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#453184 - 10/13/08 10:28 PM Chopin's sadism  
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horatiodreamt Offline
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Charles Rosen, in his book "The Romantic Generation", mentions the physical pain that virtuoso pianists sometimes endure. He mentions, at page 383 of his book,that Chopin's emotional intensity is revealed in the physical intensity required of the performer:

"Chopin's sadism is usually more subtle than that of his contemporaries, and in most of his work actual pain is associated with emotional violence."

"In the etudes of Chopin, the moment of greatest emotional tension is generally the one that stretches the hand most painfully, so that the muscular senation becomes--even without the sound--a mimesis of passion. Perhaps that is what lies behind Rachmaninoff's reported reaction to Alfred Cortot's recording of the etudes, almost the cruellest observation ever made by one pianist about another: 'Whenever it gets difficult, he adds a little sentiment.'"

"...The hand of the performer literally feels the sentiment. This is another reason why Chopin often wanted the most delicate passage played with the fifth finger alone, the powerful cantabile with the thumb. There is in his music an identity of physical realization and emotional content that is paralleled by the identity of tone-color and contrapuntal structure."

****

The above-mentioned line about Rachmaninoff's comment on Cortot was recounted in Harold Schonberg's bio of Horowitz. Horowitz was visiting Rachmaninoff in Switzerland in the late 1930s. Horowitz said that he walked into Rach's apartment while Rachmaninoff was listening to a recording of Chopin etudes. Rachmaninoff was laughing so hard that his dentures almost fell out, according to Horowitz. Horowitz asked "What's so funny?". Rachmaninoff answered "Cortot. Whenever it gets difficult, he adds a little sentiment."

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#453185 - 10/13/08 11:03 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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"Whenever it gets difficult, he adds a little sentiment." If that statement was made by Rachmaninoff about Cortot, I wonder why Rosen proceeds as though it referred to Chopin himself in his next paragraph.

Overall, I think Rosen's suggestion of "Chopin's sadism" for the supposed reasons he cites is a paradigm of taking a predetermined belief (opinion, view, mindset, etc.) and then looking for evidence, however tenuous, to support its validity. I prefer the opposite approach, viz. that conclusions instead be drawn from evidence that makes a clear and compelling case on its own.

I would be interested in more specific citations that would give credibility to something as imaginative and hyperbolic as "In the etudes of Chopin, the moment of greatest emotional tension is generally the one that stretches the hand most painfully, so that the muscular sensation becomes--even without the sound--a mimesis of passion." That's not only fanciful, IMHO, but thoroughly vague as to the specific musical sources of the phenomenon he alleges.

Having studied only about half of the etudes personally, maybe a "mimesis of passion" awaits. I haven't encountered it yet, nor anything resembling what Rosen describes.

More broadly, isn't his contention contrary to the received wisdom that Chopin's writing lies well under the fingers? Maybe that characteristic is absent only from the climactic apices of "the etudes"?

Disclaimer: I haven't read the book in question, and my comments are based solely on the extracts from it in the OP.

Steven

#453186 - 10/13/08 11:14 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Is there a correspondence of great emotional tension with wide stretches in the etudes? Is that a safe generalization, regardless of Rosen's conclusion? Just curious.

Tomasino


"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

#453187 - 10/13/08 11:28 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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"Overall, I think Rosen's suggestion of "Chopin's sadism" for the supposed reasons he cites is a paradigm of taking a predetermined belief (opinion, view, mindset, etc.) and then looking for evidence, however tenuous, to support its validity. I prefer the opposite approach, viz. that conclusions instead be drawn from evidence that makes a clear and compelling case on its own."

****

Rosen likely bases his views on his own experience as an eminent pianist and musicologist.

Also, Rosen devotes three long chapters of his book to Chopin. He regards Chopin as a great genius, and one who has been unjustly slandered for being incapable of writing "larger" forms of music. In fact, Rosen credits Chopin for having greater mastery of counterpoint and part writing than any of Chopin's contemporaries.

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#453188 - 10/13/08 11:40 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by horatiodreamt:
Rosen likely bases his views on his own experience as an eminent pianist and musicologist.
That says nothing about the hard evidence that supports those views. If Rosen feels "actual pain," examples should be provided as a matter of course for what is otherwise an outlandish claim. As he is indeed a respected musical scholar, I suspect there has got to be more to his presentation than those brief quotations suggest.

Tomasino, I think it goes beyond not standing up as a safe generalization. Of the 27 etudes, it's difficult for me to think any examples.

Maybe it's in the hand of the beholder—or completely subjective, in any event. How, after all, does one precisely define "the moment of greatest emotional tension," anyway? Could there be a consensus that distinguishes such a moment from all the other moments of just-plain-ordinary emotional tension?

Steven

#453189 - 10/14/08 02:08 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by sotto voce:
Quote
Originally posted by horatiodreamt:
[b]Rosen likely bases his views on his own experience as an eminent pianist and musicologist.
That says nothing about the hard evidence that supports those views. If Rosen feels "actual pain," examples should be provided as a matter of course for what is otherwise an outlandish claim. As he is indeed a respected musical scholar, I suspect there has got to be more to his presentation than those brief quotations suggest.

Tomasino, I think it goes beyond not standing up as a safe generalization. Of the 27 etudes, it's difficult for me to think any examples.

Maybe it's in the hand of the beholder—or completely subjective, in any event. How, after all, does one precisely define "the moment of greatest emotional tension," anyway? Could there be a consensus that distinguishes such a moment from all the other moments of just-plain-ordinary emotional tension?

Steven [/b]
This is exactly what I was talking about in another thread. There are such a wealth of musicologists who talk about music as generally as possible and avoid saying anything specific, or more to the point, anything worthwhile.

#453190 - 10/14/08 02:14 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by tomasino:
Is there a correspondence of great emotional tension with wide stretches in the etudes? Is that a safe generalization, regardless of Rosen's conclusion? Just curious.

Tomasino
I've looked at a couple and sometimes yes, sometimes no. YES: op. 10/9 NO: 10/12, 10/2, 10/1, 25/6

Regardless, these are just my opinion. Rosen's argument is not a rationally defensible one.

#453191 - 10/14/08 08:33 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Chopin just wants you to relax. Then you'll enjoy it. wink


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#453192 - 10/14/08 09:13 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Chopin - sadistic? Good grief! If any of the composers of his time could be termed such, it would have to be Liszt. So much of his music is impossible to play for most, and I would venture the reason why. The human hand wasn't made to endure such torture.

As Frycek mentioned, Chopin always stressed "facilement," as in "easy does it."

And while I do not have the technical skill to play any of his etudes, I have discovered that listening to all of his works for the past 50 years, and playing many for the last four, that the greatest moments of emotional tension (IMHO) often come from one note in the RH against just one note in the LH. The 10/3 and 28/4 perhaps the two greatest emotional pieces that Chopin composed are so because of the melody line and not due to any crashing together of impossibly difficult chords.

But then I am not a musicologist, so what do I know?

Kathleen


After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own." Oscar Wilde, 1891
#453193 - 10/14/08 10:44 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by horatiodreamt:
Horowitz said that he walked into Rach's apartment while Rachmaninoff was listening to a recording of Chopin etudes. Rachmaninoff was laughing so hard that his dentures almost fell out, according to Horowitz. Horowitz asked "What's so funny?". Rachmaninoff answered "Cortot. Whenever it gets difficult, he adds a little sentiment."
OT, yes, but this caught my eye.

My introduction to Cortot was the very recording Rachmaninov was listening to. Mind you, I knew the Pollini and Ashkenazy recordings, so the standards were impossibly high, but Cortot sounded almost like a pianistic Florence Foster Jenkins.

Forget organizing the notes into any coherent musical statement, Cortot struggled just to hit the right notes. Very distressing- any pianist playing like that today would be laughed off the stage... and as for applying to Curtis?

Most bizarre of all, I went on to read all this praise of Cortot, both in American and Brit periodicals. Some pianistic specialists consider Cortot absolutely tops. I admit my appetite for Cortot vanished on the spot and I haven't really investigated much else, but I do have to ask: what the heck are people hearing in Cortot that I'm not?

One flummoxed Argerich fan.


Jason
#453194 - 10/14/08 11:08 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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I wonder of Rubinstein, too, heard Cortot's apparently risible performance and decided not to risk putting himself on the receiving end of Rachmaninoff's (or anybody else's) dentition.

eek

Steven

#453195 - 10/14/08 11:19 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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I have it on very good authority, from a pupil of a pupil of Cortot, that Cortot absolutely fell apart when he tried to record and that his recordings give no real idea of what the man was capable of doing.


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#453196 - 10/14/08 11:55 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by -Frycek:
... Cortot absolutely fell apart when he tried to record and that his recordings give no real idea of what the man was capable of doing.
I can understand why a student would say that, but I hope I'll be forgiven for a bit of skepticism. It doesn't make much intuitive sense to me. If Cortot "absolutely fell apart" in the studio, why did he make so many recordings?


Jason
#453197 - 10/14/08 11:58 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by argerichfan:
Quote
Originally posted by horatiodreamt:
Horowitz said that he walked into Rach's apartment while Rachmaninoff was listening to a recording of Chopin etudes. Rachmaninoff was laughing so hard that his dentures almost fell out, according to Horowitz. Horowitz asked "What's so funny?". Rachmaninoff answered "Cortot. Whenever it gets difficult, he adds a little sentiment."
OT, yes, but this caught my eye.

My introduction to Cortot was the very recording Rachmaninov was listening to. Mind you, I knew the Pollini and Ashkenazy recordings, so the standards were impossibly high, but Cortot sounded almost like a pianistic Florence Foster Jenkins.

Forget organizing the notes into any coherent musical statement, Cortot struggled just to hit the right notes. Very distressing- any pianist playing like that today would be laughed off the stage... and as for applying to Curtis?

Most bizarre of all, I went on to read all this praise of Cortot, both in American and Brit periodicals. Some pianistic specialists consider Cortot absolutely tops. I admit my appetite for Cortot vanished on the spot and I haven't really investigated much else, but I do have to ask: what the heck are people hearing in Cortot that I'm not?

One flummoxed Argerich fan.
My teacher (an IU-trained DMA, tenured professor at a fine music school) spoke very highly of him. His perspective was the Cortot had one chance to play a piece, have it recorded for all time, and must have been enormously frightened by the prospect. He then went on to say that the technical foibles notwithstanding, he had "such incredible musicianship and phrasing."


Amateur Pianist, Scriabin Enthusiast, and Octave Demon
#453198 - 10/14/08 12:27 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by argerichfan:
Quote
Originally posted by -Frycek:
... Cortot absolutely fell apart when he tried to record and that his recordings give no real idea of what the man was capable of doing.
I can understand why a student would say that, but I hope I'll be forgiven for a bit of skepticism. It doesn't make much intuitive sense to me. If Cortot "absolutely fell apart" in the studio, why did he make so many recordings?
By then he probably needed the money.


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#453199 - 10/14/08 12:41 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by horatiodreamt:


Rosen likely bases his views on his own experience as an eminent pianist and musicologist.
I am not sure if you are aware, but Rosen is an extremely controversial musicologist. His work on the sonata form and classical style are definitive, but his writings on other subjects are often controversial. Other musicologists either detest or adore him.

The same goes for his playing. It is very cold, calculated, and antiseptic. Technically controlled, but totally intellectualized and rigorously unsentimental.

Thus, Rosen is not by any means a definitive source.

That being said, I greatly admire his writings for the most part, and even had occasion to hear him play live. Afterwards, I mentioned that i have read the Sonata Forms book, to which he replied "That's the one with the best jokes."
However, his playing of Chopin's Waltzes, Barcarolle, and F Minor Ballade set me off from Chopin for months! The other pianists who went with me just couldn't stand the ballade laugh .

Takehome message: Take it all with a grain of salt and a dash of pepper.


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#453200 - 10/14/08 01:00 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by Fleeting Visions:
... Rosen is an extremely controversial musicologist. His work on the sonata form and classical style are definitive, but his writings on other subjects are often controversial. Other musicologists either detest or adore him.

The same goes for his playing. It is very cold, calculated, and antiseptic. Technically controlled, but totally intellectualized and rigorously unsentimental.
I've read all of Rosen's books on music (he has also written on other subjects, i.e. poetry, but have not read them), and whilst I don't always agree -cf Mendelssohn- he makes a solid case for sometimes wayward opinions. For all that, I'd never want to take him on in an argument! eek

I've heard Rosen live in several Mozart concertos, and had much the same impression. Like Alfred Brendel, I wouldn't want to hear him play Chopin.

And yet...FV... you met the great man! I would be honoured.


Jason
#453201 - 10/14/08 01:23 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by argerichfan:
Quote
Originally posted by -Frycek:
... Cortot absolutely fell apart when he tried to record and that his recordings give no real idea of what the man was capable of doing.
I can understand why a student would say that, but I hope I'll be forgiven for a bit of skepticism. It doesn't make much intuitive sense to me. If Cortot "absolutely fell apart" in the studio, why did he make so many recordings?
From what I have heard: Cortot even recorded the Beethoven 32 .. but it was very sloppy that producers were very embarrassed to release!!

But again: was Rachmaninoff making fun of him or was he just putting a general comment?
Also notice he does not comment on his technique.

I love many of Cortot's Chopin etudes recordings. Did you listen to his Op.10 No.12 or even better the Op.25 No.7!!?

I just wonder given Rachmaninoff's comment how he would have played them himself. He didn't even leave us one for eternity. frown

#453202 - 10/14/08 01:29 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Music is not different from other disciplines in that people tend to specialize and perhaps excel in only one or rarely a couple of areas. I do not expect concert pianists to be musicologists or to write about the art and science of music, neither do I seek the artistry of musicologists when I want to attend a concert..
Thus the fact that Rosen is not a great perfomer does not diminsih his credibility when he discusses Chopin. (FV:"Thus, Rosen is not by any means a definitive source." Me: sure; nobody is, but his lackluster playing does not diminish the value of his input).

Having said that, I also would have liked him to be more "scientific" in giving examples that support his statements, thus agreeing with literal-minded and not so sotto voce Steven...

#453203 - 10/14/08 01:30 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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I absolutely love most of the comments. I had been planning to post a comment when the thread first started, but refrained out of a wish not to criticize the original post. Well, a whole lot of people beat me to it, and I have very much enjoyed their comments. The original post that started this thread sums up why I went to law school: even though I was an English major, I could not stand reading stuff like that in the world of literary criticism, and I equally dislike it in any other realm. Not that the law is exempt from this kind of commentary, but at least one can avoid it if one tries.

#453204 - 10/14/08 01:32 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by Bassio:
But again: was Rachmaninoff making fun of him or was he just putting a general comment?
Also notice he does not comment on his technique.

Seems to me that commenting on his techniques is exactly what he was doing.

#453205 - 10/14/08 04:31 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by Andromaque:

Thus the fact that Rosen is not a great perfomer does not diminsih his credibility when he discusses Chopin. (FV:"Thus, Rosen is not by any means a definitive source." Me: sure; nobody is, but his lackluster playing does not diminish the value of his input).
I don't think you understand. He is a musicologist who plays the piano most admirably.

Please, read the whole post which you quoted. Take every statement in context of the whole. The very first thing I said was that he was controversial as a musicologist. It seems to me that you skipped past this point and hopped on my discussion of his playing. The discussion of his playing was to give a flavor for his personality. Obviously, one's playing does not necessarily correlate, positively or negatively, with one's understanding of the music.

On a sidenote, the Henle Facsimile of the Liszt sonata quotes Arrau in the context of the number of themes in the sonata. Arrau believes that it is an organic whole, an extrapolation of one thematic idea. This introduction to this facsimile then goes on to say that "although Arrau is foremost among the interpreters of the sonata, he is not so among the analysts."

While musicologists widely disagree, the general concensus is a 4-movement work with 5 themes. I will argue that all 5 are rhythmically derived from one, as I'd be happy to discuss at some later time. Rhythm is, as I've said many times before, a matter in Liszt which has been overlooked unjustly.


Thanks,

Daniel


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#453206 - 10/14/08 04:55 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Dang. I just remembered my first LP of Chopin's Op. 21:

[Linked Image]

I don't have it anymore, but found a picture easily enough once my memory was rekindled.

FWIW, I loved it. Loved it!

Jason and Daniel, I respect your knowledge and your opinions greatly ... but I had a very different impression from this recording.

I admit I was just a teenager then, but Rosen didn't seem to be feeling any pain! (But maybe that's only in "the etudes," after all. laugh )

Steven

#453207 - 10/14/08 05:13 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Here are some of Rosen's comments regarding Chopin's etudes and the occasional physical pain they cause pianists. I insert some of his preliminary remarks first:

"It is difficult to appreciate today how radical was the synthesis embodied in Chopin's etudes. The major technical problems in these pieces are most often ones of touch and balance: they increase strength and the suppleness of the hand, but they also develop the performer's ear. Chopin's coloristic invention is at its highest in the Etudes, and nowhere is it more evident that this coloristic imagination is fundamentally contrapuntal in nature--or, rather, that the counterpoint is fundamentally coloristic, the interweaving of different kinds of texture..."

"The difficult of such a passage from Opus 25, no. 6, lies in balancing, sotto voce, two different kinds of legato. This kind of tone color is pure keyboard writing: contrast of timbre is produced by touch alone and not by contrast of instrument..."

"These question of balance and contrast make the etudes supremely difficult--that and the problem of endurance. Like the preludes of the 'Well-Tempered Keyboard' from which they largely derive, which served as models, most of the etudes develop the initial motif without pause until the end. No doubt the heavier action of the twentieth-century concert grand has made these pieces even harder to play than they were during Chopin's lifetime, but they were a challenge from the beginning--too great a challenge in some cases, it is said, for Chopin himself, who, exceptionally, preferred Liszt's execution of these works to his own."

"The challenge comes from Chopin's ruthlessness: he makes, as I have said, no concession. The etudes (and the preludes as well) generally begin easily enough--at least the opening bars tend to fit the hand extremely well. But sometimes, with the increase of tension and dissonance, the figuration quickly becomes almost unbearably awkward to play. The Prelude in G Major gives us a typical example..."

"Even more significant a contrast is offered by the Etude in A Minor, Op. 25, no. 11. It sets off, in spite of all its complexity, with passage work that lies comfortably and does not stretch the hand...but the climax twists both hands unmercifully..."

"The very positions into which the hands are forced here are like gestures of exasperated despair. It would seem as if the physical awkwardness is itself an expression of emotional tension. The public does not, I think, generally realize the amount of pain actually attendant upon virtuoso pianism; the intense muscular exertion is comparable to a sport like tennis, and brings with it a battery of physical ills, like tendinitis, that have incapacitated pianists for short periods or even permanently ruined their careers. There have, of course, been pianists, such as Josef Hofmann, whose control of a relaxed technique was so great that they perhaps never felt discomfort, but they are rare, and most performers find it hard to relax so completely. Such relaxation is the supreme form of technique and is not always attainable. Many of the finest pianists today are clearly driving themselves to bear pain."

#453208 - 10/14/08 07:24 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Quote
Originally posted by Phlebas:
Quote
Originally posted by Bassio:
[b] But again: was Rachmaninoff making fun of him or was he just putting a general comment?
Also notice he does not comment on his technique.

Seems to me that commenting on his techniques is exactly what he was doing. [/b]
LOL I completely misunderstood his sentence the first time. laugh

Reading your post, I went and reread Rachmaninoff's comment and .. it is hilarious. laugh

Why do I notice that musicians are the best people to make fun of others!!

Of course I understand why would Rachmaninoff comment on anyone's technique, he was a perfectionist; plus they had sheet music for breakfast in their conservatory.

I still like Cortot's Chopin etudes and preludes though; especially his 30s prelude cycle.

#453209 - 10/14/08 11:25 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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wr Offline
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Originally posted by Bassio:

I still like Cortot's Chopin etudes and preludes though; especially his 30s prelude cycle. [/QB]
And many world class pianists regularly name him as a favorite of theirs or as an influence. For example, last year, two out of the five pianists who were featured on a week-long series from BBC Radio 3 about "pianists' pianists" chose to present some Cortot recordings as being important. Amusingly enough, Rachmaninoff and Horowitz also were each chosen by two pianists out of the five. Hmmm...

#453210 - 10/15/08 02:29 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Iain Offline
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Originally posted by argerichfan:

Most bizarre of all, I went on to read all this praise of Cortot, both in American and Brit periodicals. Some pianistic specialists consider Cortot absolutely tops. I admit my appetite for Cortot vanished on the spot and I haven't really investigated much else, but I do have to ask: what the heck are people hearing in Cortot that I'm not?

One flummoxed Argerich fan.
Have you tried his recording of Schumann's symphonic etudes and Mendelssohn's d minor trio?

#453211 - 10/15/08 10:08 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Originally posted by Iain:
Have you tried his recording of Schumann's symphonic etudes and Mendelssohn's d minor trio?
No I haven't, and it's been eight years or so since my encounter with the Chopin. I'm willing to make another try if you feel these recordings do better justice to Cortot's reputation.


Jason
#453212 - 10/15/08 11:59 AM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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Iain Offline
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Quote
Originally posted by argerichfan:
Quote
Originally posted by Iain:
Have you tried his recording of Schumann's symphonic etudes and Mendelssohn's d minor trio?
No I haven't, and it's been eight years or so since my encounter with the Chopin. I'm willing to make another try if you feel these recordings do better justice to Cortot's reputation.
Well they are certainly more accurate (I think). But then, I am one of those that loves cortot's playing, except when he rubatizes dotted rhythms into triplets. Besides, it's been eight years, perhaps you'd like the Chopin now? (when I think about my opinions eight years ago...)

#453213 - 10/15/08 03:51 PM Re: Chopin's sadism  
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As Frycek mentioned, Chopin always stressed "facilement," as in "easy does it."
Ha ! Easy for him to say.... laugh


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