Chopin Performance through the eyes of his students


Towards the end of the 19th century, thanks to entrepreneurs such as Edison, sound recordings became available, and the facts and legends about the performances of famous pianists could be separated from each other. You can hear Brahms, born in 1833, albeit faintly, from a cylinder recorded in 1889. Saint-Saens is another pianist who was recorded when Chopin was only 25 years old. What about Chopin?

Is the only written source we have just reviews of a few of the concerts he gave in small numbers? Of course not. The diaries kept by his students and the letters they wrote to each other contain very exciting information about their teachers and the way they interpreted their works.

First published in 1970Chopin vu par ses eleves' (Chopin through the eyes of his students) in 1986 from French to English 'Cambridge University PressTranslated by '. I have translated a part of this wonderful book, which scans many academic and university archives as a bibliography, for both piano players and art history enthusiasts. The type of composition I would like to discuss first is the Polonaise, a Polish folk dance genre.

Polonez / Op.26 No. 1

The urtext edition difficulty level of both Polonaises under the title of Opus.26 is expressed as 'Medium'. In the diary of the composer's student, Wilhelm von Lenz, he finds the following: “What happened for Scherzo (Op.31) also happened for the E-flat Polonez! Chopin wouldn't let me play. “You cannot play this piece,” he said with a rather short and harsh expression. Still, I was able to play C-sharp minor Polonaise to a level that pleased him.”

Polonez / Op.40 No.1 (A major)

“For commentary, I remember Chopin's advice “Feel this Polonaise with eighth notes”. The 6/8 beat counted with high volume in the Allegro con brio tempo can determine the precise tempo of the piece. But no one can count 6 8-notes at a fast tempo with a high volume.”
-Mikuli / Pozniak

“I play soft the first theme (Measure 65) that comes back after the trio in D major – then I go back to loud (Measure 73). Chopin did not comment on this nuance of mine, but I saw that he was pleased with it. Even 'quite' satisfied.”
-F. Liszt / Lachmund

Polonez / Op.53 (A flat major)

“I remember… He once put his hand on my shoulder in his elegant style and said how sorry he was to hear that La flat 'Great Polonaise' was played so fast, that all the magnificence and nobility of the piece was lost in such a performance.”
- Halle

“For example, Polonez in A flat major; it didn't create the kind of thunder we are used to hearing. The famous octave section started with the pianissimo and continued with the same softness without raising the voice too much.”
-Gutmann / Niecks

(F minor part in measures 138-151 – after the arrival of the four flats)

“Don't just play sforzando in these octaves of the piano, that's reinforcement. Give them slight hesitating accents – like the muffled noise of a cannon fired in the distance. The pedal will help you give this effect. This idea is not mine. I often hear Chopin playing like this.”
-Liszt / Lachumund

Nocturnes from a pedagogical point of view:

“Field and his nocturnes can be seen as a 'study' to some extent. Partly Chopin's explanations, partly observing or imitating his performance, teaches the student to love and create that beautiful bond between vocal tone and legato.”

“Chopin played it during class like I've never heard it before. He seemed to be trying to reach his own poetic soul; He apologized for not telling me how he wanted to hear his nocturnes the first day he played them, and played them again with a more perfect performance.”

Both Mikuli's anecdote and Emilie von Gretsch's letter reveal the composer's sensitivity to the nocturnes.

Nocturn Op.9/2

“This piece, which seems quite innocent and harmless, has problems in execution, as its composer often repeats. The work consists of 34 measures. The first four measures contain the theme that leads us to the first variation (D. 5-8). Then, respectively, second (D. 13-16) and third variason (D. 21-24) and final (D. 25-34) and cadence. Chopin, separating the two hands, wanted the bass to be practiced by itself first, and the chords in the 12/8 beats following the main bass note to sound like a 'guitar chorus'.
When the bass is fully learned – with both hands – the absolute allegretto tempo is intact, with a full but 'piano' sound, avoiding the triplet performance of 12/8 beats (presumably, he doesn't want the oom-pah-pah effect on the left hand) ' He could be invited to accompany the tenor. The second variation was andante, the third adagio and theme, and the second variation had to be played in full volume, poignantly yet unsentimental.
Instead of B Flat, which offered the first variation at the end of the 4th bar, he would play the following notes rather quickly but with a 'delicatissimamente'. He would use his third finger on both the Fa Sharp and Sol notes, gliding from the black key to the white key for best legato results. He would add F Sharp between them to make the transition between the last note of the 5th measure, Fa Sharp, and the first note of the 6th measure, Sol. This little addition should not seem trivial. Chopin insisted on this Fa Sharp, and wanted it added to the performance in Measures 13 and 21. The printed cadence includes 12 repetitions of the musical group C flat, B flat, Do natural, and La natural – but Chopin would write wonderful figuration on the music sheets of his favorite students.”


Nocturn Op.15/2

“Despite the quatrain = 40 metronome marks, I believe this nocturn is played too fast in general. A tradition passed down to me by my teacher, Georges Mathias, who studied with Chopin; this metronome speed is 2/4 It is more suitable for 4/8 size instead of '. I play at 52 tempo, but I follow the change in the 'doppio movimento' section. Otherwise, at a different pace, this nocturne loses all its precision.”

-Mathias / Pugno

Nocturn Op.15/3

“Actually, this piece expresses the aftermath of the 'Hamlet tragedy'. Chopin later dropped that phrase and said, 'Let them find it themselves.


Nocturn Op. 27/1

(…) The movement of the left hand contains a wavy figure. Chopin wanted the left hand to be played very softly and calmly.


Nocturn Op.27/2

“The main theme, which is repeated three times in measures 2, 26 and 46, should be played with a different expression each time. The first one should be played with 'piano', the second with the left pedal procedure 'pianissimo' and the last one with the dynamic 'forte'. This execution was shown to me by Julian Fontana, and it makes quite a lot of sense. After the whole middle section, it makes no sense to play the theme that I encountered for the third time with the same dynamic. I don't understand why the incorrect marking was not corrected while Chopin was alive, and measures 51 and 52 were written to be played 'con forza' instead of 'con delicatezza'!”


Nocturn Op.37/1

Gutmann 41-65. He played the measures faster than the other parts. He said that Chopin forgot to write this change.


Nocturn Op.48/1

“As simple as the first four measures may seem, Chopin was meticulous and precise!
It wasn't easy to make an entry that satisfies him on these scales. The thematic presence of Sol and La flat was either too soft or too loud for him.

The shift of the last note of the 2nd measure, Sol, to the first note of the 3rd measure, should have been very soft. It was almost impossible to please Chopin for this strap as well.
He once said to me, 'Your capacity is enough to do this, so you should be able to do it!' he said. I finally made it, but either Sol was too short or Do was too quick in this process.

'It must have a purpose,' Chopin used to say. The last note of the 4th measure (Do) was also important to him. My work was either too short or too long for him. In measures 2 and 3, he expected a question, and in measure 4, he expected an answer.”


Nocturn Op.48/2

“When Gutmann studied this nocturnal with Chopin, Chopin gave him 57-100. He said that the middle part (piu lento) between the measures should be played 'recitative'. The first two chords said that one tyrant commands, while the others ask for mercy.” -Gutmann/Niecks


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