Frédéric Chopin: We celebrate the composer but the music is in the hands of his interpreters
Frédéric Chopin's birth records say he was born on March 22, 1810. His mother insisted his birthday was March 1. One way or the other, it's the 200th anniversary.
There's always a lot of music by Chopin being played and recorded, but, this year, it's getting extra attention.
Behind the beautiful music simmers the limitless debate on the composer's original intention versus the interpreter's right to shape the music to his or her taste. But if we all resolve to stop worrying so much about it and simply sit back and enjoy the music, we'll discover that Chopin's scores -- like any other composer's -- are far more adaptable than we instinctively believe.
What's the critic to do about this? Rather than stare intently at a printed score (which changes, depending on who edited and/or published it), he or she needs to find cohesion and meaning behind the performance at-hand. It's more difficult this way, and there's no objective standard to measure against other than the critic's sense of taste.
But that's part of the fun (and anguish).
Here are four performances of Chopin's Nocturne Op. 27, No. 2 (in D-flat major). As with most of Chopin's music, the piece is not as simple as it sounds, in terms of the number of stylistic decisions the interpreter needs to make along the way.
The first two are by 20th century greats Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982, performing live at the Moscow Conservatory's Great Hall in 1964) and Solomon (1902-1988, from a 1942 disc), as elegant a conventional interpreter as there ever was.
The third video is of one of today's hot younger pianists, Ingrid Fliter, recorded live in Miami in 2006.
Last is Croatian pop star Maksim Mrvica. Will the fact that you now know he's a pop star rather than a dedicated, serious classical pianist affect your opinion? Will the way he looks affect your opinion, as well?