editors or publishers.

Also, my Alfred music dictionary lists ritenuto as "Held back. Becoming slower immediately."

In the absence of another source, I'll update late Monday after looking at Higgins' book.

Sincerely,
Jim Ritchie

Offline JPRitchie

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #5 on: June 18, 2005, 09:26:41 PM
Hello,

Sorry to be so long in getting this, but perhaps it has some lasting value.

Higgins book was available at the county library, so I went and looked at it today. Using some of the information it gives, IMO the preferred version is the 1839 Paris edition. It's the only published score prepared directly from the autograph, under Chopin's direct supervision, and bearing Chopin's name as author. Moreover, Chopin resided in Paris at that time and so could have relatively easily been at hand for consultation. (Although Op. 28 was written while he was on the island of Majorca.) The image below links to the University of Chicago digital Early Chopin Collection.

This ms. differs in many ways from others, as well as that above in this thread. Except for the last 2 measures, it shows no pedaling - which Chopin notated in detail elsewhere in Op. 28. Also, note there is no "a tempo" marking. And the "ritenuto" is spelled out, so there's no ambiguity about it. Notice that m. 9-12 are a repeat of 5-8, so Chopin's  tempo change adds variety.

Yours truly,
Jim Ritchie



Offline bernhard

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #6 on: June 19, 2005, 06:42:45 PM
Thanks for that score, JPR.  :D

My preferred edition for the preludes is the Ganche (Oxford), based on the autograph manuscripts plus the Jane Stirling copies, so as close as you can get to the source. Unfortunately Chopin kept changing his mind and making alterations on pupils's sheet music.

Some interesting differences between the Ganche and your edition:

1. The distribution of notes over the clefs.
2. The hairpin in bars 3-4, which in your edition is above the treble staff, on the Ganche is in between staves.
3. An "A tempo" direction is provided in the Ganche edition on bar 9.
4. The C minor chord at the end of bar 3 is still incorrectly notated as C major in your edition (which is understandable, since the corrected Stirling manuscripts only became available in the 1950s).

Other than that both editions are exactly the same.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline 6ft 4

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #7 on: June 19, 2005, 07:28:01 PM
Amazing how much work and effort one can put into what is a technically(and indeed musically) easy piece!!
I wish i was what i was when i wanted to be who i am now.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #8 on: June 19, 2005, 07:36:40 PM
Amazing how much work and effort one can put into what is a technically(and indeed musically) easy piece!!

Perhaps it is not that easy, after all... ;)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Baohui

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #9 on: June 19, 2005, 07:45:37 PM
Thanks a lot for that score. And it's not easy musically.

Offline JPRitchie

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #10 on: June 19, 2005, 08:32:29 PM
Well, I don't play, but this piece certainly isn't rhythmically very complex.

Jim

Offline JPRitchie

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Re: Interpretation
Reply #11 on: June 20, 2005, 03:44:56 PM
Hello Bernhard,

    Some further information: Yes, the Ganche edition has several editorial changes from the 1839 Paris edition that make it, perhaps, more user-friendly, but musically different. Higgins writes: "The music of Jane Stirling had the flat pencilled in, but since this source is unavailable for study, one cannot verify that it was added by Chopin". Some latter Ops. were dedicated to her, but other students' scores don't have such modifications. The Ganche edition was published in 1932, long after Chopin's death. Oxford has published a lot of academic work, but Chopin wasn't a professor there, so there's no major professional association that might have given Oxford special access to private papers, etc. Finally, in fairly simple cases such as Op. 28, the earliest authentic published score precedes public reaction to it, which no composer can ignore completely.

Best regards,
Jim Ritchie
P.S. Please call me Jim - that's how I sign my e-mail. I use "JPR Enterprises" as a
business name, when called for.
jpr
 

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