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Interpreting piano music: Should we truly realize the composer’s intent?

Matters of interpretation came up at the “Y” Gym yesterday when I bumped into the pianist from a North Berkeley house of worship. Aline is a fine musician who intersperses the service with great masterworks. Recently she played Grieg’s “Wedding March” during the basket-passing which lifted spirits as it amassed $$$$.

At that very instant, I thought about how Edvard Grieg might have rendered his own music. (To hear his personal reading would certainly provide authentic tempo references and suggested phrasing) After all, how many times had piano students been told to worship the composer at his altar –channeling his music as he would have intended.

When I studied Grieg’s “Butterfly” from the Lyric Pieces I managed to dig up a scratchy rendering of Grieg’s that was compelling in its departure from my so-called original edition.

But was His the Holy Bible of interpretation compared to others I sampled on You Tube.

Had the Creator set the piece in stone?

How about this reading?

It seemed warmer with judiciously used sustain pedal.

And my personal favorite played by Sviatoslav Richter–he escapes the tendency to race through.

In summary, I didn’t necessarily embrace the composer’s approach to his own music.

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BELA BARTOK

Here Bartok plays his hauntingly beautiful “Evening in the Country” with a wide brush of rubato that makes measuring the piece in notational form nearly impossible.

Compare to another rendering that’s compelling.

And now a more “measured out” performance that doesn’t seem to capture the improvised nature of the folkloric idiom, though one may argue that the reading is a personal expression of the artist that doesn’t have to match up with the composer’s so-called ideal.

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Gershwin plays Gershwin

“I Got Rhythm”

Updated and transcribed in a virtuoso framing:

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Traveling back over centuries where masterworks have no recorded expressions by their creators, we have treatises by C.P.E. Bach, for example, that inform about ornament execution, tempo, affect, etc.

Yet beyond what’s written by historians, the music itself, including melodic and harmonic flow give the player an interpretive map that is individually followed within the historical period of composition. This seems to be a better overall paradigm for interpretation than trying to be a carbon copy of the composer in any era.