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 Post subject: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Wed Mar 24, 2010 10:37 pm 
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Is it just me or have some of the great pianists (Ax, Schiff) over-analyzed the music of Beethoven and other composers? I am listening to the BBC lectures that Schiff recorded on all of the Beethoven Sonatas, and while he plays the correct keys, I think he is light on passion. The music has become sterile after so much analysis (he is to be commended on his research nonetheless). The historical information he imparts to the students is invaluable, but somehow the music has "died".
I started to review Emmanuel Ax's Master Class on one of these pieces, and it seems he is micromanaging the performer. The nuances he asks the pianist to perform are scarcely noticeable, even by a trained ear.
Am I alone in this conclusion? If I am correct, Schiff, at the least, does Beethoven a disservice in that his passion (even his forte) seems cool to me, and doesn't represent the composer in the way intended.
Thanks for your opinions.
:?

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 25, 2010 1:31 pm 
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I would not try and answer the question on master classes because I sure they can differ as do day and night. And I've never had one.

But I agree that over-analyzing and dissecting every bar of music can be counter-productive, and make that you can't see the forest for the trees, and worse, result in sterile, pedantic, and calculated performances, devoid of any personality. There are some who believe that you must know the 'meaning' of each and every note before you can play a piece well. I'd never get a recording done if I had to do that :D
This is of course not to negate the value of analysis. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Just my 2 cents :)

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Sat Mar 27, 2010 6:27 am 
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Chris, I think we agree on this. What prompted my post was the realization that phrasing and voicing can be expressed in many subtle, different ways, even over the same passages, and that those different voicings (polyphony, I think it is called) can make the music say something unique each time.
I think Josef Hoffman was described as performing in that manner, with beautiful results for the audience. This fact gave rise to the idea that, in order to determine which voicing was most appropriate in a passage, the entire composition had to be considered. The composition is an idea, and the phrases within it expand on the idea and emphasize certain aspects or characteristics of the composition.
Similar perhaps, to reciting poetry, where the emphasis on phrasing can alter the message sent.
I am aware of how important the score is, and it is to be relied upon when in doubt, or as an overall guide through a composition, but each passage within the composition must live. It must recreate life to some extent. The life of the composer, hopefully, if not, then the performer's life.
So, in the end, the score is important, yes, but the sound that is produced can guide a performer to further "interpret" the composition in dramatic or subtle ways. The sound can deliver the thoughts of the composer, and the performer can emphasize parts of those thoughts as he/she likes.

Thank you for letting me type this to a group that would understand it. There aren't many musicians around here.

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:00 am 
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markfresa wrote:
I started to review Emmanuel Ax's Master Class on one of these pieces, and it seems he is micromanaging the performer. The nuances he asks the pianist to perform are scarcely noticeable, even by a trained ear.


As my teacher used to say: "The difference between good and great is the same as between great and immortal. And this difference is... very little."
But without knowing the context of your question it is very hard to say anything, or give more or less intelligent opinion.

Best, M


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Wed Apr 21, 2010 11:52 am 
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Obviously there are many kinds of Master classes, like there are many kinds of lectures / lessons.

Usually when one attends a MC, he already knows the piece and has surpassed most of it technical difficulties, so their main purpose is to help the student so that he can construct a better performance of the work.
You get hear to other performers of a close level trying to perform the exact same work, while conveying their own interpretation. Often, they exagerate this, and it is extremely beneficial for you ; it is especially obvious with secondary voices, I can't count the times when I've heard notes strung together in a way I had not even fathomed. Would I play it like that ? Most of the time, not. They wouldn't dare either in a concert hall. But it gives an insight on a possibility of the work.
You also have the attention of an excellent musician that will either try to understand your interpretation, or try to make you understand the validity of his own, and most of the time his focus is on building a coherent whole. Every piece is a Liszt sonata.

You main criticism, Markfresa, seems to be that all this "analyzing" is detrimental to the spontaneity, the passion, the liveliness of the music. Sure, when I'm asked to balance several melodic lines in a way that is totally not obvious to me, it often gets quite akward and cold ; then I practice. Spontaneity and passion in piano is, in my humble opinion, mostly an illusion, because it always results from hard work. You talk about poetry, and since I graduated in that field, I can safely say it is the exact same problem ; for instance, a poet like Verlaine often seem disarmingly simple, but if you look closely, it is the result of an elaborate and often extremely intricate work on rhythm. Another French poet, Supervielle, wrote that simplicity is often the hardest to achieve.
What you must take from a MC most of the time aren't the commentaries for themselves ; "emphasize this note", "play this louder", etc. It's the intention the master is trying to convey through these comments. If you don't understand that intention, the comments for themselves are moot.

I've been playing the first Rachmaninov sonata for fun lately, and though I know the notes and can play it at decent speed, it's horrible. There is no coherence, no consistency (the polyphony is amazing, but not in a direct sense like you'd see in a Bach work. You often can't say if it's just harmonic, or if you're facing some really insidious counterpoint) ; a MC could help me knit it all together in a real performance. Well, most likely a year worth of MCs in my case...

Attending other's MCs, well, that's a little bit different. Most of the time the students are way more proficient than I am (students a few grades higher in performing, often top students too), so I don't really understand. And if you think of a MC as "just another performance, just with more people", obviously it's kind of bad. I mean, why are they stopping all the time ?


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Tue May 04, 2010 12:38 am 
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Regarding analysis:

When I'm preparing a piece, I always start by studying the score away from the piano, examining it and conducting not exhaustive, but sufficient analysis--understanding the form, the basic structure, composer's directions, textures, tonal centers, positioning of the melody, phrasing, strategic harmonies, voicing, voice leading, layering of sonorities, devices of interest such as scalar passages, dynamics, agogics, nuances, technical demands, tentative fingerings, etc.

However, I also believe that whether using an urtext edition or not, the artist should allow his or her personality to imbue the performance within reasonable boundaries to enable the rendition to generally comport with performance practices, but to reflect some individuality too. When performing obscure or neglected repertoire where the performance practices are unknown or lost, this means not just re-creating the music, but co-creating it with the composer.

Finally, I also recognize that sometimes what the composer truly wants is not explicit in the notation per se, but lies instead "between the lines" of the music. Once the pianist has the gist of the composer's intent, he or she must then conjure the appropriate imagery to actualize and realize that intent. There is no "analysis" involved, rather, it's subjective--it has to come from the psyche and the heart.

David

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 12:05 pm 
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Rachfan wrote:
Regarding analysis:

When I'm preparing a piece, I always start by studying the score away from the piano, examining it and conducting not exhaustive, but sufficient analysis--understanding the form, the basic structure, composer's directions, textures, tonal centers, positioning of the melody, phrasing, strategic harmonies, voicing, voice leading, layering of sonorities, devices of interest such as scalar passages, dynamics, agogics, nuances, technical demands, tentative fingerings, etc.

However, I also believe that whether using an urtext edition or not, the artist should allow his or her personality to imbue the performance within reasonable boundaries to enable the rendition to generally comport with performance practices, but to reflect some individuality too. When performing obscure or neglected repertoire where the performance practices are unknown or lost, this means not just re-creating the music, but co-creating it with the composer.

Finally, I also recognize that sometimes what the composer truly wants is not explicit in the notation per se, but lies instead "between the lines" of the music. Once the pianist has the gist of the composer's intent, he or she must then conjure the appropriate imagery to actualize and realize that intent. There is no "analysis" involved, rather, it's subjective--it has to come from the psyche and the heart.

David


How far can one go before changing the intent of the composer? While I don't like it when a teacher tells me not to go that far, I also begin to understand where boundaries exist.


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 8:07 pm 
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Phillip Johns wrote:
Rachfan wrote:
Regarding analysis:

When I'm preparing a piece, I always start by studying the score away from the piano, examining it and conducting not exhaustive, but sufficient analysis--understanding the form, the basic structure, composer's directions, textures, tonal centers, positioning of the melody, phrasing, strategic harmonies, voicing, voice leading, layering of sonorities, devices of interest such as scalar passages, dynamics, agogics, nuances, technical demands, tentative fingerings, etc.

However, I also believe that whether using an urtext edition or not, the artist should allow his or her personality to imbue the performance within reasonable boundaries to enable the rendition to generally comport with performance practices, but to reflect some individuality too. When performing obscure or neglected repertoire where the performance practices are unknown or lost, this means not just re-creating the music, but co-creating it with the composer.

Finally, I also recognize that sometimes what the composer truly wants is not explicit in the notation per se, but lies instead "between the lines" of the music. Once the pianist has the gist of the composer's intent, he or she must then conjure the appropriate imagery to actualize and realize that intent. There is no "analysis" involved, rather, it's subjective--it has to come from the psyche and the heart.

David


How far can one go before changing the intent of the composer? While I don't like it when a teacher tells me not to go that far, I also begin to understand where boundaries exist.

A principle that I exercise regarding the boundary is that of reciprocity. If a perfectly capable musician were to take dictation of the work I am performing, he or she must come up with the score that the composer has written. As an example, I am currently preparing several preludes from Op.23 of Rachmaninoff, including No.6 in E-Flat major, and have noted that almost every recording I have ever heard takes the last arpeggiated chord sooooo slowly, that the rhythm is entirely distorted (two 8th notes followed by a dotted-half-note chord). The chord is on beat 2, and should not be extended IMO by arpeggiation into eternity ending somewhere in the vicinity of the downbeat of the next measure. As slow as you want to make it, it still needs to be 1 & 2. Done, finito. Otherwise, an auditor will not realize that the score says it finishes on the UPbeat, not the downbeat. Thus reciprocity. :)

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 9:26 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
Regarding analysis:


A principle that I exercise regarding the boundary is that of reciprocity. If a perfectly capable musician were to take dictation of the work I am performing, he or she must come up with the score that the composer has written. As an example, I am currently preparing several preludes from Op.23 of Rachmaninoff, including No.6 in E-Flat major, and have noted that almost every recording I have ever heard takes the last arpeggiated chord sooooo slowly, that the rhythm is entirely distorted (two 8th notes followed by a dotted-half-note chord). The chord is on beat 2, and should not be extended IMO by arpeggiation into eternity ending somewhere in the vicinity of the downbeat of the next measure. As slow as you want to make it, it still needs to be 1 & 2. Done, finito. Otherwise, an auditor will not realize that the score says it finishes on the UPbeat, not the downbeat. Thus reciprocity. :)



Is the purpose of making music so that someone can "dictate and transcribe" it back on paper perfectly to the original manuscript or it is to take the musical idea on the paper and place it (by pressing the keys of the piano in the proper order) in the minds of those listening?

Yes, the music is on the paper... but I hear 10 pianists and I hear 10 different interpretations.... indicating to me that what is on the manuscript is there (to some extent) as a 'guideline' for that musical idea... and unless one is lucky enough to interpret that idea to the composer (like Horowitz did with Rachmaninoff on numerous occasions).. one really never knows for sure.


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 11:05 pm 
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Phillip Johns wrote:
musical-md wrote:
Regarding analysis:


A principle that I exercise regarding the boundary is that of reciprocity. If a perfectly capable musician were to take dictation of the work I am performing, he or she must come up with the score that the composer has written. As an example, I am currently preparing several preludes from Op.23 of Rachmaninoff, including No.6 in E-Flat major, and have noted that almost every recording I have ever heard takes the last arpeggiated chord sooooo slowly, that the rhythm is entirely distorted (two 8th notes followed by a dotted-half-note chord). The chord is on beat 2, and should not be extended IMO by arpeggiation into eternity ending somewhere in the vicinity of the downbeat of the next measure. As slow as you want to make it, it still needs to be 1 & 2. Done, finito. Otherwise, an auditor will not realize that the score says it finishes on the UPbeat, not the downbeat. Thus reciprocity. :)



Is the purpose of making music so that someone can "dictate and transcribe" it back on paper perfectly to the original manuscript or it is to take the musical idea on the paper and place it (by pressing the keys of the piano in the proper order) in the minds of those listening?

Yes, the music is on the paper... but I hear 10 pianists and I hear 10 different interpretations.... indicating to me that what is on the manuscript is there (to some extent) as a 'guideline' for that musical idea... and unless one is lucky enough to interpret that idea to the composer (like Horowitz did with Rachmaninoff on numerous occasions).. one really never knows for sure.

In my opinion, nothing that I wrote contradicts you. The music is behind the paper score, but we are to interpret the composer's ideas not invent new ones, as I give in my example above: that work ends on the second beat. To play it as if it ends at the start of a next measure is to supply one's own idea, not one's own interpretation. IMO. (Here we are using "idea" to mean what the composer wants, and "interpretation" to mean what the the performer wants.) Also, there are two "music making." One is the creation by composing. The second is the re-creation by interpretive performance. Here, I am speaking as a performer, but as one who has also composed. Anyway, I just wanted to share my opinion on the limits of interpretation being constrained by the principle of reciprocity. Believe me, there is plenty of interpretive freedom and novelty in such. :)

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"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 7:15 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
In my opinion, nothing that I wrote contradicts you. The music is behind the paper score, but we are to interpret the composer's ideas not invent new ones, as I give in my example above: that work ends on the second beat. To play it as if it ends at the start of a next measure is to supply one's own idea, not one's own interpretation. IMO. (Here we are using "idea" to mean what the composer wants, and "interpretation" to mean what the the performer wants.) Also, there are two "music making." One is the creation by composing. The second is the re-creation by interpretive performance. Here, I am speaking as a performer, but as one who has also composed. Anyway, I just wanted to share my opinion on the limits of interpretation being constrained by the principle of reciprocity. Believe me, there is plenty of interpretive freedom and novelty in such. :)


My purpose was to discuss this issue not try to contradict. I do not feel that I have ever had the ability to reproduce completely a composer's manuscript after listening to a performance. This may be because I am not a musical professional, but also because of the limitations in the ability of a composer to apply the real musical intent to paper.

That is just another way to convey my point, that there is a musical idea that is placed on the paper by the composer which by the limitations inherent in that alone, allows much musical creativity in interpretation.


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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 8:18 pm 
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Phillip Johns wrote:
musical-md wrote:
In my opinion, nothing that I wrote contradicts you. The music is behind the paper score, but we are to interpret the composer's ideas not invent new ones, as I give in my example above: that work ends on the second beat. To play it as if it ends at the start of a next measure is to supply one's own idea, not one's own interpretation. IMO. (Here we are using "idea" to mean what the composer wants, and "interpretation" to mean what the the performer wants.) Also, there are two "music making." One is the creation by composing. The second is the re-creation by interpretive performance. Here, I am speaking as a performer, but as one who has also composed. Anyway, I just wanted to share my opinion on the limits of interpretation being constrained by the principle of reciprocity. Believe me, there is plenty of interpretive freedom and novelty in such. :)


My purpose was to discuss this issue not try to contradict. I do not feel that I have ever had the ability to reproduce completely a composer's manuscript after listening to a performance. This may be because I am not a musical professional, but also because of the limitations in the ability of a composer to apply the real musical intent to paper.

That is just another way to convey my point, that there is a musical idea that is placed on the paper by the composer which by the limitations inherent in that alone, allows much musical creativity in interpretation.


We agree entirely! Music is an immediately-perishable and transcendant art that is encoded by a composer on paper in a limited way. The score is not the music; "music," rather, is that that exists behind or through the score in the ephemeral. I too could never transcribe a work as an auditor, but using my Rachmaninoff example above, I could play/interpret it many ways, but I think only a few would render you to catch the rhythm as the score indicates. So if I were doing a Master Class and the performer played the last measure of the specified prelude (Op.23, No.6) like most do, after the congratulatory remarks, etc., then I would turn to the musicians in the audience and ask them, "Can anyone tell me what beat of the measure they percieve as the last sound ocurring upon? Is it an arpeggiated chord or an arpeggio? If you know the work, then please no comment." Then I would have to turn to the performer and say, "This point you have not conveyed clearly, for there is no agreement from your performance when the last sound is sounded. If it is true, that should Rachmaninoff had wished it the way you played it that he could have written it that way, and it is, then we have to ask, 'What is meant by an arpeggiated dotted-half note chord occurring on beat 2'?" You see where I am going with this. I believe I can bend the rhythm but not distort it. The difficult part is knowing how much is too much. For me it is this principle of reciprocity. It is very similar to using an online translator. If I wish to test how accurately my English text has been translated to Russian, I take the Russian text and see how it is translated back into English. If it matches, it is a good translation (read: interpretation). By the way, I do enjoy this discussion emensely. I thank you for the exchange.

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 9:16 pm 
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Not intending to barge into this lofty discussion, but it seems strange to make a big meal about in what 'rhythm' the last bar of this prelude should be played. Yes one could easily overdo the ritenuto, which not indicated until beat 4 of the preceding bar, and the stretching out of the final arpeggio. But is there any point in wanting to have the top note of the arpeggio fall exactly on beat two of the bar ? Does it matter at all, except for wanting to be 'correct' ? Does rhythm come into play at all in such a deliciously yearning closing bar where you are already applying ritenuto ? To play it 'as written' would require you to take that arpeggio lightning fast. It would perhaps be a novelty, but sound positively weird. Maybe a nice idea to devote a masterclass to this, but none of the masters I heard on Youtube or elsewhere plays it like you propose, Eddy. Or am I, not being a composer, just completely missing the point ?

Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents, FWIW.......

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 10:13 pm 
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techneut wrote:
Not intending to barge into this lofty discussion, but it seems strange to make a big meal about in what 'rhythm' the last bar of this prelude should be played. Yes one could easily overdo the ritenuto, which not indicated until beat 4 of the preceding bar, and the stretching out of the final arpeggio. But is there any point in wanting to have the top note of the arpeggio fall exactly on beat two of the bar ? Does it matter at all, except for wanting to be 'correct' ? Does rhythm come into play at all in such a deliciously yearning closing bar where you are already applying ritenuto ? To play it 'as written' would require you to take that arpeggio lightning fast. It would perhaps be a novelty, but sound positively weird. Maybe a nice idea to devote a masterclass to this, but none of the masters I heard on Youtube or elsewhere plays it like you propose, Eddy. Or am I, not being a composer, just completely missing the point ?

Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents, FWIW.......


I don't mean to beat to death the last bar of said prelude and I'm not out on a mission to change the world's interpretation of it, I assure you. It was just a convenient example for illustration. (It would be interesting to hear it performed by Rachmaninoff himself: I don't know if that exists however.) As far as your participation, the more the merrier! :D Here's another example: imagine the leap after a 5/8 bar to the next measure (a 6/8 bar) is a bit difficult at tempo, and many give a little extra time to it. Bingo, now you may have two 6/8 bars! That should be avoided like the plague. Now if you want to add some poco rit to the section overall in order to maneuver the difficulty, that is within reason as long as it's not overboard, but the assymetry must be appreciable. I don't believe in ignoring the complexity of the music in order to maintain some artificial mechanical rendition, like an all-terrain vehicle going from pavement-to-dirt without any interruption in it's rhythm: no way! In fact, the more interesting the details, the slower the tempo is likely to be. No artist would pain-stakingly paint beautiful sidewalk art, and then say it should be viewed from altitude in an airplane. No, such a work would have no small detail, otherwise it would be waisted, and the ideas would be large. As an example here is the 1st mouvement of the Beethoven Op.27, No.2 (Moonlight). Do you know that you can buy it with a time signature of 4/4? But that's not what Beethoven wrote. The urtext is in 2/2. So it is not every 1/4 note (triplet) that is important, but rather every half-note. When one looks at that mouvement from a bit of "altitude" one learns not to give importance to the triplets (as so many interpretors do), but rather to subdue them to the larger features of the slower melody. When one tries to manage the decay of the slow melody's sustained notes, one begins to appreciate the tempo that that mouvement needs to go. (IMO. I see your 2 cents, and raise you 2 cents :lol:)

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 Post subject: Re: "Master classes" - are they overrated?
PostPosted: Tue Dec 21, 2010 7:29 pm 
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techneut wrote:
Not intending to barge into this lofty discussion, but it seems strange to make a big meal about in what 'rhythm' the last bar of this prelude should be played. Yes one could easily overdo the ritenuto, which not indicated until beat 4 of the preceding bar, and the stretching out of the final arpeggio. But is there any point in wanting to have the top note of the arpeggio fall exactly on beat two of the bar ? Does it matter at all, except for wanting to be 'correct' ? Does rhythm come into play at all in such a deliciously yearning closing bar where you are already applying ritenuto ? To play it 'as written' would require you to take that arpeggio lightning fast. It would perhaps be a novelty, but sound positively weird. Maybe a nice idea to devote a masterclass to this, but none of the masters I heard on Youtube or elsewhere plays it like you propose, Eddy. Or am I, not being a composer, just completely missing the point ?

Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents, FWIW.......



Lofty discussion? Please.. I could never reach that level of frivolity... I am just a man who has played the piano for over 50 years in peace and quiet of my own home. Nothing lofty about that.

I cannot comment on the Op.23 No. 6 because I have not played it. However, I do know what rubato is and that very difficult to transcribe on paper....


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