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Thread: Chopin's Slight's Change

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    Senior Member SottoVoce's Avatar
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    Default Chopin's Slight's Change

    I have been playing many of Chopin's mazurkas and waltzes lately, music that is rife with repeats; however, as I'm sure many others have noticed, Chopin through every repeat changes a couple of things around very slightly; but slight, I mean maybe a single note is played rather than doubled in a higher octave, or theres a note added to a single chord, and such. I was wondering what Chopin intended with these changes; clearly, the changes are rather imperciptable for the player, let alone the audience. Would it be any performance indication, such as "play a little softer this time"? I'm not sure why he couldn't have done that dynamic indications.
    May not music be described as the mathematics of sense, mathematics as music of the reason?

    - Bertrand Russell

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    I see what you mean, but I disagree about these things being imperciptable. With adding mere octave, Chopin can already do create considerable contrast. All this jeweler's work is the reason why Chopin is such a special composer for pianists to interpret, for all these details that you can loose and make impercitable indeed OR register them to great effect, with the skill that was Chopin's trademark as pianist: the skill for nuance. As for the backgroud for this, one might think about the vast influence of opera present in Chopin's music. There, in Chopin's day, the many repetitions were also made in purpose of changing the details, adding a note, slightly displacing the rhythm etc - often by the interpreter, not composer himself.
    Last edited by Aramis; Apr-13-2014 at 15:12.

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    They are definitely not imperceptible. In fact, small changes akin to these are used in many forms of modern music and they do make a real (positive) difference.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    You should accept that Chopin is a composer for the piano who was a virtuoso, and whether it is an additional octave in a repeat, or some other slight change, his ear was more than keen on piano sonority and nuance of color as a (subtle) yet highly perceptible difference.

    His Prelude No 20 in C sharp minor is a goldmine example.* Through its twelve measures (thirteen measures including it final tonic chord, a repeat of the penultimate chord but in another register), we have a virtual repeated four bars: the first is in a different register with voicing different from the following eight measures, those eight following being a literal repeat (four, the same four again) the largest difference between the three 'sets' of four measures (one virtual, two replicate) is the dynamic marking (Bars 1-4 ff, 5-8 p, 9-13 pp. That is essentially the only apparent difference, i.e. an extra-musical, not textual difference.

    What to do with those second sets of four bars each? Other than p then pp (the entire from ff scaled down in tiers to pp is very much a part of the overall concept and effect of the piece.

    If one renders the piece while within the first four bars slightly emphasizing the soprano, then in MM 5-8 emphasizing the alto, and through the last four bar repeat to the end, the bass, this shapes the piece in parallel to Chopin's dynamic scheme, i.e this brief piece will have an inevitable downward direction from the very beginning, despite the 'lift' of register after its first four measures. Bringing out soprano, then alto, then bass also makes a variety of where the listener's ear is directed.

    That is a bold and clean-cut example of what can be brought out in a literal repeat, or one with only fine and subtle differences.

    Chopin was a highly contrapuntal composer, and without finding 18th century style counterpoint in every measure, you can also rely upon him to readily find within even the most 'oom-pah' left hand of a bass note followed by a vertical chord, something to bring out and vary within the voicing of those vertical chords, or a slight focus of point to some inner voicings in the alto, for example.

    Whether it is a literal repeat in a classical sonata, or these later Chopin repeats, there is always something to bring out in a repeat we have not heard the first time through, and without distorting either phrasing, tempi, dynamics, or the intent and specific directives in the score.

    *
    Chopin prelude 20.png
    Last edited by PetrB; Apr-14-2014 at 03:30.

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    Senior Member SottoVoce's Avatar
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    Thanks for the example, PetrB. I could definitely see how that change is perceptible. I'm talking about passages more like the op 17 no. 4 Mazurka, where in the cadence (Bar 19 for example), a doubled E is played. However, later, at the end of the A section's cadence, the E is now not doubled. I think this would be eqiuvalent to some kind of performance indication. I do notice this change, but I presume only because I see it on the score; I'm not confident I would if I were to simply listening to it. But considering that Chopin was writing for the performer, who always has access to the score, as much as the listener, this might be the answer. Thoughts?
    May not music be described as the mathematics of sense, mathematics as music of the reason?

    - Bertrand Russell

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Plainly, with or without pedal, an octave sounds different from a single pitch; to the performer, I would hope that is a "but of course," to the laymen, whether they can articulate what they hear or not, many take in the difference as 'sensate' without being conscious of it.

    Now, if you know what 'point' is, re: articulation, but more so that ever-so-slight agogic of placement in time without there being any real perceptible distortion or difference in the metric timing or notation, that is something to play with. (This is the other -- quite legitimate -- meaning of agogic other than 'just amplitude.' We do it all the time even in a supposedly even run of sixteenth note accompaniment figures in the classical repertoire, where there is a general requirement to rigorously adhere to a martialed metric 'clock.' This is a matter of very tiny near nano-seconds, imperceptible as to any way interrupting the overall metrics of the piece.

    'Point' either the octave, or (without recalling it or looking at the score) the single pitch differently than the other, and you already have a discernible (if not dramatic) difference in what we hear. Always pay earnest attention too, to the rest of the notes,' which often need really more, not less attention than the melody, or 'top.'

    Once you have determined how you are going to render the melody, you can pretty much stop thinking about it altogether, i.e. it is now in your ear and sense memory, it is on the top (which is where and what most people hear anyway.) You can then concentrate far more on all the rest, alto voicings, accompaniment and bass line, whatever variety of shape or form they may be.

    ADD: with the addition of the rigors of wome ear taken in class or private tutoring, some of what now eludes you will stand up, wave a flag at you, and salute. Ear training can really do that to your powers of listening perception :-)
    Last edited by PetrB; Apr-14-2014 at 14:21.

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