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Chopin: Pianist and Teacher: As Seen By His Pupils Paperback – 1 Dec 1988
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' … truly a book about the way Chopin played the piano, and about the way he interpreted his own music … Anyone interested in Chopin will be grateful to Eigeldinger.' Charles Rosen, The New York Review of Books
' … the book is really indispensable to the serious student of Chopin. Almost all those reading it will find their view of the composer made sharper and truer than before.' Nicholas Temperley, MLA Notes
The first English paperback edition of the unique collection of documents which reveal Chopin as teacher and interpreter of his own music. From the accounts of his pupils, acquaintances and contemporaries, together with his own writing, we gain valuable insight into Chopin's pianistic and stylistic practice, his teaching methods and his aesthetic beliefs.
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If you're serious about playing Chopin you might want to know what other famous composers of his time said about the way he played his own music. Granted, that knowledge is not terribly encouraging (his playing was 'incomparable', 'like the glint of mother of pearl', no one else at the time, including his best students could often express the point of his music as it came from his own hands, that each performance of his was different: improvisational, subtle beyond most mortal techniques, metrical yet freely expressive, very confined in dynamic range yet dramatic, as delicate as a slight breeze in the most demanding passages, etc.) I suspected something like this and had been avoiding playing Chopin for that very reason, especially knowing how particular he was about the piano he played on -- and that much of what seems impossible when studying his scores would not have been impossible on a piano like his particular Pleyel -- just impossible for anyone except Chopin on a good day. Not terribly encouraging. But you will learn what preparation he considered essential, which pieces by other composers he insisted his students learn (usually Bach, Clementi, Hummel, and Field, among others such as Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert,) and a vast amount more.
So, at the very least, this book will tell you everything known today that can document what Chopin said, wrote, or played within earshot of someone who wrote about it. Among these contemporary sources are the diary entries about particular pieces from any student of Chopin's who noted them. This includes notes on their scores, fingerings, sometimes in Chopin's handwriting, etc. This will not relieve you of having to decide for yourself what to make of each of these observations -- for example, did Berlioz accurately convey what you would have heard? Did Chopin's notes and comments to a particular student simply reflect a compromise to lessen that particular student's inevitable failure (as Mikuli lamented)? Here you're still on your own, but unless you have a time machine your only other choice is to not perform the music at all.
Meanwhile, Eigeldinger is himself a great teacher, and he is able to synthesize and communicate what he has absorbed from a lifelong study of Chopin. Chopin was not always satisfied with his own playing and almost never with his best students' playing, so we will need all the help we can get. If you are brave enough to attempt the impossible, I suggest you take this help and try to absorb as much as you can.
Note: This book is not the only source of help, but it might lead you to others. For example, when wondering about what Chopin intended with his alla breve "largo" in opus 28 number 4 it might be helpful to read what Czerny wrote about this (in great detail) in response to the same marking in Beethoven. (Simply enter "largo alla breve" in a search on Google books and you're in luck.) Another example would be Hans Gal's, "The Right Tempo" at hansgal.com in reference to intentions of composers in different generations; especially before and after about 1850.
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