Thursday, July 5, 2012

Now just a minute...

Stephen Hough mentions in passing, while commenting about the general inanity of YouTube commenting, that Chopin's "Minute" Waltz should not (of course!) be shoehorned into a single minute. Although Hough certainly has the chops to hit the finish line in 60 seconds, he offers the fairly typical caution: "Oh, and Chopin never called the piece 'Minute Waltz' anyway, and it's impossible to play it in 60 seconds unless you crash brutally, meaninglessly through the central section." Well, maybe...

It actually raises a fairly interesting question about how we make aesthetic judgments; most of us have been told fairly regularly that music shouldn't just be about sport, and Chopin's gracefulness is so much more meaningful than empty displays of speed, and it's not really supposed to be a minute waltz, and the title was originally attached to the piece to suggest minuteness, as in tininess, not 60 seconds, etc. OK, I get all that, but still, I suspect that if I react negatively to a ridiculously fast performance of this piece, it's at least in part because I think I'm not supposed to like it that way.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but think it strange that I'd never given this piece the "Amphetpollini" treatment it so logically deserves. It probably is true that no human could play this piece gracefully in a minute or less, but we're not livin' in the 19th century. Technology has made it ever so easy to upgrade all the elegant proportions of a fine Joyce Hatto performance into something just a bit quicker (hey, it's not as if recordings aren't already altered in many, many ways via editing magic), and so:

Well, I'm not ashamed to say I like it. I do think that much of Hatto's grace is preserved, and the middle section is far from being a brutal crash-through. I also like how easily one can observe the almost perfect ternary (three-part) proportions - and it amazes me every time that, at the 0:51 mark, there's still time to get everything in.

As I discussed once in a little imaginary dialogue, at some point we might as well face the fact that we live in an electronic world, and that this might even impact what we do with the "classics." Sometimes. In fact, we already spend a lot of our lives experiencing the classics electronically, whether via mp3, CD, LP, or 8-track. Anyone who follows this blog will know that I find this kind of marriage of old and new irresistible,  much more so than I do most other types of electronic music. That, of course, says a lot about how old-fashioned my basic tastes are, but at least I can feel like I'm up to the minute for a minute or so.

See also: Ghostly Chopin

UPDATE: See follow-up post (and videos!) here.

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