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#1669016 - 04/30/11 01:42 PM Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne
PianoBot Offline
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Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 30
I'm learning Chopin's posthumous nocturne in C# minor (this one) right now, and I'm not sure how to interpret the piece.

I've had a few ideas — a love affair gone wrong, a soldier fighting in a war, a suicidal person who finally finds peace — but I'm having trouble fitting these ideas into the music, in some places. For example, the coda is very turbulent, before, at the last moment, turning peaceful, and it's hard to imagine what the music might be depicting here.

I'd be interested in ideas on mental imagery for this composition.

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#1669020 - 04/30/11 01:58 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
chercherchopin Offline
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Many composers wrote music intended to convey or depict a specific story or event, but Chopin did not. This was just a sketch by Chopin that wasn't intended to be published. (And even though "Nocturne" suggests something nocturnal, Chopin didn't give it that title!)

Is it necessary to have mental images or associations to interpret the music?
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#1669021 - 04/30/11 02:01 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
fledgehog Offline
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Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 273
Loc: West Hartford, CT
if you can't think of a story that's really solid in your mind, it's best not to force one. Interpret it the way you feel the music. that's what's most important.

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#1669026 - 04/30/11 02:16 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
Elysia Offline
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Registered: 09/28/10
Posts: 193
Loc: Canada
hmm its hard to say. He wrote this when he was 20 and supposidy dedicated it to his older sister.I don't believe that he had yet started his rocky relationship with George Sand yet so I am doubting that is about a love affair gone wrong, but who knows there could of been others before her lol. Personally it makes me feel that it could be a reflection on a memory, or a longing for something. I am not sure if it is suppose to evoke a mental image or just simply evoke feelings.
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#1669028 - 04/30/11 02:24 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
carey Offline
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Registered: 05/13/05
Posts: 6031
Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
PianoBot -

Please read the following......

"Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music. The paradigmatic example is Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, which relates a drug-induced series of morbid fantasies concerning the unrequited love of a sensitive poet involving murder, execution, and the torments of heck. The genre culminates in the symphonic works of Richard Strauss that include narrations of the adventures of Don Quijote, Till Eulenspiegel, the composer's domestic life, and an interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy of the Superman. Following Strauss, the genre declined and new works with explicitly narrative content are rare. Nevertheless the genre continues to exert an influence on film music, especially where this draws upon the techniques of late romantic music.

Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world. The term is almost exclusively applied to works in the European classical music tradition, particularly those from the Romantic music period of the 19th century, during which the concept was popular, but pieces which fit the description have long been a part of music. The term is usually reserved for purely instrumental works (pieces without singers and lyrics), and not used, for example for Opera or Lieder."

The Nocturne you are learning is an example of "absolute music." Follow the score and let the music speak for itself.
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#1669046 - 04/30/11 03:08 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
Elysia Offline
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If absolute music is music without a pictoral, literary or dramatic program can't the song still be about something? like whatever came from within the composer while they were composing. Not with the intent of creating a specific image but with the intent of creating a feeling. Say it was influenced or written by a soldier at war (i'm not talking about the Chopin piece ), it could portray the fearfull and maybe sad feelings of a soldier at war without actually being about "a soldier at war". Sorry this has become a side question, slightly off topic of the origional post.
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#1669049 - 04/30/11 03:11 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
cardguy Offline
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Registered: 12/17/08
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In what way would imagining some sort of story help? I honestly do not get this.

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#1669050 - 04/30/11 03:11 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: chercherchopin]
PianoBot Offline
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Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 30
Thanks for the replies.

Originally Posted By: chercherchopin
Is it necessary to have mental images or associations to interpret the music?

Interesting question. I guess that I sometimes like to think of an image/feeling/emotion when playing or listening to music. For example, while listening to Ballade No. 2, I imagine something like the following:

At the beginning of the piece, a child is happily playing with his toys. All is fine in the world. But, one day, this childish, naïve peace is destroyed by some tragedy of adulthood. At the end of the piece, the adult is desperately trying to relive his childhood joy, but he can't, as things are different now. In the coda, the adult simply gives up. The ending of this piece is very tragic for me.

As for the nocturne I'm learning, I am struggling, as mentioned, to imagine a feeling for all of it, but when performing some sections — for example, the very end of the piece — I imagine (and try to convey) a feeling of relief. The turmoil is finally over.

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#1669057 - 04/30/11 03:27 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
carey Offline
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Registered: 05/13/05
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Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
Originally Posted By: PianoBot
Thanks for the replies.

Originally Posted By: chercherchopin
Is it necessary to have mental images or associations to interpret the music?

Interesting question. I guess that I sometimes like to think of an image/feeling/emotion when playing or listening to music. For example, while listening to Ballade No. 2, I imagine something like the following:

At the beginning of the piece, a child is happily playing with his toys. All is fine in the world. But, one day, this childish, naïve peace is destroyed by some tragedy of adulthood. At the end of the piece, the adult is desperately trying to relive his childhood joy, but he can't, as things are different now. In the coda, the adult simply gives up. The ending of this piece is very tragic for me.

As for the nocturne I'm learning, I am struggling, as mentioned, to imagine a feeling for all of it, but when performing some sections — for example, the very end of the piece — I imagine (and try to convey) a feeling of relief. The turmoil is finally over.


If this approach works for you - that's fine.
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#1669059 - 04/30/11 03:29 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Elysia]
carey Offline
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Registered: 05/13/05
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Originally Posted By: Elysia
If absolute music is music without a pictoral, literary or dramatic program can't the song still be about something? like whatever came from within the composer while they were composing. Not with the intent of creating a specific image but with the intent of creating a feeling.


Of course.
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#1669060 - 04/30/11 03:31 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Elysia]
pjang23 Offline
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Registered: 02/22/10
Posts: 106
Originally Posted By: Elysia
If absolute music is music without a pictoral, literary or dramatic program can't the song still be about something? like whatever came from within the composer while they were composing. Not with the intent of creating a specific image but with the intent of creating a feeling.


Yes it may, though the difference is that the composer of absolute music does not concretely lay out what the music is supposed to depict, and leaves the interpretation to the listener. Program music's meaning is fixed to the composer's intent, but absolute music may mean something different to everyone. I believe Brahms said the music is either good enough to not need a program, or fails to live up to it.
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#1669062 - 04/30/11 03:39 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: pjang23]
Elysia Offline
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Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: pjang23
Originally Posted By: Elysia
If absolute music is music without a pictoral, literary or dramatic program can't the song still be about something? like whatever came from within the composer while they were composing. Not with the intent of creating a specific image but with the intent of creating a feeling.


Yes it may, though the difference is that the composer of absolute music does not concretely lay out what the music is supposed to depict, and leaves the interpretation to the listener. I believe Brahms said the music is either good enough to not need a program, or fails to live up to it.


cool thanks, thats what I thought. I have a history exam coming up, so this topic ended up helping me. It is an easy definition to understand but I always have a way of doubting my own knowledge so it was nice to get a respons that helped me confirm what I knew. You explained it alot better than I asked it lol.
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#1669066 - 04/30/11 03:41 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: carey]
PianoBot Offline
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Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 30
I'm not sure I understand some of the replies to this thread. Are some people suggesting that this Chopin nocturne may be simply a nice sound, and not something which elicits feelings in the listener? It seems to me that this composition is the perfect example of music being emotional.

Maybe I have misinterpreted the replies.

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#1669070 - 04/30/11 03:52 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
BruceD Offline
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Originally Posted By: PianoBot
I'm not sure I understand some of the replies to this thread. Are some people suggesting that this Chopin nocturne may be simply a nice sound, and not something which elicits feelings in the listener? It seems to me that this composition is the perfect example of music being emotional.

Maybe I have misinterpreted the replies.


It is hard to imagine that many composers, Chopin among them, were totally divorced from any emotional feeling when they were composing music. Music, for most of them, was a way of expressing themselves. What people are saying, I believe - and I totally concur - is much absolute music was not written to elicit a particular feeling or to provoke a specific emotional response. That doesn't mean, however, that no emotional response is an appropriate reaction to such music. Let the music "speak" to you on a personal level; let it evoke in you whatever it naturally evokes.

On the other hand, for me and for others, trying to fit a "story" or a specific context to a piece of essentially absolute music inhibits the appreciation of the music and, in some instances, even trivializes the work.

Regards,
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#1669089 - 04/30/11 04:49 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
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I put stories to "absolute" music all the time. And I know for a fact composers did the same. Brahms definitely had stories in mind when composing, as did Rachmaninoff, and both wrote mostly "absolute" music.

For me, the only difference between absolute and program music is who supplies the story. In program music, the composer supplied it. In absolute music, the performer gets to.
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#1669099 - 04/30/11 05:11 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
LimeFriday Offline
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Registered: 11/02/09
Posts: 303
Loc: Australia
I rarely have a story or image in my mind when playing absolute music... but I quite often have feelings or emotions running through a piece. But I don't use these to find a way to interpret a piece - in my experience these feelings/emotions come to mind and influence the way I play a piece - but I don't consciously try to work them in.

What I'm trying to say in a roundabout way - the feelings and/or images come after the interpretation for me - and then influence my playing - but there is no way I could come up with an image or story, or an emotion - and then try to play *to* that story or emotion.

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#1669103 - 04/30/11 05:16 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Kreisler]
chercherchopin Offline
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Registered: 04/25/11
Posts: 550
Loc: Dystopia (but not Dystonia!)
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
For me, the only difference between absolute and program music is who supplies the story. In program music, the composer supplied it. In absolute music, the performer gets to.

Or not. If it works for a performer/listener to supply a story to 'absolute' music, that's fine (obviously!). The idea is frankly foreign to me, though, and sometimes I would prefer not to know about what other people are thinking.

An example for me is those imaginative titles that some folks have applied to Chopin's etudes: torrent, waterfall, sunshine, cartwheel, horseman, etc. Much like a visual image that I wouldn't want to be stuck in my mind, they make me a little bit squeamish.

But hey, that's just my take on it. Whatever works!
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#1669147 - 04/30/11 06:13 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Kreisler]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I put stories to "absolute" music all the time. And I know for a fact composers did the same. Brahms definitely had stories in mind when composing, as did Rachmaninoff, and both wrote mostly "absolute" music.
Do you think this is a good thing for pianists in general to do? Does it have some specific advantages or disadvantages?(I'm talking about for other pianists...for you, it is clearly the right thing).

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#1669148 - 04/30/11 06:16 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
carey Offline
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Registered: 05/13/05
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Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
Originally Posted By: PianoBot
I'm not sure I understand some of the replies to this thread. Are some people suggesting that this Chopin nocturne may be simply a nice sound, and not something which elicits feelings in the listener? It seems to me that this composition is the perfect example of music being emotional.

Maybe I have misinterpreted the replies.


PianoBot -

"Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative" (i.e., the composer intended it to tell a specific story).

"Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world" (i.e., the composer didn't set out to tell a specific story). This doesn't mean, however, that the composer wasn't trying to convey a certain emotion - or range of emotions - through the piece. Lots of things go into that - key signature (major or minor), tempo, melody, formal structure, texture, contrasting sections, etc. etc.

Again, if you personally feel the need to make up a narrative story that will help you better interpret the Nocturne, go for it. Some folks do that. But other folks (myself included) choose to interpret and be emotionally engaged in the music without the need for a narrative. They let the music speak for itself.

Hope this helps.
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#1669175 - 04/30/11 07:19 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: pianoloverus]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13706
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I put stories to "absolute" music all the time. And I know for a fact composers did the same. Brahms definitely had stories in mind when composing, as did Rachmaninoff, and both wrote mostly "absolute" music.
Do you think this is a good thing for pianists in general to do? Does it have some specific advantages or disadvantages?(I'm talking about for other pianists...for you, it is clearly the right thing).


It's not for everyone, and I don't do it for everything. But I do find it a helpful interpretive aid sometimes. I find that having some kind of concrete story, scene or character in mind helps clarify exactly what I'm trying to capture. I think performances tend to fall flat when people go for vague feelings.

I don't believe works of art "speak for themselves." Consider theater. It's as if all an actor had to do was enunciate clearly in order for Hamlet to come through. But you have to do more than just enunciate clearly. Actors spend an enormous amount of time forming very specific detailed ideas about the characters they play, even though those details are never revealed to the audience. Likewise, I think musicians are best prepared when they've formed very specific details about their interpretations - not just how the phrase is to be played, but why. The whole concept of sonata form is narrative: something in the exposition becomes transformed, resolved in the recapitulation.

This brings us back to the idea of vague feelings. Beethoven's 5th isn't tragic because it's generally tragic. It's tragic because of the narrative - two themes, balanced in the beginning, both minor in the end. The oboe cadenza invites comparison to opera, which in turn is anything but abstract.

For a good read, check out Leonard Ratner's "Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style"

He makes a very compelling case that 18th and 19th century audiences couldn't help but form programmatic connections with absolute music. When someone from that time period hear the brass chorale in Brahms's 1st Symphony, they couldn't help but be reminded of a grand church organ. When you hear the finale of the Brahms Horn trio, you can't help but conjure images of galloping horses on the hunt. (By contrast, many modern audiences do not associate horns with hunting. But Brahms surely did, and so did everyone in his audience.) Haydn's 2/4 sonata finales are contredanses, conjuring up images of folksy dances. (An image lost on far too many competition performers, who treat Haydn finales as NASCAR races.) Bach's English suite preludes conjure up images of concerti grossi, which pits a small instrumental group against a large instrumental group, inviting a number of comparisons - a polite conversation? an argument? a series of vignettes? Sure, it could be different for different people, and it need not always be made explicit, but it's there nonetheless.

Sorry...enough rambling for now. I'm sure I've contradicted myself and said something stupid, but that's pretty much the raw stream-of-consciousness version of my thoughts on the subject. I hope somebody finds it interesting.
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#1669197 - 04/30/11 08:14 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
argerichfan Offline
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Never thought of the Beethoven 5th as 'tragic', more a sense of frustration resolved into an inner victory.

I would be K's worst nightmare as a student. And be flunked. But I gave all my teachers a hard time, I never bothered to think along their lines. It was too easy.
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#1669201 - 04/30/11 08:21 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Kreisler]
carey Offline
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Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
Originally Posted By: Kreisler

"I don't believe works of art "speak for themselves." Consider theater. It's as if all an actor had to do was enunciate clearly in order for Hamlet to come through. But you have to do more than just enunciate clearly. Actors spend an enormous amount of time forming very specific detailed ideas about the characters they play, even though those details are never revealed to the audience."

"The whole concept of sonata form is narrative: something in the exposition becomes transformed, resolved in the recapitulation."

"Beethoven's 5th isn't tragic because it's generally tragic. It's tragic because of the narrative - two themes, balanced in the beginning, both minor in the end."

"When someone from that time period hear the brass chorale in Brahms's 1st Symphony, they couldn't help but be reminded of a grand church organ. When you hear the finale of the Brahms Horn trio, you can't help but conjure images of galloping horses on the hunt. (By contrast, many modern audiences do not associate horns with hunting. But Brahms surely did, and so did everyone in his audience.)"



Here's one type of narrative presented earlier in this thread....."At the beginning of the piece, a child is happily playing with his toys. All is fine in the world. But, one day, this childish, naïve peace is destroyed by some tragedy of adulthood. At the end of the piece, the adult is desperately trying to relive his childhood joy, but he can't, as things are different now. In the coda, the adult simply gives up."

And here's another...."The whole concept of sonata form is narrative: something in the exposition becomes transformed, resolved in the recapitulation."

I think there is a marked difference between the two approaches.

The examples you give from Brahms above (grand church organ, galloping horses) are intentionally programmatic in nature.

And as for theater - isn't it is possible to simply read the script - without seeing it performed or interpreted by actors on the stage - and still be moved by the power of the playwright's art?? smile




Edited by carey (04/30/11 08:40 PM)
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#1669208 - 04/30/11 08:40 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: carey]
argerichfan Offline
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Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8695
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: carey

The examples you give from Brahms above (grand church organ, galloping horses) are intentionally programmatic in nature.

Do you know that for a fact? (Just asking, okay? wink ) The 'galloping horses' could just as easily be blood hounds on the hunt, but more troubling is the 'grand church organ' comparison. I always thought the brass chorale in Brahms 1 was more of a reference to Beethoven's 9th, which of course has nothing to do with the organ.
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#1669233 - 04/30/11 09:56 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: argerichfan]
carey Offline
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Registered: 05/13/05
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Loc: Phoenix, Arizona
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
Originally Posted By: carey

The examples you give from Brahms above (grand church organ, galloping horses) are intentionally programmatic in nature.

Do you know that for a fact? (Just asking, okay? wink ) The 'galloping horses' could just as easily be blood hounds on the hunt, but more troubling is the 'grand church organ' comparison. I always thought the brass chorale in Brahms 1 was more of a reference to Beethoven's 9th, which of course has nothing to do with the organ.



Whoops - I should have left out "intentionally." wink I don't know if they were intentional or not. But I was simply commenting on what Kreisler was saying about those works (i.e. Many modern audiences do not associate horns with hunting. But Brahms surely did...").


Edited by carey (04/30/11 10:01 PM)
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#1669293 - 05/01/11 01:15 AM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
jlynne Offline
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Registered: 02/01/10
Posts: 102
Pianobot,

The whole program vs. absolute issue aside, I generally associate stories with the music I play. It helps me play the piece as written with all the proper nuance and shading. The images, or sometimes just vague impressions, that I associate with the music trigger the appropriate responses in my fingers. There is a huge difference between a crescendo played with the image of a violent storm brewing, and one played with the mounting anticipation of Christmas morning in mind.

The danger, of course, is that if I have the wrong story in my head, the music doesn't come out right. I think that is what everyone is trying to caution you about. Let the music write the story, don't impose the story on the music.

Case in point. I was working on Ravel's Pavane awhile back and I could play it, but I knew I didn't have the right sense of it. Something was very off. I posted a thread like this one, and based on the discussion, I came away with a very different storyline in my head. It wasn't necessarily anything like what you might associate with the music, or what Ravel had in mind, but the metaphor I envisioned brought out the proper focus in my playing. The piece took on a whole different character. All the same dynamics were at work, but I played them from a very different perspective. Instead of a funeral dirge, it became almost flirtatious, and the tragedy turned to poignancy. That, for me, is the value of finding a storyline that works. And it need only work for you, no one else.

As for the Chopin Nocturne, when I play it, I have vague impressions of pride in personal achievement, the inevitable fall, and an ultimate redemption. That's very different than your child playing with toys narrative, yet it is quite possible that the two stories work equally well for different people. The point is not what story you use, but whether it sparks the right response.
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#1669345 - 05/01/11 05:05 AM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: Kreisler]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
I put stories to "absolute" music all the time. And I know for a fact composers did the same. Brahms definitely had stories in mind when composing, as did Rachmaninoff, and both wrote mostly "absolute" music.
Do you think this is a good thing for pianists in general to do? Does it have some specific advantages or disadvantages?(I'm talking about for other pianists...for you, it is clearly the right thing).


It's not for everyone, and I don't do it for everything. But I do find it a helpful interpretive aid sometimes. I find that having some kind of concrete story, scene or character in mind helps clarify exactly what I'm trying to capture. I think performances tend to fall flat when people go for vague feelings.



I almost never have those sorts of ideas about the music I play, and I don't remember ever intentionally creating that sort of association to help an interpretation. If they come to mind on their own, which happens once in a while, I don't suppress them, on the other hand. Whether my interpretation is specific or vague doesn't seem to depend on that kind of thing, but on how well I can intuit the musical sense of the music.

Quote:


I don't believe works of art "speak for themselves." Consider theater. It's as if all an actor had to do was enunciate clearly in order for Hamlet to come through. But you have to do more than just enunciate clearly. Actors spend an enormous amount of time forming very specific detailed ideas about the characters they play, even though those details are never revealed to the audience. Likewise, I think musicians are best prepared when they've formed very specific details about their interpretations - not just how the phrase is to be played, but why. The whole concept of sonata form is narrative: something in the exposition becomes transformed, resolved in the recapitulation.



I don't think that the theater analogy works very well, because plays are literally stories that get told both verbally and as representations of actual situations, which is totally unlike music.

Music (music which isn't program music, that is) doesn't rely on extraneous associations to make sense and to provoke emotions, which to me is one thing about it that is endlessly mysterious and striking. In that way, it does "speak for itself" - it evokes emotions and other internal responses directly, without requiring the mediation of verbal stories or imagined pictures.

And while there are narrative qualities to sonata form, and aspects of other music, too, there's also much that doesn't fit into that idea. For example, classic sonata form often involves an exact repetition of a lengthy first section, and then after the development, another repetition of the same material. Stories told verbally don't fit that formula in any apparent way I can think of. Neither do they fit very well to rondo forms or to fugues, for that matter.

I think that classical music may give the effect of narrative not because it alludes to external stuff, but because it operates at the same level of our human pattern recognition abilities that is also the source of our penchant for story telling.

Quote:


This brings us back to the idea of vague feelings. Beethoven's 5th isn't tragic because it's generally tragic. It's tragic because of the narrative - two themes, balanced in the beginning, both minor in the end. The oboe cadenza invites comparison to opera, which in turn is anything but abstract.

For a good read, check out Leonard Ratner's "Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style"

He makes a very compelling case that 18th and 19th century audiences couldn't help but form programmatic connections with absolute music. When someone from that time period hear the brass chorale in Brahms's 1st Symphony, they couldn't help but be reminded of a grand church organ. When you hear the finale of the Brahms Horn trio, you can't help but conjure images of galloping horses on the hunt. (By contrast, many modern audiences do not associate horns with hunting. But Brahms surely did, and so did everyone in his audience.) Haydn's 2/4 sonata finales are contredanses, conjuring up images of folksy dances. (An image lost on far too many competition performers, who treat Haydn finales as NASCAR races.) Bach's English suite preludes conjure up images of concerti grossi, which pits a small instrumental group against a large instrumental group, inviting a number of comparisons - a polite conversation? an argument? a series of vignettes? Sure, it could be different for different people, and it need not always be made explicit, but it's there nonetheless.

Sorry...enough rambling for now. I'm sure I've contradicted myself and said something stupid, but that's pretty much the raw stream-of-consciousness version of my thoughts on the subject. I hope somebody finds it interesting.


Sure, there can be allusions to all sorts of things in classical music. Some are deliberate on the part of composers, some just sort of come with the territory. For example, the hunting horn idea has an explicit connection to the hunt, but the horn timbre is also a wonderful and useful sound in its own right (if it weren't, the horn section in orchestras wouldn't be there). The way in which horns work with the overtone series really has nothing at all to do with hunting but has much to do with the physics of sound production, which in turn has much to do with music theory, which in turn has to do with composing music, music that may or may not be intended to conjure up specific thoughts about hunting. I can listen to an entire Mozart horn concerto without thinking about hunting even once. I am guessing that some of the listeners in his own time would have also done the same - it is not as if in his own time (or in Brahms' time, either) most of the people the audience had actually had the experience of going out hunting, and especially with someone who used the horn calls.

But regardless of all that, to me, understanding allusions to other musical usages or to natural sounds is a totally different thing than fitting imagined narrative stories to music in order to come up with an interpretation.

In my experience, classical music has given me many feelings and taken me to many states of mind that I can't fit to external narratives even if I wanted to. There are all sorts of emotions I've felt when listening to or playing classical music that are unique to the music itself, and don't match any external stories.

It's funny, but this can happen even when the composer provides a story. To me, what goes on musically in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and in his Les Noces is far distant and far more powerful than the kitschy "folk" narratives of both pieces (not to mention that ritual suicide by dancing seems to be an idea unique to Stravinsky's brain rather than something that actually has occurred in the real world).

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#1669349 - 05/01/11 05:30 AM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
Canonie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/04/09
Posts: 1941
Loc: Australia
great post wr. You've saved me the trouble of posting (and been much more eloquent).

Originally Posted By: wr
I almost never have those sorts of ideas about the music I play, and I don't remember ever intentionally creating that sort of association to help an interpretation. If they come to mind on their own, which happens once in a while, I don't suppress them, on the other hand. Whether my interpretation is specific or vague doesn't seem to depend on that kind of thing, but on how well I can intuit the musical sense of the music.

This is how I feel it too, yet I don't think my playing is flat or unemotional (but not completely sure). To me music is so much more than a story, a higher communication if you like.

On the other hand I relentlessly use story and narrative when teaching young beginners. Many possible shades of rit, ritenuto, a tempo, accel, are experienced as part of the story of a piece (they all have lyrics) long before I explicitly teach them the terms rit, ritenuto, a tempo etc. In other words they learn to connect musical expression with song, dance, story and drama. So I have no problem with adults using stories to find the expression in a piece, but don't force it to be literal. A story could make no sense and still be perfect for helping someone connect with a piece.
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Composers manufacture a product that is universally deemed superfluous—at least until their music enters public consciousness, at which point people begin to say that they could not live without it.
Alex Ross.

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#1669436 - 05/01/11 11:22 AM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: PianoBot]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly young Chopin justified the awareness of his mentor Elsner in his genius ... and established his famous Nocturne format ... no. 20 was clearly that of a relative new-boy finding his feet ... dedicated to his sister, this work shouldn’t have seen the light of day and obviously got through the guard of his close friend, who had been instructed to posthumously burn all his sub-par keyboard works.

It would seem pointless for our intellectual Forum fundis to make too big a thing of this work unless to note that Chopin had already cottoned on to use of a regular LH pulse on which to frame his single-note RH Theme ... and to abandon the too frequent use of trills.

To read anything more than an adventure into the mood created by the C# minor key would seem unmerited.

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#1669458 - 05/01/11 12:11 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: BruceD]
cardguy Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/17/08
Posts: 977
Bruce wrote: On the other hand, for me and for others, trying to fit a "story" or a specific context to a piece of essentially absolute music inhibits the appreciation of the music and, in some instances, even trivializes the work.



I think this is exactly right. Just following this idea logically, is one supposed to give every bar some sort of matching "incident." So in measure 4 our hero encounters a golden-haired young maiden by a lovely stream, and in measure 5 he takes her hand, and in measure 6 he gets down on his knees and declares his undying love?

Chopin would not be pleased I fear.



Edited by cardguy (05/01/11 12:14 PM)

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#1669473 - 05/01/11 12:49 PM Re: Struggling with interpretation of Chopin Nocturne [Re: cardguy]
chercherchopin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/11
Posts: 550
Loc: Dystopia (but not Dystonia!)
Originally Posted By: btb
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly young Chopin justified the awareness of his mentor Elsner in his genius ... and established his famous Nocturne format ... no. 20 was clearly that of a relative new-boy finding his feet ... dedicated to his sister, this work shouldn’t have seen the light of day and obviously got through the guard of his close friend, who had been instructed to posthumously burn all his sub-par keyboard works.

Chopin didn't call it a Nocturne (or give it any title at all). And you can't blame Julian Fontana for allowing its publication; he died in 1869, and this sketch wasn't published until 1875 according to Alan Walker.

Originally Posted By: cardguy
Chopin would not be pleased I fear.

I don't think he would be pleased that it was ever published, full stop -- and even less pleased that it's achieved popularity.
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