Question on the radio


I was listening to a Chopin Waltz played on the radio as it came to its brilliant conclusion. The host said something under her breath, not entirely complimentary.

“Why” she asked “does it build to that big loud bang at the end?”

Why indeed.

The thing is, every piano piece, whether we’re talking about a Ligeti Etude or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a kind of puzzle, to be solved in the interpretation. And if the performance raises questions like the one posed by our host? Then they’re not playing it right. You should be solving the puzzle, not making new ones that you impose on your audience.

Yes this is the same one the host was asking about.

Chopin has this lovely thing he does on the last page. Notice how it gets quieter and quieter, subtly in the lower part of the instrument, making you lean forward in your seat out of sheer curiosity. It’s implicitly crying out for the release that comes: in the big climactic note at the top of the instrument.

It builds inexorably, or should seem to do so. But it needs to feel necessary, inevitable. If the climax isn’t organic, isn’t grown naturally from what came before? instead of satisfying release, we will find that loud note awkward, painful, unpleasant.

…very much as the radio host did. She was right btw.

That’s the funny thing. You know you’re playing it right if it sounds good, feels organic.

The version you see here doesn’t say “ff”, but does demand that you get louder.
This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Music and musicology, Personal ruminations & essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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