Schliessmann was kind to respond to Global Music Awards' request for an interview:
Q: What most inspires you as a person and as a musician.
A: I’m inspired by so many things. For me, the whole life is filled of art and the experiences to live with this. Art is a philosophy, a conception of life. So, I’m inspired and influenced by the mirror of life in all its levels, in ups and downs. And I absorb, as a synaesthetic, all the colours I meet in my everyday life in music, in my interpretations.
As a professional scuba diver, I’m also fascinated and influenced by the variety of the colours of the underwater world which I transform into the world of my Steinway concert grand.
Q: In the liner notes of your album, Chronological Chopin, you name Frédéric Chopin your favorite composer. What is so unique about Chopin’s music that you have chosen him for this great project?
A: Chopin can only be understood if one has internalized that he and his music are a "whole life". So, it is a question of aesthetics, in which unmistakable way its music is a unique balance between, meaning of the moment and requirement of the thing. This is not a question of mere beautiful sentimentality but controlled emotionality, based on a deep understanding of classical forms and their internal structures.
In a relatively short creative life of twenty years or so, Chopin redrew the boundaries of Romantic music. His self-imposed restriction to the 88 keys of the piano keyboard sublimated nothing less than the aesthetic essence of piano music. It was his total identification with the instrument which, in its radical regeneration of the lyric and the dramatic, phantasy and passion and their unique fusion, shaped a tonal language which united an aristocratic sense of style and formal classical training and intuition with an ascetic rigour. Chopin’s precisely marshalled trains of thought permitted no experiments, and so he did not wander about within his stylistic points of reference as Scriabin was to do.
Let us remind ourselves that Robert Schumann dedicated his Kreisleriana to Frédéric Chopin, who thought little of the work on account of its deliberate disjointedness, confusion, complexity and exaltation. Chopin’s own sense and awareness of classical form made him a stranger to the world of phantasmagoria.
Alexander Scriabin’s inner and outer creative path was that of a confirmed cosmopolitan. A variety of creative and maturative processes shaped his artistic activities as composer, pianist and philosopher. Starting as an inheritor of the Chopin tradition and concluding as a forerunner of early atonality and serial music, with his last sonatas and preludes powerfully shaping and influencing the landscape of this creative sphere. As the accord mystique created by him on the basis of the tritone, serving as an electrifying centre and thus as the breeding-ground for his compositional subtleties, drew the energy fields of his major symphonic works and his late sonatas into the centre of his own dodecaphonic thinking, so this very chord acted as the focus of the serial idea itself and reverberated throughout the entire compositional world. This may make Frédéric Chopin, who always led a secluded life and gave very few insights into his artistic and private life, seem a pallid character by comparison.
Today, more than 150 years after his death, Frédéric Chopin’s eminence as a composer remains undisputed. There must now be general agreement that he was not a writer of salon compositions but a truly great composer.
Like Mozart, Schubert and Verdi, Chopin was a gifted tunesmith. There can few if any musicians who have created melodies of such subtlety and nobility. His Ballades, Scherzos, Etudes, Polonaises, the 24 Preludes, the B flat minor and B minor Sonatas, the latter with a final movement, as Joachim Kaiser once formulated it, in which “a mortally ill genius composed a glorious, wonderfully overheated anthem to the life force”, have never disappeared from the concert hall repertoire or the record catalogues.
Chopin’s biography, on the other hand, remains obscure. A man who withheld himself all his life in diametrical contrast to the openness and accessibility of his contemporary Franz Liszt, he always conveyed the impression of a suffering soul, not to say a martyr, almost as if this was to nourish or even underpin his inspiration. It is no wonder that popular literature dubbed him a “tuberculous man of sorrows” and “a consumptive salon Romantic”. Striving for crystalline perfection, he never ventured outside his own domain. The refusal to compromise that was innate to his character finally compelled him to break off his long-lasting liaison with George Sand and her daughter Solange. A loner, undoubtedly elitist, but at the same time a sufferer. This is made clearer by a comparison with the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who is said as a child to have given “martyr” as his chosen career. Chopin too must have shared this cult of the “pater dolorosus”.
Although a European celebrity, he was surrounded even then by an aura of mystery. Even as a practising pianist, he was a special case. His playing is described by all his contemporaries as something exceptionally individual. Rarely indeed did he appear on the concert platform, feverishly awaited by his followers, “for the man they were waiting for was not only a skilled virtuoso, a pianist versed in the art of the keyboard; he was not only an artist of high reputation, he was all that and more yet than that – he was Chopin”, as Franz Liszt wrote in 1841 in his review of a Chopin concert. Liszt gave his own view of Chopin’s reclusiveness: “What would have marked a certain retreat into oblivion and obscurity for anybody else gave him a reputation immune from all the whims of fashion. ... This precious, truly high and supremely noble fame was proof against all attacks.”
The reason for his reclusiveness and for the rarity of his appearances on the concert platform is given by Chopin himself, and his observation to Liszt, whose virtuosity Chopin always admired, reveals a lot about him: “I am not suited to giving concerts; the audience scares me, its breath stifles me, its inquisitive looks cripple me, I fall silent before strange faces. But you are called to this; for if you do not win over your audience, you are still capable of subjugating it.”
“Even if these pages do not suffice to speak of Chopin as we should wish, we hope that the magic which his name justly exercises will add all that our words lack. Chopin was extinguished by slowly perishing in his own flame. His life, lived far from all public events, was as it were a bodiless being that reveals itself only in the traces he has left us in his musical works. He breathed his last in a foreign country that never became a new home for him; he stayed true to his eternally orphaned fatherland. He was a poet with a soul filled with secrets and plagued by sorrows.” Franz Liszt in his biography of Chopin, 1851
Q: Chopin’s music developed and changed over time. Do you think modern musicians should stick to rather directly to how Chopin played, his learned methods, or take new paths and continue the development of his music with changing traditions?
A: Hardly any pianistic style has changed over the years as much as that of the Chopin game. In fact, in former times one used to speak of a typical "Chopin player". Cortot, for example, was one of them. Even though I admire him incredibly, precisely because of his intuitive-inspired and improvisational play, his game at the end, determined also because of his illness and the associated Morphinismus, was extraordinarily mannered and dematerialized. The immediate answer to this was Rubinstein: his play was male-powerful, emphasizing the classicistic note and thus sternness of Chopin (Beethoven he saw as a romanticist), he was the opposite pole to Cortot. He "just moved", which Cortot had dematerialized. One must imagine this in a similar way as the many Bach interpretations after the re-discovery by Bach's re-enactment of the St. Matthew Passion by Mendelssohn: how many regular distortions had experienced Bach since this time so that a restoration of order by Rosalyn Tureck and especially Glenn Gould more than necessary. "Interpretative culture", I call that phenomenon. It is the responsibility of an interpreter to give the answer to the achievements of a colleague. Chopin traditions like Rubinstein such as Argerich, Pollini, Zimerman, Pogorelich, etc., would be unthinkable. Today we have Yulianna Avdeeva, whom I appreciate very much, who plays Chopin technically in a sheer perfect and modern way.
Surely a specific question of the time of the respective spirit and the associated insights.
The concept of asceticism in the sense of the Greek doctrine of ethics is also essential to the understanding and interpretation of Chopin. This doesn’t mean something like ‘renounce’ or even a ‘lack’ of something. No, it means, in philosophical manner, and especially
in the historic Greek sense of “Askesis’, a special kind of internal yearning, a special power wherein, despite all depressions, defeats, and failures you develop a new power to keep to something, to create something. It’s something like an obsession. Bach, Mozart, Schubert, they all, and their oeuvre, are filled from this phenomenon, and it’s this spirit which keeps this music so vivid and alive, and fashioned for all times and generations.
Chopin’s works may seem light and improvisatory, but they are planned in meticulous details, exactly and well calculated. In this context his deep bond to Bach is also to be understood. Thus, Chopin brought the well-tempered piano, the new Paris edition, to Majorca, and devoted himself to a special study of the principal work of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Q: You have said, there is no arbitrary rubato. How and where does the rubato have to be and how exactly should it be executed?
A: There has been much discussion about the manner of his rubato playing, with his contemporaries greatly differing in their views. “His playing was always noble and fine, his gentlest tones always sang, whether at full strength or in the softest piano. He took infinite pains to teach the pupil this smooth, songful playing. ‘Il (elle) ne sait pas lier deux notes [He (she) does not know how to join two notes]’, that was his severest criticism. He also required that his pupils should maintain the strictest rhythm, hated all stretching and tugging, inappropriate rubato and exaggerated ritardando. ‘Je vous prie de vous asseoir [Please be seated]’, he would say on such occasions with gentle mockery.” This recollection of a female pupil polarized whole generations of piano professors in their search for the meaning of “rubato”, particularly in view of other, more weighty opinions, such as those of Berlioz, who saw Chopin’s playing as marred by exaggerated licence and excessive wilfulness: “Chopin submitted only reluctantly to the yoke of bar lines; in my opinion, he took rhythmical independence much too far. ... Chopin could not play at a steady pace.” Evidently, he did not allow his pupils the licence he reserved for himself.
"Rubato" is a musical phenomenon, which must never be arbitrary, something that must be minutely planned, and exactly, if one reads the text exactly and understands it, is directly or indirectly anchored in the text or emerges from it. In Chopin' rubato must never be used arbitrarily. Already Artur Schnabel, revered by me, has taught rubato to Chopin. It was precisely He who, in general, understood intellectually, and only then trusted his feeling. For me as well, the Chopinsche-rubato" is clear; the design is based on the lines of the bass; if it remains the same or if it lies on a repeating organ point, the tempo cannot be changed in any way. Only with the change of the melodic lines of the bass may (also) the tempo vary. An effect of tremendous effect, which, appropriately applied, can be oppressive.
The more planned and economical rubato is used, the more significant is every detail. "Rubato" is subject to the internal and inner structure as well regularity of a composition.
Q: You emphasize sound, and have said you look beyond the edge of the concert grand piano. What do you mean? To what do you aspire?
A: I have an absolutely concrete idea of each individual tone, both the one I play myself and the instrument itself. Ultimately, it is a unity. However, the sound of an instrument is also based on its mechanical regulation. Here, too, all forces converge to form a large whole. The "sound" I am striving for and is a sonorous, round and solid sound without any harshness. In every sound lives a world of its own. For many years, exactly since 1984, I have been working with Georges Ammann, the famous Steinway & Sons technician, who has just as exact an idea of the sound and regulation of an instrument and sees it as a unit. In my recordings he is constantly at my side; we are an absolutely reliable team.
I take the concerto grand as a stringed instrument. Percussions are alien to me and a completely methodological misunderstanding: Only the strings are methodically related to the production of a tone and the tracing of the horizontal progression of a note text. And here lies the great misunderstanding, pedagogically and methodically, especially of the Asians. Since the percussive element dominates the entire technique, their "sound" is metallic hard.
I myself am oriented on the cello: The cello has the sonor-bearing sound; also called the "extension of the human voice". In addition, there is a sexual-erotic component of this instrument.
"When we listen to the music of Bach, dominated by dance, we are inevitably conscious of the fact that, although he may have proceeded from the baroque view of dance as a human and secular order, he again conjured up his old religious magical implications." This is the beginning of the chapter entitled Voice and Body: Bach's Suites for Solo-Cello are the Apotheosis of Dance" in Wilfrid Meiler's Buchbach and the Dance of God. Meilers then suggested that "if we imagine the age of the Baroque as the triumph of humanism after the Renaissance, we can accept the sexual symbolism of bow and string as all-embracing. The instrument is female passive, the bow is male active; bring them together to the creation ". He also notes that "Bach's music for ‘Solo Violine’ and for ‘Solo Cello’ is the most accomplished manifestation of this humanization of an instrument," and that the cello, more than the violin, reflects the entire human being. The reason for this is, he maintains, "his timbre of all instruments is most similar to that of a male voice with a large extent; as regards the physical, it requires movements of the arms, trunk, and shoulders, which means that you sing and dance at the same time in the cello.
That's exactly how I capture the concert grand.
With regard to methodology, I mean the inclusion of the entire arm from the hand root to the upper arm and the shoulder and its lines, as well as the entire body, for the production of a tone and the tracing of the horizontal line of the note text.
Q: You pointly emphasize intensity of expression, virtuosic line in your recent interpretations. Was Chopin averse to virtuous virtuosity? Why should this element be highlighted?
A: I do not want to be misunderstood by the "virtuoso line". Of course, this is not a superficial virtuosity, but that level of all-embracing, self-evidentness, which includes all areas of objective but also subjective correctness. The virtuosity mentioned by me describes precisely that already mentioned transcendence, where weightlessness and meaningfulness as well as regularity of the sequence merge into a unity. Importance by the moment and requirement of the fact.
Q: Insightful classical pianist Artur Schnabel described Chopin mockingly as a right-wing melody. On the other hand, Brahms regarded Chopin highly. As a composer would you say about Chopin within this opinion dispute?
A: A high-voltage theme complex. In fact, Artur Schnabel was a highly esteemed Beethoven apologist who, in this generation and at that time, established a revolution regarding the interpretation of the classical piano music, especially the Beethoven interpretation. His way of reading and understanding text was unique and pioneering. Tension fields according to different parameters - melodic, harmonic, metric and rhythmic articulation - to be analyzed accordingly and to a new unity, remained unprecedented.
In a previous question, I replied, among other things, that there were once typical Chopin performers such as Alfred Cortot. It is a regular character and style question. I am quite sure that Schnabel was a typical classical interpreter; and so he was particularly famous for interpreting the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. He could hardly find what he sought in music, stylistic and character, with his understanding at Chopin. Especially since in his time, Chopin was understood primarily as a romantic composer and had not yet recognized the classical element in his oeuvre. From this point of view, his depreciation, that Chopin was a right-handed melodist, must be understood and relativized.
Just as it is repeatedly debated whether Brahms himself had been a good or rather moderate, sometimes clumsy pianist. Doubtless Brahms pursued a completely different style, but I am quite sure that someone who composed such an elegant and highly virtuoso work as the Paganini Variations must have been pianistically highly trained and stylistically revolutionary modern. To this extent one can admire his admiration for Chopin, who for aesthetic reasons, as already explained in detail, concentrated on the medium of the 88 keys, understand and understand.
Q: We already talked about musical influences and works, which Chopin particularly appreciated. But what about his personal relationships? Which persons from the composer's life inspired him to compose? Or, was his music turned inward and personal, detached from human influences?
A: Chopin was particularly inspired from Bach in a very special way. The well-tempered piano, the new Paris edition, he had brought with him to Mallorca and devoted himself to a special study of the principal work of Johann Sebastian Bach. In Bach’s compositions Chopin saw greatness, order and calm, but also secureness in the past.
All the people who had been close to Chopin knew how much he had loved Mozart's Requiem, that he always wanted to have the piano extract, whether in Mallorca or in Nohant, and that he was lying in his salon on Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. Eugène Dalacroix was one of those friends who played a very special role in Chopin's life. In a last conversation with him on April 7, 1849, the logic of the music continued: Chopin had explained Delacroix harmony and contrapuntal, explaining the construction of a fugue. Then the conversation had come to Beethoven and Mozart. Beethoven often ignores timeless principles, Chopin had said, Mozart never. With him every single part has its course, but always in connection with the others; the perfect melody is formed; that is the counterpoint, the punto contra punto.
It was also certain that Mozart's Requiem was to be performed at Chopin's funeral and the funeral celebration in the Church of St. Madeleine in Paris. Everyone knew how much Chopin worshiped female singers, so did his pupils also have the sentence in their ear: They must sing with their fingers. He had sent many pupils to singing lessons; if you wanted to play the piano, you had to learn to sing. Whoever wanted to sing these perfectly performed melodies was also fixed very quickly. Apart from Chopin's friend Pauline Viardot-Garcia, the soprano Jeanne Castellan, the tenor Alexis Dupont and the bassist Luigi Lablache also had agreed to perform. Seventeen years earlier, Chopin was inspired by Lablache in Paris with the performance of two Rossini operas: Otello and L'Italiana in Algeri.
Chopin 's closest friends, who always inspired him and his work, accompanied him on his last journey: Auguste Franchomme, Eugène Delacroix, Adolf Gutmann, Hector Berliox, also his publishers, had come and Camille Pleyel, the largest part of the Polish exile Clésingers, his pupils. It was financed by Jane Starling, the Scottish girl who also supported Chopin decisively during the last years after the separation from Goerge Sand and also sponsored the concert tour in 1848, the Ochsentour, to England. So, it was also possible that the choir and orchestra of the Conservatoire had announced and could be called as conductor Narcisse Girard. He had been in the Salle de Conservatoire at the conductor's booth in 1832 and 1834, when Chopin played his E minor concerto.
Chopin's art was supported in particular by a social component made possible by George Sand and life on Nohant. Here they met for mutual exchange. Central was here always Augène Delacroix.
When other composers of the time, such as Liszt, reached celebrity status during their own lifetime, it was certainly something special. Chopin, however, gained the status of something legendary during his lifetime: The famed artist Delacroix painted the central dome of the Palais de Luxembourg in Paris in 1845. In this painting Chopin appears as Dante and George Sand was portrayed as Aspasia, the second wife of Pericles. The peculiarity of this incarnation can be understood, in particular, against the background that Marie d'Agoult must have been very annoyed, she herself had seen Franz Liszt as Dante, at the time when she and Liszt were still a pair. That immortal rank Frédéric Chopin now took with a playful lightness.
Chopin had been suffering from a disease which he believed he had already overcome, but in 1845 he experienced a higher level of pain, and it significantly influenced his artistic work, namely homesickness. This disease was triggered by George Sand and Chopin’s visit to the Salle Valentino in the Rue Saint-Honoré, where the pictures of the American George Catlin, a fifty-year-old jurist, and of American Indians and whose lives were documented in drawings, watercolors, engravings and written records. Chopin was particularly concerned about the fate of one of the young Indians that he reported extensively to his family in Poland. Not the fact that she died, but the circumstances and backgrounds she had died, occupied him. The wife of one who was called the Little Wolf, was called Oke-We-Mi ... The bear who marched on the back of another, died on the way home (the poor creature) - and in the cemetery Montmartre (where Jas buried is a monument to her. Before she died she was baptized, the funeral took place in the Madelaine, so Chopin to his family. Even the planned monument is described by Chopin in writing to his family. According to the official news, the Indian had died of vertigo. Are the boundaries, or even transitions, between homesickness and vertigo for Chopin not fluent? Jas, his Polish friend, died of dizziness, consumption, in a foreign country, Carl Filtsch too. Chopin's most brilliant pupil from Siebenbürgen died from the same disease far from his home. Does Chopin also consume his distress, in his sadness, to the distant, lost? Will his forces be eaten up for the present by the grief for the lost? Chopin himself knows about his situation and writes to his family: I am always with one foot with you, with another with the mistress of the house, which works in the next room. Sure, who suffers from homesickness never lives entirely in the here and now, but in an essential and determining part in the place and at that time, in space, simaginaires, as Chopin himself called it. That Chopin's death celebration in the Madelaine should take place essentially goes back to that association with the Indian woman who died of homesickness, whose funeral feast was also held here.
Chopin's work is inspired by the pain of the world, which determines his compositions in a very special form of longing. He found fulfillment and salvation only in death. I am now at the source of happiness, were his last words.
Q: You have spoken of your synaesthetic perceptions. Your coupling of separate areas of your senses and psyche seems central to your interpretations. What form does your synaesthesia manifest in your music? Do you also see the colors of the music? Do you have other involuntary sensations that are music-related? How does all this influence your sense of sound and effect? Does synaesthesia influence your taste and your choice of program?
A: For me, the entire music and every single tone consists of many different colors. There are no wrong colors, although all possible mixing forms, but these, like all possible sounds, are based on the basis and the ratio of real colors. Just as I feel music primarily under harmonical articulation, that is, with corresponding sounds I have 'goose bumps', so are it also harmonic colors that put me in harmony with the subjective correctness of an interpretation and a sound bring. Of course, all this is directly related to the attack and the sound to be produced with it. This is why my immense claim to the instruments and technicians also results; exact representation of a sound, instrument, interpretation, work (perfection), truth ultimately form an inseparable unity or Gesamtkunstwerk. Each factor depends on the other or is dependent on it. Finally, when everything ends in a catharsis, it is a great happiness.
Synaesthesia is never surplusable or truggable. It is an emotional perception that cannot be influenced by any program selection or music taste. Whether one perceives, experiences and experiences Chopin in the interpretation of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli or a song performed by Helene Fischer, surely, non-comparative extremes, but nevertheless emotional worlds that can ultimately be similar. Whether atonality or cluster music, the question is whether your inner being experiences a new definition or not.
Q: Let’s go into the program selection of your new triple CD, Chronological Chopin. You include Ballades and Scherzos, 24 Preludes, Fantasia F minor, Berceuse D major, Barcarolle F sharp major and Polonaise Fantasia A flat major. For what reasons did you choose these pieces? What, for instance, caused you to record some familiar pieces?
A: The pieces I selected have, for many years, been part of my life and of my engagement with Chopin. I played them, and still do, in various recitals and know how the audience reacts. Lastly, I would say, that these pieces are parts of myself. I wanted to put the smaller pieces next to the major ones. For example, I see the Preludes, op. 28, not as a collection of miniatures, but as a big, coherent major cycle, like Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Chopin’s cycle is composed of 24 pieces that encompass all 12 major and minor keys; his Preludes, however, are not in chromatic progression but follow the principle of the circle of fifths.
My next recording plans include the three Sonatas. With them I will show that Chopin not only was a great admirer of the classical form but that he was able to manage large-scale sonata-allegro form with all its classical rules and demands. On the other hand, I wanted to show the development of Chopin, from the early pieces until the later ones.
Q: On the three CDs the works are chronologically arranged. Why the chronological order? What sets this program apart from all other pieces and it so extraordinary?
A: With this edition my Chopin-Orientation/Occupation is still far from being completed. The next recording will deal, in particular, with the Three Sonatas, and also include the works I already mentioned.
Above all, the Mazurkas need their own occupation and representation; with no other form than this, Chopin has devoted himself more to his studies than to this, no other form is a longer reflection of lifelong compositional occupation than that of the Mazurkas, the mirror of reminiscence to his Polish home.
This edition deals with Chopin's extraordinary works. Works, in which, as already described in other parts of this interview, he had worked again and again for many years. Whether Chopin has experienced little development, I would like to doubt, in opposite, this I have already pointed out in my booklet text of this edition. Ferruccio Busoni, in his preface to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, in 1894: "Chopin’s brilliant talent rose through the soft swamp of melodious phrase-mongering and sonorous virtuosity to the height of individuality. In harmonic intelligence, he approaches a great step nearer to the mighty Sebastian [Bach]."
And in the Zürcher Programme from 1916 one can learn: “Chopin’s personality represents the ideal of the Balzacian hero of the Thirties: the pale, interesting, mysterious, distinguished stranger in Paris. The coincidence of these conditions explains the powerful effect of Chopin’s appearance, to which a strong musical sense contributed the constant element.”
Q: Chopin's composition is well-known, especially his minute filing on every inconspicuous note. Do you have any more detailed knowledge, details, or more unknown findings that you could share with us?
A: Doubtless, pianistically and compositionally, the Four Ballades are the culmination of Chopin’s creative achievement. From Opus 23 of the first Ballade through to the fourth, Opus 52, these tone poems embrace a period of eleven years, 1831-1842, and illustrate the composer’s consummate skill in uniting poetic expressiveness with masterly large-scale design and pianistic richness. In the musical statement they make, each of them inhabits a world of its own, rendering fruitless all speculation as to whether these works were inspired by literary models taken from the Polish writer Mickiewicz. The prevailing mood is determined by the vital transitions between the various episodes, with their strikingly powerful and compelling effect that takes precedence over our observation of the idiosyncratic formal structure. The second Ballade, with its drastic alternation between idyllic pastoral tranquillity and suddenly descending storm, contrasts with the gently gliding transitions of the remaining Ballades, ingeniously uniting the four works into an organic whole.
Significant are Schumann’s words about the Third Ballade op. 47: “... It differs from his early ones noticeably in form and character, and is, like them, one of his most personal creations. The elegant, witty Pole, who is accustomed to circulate in the finest circles in the French capital, may be eminently recognizable in it; its poetic aroma cannot be broken down into smaller fractions.”
The great Fantaisie in F minor op. 40 could itself be described as an extended ballade. We are told that Chopin originally improvised it and then, drawing upon his first, personal experience of it, committed it to paper. This may explain why the listener, subject to the interpretation placed upon the work by the performing artist, receives the direct impression of a “chance in a million”. Heroic patriotism is felt throughout this piece written in 1840-1841, whose dramatic accents, broad sonorities and wealth of compositional devices are arrested in the middle of the work by an inward-pointing, anthemic Intermezzo in B major, as if it were a prayer or inner monologue, until the trance is abruptly broken and the fiercely exultant triplets of the right band reassert the original character of the piece. Following a renewed standstill on a chord of the dominant sixth, there is an improvisatory summons as if from afar, almost Schumannesque in tone. Once again, the rolling quaver motion is heard, this time dying away in pianissimo. Two chords sound, and the curtain falls. Masculine grandeur and inwardly directed lyricism dictate the course of this moving composition.
Music history has long recognized the genre and form of the scherzo. Beethoven frequently included a scherzo in his sonatas, symphonies and chamber music in place of the hitherto customary minuet; Schubert too gave some of his smaller pieces the title “Scherzo”, as did Mendelssohn, e.g, op. 16 and op. 21. Chopin took over this term, freely shaping its form and structure to comply with his intuition. In his scherzos we may discern his wish to break down the established form of the sonata and individualize particular parts of it.
Humour and jokes have no place in Chopin’s Scherzos, which are some of his most demonic and gloomy works. “One may indeed ask how seriousness is to be clad, when even the joke [Scherz] goes forth in dark veils”, wrote Robert Schumann of the Scherzo no. 1 in B minor op. 20 in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of May 12, 1835. He expressed himself similarly on December 4, 1838, again in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, about Chopin’s Scherzo no. 2 in B flat minor op. 31: “The Scherzo is reminiscent in its passionate character of its predecessor [op. 20]: it remains a highly compelling piece, not unjustly comparable to a poem of Lord Byron’s, so tender, so sprightly, so full both of love and of disdain. Not all will find that this suits them.” Wilhelm von Lenz, one of Chopin’s pupils, gave his own view on page 290 of the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung of September 11, 1872: “From the 1st bar onward it is to be observed that the seemingly innocent doubled triplet figure (A, B flat, D flat) can never be played to the satisfaction of the composer. ‘It must be a question’, taught Chopin, and it was never enough of a question for him, never piano enough, never sufficiently vaulted (tombé), as he put it, never important enough. ‘It must be a house of the dead’, he once said.”
We find few contemporary comments upon the Scher¬zo no. 3 in C sharp minor op. 39. After Chopin first played it in the Salons Pleyel on April 26, 1841, La France Musicale of May 2 declared the work “full of generous simplicity and warmth”.
The tender, elfin Scherzo no. 4 in E major op. 54 that may be viewed almost in the bright light of Men¬delssohn was largely ignored both by pianists and by 19th-century critics. Yet in respect of its thematic material it is surely the most valuable of the set. Free of Slavic gloom or fury, it represents one of Chopin’s brightest and friendliest works. With all the charm of its Chopinesque elegance and pianistic finesse, it strikes a German Romantic tone, reminiscent of Weber or even more of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the middle section, that wonderful Trio, we encounter one of the most beautifully crafted melodies in Chopin’s entire oeuvre, recalling Schubert in its cantilena and its minor-major character, without sacrificing any of its rhythmic charm or pianistic elegance.
The lyrical Prélude in C sharp minor op. 45 with its improvisatory introduction appeared in 1841. Chopin himself praised it for its “lovely modulations”. The harmonic progression in its 42 bars is governed by an unerring logic that leads to unexpected excursions and transitions. The oft-perceived passivity of the will is a merely superficial expression, given that the chromatic excursions, particularly in the cadenza, pervade the piece with the stimulating world of the Tristan chord, which lifts the nocturne-like mood to a new level.
The other works are already moving into areas of the so-called "Absolute Music". The delimitation here is that the ballads, in particular, are literally inspired, while Berceuse, Barcarolle and Polonaise-Fantaisie, to name only three, have no literary origin and stand as real monoliths.
The Berceuse in D flat op. 57 is acknowledged as a classic example of unparalleled delicacy of sound. It is wonderful to see the inspired invention with which an ostinato bass figure comparable with a chaconne is overlaid with broken chords, fioritura, arabesques, trills and cascading passages formed and developed as variations, which emerge from an at first dreamlike peace in ever faster coloratura and brilliant iridescence to a virtuosic middle section, only to sink back into that visionary peace when the quaver rhythm blends with the rocking left-hand figure.
In Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, from September 16, 1845, we can learn: The left hand begins with a simple rocking figure of accompaniment alternating between tonic and dominant. In the 3rd bar the right hand commences with a lilting melody, such as a mother, herself half awake, half dreaming, might murmur to herself as she lulled her darling to sleep. A second voice soon joins it; and while the left hand maintains the rocking motion, the right varies the lullaby in manifold, dreamily playful ways. The last such variation, gracious and supple, descends from the heights, more to the middle of the keyboard. Little by little the tender song falls silent. Sweetly may the little child dream!
The Barcarolle op. 60 is a creation of sublime beauty. In its range of expression, its rainbow of colours, its rocking rhythm and its perfectly judged formal design, it is one of Chopin’s masterpieces. Carl Tausig wrote of the Barcarolle: This is a study of two persons, a love scene in a secret gondola; let us say this dramatization is the very symbol of a lovers’ meeting. This is expressed in the thirds and sixths; the dualism of two notes (persons) is constant; all is for two parts or two souls. In this modulation in C sharp major (dolce sfogato), there is surely kiss and embrace! That much is clear! – when after 3 opening bars the fourth introduces this gently swaying theme as a bass solo, and yet this theme is used only as accompaniment throughout the whole fabric upon which the cantilena in two parts comes to rest, we are dealing with a sustained, tender dialogue.”
Interesting: The dolce sfogato in bar 78 appears for the first time in the history of composition. Really sensational!
The “Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung”, February 17, 1847: The rocking motion of the Barcarole may be represented only by a two-part measure, expressing the rise and fall of the waves, but it heightens the character when the constituent parts of the bar are kept in three-part rhythm, that is to say, in triplets. The whole work glides along most gently when the 12/8 time expresses the double rise and fall, and particularly in the greater and more extended form of the whole work, this is an excellent means of binding the groups of bars into constant flow. The rhythm upon which the shape of the whole depends is introduced by Chopin first as an accompanying figure, such as we find in many of his Etudes, and builds upon this the two-part melody, so that one can easily imagine the voyage of a contented and happy couple. The composer does not leave things in this comfortable state, but brings in modulations that are foreign to the Barcarole, giving ground to an alternative that is in sharp contrast in rhythm and key. The piece is in F sharp major, this episode in A; this naturally leads back to F sharp, and thus into the Barcarole proper. However, it has taken on new form. By doubling its intervals and by passage-work of various kinds, it has turned itself into a salon piece which seems unfaithful to its original nature, even if, when played well and above all cleanly, it sounds very pretty. This truly and conscientiously clean and faultless playing is made more difficult for many amateurs by the many accidentals which Chopin, in his love of the black keys, is so frequently obliged to use. At the same time, however, this is a valuable exercise.
The Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61 is Chopin’s last great work for piano. It cannot in fact be considered a true polonaise. It is far more of a fantasia, whose unusual form corresponds to that of a symphonic poem or a large-scale symphonic work. Its musical programme is more that of a ballade than that of a dance. It is legitimate to ask whether this late work of Chopin’s deserves to have its sustained air of inner reflection disturbed by coquettish fancies. The underlying maestoso character, with the tempo heading “Allegro-Maestoso”, governs the mood of the whole work and calls for something that will bear the load, maintain equilibrium, yet remain weightless. It is a key composition among Chopin’s last works, which are characterized by feverish unrest and offer no daring images or sunny landscapes.
Franz Liszt’s poetic depiction sounds strange to us today, particularly in connection with his own works: “These are pictures that are unfavourable to art, like the depiction of all extreme moments, of agony, where the muscles lose all their tension and the nerves, no longer tools of the will, become the passive prey of human pain. A sorrowful prospect indeed, which the artist should accept into his domain only with the utmost care.” These are moving words indeed, but I believe that Liszt came into conflict with the formal layout of this work, possibly in much the same way in which Eduard Hanslick bluntly dismissed Franz Liszt’s own B minor Sonata as “the fruitlessly spinning wheels of a genius driven by steam”.
This presents the performing artists with the challenge of shaping this work to do justice to its content: compelling, balanced organic structure throughout, with a view of its greatness, despite the risk of losing oneself in the limited execution of its wonderfully thrilling details.
The “Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung”, February 17, 1847, describes: The composer begins quite freely, rhapsodically and as it were in the style of a prelude, then moves in vague harmonies into the measure of an Alla Pollacca, and then introduces a Tempo giusto, A flat major, which has a thematic character. We use this expression to indicate that there is after all no actual polonaise theme in the customary sense, so free and fantastic is the form of this theme destined for further development. Nor can there be any question of a strict development. A second melody in the dominant is more sharply delimited, more songful, all the more genial, in that there has been very much modulation up to this point. Now, however, the Fantasia begins to wander about, from E flat it proceeds to B flat, to G minor and B minor and now in a self-contained section to B major, which through similar rhapsodic figures as at the beginning returns to F minor and then back to the underlying key of A flat. It is only at the end that this is lastingly and deliberately maintained. The whole piece oscillates in a certain indeterminacy of keys, which indeed is often a charming feature of Chopin, but does go very far here. The name Fantasia is surely chosen with regard to the boldness of these contours. Theory here asks what may be the bounds of such freedom, beyond which the effect of the whole may very easily be lost. After two pages, some will lay this Polonaise aside, dispirited. On closer acquaintance many a detail will surely give pleasure, and in this connection we cannot help but observe that Chopin, at the very height of his powers, still very well understood how to limit an invention, to hold it in check. Should he yet succeed in achieving this quality, he would make a more universal and stronger impression through his often remarkable combinations. The thought that he casts forth is almost always happy, why does he then so much shun its firm shaping, its deliberate development?
Q: When you play, Chopin or other composers, how do you see your role in the performance? Is the work for you in the foreground only, and are you trying to eliminate yourself as an intermediary as much as possible, or do you actively involve your personality and your subjective perception with the moment?
A: I generally see the function of an interpreter in the role of a "servant on the work of art". The great composers have written their texts so clearly, that their intention and statement are unmistakable. These are the primary tasks of an interpreter. It is the great art to step down behind this task, and still bring his own personality as an identity, without distorting the one-component statement of the composition. When we look at the history of the great performers, we can learn that the great art existed precisely in this, that interpreter and composition merge into a great all-embracing unity. Already after a few tones every interpreter was recognizable with his own personality, as a business card. And yet the statement of a composition remained unmistakable. "Subjective perception" was reserved as an inspirational element for the last moment of experience as an "experience". The situation of a catharsis arose for the listener. He, the listener, learned that music and its interpretation was ultimately a language. Subjectivity and objectivity formed a new level of experience. Elsewhere, I have already said that the importance of the moment and demand of the thing have developed into a single component of the tightrope walk. In it, I also see my function as mediating and spreading the aspect of a "truth".
In Thomas Mann's early work Doctor Faustus, "the old German Volksbuch des Teufelsbeschwörer Dr. Faustus, in which the fate of music is treated as a paradigm of the crisis of art itself, of culture at all." According to the author's words, the novelist Adrian Leverkühn and his atonal compositions developed in syphilistic ecstasy are at the center examples of necessary dodecaphonic thinking. In this way, the exemplary art of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, is linked in an almost moving manner, the ideal of which was to realize the most fundamental concern of great music in its interpretation in the beyond of the mind and the senses.
What Schopenhauer meant by this was, ultimately, an "all-encompassing", a plane, on which the illumination of various parameters in work and interpretation withstood all requirements. He called this a process of "historical creation."
Let us reflect on the importance and the reason for the change in the interpretation of great works of art, and above all, falsely, more and more suppressed phenomenon of emotion.
When great interpreters, who were quite famous, who were unfortunately no longer among us, gave their views in the concert, we heard music as what it really was LANGUAGE. Language in the exploration of details, in the presentation and interpretation of one-component friction and harshness, almost as mirror images in the emergence of their respective times, reflected in their own identity, the intuitive knowledge of the great connections and the personality of the artist. Thus, a work of art, whose statement was always unique, charismatic, authentic, but also in the positive sense, was not repeatable, a single great litter, self-willed, sometimes self-centered, but always the balance between importance of the moment and demand of the thing, a feeling of tension which occasionally caused a new beauty side. Interpretation not from classic-placard top view, but as a relentlessly dynamic unrolling process. However, such a ripening process presupposes a development in the most basic sense, a development that takes time, time to arrive at "own speech".
Q: You clearly inspire deep emotion in those who listen to your music during your performances and recordings. What is the magic of those moments for you as a musician?
A: The things that are most important to me in such a project are perfectionism and truth. Truth of interpretation, truth of sound, truth of the instrument, truth of the hall, and truth lastly of all. This means artistic integrity to me. Coming back to my artistic aims in my Chopin: It’s a special combination of lyricism, poetry, virtuosity, noblesse (!), classical strength but also romantic enthusiasm and passion, in bringing out this obscure man Chopin and creating an experience never before heard. When I perform in recital I’m inspired by the moment; it’s an endless improvisation.
Q: If you hadn’t chosen music as a career, what do you think you would do right now?
A: Oh, I never thought to do something outside of music and art. I have many talents. Already by the age of 21, I played the complete organ works of Bach, and this by memory. As a child and youngster, I had been taught by one of the last master-students of the legendary Helmut Walcha, and I had been completely affected by this style of insight into Bach and the internal structures of the works. This method of regarding the independent coherence of all the voices gave me a special comprehension of Bach and his philosophy.
I’m convinced that music and art will keep me busy until the end of my life.
Outside the music and art, I’m a professional scuba diver and Master Instructor of PADI and serve as an Ambassador for the Protecting of Our Ocean Planet program of the Project AWARE Foundation. I join diving expeditions in countries far off the way, among these Cuba, Cayo Coco, Micronesia (Palau, Yap), French Polynesia (Ponapé), New Guinea, Philippines, Egypt, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Thailand, Mexico, Cozumel, Bahamas, Bonaire, St. Lucia, Cocos Islands, Socorro, Malpelo, Galapagos, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Turkey and Mykonos.
Further I’m also is engaged in the study of philosophy and photography. I’m member of Canon Professionals.
So, I think, to be very busy.
Q: What advice do you have for young, emerging composers and musicians?
A: In a renowned German music magazine, I had to ask myself many years ago in an interview the question, which I recommend young pianists, to find their own identity. I replied that I see great problems and directly a great danger to art in the fast-paced life of our times. Young pianists are often not the time of restoration and rest for an inner maturation process. Already in school very quickly a specialization, which prevents an actual expansion of a general education. I am questioning this development.
Then I see the problem of the international competitions, which are all about the race for the fastest and loudest game; instead of the music itself and its production.
The choice of an appropriate teacher is also of the utmost importance: I strongly reject certain talent forgiveness, who put quasi-grudgingly their students in the leading places of the competitions instead of teaching the deeper content of the art.
I wish young pianists the strength to resist this machinery and the ability to listen to themselves: if talent, diligence and the hardest work, intelligence and the corresponding expansion of an all-embracing education balance, then the prerequisite for the creation and development of an independent personality.
To this development is a characteristic nowadays unfortunately more and more in the background characteristic: courage. The courage not to submit to, or even subjugate, currents which are temporary or temporary, courage for independence, courage to develop and stand behind their own concepts. Courage for independence; courage to break away from the trend of adaptation.
And, moreover, the preservation of a naturalness and human simplicity in the form of human greatness stands for me in a central place. If the view goes beyond all intellectual references, there is the danger of losing the angle of view to the interior, which I mean in this respect normal life. Great art was born out of life, its humanity, its simplicity, and its lowlands. Arrogance is out of place here. Interpretation as an aspect of human reality, thus closing the circle of intuition.
I myself acknowledge my artistic credo, which derives from the aesthetics of the German philosopher Hegel, not only the conviction, but the obligation of my own artistic will, thought, and work: "For art isn’t a pleasant or useful toy, art: It is an unfolding of the truth."
To be carried away into the inner districts of great music and music as an open-mindedness, above all also in the knowledge of the delimitation against entertaining, superficial effects, the task and obligation of interpreters, listeners, agents, presenters, music critics and in particular the record industry, which contributes to the preservation of cultural property, for the upcoming years.
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