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Piano Performance: A Brief Background

The history of professional musical performance began in those times when the first musical composition recorded with notes appeared. Performance is the result of the composer’s bilateral activities, expressing his thoughts through music, and the performer who embodies the author’s creation. The process of playing music is full of secrets and riddles. In any musical interpretation, two tendencies make friends and compete: the striving for the pure expression of the composer’s idea and the striving for the full self-expression of the virtuoso-player. The victory of one tendency inexorably leads to the defeat of both – like this paradox! Let’s take a fascinating journey into the history of piano and piano performance and try to trace how the author and performer interacted over epochs and centuries.
XVII-XVIII CENTURIES: BAROQUE AND EARLY CLASSICISM At the time of Bach, Scarlatti, Couperin, Handel, the attitude of the performer and composer was almost co-authored. The performer had unlimited freedom. The text of the note could be supplemented with all sorts of melism, fermas, variations. The harpsichord with two manuals was exploited mercilessly. The altitude of the bass and melody parts changed as you like. To raise, or to lower by octave, that, or another party, was a matter of norm. Composers, relying on the virtuosity of the interpreter, did not even bother to compose. Having unsubscribed in digital bass, they entrusted the composition to the will of the performer. The tradition of free preliming is still echoing in the virtuoso cadenzas of classical concerts for solo instruments. Such a free relationship between the composer and the performer to this day leaves the unsolved mystery of Baroque music.
THE END OF THE XVIII CENTURY A breakthrough in piano performance was the emergence of the piano. With the advent of the “king of all instruments”, the era of virtuoso style began. All the strength and power of his genius on the instrument brought down L. Beethoven. The composer’s 32 sonatas are a true evolution of the piano. If Mozart and Haydn still heard instruments of the orchestra and opera coloratura in the piano, Beethoven heard the Piano. It was Beethoven who wanted his Royal to sound like Beethoven wanted. In the notes there were nuances, dynamic shades, stamped by the hand of the author. By the 1820s, there was a galaxy of performers, such as F. Kalkbrenner, D. Steibelt, who in the game of the piano put virtuosity, shocking, sensationalism above all. The rumble of all sorts of instrument effects, in their opinion, was paramount. For self-show arranged virtuoso competitions. F. Liszt aptly called such performers “the brotherhood of piano acrobats”. ROMANTIC XIX CENTURY In the 19th century, empty virtuosity gave way to romantic expression. Composers and performers at the same time: Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Berlioz, Grieg, Saint-Saens, Brahms – brought the music to a new level. Grand piano became a means of confession of the soul. Feelings expressed through music were recorded in detail, scrupulously and selflessly. Such feelings began to require careful treatment. Note text has become almost a shrine. Gradually, the art of mastering the author’s musical text and the art of editing notes appeared. Many composers considered it a duty and an honor to edit the works of the geniuses of bygone eras. It was thanks to F. Mendelssohn that the world recognized the name of I. S. Bach /
CENTURY XX – THE CENTURY OF GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS In the XX century, composers turned the process of performance towards the unquestioning worship of the musical text and the composer’s plan. Ravel, Stravinsky, Medtner, Debussy not only printed in detail any nuance in the notes, but also printed formidable statements in the periodicals about unscrupulous performers who distorted the author’s great marks. In turn, the performers angrily argued that interpretation could not become stamping, this is art!
The history of piano performance has undergone a lot, but such names as S. Richter, K. Igumnov, G. Ginzburg, G. Neuhaus, M. Yudina, L. Oborin, M. Pletnev, D. Matsuev and others have proved with their creativity that composer and performer can not be rivalry. Both serve the same one – Her Majesty Music.

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