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Posted By: EltonRach Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 03:48 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B37vc8rRz8I&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I just learnt of this concept. Thought I'd share this find. Very eloquent and interesting explanation. And such control of timing, volume and expression.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 07:13 PM
A couple of things....

You'd probably get more interest in this if you noted that it's BARENBOIM talking about it. That's more important than the fact that it's about rubato.

(And I guess I just did.) grin

And while it's sort of interesting, he's arguably wrong on his first point, that 'what is stolen must be given back.' Other authoritative people have addressed this and said that it's not so, and I agree with them. IMO rubato much more often involves lingering than pushing, and in the best playing, we usually don't give back what we've 'stolen,' or at least not most of it.

I think the look on the face of the guy in the audience at 0:28 is priceless. IMO Barenboim thinks he's being much more important and revealing on the subject than he is, and his tone conveys this from the start -- and it looks to me like that guy is already having that feeling.

Nevertheless, I like how he uses Beethoven's little-heard G major Sonata (from Op. 31) as an example. smile
Posted By: Kreisler Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 08:31 PM
I like how, in demonstrating the sonata, he doesn't follow his own "what is stolen must be given back" rule.

That being said, his control of tempo is masterful. What I think people actually mean when they talk about giving back what is stolen is that when you steal time, it's important to also spend time being a model citizen and observing strict time.

Or put another way - one must "steal" time, not simply lose track of it. When you steal time, you know exactly where it came from and how much you stole. This is as opposed to simply slowing down or speeding up here and there without any thought to where, how much, and why. Stealing time is okay. Being sloppy and simply losing track of time is not.
Posted By: Steve712 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 08:43 PM
I think that by "given back," he means that we must catch up with the beat and tempo that we left behind while stealing the time.
Posted By: stores Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 10:11 PM
Originally Posted by Kreisler
I like how, in demonstrating the sonata, he doesn't follow his own "what is stolen must be given back" rule.

That being said, his control of tempo is masterful. What I think people actually mean when they talk about giving back what is stolen is that when you steal time, it's important to also spend time being a model citizen and observing strict time.

Or put another way - one must "steal" time, not simply lose track of it. When you steal time, you know exactly where it came from and how much you stole. This is as opposed to simply slowing down or speeding up here and there without any thought to where, how much, and why. Stealing time is okay. Being sloppy and simply losing track of time is not.


You're exactly right, Kreisler. Barenboim, should have added "time" when talking about giving back in regard to stealing, because you can't steal time. I would love to have the chance to study with him.
Posted By: Jolteon Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/10/11 10:54 PM
Haha, I am reading, at the moment, Barenboim's book Music Quickens Time. He says quite literally this exact same thing, just worded slightly more correctly, in the book... xD
Posted By: SamOnThePiano Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 06:05 AM
It reminds me of literature class, when we spend so much time analyzing a certain passage, when it means what it means!

I'd like to think when he said it must be given back, it simply means, it must be given back! laugh
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 06:08 AM
Originally Posted by Samuel.cho
....I'd like to think when he said it must be given back, it simply means, it must be given back! laugh

Yes -- which is wrong. smile
Posted By: SamOnThePiano Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 06:25 AM
Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by Samuel.cho
....I'd like to think when he said it must be given back, it simply means, it must be given back! laugh

Yes -- which is wrong. smile


But the point is, a lot of posters here are trying to decrypt what he's saying! shocked
Posted By: Steve712 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 06:32 AM
It can be fun analysing a single line of text. Scholars are still unsure, hundreds of years later, what exactly the second stanza of Shakespeare's 40th sonnet means. I gave my suggestion of what Barenboim might have meant based on how he explained it after the original statement (with suddenly being back with the beat at the end of the rubato and whatnot).
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 07:49 AM
Originally Posted by Steve712
It can be fun analysing a single line of text. Scholars are still unsure, hundreds of years later, what exactly the second stanza of Shakespeare's 40th sonnet means.....

And y'know, I bet some people here don't even know offhand the second stanza of Shakespeare's 40th sonnet!!!!



BTW that's a joke.


I don't think there's any ambiguity about what he meant: that if you take extra time 'here,' you have to make it up pretty soon by taking less time 'there.' (And vice versa.)

There are many who disagree with it (as I do), and as Kreisler pointed out, it seems even Barenboim himself doesn't necessarily follow it.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 11:57 AM
Although Barenboim is a clearly musical genius, I don't find his reasoning behind his interpretation of the phrase "stolen time" very convincing. He says something like "in a civilized society we know that anything stolen must be given back". In fact, I find the idea that one should somehow be keeping track of how much time was stolen/given back during a piece and everything should cancel out by the end to be quite silly.

If Barenboim had said something like "these famous composers, pianists, and teachers all said that any stolen time should be returned" then he would have been more convincing.
Posted By: liszt85 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 02:32 PM
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
In fact, I find the idea that one should somehow be keeping track of how much time was stolen/given back during a piece and everything should cancel out by the end to be quite silly.


That's silly, but I really don't think that's what Barenboim meant. He may have used slightly inaccurate language to describe it but knowing how he plays, I don't think he believes in what you described anyway and therefore, you have to make that tiny leap of faith and interpret what he said in a more sensible way: the rubato must be applied in a sensible rhythmic background context. You cannot slow and speed up at will wherever you want.. it needs to be done keeping in mind the basic pulse of the piece to which you need to come back to at some point (these points again can be figured out logically and musically by analyzing the structure of the piece. As Alexander Ghendin said in a masterclass that I attended last week, harmony is closely tied in with the rhythm.. just as you have rhyming lines in poetry) to honor the pulse. That's how I would interpret it. Now if there's a problem with this interpretation, I'd love to hear it.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 02:50 PM
Originally Posted by liszt85
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
In fact, I find the idea that one should somehow be keeping track of how much time was stolen/given back during a piece and everything should cancel out by the end to be quite silly.


That's silly, but I really don't think that's what Barenboim meant. He may have used slightly inaccurate language to describe it but knowing how he plays, I don't think he believes in what you described anyway and therefore, you have to make that tiny leap of faith and interpret what he said in a more sensible way: the rubato must be applied in a sensible rhythmic background context. You cannot slow and speed up at will wherever you want.. it needs to be done keeping in mind the basic pulse of the piece to which you need to come back to at some point (these points again can be figured out logically and musically by analyzing the structure of the piece. As Alexander Ghendin said in a masterclass that I attended last week, harmony is closely tied in with the rhythm.. just as you have rhyming lines in poetry) to honor the pulse. That's how I would interpret it. Now if there's a problem with this interpretation, I'd love to hear it.
I doubt anyone would argue with your idea.

But I also think Barenboim should say precisely what he means if that's what he meant. I've heard his idea of "what was borrowed must be returned" before, but it never made any sense to me. Same with the idea of keeping the left hand steady while the right hand plays rubato.

I think what you said is far different from what Barenboim said which is why several posters already disagreed with it or found it bizarre.
Posted By: BruceD Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 02:51 PM
pianoloverus and liszt85 :

That's more or less the way I (would like to) interpret what Barenboim says. To interpret "if you borrow you must pay back" as implying a balance sheet to make up for stolen time is just - for the third use of the word - silly.

It makes much more sense to me - and certainly listening to great artists bears this out - that there is a basic tempo that a piece must adhere to, and while we may deviate from that tempo as the music of the moment may dictate - we should return to that tempo and maintain it as the basic tempo of the piece. I am not sure that that is what Barenboim is saying, but I don't see any other musical or logical way of interpreting his remark.

Regards,
Posted By: martijnathome Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 03:09 PM
I totally agreement with you Liszt85. I actually loved the idea of stealing time and giving it back again. Of course it's not black and white all the time (I think he also said it wasn't possible at all times). But it makes that you use rubato with a bit more care. It's often overused and some tend to steal so much that I really would like them to give back most of it and return to the basic and natural pulse of a piece. It makes me dizy at times and it often ruins the peformance:-). The sensible rythmic background Liszt85 is talking about, and maybe the idea that you can't steal too much without being punished might make a fair difference in the outcome of your performance.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:00 PM
Originally Posted by martijnathome
It's often overused and some tend to steal so much that I really would like them to give back most of it and return to the basic and natural pulse of a piece.
If that's all Barenboim meant than very few would disagree. I can't imagine many would think that if one slows down in some phrase that this suddenly becomes the new tempo for the rest of the piece.

But if one interprets what Barenboim said as meaning that there should be corresponding amounts of speeding up beyond the basic pulse of the piece at some point in order to give back the stolen time, then his explanation becomes open to criticism.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:18 PM
I think Plover is 100% on target, and I'm really puzzled that people are wanting to make it into something else. I guess it's because what Barenboim said seems borderline ridiculous and we can't believe he could possibly have meant it....but I don't see that any other way of seeing it really works.
Posted By: Frozenicicles Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:31 PM
I had a teacher who told me to practise rubato with the metronome so that I could be sure I was giving back all the time I stole. It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:35 PM
Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
....It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.

Of course not. Lots of people think it.

But is it a good idea? A lot of us think it isn't. Take your pick. smile
Posted By: liszt85 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:39 PM
Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
I had a teacher who told me to practise rubato with the metronome so that I could be sure I was giving back all the time I stole. It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.


That's not necessarily because your teacher wanted you to "give back all the time that you stole". It makes perfect sense because it will have you think about the pulse of the piece all the while.. so all your rubato would be in that context. Also, it will help you come back and reestablish that pulse. The intention of that exercise was not for you to speed up beyond the pulse of the metronome so as to "return" all the time that you stole.. I mean, how would a metronome help with that anyway (you'll probably need two metronomes.. one each for the minimum and maximum tempo, where the "real" tempo is the average of the two)? wink
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:43 PM
^^ Well said. I think so too. ^^

BTW, I remember a quote from a famous pianist from long ago -- maybe Paderewski -- about rubato, "What is taken cannot always be given back. We are not so noble." That's probably not exact, but as close as I remember. I wonder if anyone will know who said it, and can find the actual quote.....
Posted By: Frozenicicles Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 05:45 PM
Originally Posted by liszt85
Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
I had a teacher who told me to practise rubato with the metronome so that I could be sure I was giving back all the time I stole. It's not a completely ridiculous concept to everyone because he must have learned it somewhere.


That's not necessarily because your teacher wanted you to "give back all the time that you stole". It makes perfect sense because it will have you think about the pulse of the piece all the while.. so all your rubato would be in that context. Also, it will help you come back and reestablish that pulse. The intention of that exercise was not for you to speed up beyond the pulse of the metronome so as to "return" all the time that you stole.. I mean, how would a metronome help with that anyway (you'll probably need two metronomes.. one each for the minimum and maximum tempo, where the "real" tempo is the average of the two)? wink

No, he made me buy a metronome that could tell me what the first beat of the bar was. Basically, you don't play exactly with the pulse but you have to make sure that your first beat aligns with the first beat of the bar at certain points.
Posted By: Musicfan1979 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 09:02 PM
This may not be a very good question, but, what makes an exceptional rubato stand out in a piece?
Posted By: MathGuy Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/11/11 09:37 PM
My impression of standard performance practice is that accelerandos (accelerandi?) usually do get rapaid, but ritardandos don't.

Psychologically, in listening to a performance with rubato, an accelerando that isn't offset by a subsequent ritardando leaves me feeling somehow cheated. That, for me, is the scenario where time needs to paid back, and most performers seem to oblige.

On the other hand, a lone ritardando without an accelerando feels just fine; it's as if money's been put into the bank, so to speak. There's no need to compensate for it, and most performers don't.

(Sorry, I don't have a good answer for Musicfan1979's excellent question just above.)
Posted By: Numerian Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 03:44 AM
I have my own interpretation of Chopin's tempo rubato, based on the historical record.

We know the following:

In Chopin's teenage years, when he was developing his own pianistic technique, he wrote that there were three great composers: Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven. Beethoven stopped performing publicly around the time Chopin arrived in Vienna, but he did hear Hummel frequently and was tremendously influenced by him.

Hummel was Mozart's direct descendent in terms of the piano, having lived with the Mozarts for two years, taking lessons from Mozart, and helping him with notating orchestral parts, etc. Hummel took Mozart's piano technique and multiplied it ten times over. He was the leading piano virtuoso from 1800 to 1820, specializing in the modern brillante style popular in Vienna. His rivals, such as Clementi, Czerny, Moscheles, and Weber, were excellent pianists but not at Hummel's level of virtuosity. Hummel's music is very difficult to play, and most pianists do not bother putting in the time because they are uncertain the musical content will support such hard work.

Hummel was the first composer to fuse bel canto opera style with piano lyrical passages. He did this by introducing into the melodic line on the piano the use of short candenzas as was common with opera singers (who often improvised these lines). He also introduced the idea of two or three pages of leggiero filigree music in the right hand against a simple chordal progression in the left hand.

You can see this style of piano music in Hummel's Op. 18 Fantasie, or in any of his sonata slow movements. Chopin borrowed these ideas directly from Hummel, as you can see in his Nocturnes, the Berceuse, the last page of the Barcarolle, and the Impromptus.

Now we get to the performance part. All the written comments we have on Hummel agree on one thing - he played with very strict tempos, allowing brief ritardandos only on cadences, and these are clearly marked in his music. He had, however, to allow his lyrical cadenzas to breathe or they would not be musical or in any way imitating the voice. Therefore, these passages sped up or slowed down as the emotions dictated, all while the left hand played a strict tempo. The effect was said to be mesmerizing on audiences, and clearly affected Chopin. His best Nocturne writing is done exactly in this manner, creating a hypnotic mood for the audience.

Not surprisingly, what we have in the written record is that Chopin played his own music in relatively strict tempos, as Hummel would. The florid ornamentation was allowed to breathe fast or slow, but only against the rigid tempo. There is some indication the ornamentation could slip across bars, as long as both left and right hand ended up at the end in the same place. This is described by observers as Chopin's tempo rubato.

Today's practice of playing Chopin's rubato with a slowing down or speeding up of both right hand and left hand synchronized may not therefore represent what Chopin intended. This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together, but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo but breathe some life into the ornamentation.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 03:48 AM
Originally Posted by Numerian
....Not surprisingly, what we have in the written record is that Chopin played his own music in relatively strict tempos, as Hummel would. The florid ornamentation was allowed to breathe fast or slow, but only against the rigid tempo.....

IMO it's not as simple as some people might read that, because we don't know how literally to take the "strict tempo" thing -- and many people (I included) think the answer is, not very.

Speaking of which, I'm pleased that you said relatively strict. thumb

Quote
....This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together....

yes

Quote
....but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo....

As per the above, I don't agree with that, unless you add something like "relatively" again -- or, if you mean "tempo" in a loose way. To me, even a very broad rubato which also to some extent involves the accompaniment doesn't change or even bend the "tempo."

(Nice post.) smile
Posted By: Steve712 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 03:50 AM
If you cite all of your sources, I'll gladly agree with you.
Posted By: Musicfan1979 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 04:42 AM
I found Rachmaninoff playing Chopin nocturne Op 9 No 2 on Youtube. I feel it is a very beautiful example of "rubato."

Posted By: Ferdinand Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 05:23 AM
Originally Posted by BruceD
pianoloverus and liszt85 :

That's more or less the way I (would like to) interpret what Barenboim says. To interpret "if you borrow you must pay back" as implying a balance sheet to make up for stolen time is just - for the third use of the word - silly.

It makes much more sense to me - and certainly listening to great artists bears this out - that there is a basic tempo that a piece must adhere to, and while we may deviate from that tempo as the music of the moment may dictate - we should return to that tempo and maintain it as the basic tempo of the piece. I am not sure that that is what Barenboim is saying, but I don't see any other musical or logical way of interpreting his remark.

Regards,


I think this interpretation waters down what Barenboim said. Near the beginning of the video he described the ideal rubato* as one where the player loses and later regains synchronization with an imaginary metronome. That can only mean compensating for speeding up by slowing down later, or vice versa. That is not the same thing as requiring a return to a basic tempo, or rather it is that, yet more restrictive.

As for the "balance sheet" idea, Barenboim emphasized that the return of the stolen time must occur within a small enough duration lest the musical line be broken. He is not advocating stealing and returning time over the course of an entire piece or sonata movement.

In one of Tobias Matthay's books, there is a chapter on rubato, with examples of musical phrases with graphs showing where and how much time to steal and return over the course of the phrase. I believe Matthay thought about rubato in the same way as Barenboim.

*He also said the ideal can't always be realized.
Posted By: Andromaque Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 07:11 AM
I think that people, even great ones, get carried away interpreting "rubato" according to its strict Italian translation (i.e. stolen). I don't understand the "return" part. It, necessarily implies that the whole piece must be performed within a strict time frame of x minutes. Thus if you slow down somewhere, you have to accelerate (return) elsewhere.. Not very sensical, to my mind.

I do like the idea of "lingering". 'tis exactly that, IMHO of course. Now some are langorous, others barely stay.. but all must return to the tempo they set out for the piece. Yes?

Posted By: sandalholme Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 02:10 PM
As I have pointed out on the thread re Barenboim's nomination for the Nobel peace prize, he also said the same thing in his Reith lectures. I think he does mean that what is taken should be given back and I am pretty sure that he does not mean this strictly mathematically - no-one could calculate how many micro seconds need repaying over a few bars etc. However, I would imagine that he is referring to small changes in tempo, not rits and accels marked (or unmarked). That is, the subtle changes in time within bars or phrases that, if not at least somewhat balanced by a corresponding change in time will start to make the basic pulse unsteady.

Barenboim may be "wrong", may be in a small minority, may be calling for an unreachable goal, but I have too much respect for him to call him "silly".
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 03:07 PM
Originally Posted by sandalholme
That is, the subtle changes in time within bars or phrases that, if not at least somewhat balanced by a corresponding change in time will start to make the basic pulse unsteady.
Why would that happen?
Posted By: sandalholme Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 04:25 PM
Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back. Just returning to the basic pulse may not be enough to indicate the basic pulse to the listener if the faster pulse is quite frequent: which is actually the fundamental pulse?
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 05:23 PM
Originally Posted by sandalholme
Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back.....

Who's talking about 'too many'? smile

There are many ways of losing the basic pulse, most particularly a lack of adequate sense of pulse grin but I don't think this is one of them. Especially if you don't do "too" many!

(What's "too" many? The amount that would lose the pulse.) grin
Posted By: Numerian Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 05:49 PM
Originally Posted by Steve712
If you cite all of your sources, I'll gladly agree with you.


Regarding Chopin's admiration for Hummel, from a letter in 1840 to Anne Caroline de Belleville:

"As for the little waltz which I had the pleasure of writing for you, I beg you to keep it for yourself. I do not wish it to be published. But I would like to hear it played by you, dear Madam, and to attend one of your elegant reunions, at which you so marvelously interpret such great masters as Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel, the masters of all of us. The Hummel Adagio, which I heard you play a few years ago in Paris at M. Erard's, still sounds in my ears..."

Regarding Hummel's playing, a letter from the pianist Tomaschek in 1816:

"Hummel played very nicely, never losing strict tempo, a virtue that is not practiced much in these times."

Regarding Hummel's influence on Chopin, from Harold Schonberg:

"Hummel may have been a classicist, but his music verges on romanticism and contains some remarkable anticipations of Chopin. The openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor Concertos are too close to be coincidental; and the B minor Concerto has a type of brilliant, florid figuration - and exceedingly pianistic it is, too - that must have influenced the Polish composer. It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 - a set of twenty-four tiny preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major."

Here is Harold Schonberg on Chopin's rubato:

"In matters of exact, measured rhythm Chopin was, as his pupil Mikuli, said, inexorable, and he always had a metronome on the piano. Rubato should never be an invitation to license. The secret as Chopin practiced it is that the feeling of individual note values was always preserved, whatever the temporary rhythmic displacement; the rhythm would fluctuate but never the underlying metrical pulse....Indeed, Chopin's rubato, except for its broader quality, was probably not unlike Mozart's. Mozart had written that in an adagio tempo rubato the left hand should go on playing in strict time. Von Lenz, who could not have known of Mozart's letter, quotes Chopin as saying, 'The left hand is the conductor, it must not waver or lose ground; do with the right hand what you will and can. Suppose that a piece lasts a given number of minutes; it may take just so long to perform the whole, but in the details deviations may occur.'...In short, vary as much as is necessary, but never lose the basic meter."

You can see from this that Chopin's rubato was handed down from Mozart to his prized student Hummel, who influenced Chopin considerably. Chopin then added some twists to the definition of rubato, especially in his nationalistic music of Mazurkas and Polonaises, where Chopin would consistently linger on the opening beat of a bar, virtually altering the meter entirely. Nonetheless, a strict meter was maintained.

Somehow this has gotten confused with borrowing and repaying time, which has led to the modern practice in Chopin of allowing both left and right hand to slow down or speed up. There are many modern performances of Chopin's music where the tempo is lost altogether. Lang Lang is particularly guilty of this, but he has such exquisite touch that the delicacy of his playing allows the listener to forget that a consistent tempo doesn't exist in the music. Other pianists of lesser stature and tone control do not have this excuse.

The quotes can be sourced in several different scholarly publications, but all of them can be found conveniently in Harold Schonberg's The Great Pianists.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 05:53 PM
Originally Posted by sandalholme
Simply that the basic pulse will be lost if there are too many shifts in pulse, say quickening, that are not somewhat compensated by holding back. Just returning to the basic pulse may not be enough to indicate the basic pulse to the listener if the faster pulse is quite frequent: which is actually the fundamental pulse?
I think this is such a broad generalization that it becomes of little value.

For starters, I don't think returning to the basic tempo immediately after a slowing down type rubato or by gradually speeding up would make anything clearer to a listener about what the basic tempo is. And in many pieces, whole sections can be at somewhat different basic tempi.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 06:04 PM
Originally Posted by Numerian
Today's practice of playing Chopin's rubato with a slowing down or speeding up of both right hand and left hand synchronized may not therefore represent what Chopin intended. This is not to say that Chopin never slowed down both hands together, but when he writes rubato, he wants you to keep going at the same tempo but breathe some life into the ornamentation.
I think that except possibly in fioritura passages lasting only a few measures the idea of the LH staying in perfect rhythm while the RH plays rubato is:

1. Not used by virtually any pianist playing today or in the past 50 years
2. Actually impossible to achieve because one hand would soon get completely out of allignment with the other and stay that way until the stolen time was given back.

Virtually all pianists play almost always with any slowing down/speeding up synchronized.

Posted By: Numerian Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 07:10 PM
Actually, pianoloverus, I think you are right. Nobody plays this way today. It is a point made occasionally by Schonberg; for example, modern audiences would simply not accept Beethoven if he showed up today playing his own sonatas. He would be laughed off the stage for his limited and distorted idea of what Beethoven's music should sound like.

As to whether somebody could play this way, I suppose anything is possible, even though we might find the result strange and unmusical. When I play Hummel I try to keep a strict tempo except at marked spots (almost always cadences). This means that his lyrical passages, usually in sixteenths, need to be played rubato to make any sense - otherwise everything sounds metronomic and non-musical. Of course, this was a criticism of Hummel later in his life, but I suspect at his prime he could pull it off - strict tempo in the left hand, and gorgeous shaping of the melody rhythmically and tonally in the right hand.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 07:14 PM
So.....you're sticking to the idea that Chopin meant it so literally, eh....

I think that's a mistake.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/12/11 07:52 PM
Originally Posted by Numerian
Actually, pianoloverus, I think you are right. Nobody plays this way today. It is a point made occasionally by Schonberg; for example, modern audiences would simply not accept Beethoven if he showed up today playing his own sonatas. He would be laughed off the stage for his limited and distorted idea of what Beethoven's music should sound like.

As to whether somebody could play this way, I suppose anything is possible, even though we might find the result strange and unmusical. When I play Hummel I try to keep a strict tempo except at marked spots (almost always cadences). This means that his lyrical passages, usually in sixteenths, need to be played rubato to make any sense - otherwise everything sounds metronomic and non-musical. Of course, this was a criticism of Hummel later in his life, but I suspect at his prime he could pull it off - strict tempo in the left hand, and gorgeous shaping of the melody rhythmically and tonally in the right hand.
I have no idea what Schonberg meant about Beethoven playing his own sonatas being and laughed off the stage:nor do I think it's particularly true. Of course, it would probably sound quite different to our ears because of changes in the way the piano is played in the last 200 years. In the same way a symphony performance would probably sound different.

As per my previous post I don't think one can do much rubato in the RH and not be forced to have the lH go along with whatever the RH does because one will soon get completely out of sync.If one plays a right hand note half a beat late and keeps the LH going in perfect time, then the RH will always be half a beat behind the LH until the stolen time is made up. I don't think it's just a question of how the great pianists play today or even in the last 50 years. I think they've always played in the way I described.
Posted By: wr Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 12:45 AM
Originally Posted by Mark_C
So.....you're sticking to the idea that Chopin meant it so literally, eh....

I think that's a mistake.


I think it's not a mistake, especially since it's not the only time Chopin expressed such an idea. It's interesting to me that people today are so troubled by the thought that Chopin not only meant it, but actually played that way much of the time.



Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 03:31 AM
Originally Posted by wr
....especially since it's not the only time Chopin expressed such an idea...

The fact that someone says something more than once increases the chances that it's meant literally?
Posted By: Steve712 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 04:07 AM
Originally Posted by Numerian
Originally Posted by Steve712
If you cite all of your sources, I'll gladly agree with you.


Regarding Chopin's admiration for Hummel, from a letter in 1840 to Anne Caroline de Belleville:

"As for the little waltz which I had the pleasure of writing for you, I beg you to keep it for yourself. I do not wish it to be published. But I would like to hear it played by you, dear Madam, and to attend one of your elegant reunions, at which you so marvelously interpret such great masters as Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel, the masters of all of us. The Hummel Adagio, which I heard you play a few years ago in Paris at M. Erard's, still sounds in my ears..."

Regarding Hummel's playing, a letter from the pianist Tomaschek in 1816:

"Hummel played very nicely, never losing strict tempo, a virtue that is not practiced much in these times."

Regarding Hummel's influence on Chopin, from Harold Schonberg:

"Hummel may have been a classicist, but his music verges on romanticism and contains some remarkable anticipations of Chopin. The openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor Concertos are too close to be coincidental; and the B minor Concerto has a type of brilliant, florid figuration - and exceedingly pianistic it is, too - that must have influenced the Polish composer. It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 - a set of twenty-four tiny preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major."

Here is Harold Schonberg on Chopin's rubato:

"In matters of exact, measured rhythm Chopin was, as his pupil Mikuli, said, inexorable, and he always had a metronome on the piano. Rubato should never be an invitation to license. The secret as Chopin practiced it is that the feeling of individual note values was always preserved, whatever the temporary rhythmic displacement; the rhythm would fluctuate but never the underlying metrical pulse....Indeed, Chopin's rubato, except for its broader quality, was probably not unlike Mozart's. Mozart had written that in an adagio tempo rubato the left hand should go on playing in strict time. Von Lenz, who could not have known of Mozart's letter, quotes Chopin as saying, 'The left hand is the conductor, it must not waver or lose ground; do with the right hand what you will and can. Suppose that a piece lasts a given number of minutes; it may take just so long to perform the whole, but in the details deviations may occur.'...In short, vary as much as is necessary, but never lose the basic meter."

You can see from this that Chopin's rubato was handed down from Mozart to his prized student Hummel, who influenced Chopin considerably. Chopin then added some twists to the definition of rubato, especially in his nationalistic music of Mazurkas and Polonaises, where Chopin would consistently linger on the opening beat of a bar, virtually altering the meter entirely. Nonetheless, a strict meter was maintained.

Somehow this has gotten confused with borrowing and repaying time, which has led to the modern practice in Chopin of allowing both left and right hand to slow down or speed up. There are many modern performances of Chopin's music where the tempo is lost altogether. Lang Lang is particularly guilty of this, but he has such exquisite touch that the delicacy of his playing allows the listener to forget that a consistent tempo doesn't exist in the music. Other pianists of lesser stature and tone control do not have this excuse.

The quotes can be sourced in several different scholarly publications, but all of them can be found conveniently in Harold Schonberg's The Great Pianists.


Thanks. smile

The history lover in me had a bit of an ulterior motive; I was really curious to read them, because I have a bit of a fascination with Chopin.
Posted By: Steve712 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 04:26 AM
Oh, and here are Mikuli's words on Chopin's rubato, which Schonberg mentioned:

"In keeping time Chopin was inflexible, and many will be surprised to learn that the metronome never left his piano. Even in his oft-decried tempo rubato, one hand -- that having the accompaniment -- always played on in strict time, while the other, singing the melody, either hesitating as if undecided, or, with increased animation, anticipating with a kind of vehemence as if in passionate utterances, maintained the freeom of musical expression from the fetters of strict regularity."

Of course, Chopin emulated the bel canto singing style in many of his melodies. I think that any interpretation of how he used rubato must take that into consideration. For this reason along with his love of strict time and the descriptions of Mikuli (of hesitating slightly and having anticipation), I don't think his rubato was crazy enough to need to slow or speed up the left hand. A melody note might linger for half a second longer, just enough for an effect, and a descending phrase might speed up slightly near the end and leave the note at the bottom to linger from the impact, but surely nothing so dramatic that the two hands lose sync.
Posted By: Mark_C Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 04:28 AM
I'm surprised that some of you think material like that resolves it. It doesn't resolve it; it just repeats it.
Posted By: BruceD Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 04:44 AM
Whatever Chopin may have meant, literally or figuratively, by the oft-quoted phrases about how rubato ought to be played, I believe that the fact remains that no (?) contemporary pianist, even those considered preeminent interpreters of Chopin, and none, to my knowledge, in the history of modern recording plays rubato literally as Chopin describes it: i.e. the left-hand maintaining a strict tempo while the right hand, at times, is somewhat freer with respect to the precise observation of note values.

Is it a question of misunderstanding what Chopin wrote (in which language was the alleged quote originally written?), or have performance practices so changed that none of our contemporaries could play Chopin this way and be accepted?

Regards,
Posted By: wr Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 05:12 AM
Originally Posted by BruceD


Is it a question of misunderstanding what Chopin wrote (in which language was the alleged quote originally written?), or have performance practices so changed that none of our contemporaries could play Chopin this way and be accepted?



I think it is in part because performance practices have changed so much. But it is also because it is extraordinarily hard to do. I don't think most pianists in Chopin's day were adept at it, either - and most didn't even try.
Posted By: wr Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 05:18 AM
Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by wr
....especially since it's not the only time Chopin expressed such an idea...

The fact that someone says something more than once increases the chances that it's meant literally?


To me it does, when it isn't literally repeated more than once, but said and demonstrated in different ways, all meaning the same thing. YMMV.

Posted By: wr Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/13/11 10:12 AM
Originally Posted by Numerian


Regarding Hummel's influence on Chopin, from Harold Schonberg:

"Hummel may have been a classicist, but his music verges on romanticism and contains some remarkable anticipations of Chopin. The openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor Concertos are too close to be coincidental; and the B minor Concerto has a type of brilliant, florid figuration - and exceedingly pianistic it is, too - that must have influenced the Polish composer. It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 - a set of twenty-four tiny preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major."



You might enjoy reading the Hummel biography by Mark Kroll. There's an entire chapter in it about his relationship with Chopin, which was more than just as a musical influence - he was apparently a real friend, even if they didn't get together often.


Posted By: Musicfan1979 Re: Tempo Rubato explained - 08/14/11 12:09 AM
The Hummel Project is a wonderful website? One of the interviews is with Porfessor Kroll.

http://www.jnhummel.info/en/videoivmarkkroll.php
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