Chopin's technical revolution

The tradition from which Chopin started had a solid and broad cultural base. But after having assimilated it, Chopin went further, much further, along a road that was also followed by Liszt and Thalberg and by almost all pianists of the 1810-1820 generation. 

The modern piano technique, which was born precisely with Chopin and Liszt, introduced innovative principles that made it profoundly different from the ancient technique. 

In reality, it cannot be said that the latter was outdated and absorbed: instead, there were two techniques that had common traits.

The Clementi's technique, evolving through Hummel and Moscheles, proceeded up to the thresholds of Chopin's and Liszt's techniques, but it did not weld into them: from Clementi to Chopin there were bridges but there was also a fracture. 

It was such a clear break that piano schools, throughout the nineteenth century and beyond, ended up tacitly admitting the division of the piano technique into two sections. 

Chopin's technical revolution is very complex and can be summarized in one fundamental point: the attack of subsequent sounds, that is, in a broad sense, agility. 

In this respect, the bridge from the ancient to the modern technique is represented by Hummel's touch by pressure and, paradoxically, by Kalkbrenner's Guide-mains

Kalkbrenner had realized that the decontraction of the arm muscles, which is essential for obtaining agility, can be more easily achieved if a support point is provided to the arm.   But the use of the Guide-mains was only possible during the study phase, as it did not solve the problem but temporarily avoided it. 

Chopin's technique instead discovers a constant point of support, albeit mobile rather than fixed, in the key itself.  This causes a game of counterthrusts that are absorbed not only by the hand but, through the unblocked wrist, by the arm and body. 

Chopin also develops, alongside the key's longitudinal attack, the transverse attack.  The discovery occurred by intuition and Chopin did not systematically enunciate the fundamental concept and the consequent deductions of his technique. 

But Chopin's concepts can be deduced very clearly from his Notes for a Method and also from some observations made by his students and contemporaries.  And of course they necessarily arise from his works, especially from the Etudes Op. 10 and Op. 25.

The new concept of agility materializes and develops in a new way of using the resonance pedal that Chopin indicates with a frequency unknown to his predecessors and also to some of his contemporaries, such as Mendelssohn and Schumann.  Of course, the different use of the pedal does not arise a priori, but is the consequence of the new sound ideal.  The use of the pedal, which was colouristic in Beethoven, opens up previously unthinkable technical perspectives with Chopin. 

Holcman wrote: "The principles and rules that guided Chopin in his teaching transcend his century; they remind us of most of the rules applied in contemporary pianism". 

If Chopin’s principles were so good, why did his teaching give such mediocre results? 

The principles were excellent, but they were also anti-historical. 

No young man, who had followed Chopin to the end, could have dedicated himself to the concert life because he would have lacked the virtuosic apparatus and the forma mentis of the 1840-style concert player. 

Chopin himself, on the other hand, was a great pianist but not a militant concert player.   The crowds were not yet able to recognize the values of Chopin's pianism. 

Concertism only began to accept his concepts a few years after Chopin's death.   But until 1849 there was only the domain of Thalberg's and Liszt's style.  Only those young pianists who, more thoughtful or less gifted with instinct for virtuosity, did not feel to adhere to the prevailing trend of their time, turned to Chopin. 

But the scope of Chopin's pursuit is such that it goes far beyond the narrow confines of his school, and practically ends up becoming the meeting point of all piano schools.

Articles in the same category: