Monday, April 12, 2010

Chopin Waltz in A Flat major Op. 34 #1: First Pass

Among the most recent and earnest endeavors has been the attainment of this piece at performance level, something I used to think unthinkably far above my abilities. For a number of reasons, I no longer think so.

The edition I'm using is quite readable and the pages well organized. It's the Mikuli edition distributed by Dover. I can usually recommend Dover editions, and this edition of the Chopin waltzes and scherzos is hereby recommended, with the only caveat that the measures are not numbered. Should you absolutely require your music to have numbered measures, Henle editions usually do.

Before dissecting the piece, as a prelude to serious study (something I always do, but am at this time recording here as it happens), we sample a few recordings of it available on the net at this time (these links may not always be there in future):

First Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950), the Romanian pianist and composer whose career was cut short by death from Hodgkin's disease at age 33. Before that Lipatti had been accorded every imaginable accolade to establish him firmly in the pianist hall of fame.

(We hereby announce that a Pianists' Hall of Fame page shall be established here on this blog. The data kept on it shall consist of the name of the pianist, their dates, nationalities and notable performances available on line - with no guarantee of the link)

Recorded at Abbey Road Studio n. 3, London 24 September 1947, Recording Producer, Walter Legge, here is Dinu Lippati playing it:

Of this performance we can say that the piano is probably a Hamburg Steinway D (Concert Grand 8'11") and the recording techniques about the best available at that time, though recorded in monaural sound as Lipatti died long before the introduction of stereo.

I'd also call this a restrained performance, despite the rapids in the cadenza near the end of this piece.

Compare what you just heard to this:

Moura Lympany (1916-2005) (really Mary Johnstone) a great and beloved English pianist, not too well known now, was long one of my favorite interpreters of Chopin. What I'm picking up here is a gliding effortless quality to the way she plays it. It has energy but about as much restraint as Lipatti's version. I like the fluidity of Lympany's approach though and want to incorporate that into my own performance.

Our third performance comes form a Chopin celebration in Poland in 2009 played by Marek Drewnowski. I don't know who he is, but I like the way he plays!

In this performance, almost certainly a Hamburg Steinway concert grand is being used, there is a less conscious control of tempo; it speeds up or slows down as dictated by the mood of the music and the capabilities of the pianist, which in this case are formidable. It occurs to me that anyone attempting to play this piece must master it to the point that it becomes second nature to play it. Marek's facility with the cadenza and the end is superb.

There are any number of times one would hear this piece played by amateur pianists.  Even if they make mistakes it is enough to give them encouragement that they attempted to play it at all.  Give them the credit their courage deserves.  At your average party or recital of amateur pianists, this would be the high end, because at least one was up there and daring to play something like this in front of people and if one is lucky not to have to stop for anything. One's performance could almost come apart especially near the end, when one is admonished to stick to the tempo one observed throughout the piece before trying to speed it up as everyone does, but manage to finish without a pause.

We need to be more tolerant of others, and of ourselves, and how well we are able to play at all as no matter how accomplished we are, there was once a time that we too were green and didn't know how to do much at the piano.

What we'll try to do is go through the process of how I will go about learning this piece and committing to memory so as to play it at least as well as Moura Lympany, or if not, then certainly in her spirit.

So far, I have read through most of it in front of the cadenza. The piece is broken into the following components:

Fanfare and Introduction to E flat 7th cadence

First waltz (A) in A flat major - repeated
First waltz (B) in A flat major

Second waltz in D flat major - repeated
Minore in B flat minor (relative to D flat major)
Second waltz in D flat major
First waltz (B) in D flat major
First waltz (A) in A flat major
First waltz (B) in A flat major - leading into

Reprise - Coda

Many more times in the past than I can even count, this method of first dissecting a complicated piece of music, made the learning of it easier and the retention of it more certain. Like having a roadmap, one needs to know where one is, as well as where one is going.

Current focus, the Fanfare and Introduction, First waltz (A) and First waltz (B) all in one sitting and from memory. My technique will be to slowly assemble each part, get the patterns into my fingers, make it effortless (I don't care if it sounds complicated, it's my job to simplify the playing of all those notes, so that I can play it). I will need to repeat the same passages thirty or forty times easily and that many times without any mistakes.

Once I can do that, and have meanwhile added more to the growing chain of musical events, I can begin sculpting it, so that it begins to sound a little like the way Marek Drewnowski plays it.

I may, probably will, also begin starting with the cadenza and the end as a separate section and may then join the two with the Second waltz and Minore section.

Those are the beginnings of the way I shall go about this project.  I'll keep the blog informed of my progress.


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