I don’t always get the time, but I came across this while skimming over previous threads today... I don’t know where to begin, but I feel compelled to say something in defense of Chopin and hope grandvalse will admire Chopin at the end...
Chopin gave lessons to many students, but they all ended up amateurs! Chopin's style is dead, it died of tuberculosis, and it died with him.
After his death, there were Chopin disciples all over Europe. Georg Mathias was viewed as the true messenger of the Chopin school; he became the head of piano teaching at the Conservatoire de Paris. Similarly, my fellow Armenian, Karol Mikuli, also formed a center in Lwów to keep the Chopin tradition alive. Then the torch was passed to Mikuli's pupils - Rosenthal, Michalowski, and Koczalski. Then it was onto Isidore Philipp and Pugno. All these pianists were far from amateurs. Chopin’s music helped to form one of the most important facets of Romanticism. Furthermore, without Chopin, there would be no Impressionist movement which followed – no Debussy or Ravel. Now that’s a legacy!
As fashionable as it was in the 19th century, perhap's Chopin's plight of TB was not as portrayed as valiantly throughout history as Beethoven's deafness, but I would challenge any composer to accomplish what Chopin achieved by 39 in the face of a mortal illness. Throughout history, only a few have stepped up to the plate and swung the home run of life - they have either been canonized by the Pope or achieved legendary status throughout history. Chopin belongs to the list of select few.
What in your life has ever been as purely sad as his Prelude in B minor? What in life is as joyous as his Prelude in E Flat Major?
As far as the Preludes are concerned, they were composed along the distant shores of Majorca, in a time of contemplation, but not contempt. “Vulnerable?” Be that as it may; For the most part, it is a musical diary of thoughts of despair and struggle with imminent death during this time in his life. Everyone in his situation would go through a period of despair. Beethoven also went through this brooding and acknowledged his illness. But Chopin’s defiance is portrayed victoriously in his Op. 53 Polonaise – That’s his Heiligenstadt Testament.
the truth is that Chopin is a chore emotionally to play... and if you can play with emotion, play with conviction, and play with vunerability, you are playing Chopin correctly.
That argument is 100 years old. For decades, pianists of the early 20th century misunderstood Chopin's music, as being "vulnerable," frail, or fanciful. Then what is one to make of convictions found in the Etudes, Scherzi, and Polonaises? He knew he couldn’t physically play the technically demanding repertoire of his own music, and would have to revert to Liszt for the required stamina. He may have been physically “vulnerable,” but the intent of the music is far from vulnerable. It wasn't until Artur Rubinstein who first challenged and changed these "delusions," myths, and public perceptions of Chopin's music. Please, blame the pianists and teachers, not the composer for the lack of intention and understanding in the music. Discover the strengths and not the weaknesses in his music.
I wouldn’t regard this “chore,” as an undesirable effect, but rather a form of frustration. One can agree that music is the language of emotion. Besides, how could we be musicians if expressing emotion through music was a chore for us? If there are “delusions” about Chopin, it’s up us musicians to affect a change in attitude or perception by searching out the truth for ourselves. It took Rubinstein 40 years before he reinvented Chopin. This “chore” that you allude to, demands a considerable expenditure of actual emotional energy that is above and beyond demands of physical energy of the performance. Finding the truth takes time and energy. As Aristotle said, the process of discovering the truth is a difficult one. But the end justifies the means once the goal has been achieved.
It takes extra work to play Chopin with musical intent, you’re expending a great deal of emotional energy as well as physical energy. There is an untapped amount of power though emotional energy that humans produce in the brain. Musicians harness this tremendous potential through ‘higher energy states’ in their brain when expressing the emotions of music. The transfer of this potential energy is ultimately channeled to the listener and we perceive this transfer of emotional energy as a manifestation of the persuasive power of music. There is ongoing research in the field of Neuroimmunology, which focuses on understanding how these higher energy emotional states function in our brains. It’s being used to treat, heal, and improve our sense of being. Fortunately, music can be an integral part of healing and purifying our souls.
I agree that Chopin's music requires a great deal of emotion, as there is more emotion than the amount of notes expressing it. Subjectively, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not a bad thing. As Jon Franklin said, “Simplicity, carried to an extreme, is elegance.” I would add further that elegance or even better, eloquence, is a higher degree of simplicity and a sense of nobility is a far more appropriate goal to achieve in Chopin’s music. Regarding this as an “elite” pursuit might be taken out of context, and shouldn’t be regarded as a form of arrogance on the composer’s or pianist’s part. To really understand a term like 'sense of nobility,' usually requires a degree of suffering in one's life, to live through the bad and good times. Life is full of contrasts, and music reflects the varied richness of all the events and circumstances that influence a particular composer. So, when I hear Rubinstein’s Chopin, there is no hint of elitism, but a sense of nobility, yes! The pianist and composer form an organic union and the music universally connects with any audience of all backgrounds.
grandvalse, I hope you will perceive Chopin differently and find the intrinsic value of emotion in his music.
"Nobility of spirit has more to do with simplicity than ostentation, wisdom rather than wealth, commitment rather than ambition." ~Riccardo Muti