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Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play #1218021 06/16/09 09:06 AM
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Dirk1961 Offline OP
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I am curious whether anyone has ever heard someone play etude opus 25 nr 7 ("cello") at the tempo prescribed by Chopin (66).

Practicing the piece myself I wonder what would be the physical limit of the speed in which some passages can be played. I refer to the bars 27, 28 and 53 in which there are passages by the left hand that are played with little or no ritenuto and which I consider unplayable at the tempo Chopin has prescribed.

I'd like to set up a trial for anyone to participate which consists of two parts.
First play a chromatic scale up starting at the lower g. How many notes can you fit into two seconds?
Second play the e-flat scale up starting at the lower a. How many notes can you fit into one second?
If you want to play this etude at the prescribed tempo the answer should be around 34 and 17 respectively. Is this physically possible?

Setting the metronome at 40 instead of the 66, I can play these passages, and then only with difficulty. Even piano-lions like Horowitz and Pollini do not take the 66-tempo. Can it be played?

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Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218027 06/16/09 09:28 AM
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1) I'm going to check my recording of David Saperton playing all the etudes to find out his tempo. Even in his 80's when I heard him play live, he was hugely fast, like Argerich but smoother.

2) IMO there are two other things to consider with respect to the tempo issue:

a) Rubato - I believe that Chopin's extended ornamentations are much like those in Bel Canto opera where the tempi are routinely stretched and compressed for dramatic effect.

b) Chopin's piano was not like ours. The sound was softer, and the touch was MUCH lighter, so it really was possible to play both more quietly and faster than we can on a modern instrument. I base this remark on the comments of others plus actual experience playing instruments from that period which were in Bill Garlick's (I think he's now chief technician at Steinway in NYC) collection when he was at North Bennett Street School in Boston.



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Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218045 06/16/09 10:09 AM
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Okay, I did the math—admittedly not my strong suit. smile

At the "prescribed" tempo of 66 to the quarter note (or 132 to the eighth note), there are 2.2 eighth notes per second (or .45 seconds per eighth note). In the densest fioritura (at bar 27), there are 58 "little" notes; that's 9.67 notes per eighth note or 21.28 notes per second.

Is it possible to play a scalar passage at 21.28 notes per second? Probably, but I don't understand the significance or relevance. Why would a fixed tempo of 66 be rigidly adhered to throughout the piece? Isn't there an expectation instead of tempo rubato, i.e., the need for phrases to "breathe" as appropriate and necessary?

I believe that such a natural expansion and contraction in tempo easily accommodates all of the left hand's fioriture without straying too far from the fundamental pace. In any event, it's untrue that the left hand is to be "played with little or no ritenuto"; measure 27 is specifically marked ritenuto in all editions of this etude I've seen (including the original French, English and German editions at Chopin's First Editions Online).

Steven

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: sotto voce] #1218107 06/16/09 12:20 PM
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Thank you, Steven, for pointing to the chopin's first editions website. I have been searching the net for this, since I started practising this etude.
The ritenuto in bar 27 is different from that in my (Peters) Edition. In that edition in the final count of bar 26 it is noted 'poco ritenuto' and 'molto ritenuto' after the fast e-flat scale up. This suggested that the scale should be played without much ritenuto. As it is written in the first edition you can indeed play it at a lower pace. That's very helpful.

However, in bar 52 and also the first part of bar 26, the absence of any sign 'ritenuto' suggests to me that it should be played at 66 tempo. Of course Chopin's well know rubato can be used to make these passages playable, but it is confusing as he in other parts he notes specifically when to play 'ritenuto' and when to play 'a tempo'.

I hope you come up with a pianist who does play it in the 66 tempo. I found that playing it in that tempo (except from the 'little notes' bars') does make it a lighter piece in which the musical 'left hand' line can be more easily heard.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218140 06/16/09 01:31 PM
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I'm not familiar with this, but I'm very familiar
with Chopin, and I just now read through some of it.
This is classic Chopin. I don't see anything in
it that is unplayable with a lot--and I mean a lot
--of practice. This is Lento for crying out loud.
If you're expecting to work this up in a yr., don't
even bother.

And mere speed is going to be the least of your
concerns in this. The Lento tempo means that rubato
is going to be front and center in this. None
of those runs are supposed to be played in strict time.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218174 06/16/09 02:52 PM
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"...At the "prescribed" tempo of 66 to the quarter note (or 132 to the eighth note), there are 2.2 eighth notes per second (or .45 seconds per eighth note). In the densest fioritura (at bar 27), there are 58 "little" notes; that's 9.67 notes per eighth note or 21.28 notes per second.

Is it possible to play a scalar passage at 21.28 notes per second? Probably..."


And seeing this, I searched out the repetition rate for the Kawai Milenium III action: 15 per second, where most pianists can do no more than 12... only to read the question again and realize my answer is irrelevant to it.

Oh well. Interesting discussion, and thanks especially for the link to the Chopin First Editions site.


Clef

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218437 06/16/09 11:21 PM
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I'm playing this piece at 56 right now, but with the long fast climax passage slightly slower. It's all right to take liberties with tempo in romantic music, as long as it's not over the top.

It may be possible to play the passage at 66 if you have super technique and a piano with a very light touch, but the piano that you perform the piece on may turn out to be too stiff anyway. Aim for a tempo where you can play the piece comfortably, or you could end up with a very unpolished rendition. It's better to play slowly than sloppily.

Last edited by Cantabile_affettuo; 06/16/09 11:22 PM.
Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1218489 06/17/09 02:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Cantabile_affettuo
I'm playing this piece at 56 right now, but with the long fast climax passage slightly slower. It's all right to take liberties with tempo in romantic music, as long as it's not over the top.


I am curious, how fast do you play bar 26 (which to me is a key passage since no ritenuto is noted)? More general, how far can you reduce the tempo in that bar before it's 'over the top'?
My maximum for bar 26 is about 48 which feels like a 'molto ritenuto' when I play 'a tempo' at 66.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218559 06/17/09 08:32 AM
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It is not forbidden to set markings in the score aside in some passages like those you mentioned. Sometimes you just have to do it and it will sound good since usually everybody else does the same thing .Tempo rubato has been suggested many times but do not seem interested in paying any attention to it.

A very classic example of this can be found in one of the easiest pieces by chopin, lento con gran espressione. That piece is quite popular and still I have never heard anyone performing measure with 35 against 4 quarter notes (no rubato markings included) without dropping tempo. And believe me, it does sound good even though the tempo has to be reduced a lot.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218599 06/17/09 10:13 AM
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Quote
I am curious, how fast do you play bar 26 (which to me is a key passage since no ritenuto is noted)? More general, how far can you reduce the tempo in that bar before it's 'over the top'?
My maximum for bar 26 is about 48 which feels like a 'molto ritenuto' when I play 'a tempo' at 66.
Bar 26 (I'm assuming you mean the chromatic pattern in the left hand...my score doesn't have bar numbers) I'm playing up to tempo at 56. I can play chromatic passages quite fast and an adjudicator actually remarked that I rushed it a bit when I performed it.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1218652 06/17/09 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Cantabile_affettuo
Bar 26 (I'm assuming you mean the chromatic pattern in the left hand
No, that is bar 52. Bar 26 starts in the first count with 14 notes in the left hand (this is the bar before the fast small notes in the left hand including the e-flat scale, I mentioned in my earlier post).

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1218754 06/17/09 02:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Cantabile_affettuo
I'm playing this piece at 56 right now, but with the long fast climax passage slightly slower. It's all right to take liberties with tempo in romantic music, as long as it's not over the top.

It may be possible to play the passage at 66 if you have super technique and a piano with a very light touch, but the piano that you perform the piece on may turn out to be too stiff anyway. Aim for a tempo where you can play the piece comfortably, or you could end up with a very unpolished rendition. It's better to play slowly than sloppily.


I agree. It's better to play slower and more controlled then it is to let the piece flail around sloppily. I have found that true with a lot of music including that of Schmann. The metronome markings that he, or the editor, has indicated are very difficult to achieve with a stiff action particularly on a modern piano. I would rather play more deliberate and careful than have the music fall apart under my hands.

John


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Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218799 06/17/09 04:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Dirk1961
Originally Posted by Cantabile_affettuo
Bar 26 (I'm assuming you mean the chromatic pattern in the left hand
No, that is bar 52. Bar 26 starts in the first count with 14 notes in the left hand (this is the bar before the fast small notes in the left hand including the e-flat scale, I mentioned in my earlier post).


That's the bar that I'm talking about in my post also. smile It's essentially a chromatic scale with some added embellishments. If you're aiming to increase your speed, practice the left hand alone with the metronome and slowly increase the marking as you get more comfortable with it. However, getting the speed of that passage up to 66 is a bit too much, imo. The fastest that I could probably play it would be 60 or maybe 63 (I never perform my pieces at the max tempo that I can play it because it's just asking for the passage to get out of control). I hope this helps!

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1218819 06/17/09 04:52 PM
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Well, well, so there is a human being who can play the 14 notes of the first count in one second. I did practice this count many many times with the metronome but never could exceed 50. Even with my right hand (which is a little better) I couldn't get anywhere near 60. I am impressed.

Of course this etude is about musicality and beauty and not so much about speed but I didn't think this passage could be played (without rubato) in the metronome setting chopin prescribed.
Maybe Jeff Clef's maximum of 12 notes per second should be adjusted upwards. Maybe someone could organize a contest and see what the maximum is?

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218825 06/17/09 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Dirk1961
Well, well, so there is a human being who can play the 14 notes of the first count in one second. I did practice this count many many times with the metronome but never could exceed 50. Even with my right hand (which is a little better) I couldn't get anywhere near 60. I am impressed.

There is no need to be impressed. =P Just because I can play it fast does not mean that it's necessarily played well. Playing too fast is actually one of my downfalls. My teacher always tells me to stop showing off my speed because plenty of people can play faster. It's much better to pay attention to the musicality of the piece, like you pointed out. That's actually the reason why I'm even playing this etude. I hated it at first because I usually find slower pieces deathly boring.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1218984 06/18/09 01:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Cantabile_affettuo
plenty of people can play faster.

Is there a recording of this piece that you know of, with someone playing bar 26 at the speed of 66 or faster? I would like to hear that world wonder.

Last edited by Dirk1961; 06/18/09 01:33 AM.
Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1218998 06/18/09 02:40 AM
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Dirk, you're all too obsessed with speed and this is definitely not the right piece for that. First, I recommend you forget the metronome marking 66, it's way too fast for this piece. If you play a piano from Chopin's time, then it might be necessary to keep the melody line intact as the melody notes wouldn't sound for very long, but on a modern grand you can get a lot more out of it by choosing a slower tempo. And even as you choose a slower tempo, the fast runs are not meant to be played a tempo.

If this piece is played at 66, then it should be just above 3 minutes. I found one recording close to this, John Khouri, who recorded it on a 1832 broadwood grand. He clocks in at 3:38, the performance feels all too fast to me, but listening to the tone of the piano it's clear that he couldn't play it much slower. Out of all the 20+ other recordings I looked through, I couldn't find a single one under 4:30, most use more than 5 minutes for this etude (Grigory Sokolov's interpretation is 6:30...). This is the reason why you won't find a recording of anyone playing the fast runs at 66, nobody plays the etude that fast! Even Khouri with his very fast interpretation doesn't get close to 66, finishing at 3:38, his average tempo would have been 56.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: RogerW] #1219249 06/18/09 02:34 PM
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RogerW, I completely agree with you. smile Being able to play fast does not make one a world wonder pianist by any means. I've had many examiners/teachers/adjudicators tell me that my pieces would be much clearer and more musical if I slowed down the tempo.

Of course, if you're only learning this etude to train your speed and you aren't planning to formally perform it, feel free to play it however you like (although there are much better studies than this one if that's your goal...). But it's almost guaranteed that you'll be told to slow down if you play it at 66 for someone.

Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Cantabile_affettuo] #1219464 06/19/09 02:37 AM
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RogerW, you're dealing with another subject here. I was focussing on the possibility of playing at the assigned tempo, not the desirability.
I thought it to be impossible to play at 66 the bars 26/27 and 52, without 'over the top' rubato, but from what I understand here, some pianists may be able to play it a tempo, if they would choose to do so.
Now, over to your subject: The desirability of playing the etude at the assigned tempo. The question that is raised here is, may we dismiss the composer's tempo assignment even if it is as explicit as a metronome number?
I guess one may, but you have to have strong arguments. Yours is, apart from your feeling ('feels too fast'), largely based on the quality of pianos from Chopin's time.
I'm not sure I agree with you on this. Sure the melody notes might not have sounded very long, but we cannot be sure that this was the reason for the tempo assignment. There are other compositions, like the prelude opus 28/4, which have long melody notes and no metronome assignment. If Chopin would have been so keen on keeping the melody line intact, would he then not have explicitly noted a tempo assignment in those compositions as in this etude?
As for the fact that 'examiners/teachers/adjudicators' tell us to slow down, as Cantabile states, that may never be the reason for us to do anything unless their arguments convince us.
What I agree with you on, as I noted before, is that the musicality and beauty of this etude is much more important than the pianist's technique (btw I think that this is always so, music isn't for showing off technical abilities. Technique is a means not an end).
However, playing it myself at 66 and using rubato at specific moments, this etude remains a very beautiful piece and in some respect even more beautiful as the melody line becomes clearer. My technical (in)abilities force me to choose a slower tempo, but if I had the technique of say Pollini or Horowitz, I would prefer to play it at the assigned tempo.
To conclude: I think one should be very cautious with changing something as essential as a metronome assignments. Our own musical feeling is of course very important, but so is that of the composer.

Last edited by Dirk1961; 06/19/09 02:44 AM.
Re: Chopin etude opus 25 nr 7 impossible to play [Re: Dirk1961] #1219476 06/19/09 04:05 AM
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As a composer myself, I do have a bit of an issue with metronome marks. Personally, I would much rather stick to verbal definitions of the mood instead of metronome marks in my music, but performers often are insecure when it comes to contemporary music if they don't have quite detailed performace instructions. Most performers want me to put them in the score, but when I do this, they seem to think that it is a strict law and they try to force their own expression into that given tempo. This is not at all what I want. I want the musician to feel the music and express himself through the music in a way that feels comfortable to him, the way that the music speaks to him. If this own interpretation is a bit slower or a bit faster than the given metronome mark, I don't care.

I have only once performed my own music myself. When I did, I found that I liked to play one piece a lot faster than the metronome mark I had given while composing, so I changed it. smile This is basically how I feel about metronome marks. It's one tempo that the composer feels that the piece could work well in, but it's not the only possible tempo.

Of course, there has been occassions when I've heard some piece of mine played way too fast or (more often) way too slow, which doesn't sound right at all to me. But still, the people who heard it for the first time seem to like it. Perhaps if I would listen to these interpretations again years from now, when I have forgotten my own interpretation, then I might like them...

Back to Chopin. I played this etude a while ago and found that the metronome mark of 66 was way too fast for me. To me the music speaks about something completely different, something that requires a slower tempo. About the fast runs, I never even considered the possibility to play them in tempo, it seemed so obvious that the tempo must be stretched at those points. I mostly saw the etude as an exercise in musical expression and keeping together long melodic lines. (By choosing a faster tempo this does get easier and by doing so the etude loses a bit of it's effect IMO.) To me the fast runs seemed to take this exercise a step further. The challenge is not to play them fast, the challenge is to slow down to a playable tempo without breaking the musical continuity. The ridiculous amount of notes in such a short timespace tells me that this is how Chopin would have thought of it as well. If you manage to do this convincingly, then you have learned the lesson of this etude.

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