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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: December 2009

3 - Interpretation


On interpreting Chopin

Musical meaning is elusive and ephemeral – like music itself. The identity of a musical work continually evolves as it experiences successive interpretations, and the degree to which it can endure a multiplicity of readings without suffering ‘depletion’ may be one measure of its aesthetic value. In this sense Chopin's concertos are truly great works, for they have weathered a vast range of response yet still invite new and different interpretations, their musical content too rich in potential for individual readings to exhaust.

Chopin reception over the past 150 years is characterised in general by extraordinary diversity – in part because of the relative nonspecificity of his music's expressive language (as opposed, say, to the more programmatic idiom of composers like Liszt). It is nevertheless possible to trace patterns within the welter of critical reaction to the composer's music, one of these a progression from the highly personalised responses common in the mid to late nineteenth century, through the ostensibly more rigorous structuralist critiques of this century, to the ‘reconciliatory’ synthesis of the subjective and the objective typical of recent scholarship. This dialectical framework – like Samson's model of Chopin reception as a ‘dispersal of meanings’ in the nineteenth century followed by a ‘closure of meaning’ in the twentieth – takes as its starting point the nineteenth-century listener's tendency to poeticise, to programmatise, to translate a musical work into a narrative, whether historical or biographical. Thus arose a class of writing about music using metaphor or analogy as its ‘principal tool’, and attempting to capture in prose the sense and experience of music as sound.

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Chopin: The Piano Concertos
  • Online ISBN: 9780511611636
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