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Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
#1311684 11/24/09 06:05 PM
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It's a credo of classical performance practice that we don't take liberties with the printed score. I accept that any structural modification or change impacting melody or harmony is impermissible; even more minor modifications seem inappropriate and unjustified. I don't believe I've ever consciously altered notes or dynamics for any reason, and it generally would not occur to me to do so.

Are there certain situations or circumstances in which embellishment might be sensibly contemplated nonetheless? Maybe just for fun? I'm thinking primarily of passages of overt technical display, and the erstwhile custom of pianists like Tausig, Godowsky and Horowitz to beef them up to provide an even more elaborate presentation.

Consider bars 254-255 of Chopin's Ballade Op. 23. Here's the original, from the edition of Rafael Joseffy—but note the asterisk over the B-flat at the beginning:

[Linked Image]

As sonorous as the simultaneous scales a tenth apart are, Tausig apparently felt something was lacking: why settle for simple single-note scales in each hand when double thirds can be played instead? Here's the footnote to which the asterisk refers:

[Linked Image]

Tausig's example inspired me to think that a pivotal measure in Chopin's Allegro de Concert could benefit from a comparable enhancement. In the climactic crescendo of bar 225, the right hand plays an ascending scale of chromatic fourths while the left hand limps along in the shadows with a simple single-note scale. The poor mano sinistra really doesn't have much to do here at all, even though the dramatic function of this particular bar cannot be overstated. So why not kick the passage up a notch—just for fun?

This is what I've arrived at, à la Tausig—the original is on top, my own ossia below it—because why be content with single notes when you can play thirds? smile

[Linked Image]

Okay, maybe an adjustment such as this is in questionable taste (and I admit that this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek). Still, like Tausig's paradigm, it really results in no distortion of the music. I wouldn't presume to second-guess Chopin, yet the idea of giving a peak musical moment some added pianistic punch is highly appealing.

Has anyone else (who otherwise believes in So it is written, so it shall be played) been similarly tempted?

Steven

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311867 11/24/09 11:36 PM
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Quote
It's a credo of classical performance practice that we don't take liberties with the printed score.......


I DON'T AGREE.

The end.

Thank you very much. ha

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
Mark_C #1311873 11/24/09 11:49 PM
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Last edited by sotto voce; 11/24/09 11:56 PM. Reason: My apologies, Mark! I knew I was right to expect better. :)
Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311875 11/24/09 11:52 PM
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But seriously folks..... smile

Let's take a look.

I don't imagine that many people (even here!) are familiar with the Allegro de Concert. I've known it since way back (although I never worked on it), since I happened to get hold of an LP by some major guy -- don't remember who, maybe Arrau? I had been curious about this "mystery" piece, and then when I saw that LP I took the opportunity to hear it. I've never found it interesting enough to work on, BUT....... I love some of the themes (!!) and (no lie!) often have them going through my head as I walk along. It's good "walking" music. ha
And I guess I mean that last thing mostly seriously. I think one of the reasons I happen to often "walk" to it is that my sense of the tempo of the piece just happens to match exactly my most comfortable 'walking tempo.'

But enough about me smile ......on to your question.

I don't have that passage in my head, but I think the best answer would be, if you CAN play it with the added 3rds and like it, by all means do it. Without a doubt, and with no self-consciousness.
But, I'd add this: First make sure that you're appreciating the "written" way as fully as possible. Maybe Chopin wants a greater articulation in the LH than in the RH, of the sort that can't be done unless it's single notes. Or maybe whatever -- I just made that up; it could be lots of things.

The main thing I'm getting is, I'm impressed that you know this piece and are working on it, and even more so that you're CAPABLE of embellishing that passage with 3rds in the left hand!!!

P.S. That thing about Tausig and the G minor Ballade just makes me shake my head in amazement. That very passage is so intimidating to me (merely as written) that it has kept me from playing the piece. That very passage. And to think that Tausig made it harder.....

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311876 11/24/09 11:53 PM
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Sorry, sorry, sorry......it was a JOKE!!!

I just don't type fast enough to have gotten my "real" answer to you before you read that. smile

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311895 11/25/09 12:14 AM
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....and I'm even sorrier.
I meant to follow up my joke-post with the real one very quickly -- but the real one went on, and on, and on .....and in fact I got WORRIED that I wasn't getting it done in time.
And indeed I didn't.

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
Mark_C #1311902 11/25/09 12:49 AM
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I guess my insulation from doing that is composing posts in a word processor and pasting them instead of trying to write a message here on the fly. (I think the first time I lost my work due to an unforeseen crash or freeze cured me of that. smile )

You shouldn't be too impressed I'm working up the Allegro; I started learning it nearly a year ago! It took nine months of solid work to get it to a really satisfactory point, and then I pretty much set it aside in September to let it steep for a while. I'm just recently back on the horse and polishing it up.

The LP with which you were familiar was almost certainly Arrau's. (I had it, too; it also included the Op. 10 etudes.) It was a long time before I realized how few recordings there are of the Allegro or understood what an unusual niche it occupies among Chopin's larger works.

You are right about it being good walking music, too; the tempo, though nominally Allegro maestoso and not rigidly uniform throughout, is rather leisurely for an Allegro.

Also, about actually incorporating those left-hand thirds: it remains to be seen if it will be tenable for me at an acceptable speed. I'm not there yet, that's for sure, but at least can always fall back on the security of the measure as written.

Steven

p.s. Mark, FWIW, I would recommend you turn on acceptance of private messages. It's been one of the most rewarding aspects of participating here for me, even though the contacts and virtual friendships I've made have been modest in number. But quality over quantity is good, and leads to another point that may have concerned you: I have almost never experienced unwanted, unwelcome, intrusive or spam messages. There's been no downside to it at all, in fact. Just something to consider. smile

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311915 11/25/09 01:42 AM
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It is for various reasons that I don't do the PM thing, including that I'm not much of a fan of any kind of electronic 1-to-1 communication, including even e-mail. But the original reason and the main one is what you allude to, and I think it would always be a danger even if on this forum the chance would be small.

About not realizing that my first post was a joke: Don't worry, you've got good company. My wife now denies this and I'm sure it's not totally true, but ..... She basically switched careers because of jokes that I made about her former career. She didn't realize how much I was kidding.

I've got to do something about this...... ha

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1311919 11/25/09 01:49 AM
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P.S. One other thing......the reason I was a bit slow getting that second post to you was, my right hand is in ICE and I'm typing mostly 1-handed. I hurt my hand the other day playing softball.
So, I can't type too well right now, but I can't play the piano at all, and y'know, we do what we can. smile

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
Mark_C #1311925 11/25/09 02:08 AM
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In the very little reading I have done of history, it seems often asserted that at the time this music was composed, it would have been considered (to paste 1980s slang onto Chopin) "lame" NOT to do such things - that any performer worth his salt would have had the flair, the good taste, and the skill to add and to embellish.

In the very little reading I have done of recording and concert reviews, it seems that anybody who intentionally deviates one iota from the score is at best viewed as an odd duck, and at worst pilloried.

Gaining the approval of the 19th-century public would make an interesting goal for anyone today, to say the least.
Gaining the approval of 21st-century reviewers can make or break a career.

Does this mean that interesting additions and embellishments are reserved for already-established gods of the keyboard, for pianists minor enough to slip below the "reviewer radar", or for mavericks with nothing to lose?

It sure seems that way to me, for now. Maybe things are changing, or will change in the future.

I wonder if the fall from favour of concert improvisation coincided with the steep decline of substantial embellishment?


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
david_a #1311933 11/25/09 02:21 AM
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Yes indeed......what you said at the beginning up there was exactly the serious basis for my joke-post.

I was kidding when I said "the end." I wasn't kidding about disagreeing that you can't embellish things.

I would add this: I think (and many agree) that we can't really talk monolithically or globally about "classical music" on this subject. There's a difference between (maybe to pick the extreme comparison) Chopin ......and Beethoven.

I doubt I'd consider changing a note in Beethoven.

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
Mark_C #1312046 11/25/09 09:30 AM
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The practice of improvising in the classical realm (or rather of not doing it smile ) has been discussed a number of times before here.

I was actually thinking of the kinds of "enhancements" that are pre-planned and deliberate, though extemporaneous ones are certainly related in concept (and equally subject the same strictures).

Steven

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1312101 11/25/09 11:09 AM
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I was thinking of the pre-planned ones as well - just speculating on a possible connection between the two categories as to time in history.


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
Mark_C #1312111 11/25/09 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by MarkCannon

I doubt I'd consider changing a note in Beethoven.


In the 19th century, some pianists combined movements from different Beethoven Sonatas in recitals although I don't think this was too common.

Many pianists completely rewrote this Beethoven piece(0ne of many versions):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuyfYfPt4sw

Although I prefer this modern recording:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVd-oxTOWKY


Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
sotto voce #1312115 11/25/09 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by sotto voce
This is what I've arrived at, à la Tausig—the original is on top, my own ossia below it—because why be content with single notes when you can play thirds? smile

The difference to the Tausig example is that Chopin would never have added the thirds in your example, because that results in a long scale in parallel fifths. Chopin wouldn't have had any problem with the thirds Tausig added, because they don't violate any of the tonal voice leading rules.

I personally don't have anything against embellishing like this, but I think that if you do that, you should make sure to only add embellishments that the composer might have used himself. The safest way to ensure this is to only use embellishments similar to those that he have used in other pieces (or elsewhere in the same piece). In Chopin's music you can find long scales in parallel thirds, sixths, fourths and even tritones, but I'm afraid he never wrote parallel fifths like this. If you can find a counterexample, I'd be very interested to see it.

If the original instead was composed by Debussy, then the thirds you added would be perfectly okay.

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
RogerW #1312146 11/25/09 12:36 PM
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Yipes! The presence of parallel fifths wasn't even on my radar, which demonstrates that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. blush

Thanks for the eludication, Roger.

Steven

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
RogerW #1312206 11/25/09 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by RogerW
......The difference to the Tausig example is that Chopin would never have added the thirds in your example, because that results in a long scale in parallel fifths. Chopin wouldn't have had any problem with the thirds Tausig added, because they don't violate any of the tonal voice leading rules....

Great get!!! And I've got to say, yes indeed.

Chopin was a stickler for that. Bach was his model for it. His voice leading is probably way underappreciated.

I would like to think that if I had tried it on the piano, my ear would have recognized it as more jazz than Chopin. smile I don't think I would have thought of "Debussy" but of course that's right too.

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
RogerW #1312216 11/25/09 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by RogerW
I personally don't have anything against embellishing like this, but I think that if you do that, you should make sure to only add embellishments that the composer might have used himself. The safest way ...
I very much appreciated your pointing out this way of thinking about it - something the composer would clearly have rejected, the performer ought to reject as well.

But maybe finding a safe way of doing things is not always desirable. Sometimes the risky (and even frankly wrong) way, well performed, might be more rewarding.

When people went to hear Chopin play Chopin, I expect they were not interested in the purity of the text so much as whether he would be in fine creative form, surprising and delighting the audience. Granted, that text was his own in the first place, and he couldn't very well be accused of not being in the style of Chopin...


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
david_a #1312276 11/25/09 04:13 PM
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Originally Posted by david_a
But maybe finding a safe way of doing things is not always desirable. Sometimes the risky (and even frankly wrong) way, well performed, might be more rewarding.

I guess this is a matter of preference, but I would also say it's a matter of experience. Someone with great knowledge of Chopin's works and with thorough understanding of harmony, counterpoint and other basic compositional skills (like for example Tausig), can probably do whatever they want to, because they wouldn't want to do something that is completely out of place. But if someone less experienced did the same, it can easily become very out of style. Even though the embellishment as such might sound good and interesting, it would be very strange to have one very un-Chopinesque run in the middle of a Chopin piece.

I think this also brings us to the reason why nobody alters the text anymore, even though it was done frequently two centuries ago. Back in those days just about every performing artist also studied composition. Unfortunately, that's not the case anymore today.

Re: Intentional embellishment: always vile, or sometimes viable?
RogerW #1312287 11/25/09 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by RogerW
But if someone less experienced did the same, it can easily become very out of style. Even though the embellishment as such might sound good and interesting, it would be very strange to have one very un-Chopinesque run in the middle of a Chopin piece.

What determines whether it's within the composer's style or not? A trained ear, or training in composition?

Whether or not one knew of the proscription on parallel fifths in Chopin's day, would they be detected aurally or only on paper?

Steven

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