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قراءة كتاب Chopin and Other Musical Essays

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Chopin and Other Musical Essays

Chopin and Other Musical Essays

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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we have always fancied while reading Chopin's works:—we are now sure of it after hearing him perform them."

Moscheles wrote to his wife that Chopin's "ad libitum playing, which, with the interpreters of his music degenerates into offences against correct time, is, in his own case, merely a pleasing originality of style." He compares him to "a singer who, little concerned with the accompaniment, follows entirely his feelings." Karasovski says that Chopin "played the bass in quiet, regular time, while the right hand moved about with perfect freedom, now following the left hand, now ... going its own independent way. 'The left hand,' said Chopin, 'must be like an orchestral conductor; not for a moment must it be uncertain and vacillating.'" Thus his playing, free from the fetters of tempo, acquired a unique charm; thanks to this rubato, his melody was "like a vessel rocked upon the waves of the sea."

The world suffered a great loss when a band of ignorant soldiers found the bundles of letters which Chopin had written from Paris to his parents, and used them to feed the fire which cooked their supper. But it lost a still greater treasure when Chopin tore up the manuscript of his pianoforte method, which he began to write in the last years of his life, but never finished. In it he would no doubt have given many valuable hints regarding the correct use of the rubato. In the absence of other authentic hints beyond the one just quoted, Liszt must be depended upon as the best authority on the subject; for it is well known that Liszt could imitate Chopin so nicely that his most intimate friends were once deceived in a dark room, imagining that Chopin was playing when Liszt was at the piano. "Chopin," Liszt writes, "was the first who introduced into his compositions that peculiarity which gave such a unique color to his impetuosity, and which he called tempo rubato:—an irregularly interrupted movement, subtile, broken, and languishing, at the same time flickering like a flame in the wind, undulating, like the surface of a wheat-field, like the tree-tops moved by a breeze." All his compositions must be played in this peculiarly accented, spasmodic, insinuating style, a style which he succeeded in imparting to his pupils, but which can hardly be taught without example. As with the pedal, so with the rubato, Chopin often neglected to mark its use in later years, taking it for granted that those who understood his works would know where to apply it.

Perhaps the importance of the rubato in Chopin cannot be more readily realized than by his concession that he could never play a Viennese waltz properly, and by the fact that sometimes, when he was in a jocular mood, he would play one of his mazurkas in strict, metronomic time, to the great amusement of those who had heard him play them properly.

When Liszt speaks of the tempo rubato as a unique characteristic of Chopin's style, he must not be understood too literally. As a matter of fact, the rubato is too important an element of expression not to have been partially anticipated in the works of some of Chopin's predecessors, just as Wagner's leading motives had imperfect prototypes in the works of some preceding composers. As early as 1602, the Italian, Caccini, describes what he calls the "Stile Nobile, in which the singer," he says, "emancipates himself from the fetters of the measure, by prolonging or diminishing the duration of a note by one-half, according as the sense of the word requires it." But it is probable that the Italian singers of that period, as to-day, used this kind of rubato merely to display the beauty of their voice on a loud high note, and not, like Chopin, for the sake of emphasizing a pathetic or otherwise expressive note or chord.

Of the Germans it may be said that, as a rule, they had, until recently, no special liking for the tempo rubato. Dr. Hanslick, the eminent Viennese critic, referred to it thirty years ago, as "a morbid unsteadiness of tempo." Mendelssohn, who always liked a "nice, swift tempo," repeatedly expressed his aversion to Chopin's rubato. Nevertheless, traces of it may be found in the rhythms of the classical school. Although Mozart's tempo in general was as strict and uniform as that of a waltz in the ball-room, in playing an adagio he appears to have allowed his left hand some freedom of movement for the sake of expression (see Jahn I., 134). Beethoven, according to Seyfried, "was very particular at rehearsals about the frequent passages in tempo rubato;" and there are other remarks by contemporaries of Beethoven which indicate that although he wrote in the classical style, in his playing and conducting he often introduced a romantic rubato. Still, in the majority of his compositions, there is no room for the rubato, which cannot be said to have found a home in German music till it was assimilated by the Schumann school, under the influence of Chopin. Since then, it has leavened the spirit of modern music in a manner which has never been sufficiently emphasized. I am convinced that even Richard Wagner was, unconsciously, influenced by it through Liszt; for one of the chief peculiarities of his style is a sort of dramatic rubato which emancipates his music from the tyranny of the strict dance measure. In his essay on the proper interpretation of Tannhäuser, Wagner declares that the division of music into regular measures, or bars, is merely a mechanical means for enabling the composer to convey his ideas to the singer. As soon as the singer has grasped the idea, he says, the bar should be thrown aside as a useless incumbrance, and the singer, ignoring strict time, should be guided by his feelings alone, while the conductor should follow and preserve harmony between him and the orchestra.

It might be said that this dramatic rubato is something different from Chopin's rubato. Rubato literally means "robbed," and it is generally supposed that the peculiarity of Chopin's style consisted simply in this, that he prolonged certain notes in a bar at the expense of the others—robbing from one what he gave to his neighbor. But this is a very inadequate conception of the term. Chopin's rubato means much more than this. It includes, to a large extent, the frequent unexpected changes of time and rhythm, together with the ritardandos and accelerandos. It includes, secondly, those unique passages, first conceived by Chopin, where the right hand has to play irregular groups of small notes—say twenty-two, while the left hand plays only twelve; or nineteen, while the left plays four—passages in which Chopin indicated as clearly as Wagner did in the words just quoted that the musical bar is a mere mechanical measure which does not sufficiently indicate the phrasing of the romantic or dramatic ideas that lie beyond the walls of a dance-hall.

There is a third peculiarity of Chopin's style which may be included under the name of rubato, namely, his habit of "robbing" the note, not of its duration, but its accent. Every student of music knows that the symphony and sonata are called "idealized dance forms," because they are direct outgrowths of the dances that were cultivated originally in Italy, France, and Germany. Now, one peculiarity of these dances is the fact that the accent always falls on the first beat of each bar. This is very appropriate and convenient for dancing, but from an artistic point of view, it is decidedly monotonous. Hence, Chopin conferred a vast benefit on modern art by introducing the spirit of Slavic music, in which the accent often falls on other beats beside the first. These regular accents produce the effect of the

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