Sunday, January 29, 2012

Music with no name

We all impose our own associations, thoughts and mood on music. Critics and writers can often be so sure in their view of what a piece represents that it is given as fact. The four note motif which begins Beethoven's fifth symphony, for example, is supposed to represent fate knocking at the door; a description which both helps and hinders our appreciation of the work.

Titles given to pieces, often by publishers, assume and insist on a particular interpretation. So it used to be almost impossible for me to listen to Beethoven's sixth symphony without thinking of the painting on the front cover of the Penguin edition of Far from the Madding Crowd. Not because the music itself makes me think of sheep in winter, but because for me, pastoral means Hardy and Dorset. It was only when I discovered that the painting, by Joseph Farquharson, is called 'The sun had closed the winter day' and hangs in the Manchester City Art Gallery that the connection was broken.

Chopin did not give his compositions descriptive titles and insisted his publishers didn't either. He leaves the listener to make his own connections and perhaps different connections each time he listens. Whilst romantic, Chopin doesn't insist on any particular interpretation.

What better way then to explore romanticism without preconceptions than with Chopin and who better to explore with than a pianist widely regarded as the greatest Chopin specialist. Artur Rubinstein was born just 38 years after Chopin died and like Chopin was Polish. His 1930s recordings of Chopin's Nocturnes are regarded as definitive.

Once again proving that these old recordings are great value, Amazon are offering the Naxos edition for just £4.99.

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