18 Notes per Second in Chopin's 1st Impromptu??!!

So 18 notes a second, that’s the exact amount of notes that Hans von Bülow, the famous Liszt student wants us to play in this particular bar of a Chopin impromptu and don’t make a mistake because Hans von Bülow was very exact in what he wanted you to play, so if we ever were students of him we should have been able to do that. But can you? I doubt you can. Nor can I and nor can we even detect eighteen notes a second when we would play them. So let’s dive a little bit here into history, put Hans von Bülow in the context of its time and see if we can come up with a solution. So what’s up everybody? Welcome to another Wednesday video in which I share some thoughts, well I’m standing here behind my pile of 19th century scores which I’m still indexing for you to make some videos about and so I came across this beautiful score by Hans von Bülow or at least edited by Hans von Bülow Hans von Bülow made a lot of so-called instructive Ausgabe as they say in German which means instruction editions, or instructional editions, so editions in which he gave some annotations, some clarifications on details how a pianist should play them. On Hans von Bülow, we’re going to talk in a minute a little bit on his life because it’s interesting enough. If you’re not familiar with the person of Hans von Bülow, you might still are familiar with his name for this edition of the so called Cramer-Bülow edition, which is a reprint of the etudes by Cramer. I’ve made a recording of several of them, I will link the video here on-screen on the info card if you want to check them out, and so this also is a typical example of such an annotated edition, an Instructive Ausgabe in which von Bülow clarifies or shed some light on details on how he would like us to play that music. Of course people like von Bülow, they lived in their time and they didn’t look back in the same way as we are doing today. We want to reconstruct – that’s actually the end goal of everything- the final seconds of thoughts before a composer started to write down his composition, so what was really in his head? What was actually the first performance of that piece? How did it sound in his mind? Well, that’s impossible to reconstruct but that’s part of the fascination as well But these people like von Bülow and actually every person, every musician that lived before 1960- 1970, they didn’t look back in the same way as we do but on the other hand they lived in the time that we are studying. As in this case Hans von Bülow, student of Liszt, he lived rather close to Chopin and even if he made a Beethoven score he lived at least hundred or hundred fifty years closer to the sources that we are studying, so again if we look at these scores we should make a distinction in which we should actually try to reconstruct the context in which these people lived and work. So it’s a really complicated matter and there is no right or wrong solution for that it means that you need a lot of research and contextual reconstruction so to say, in order to say something, to make use so to say of these scores as a source of inspiration, as a kind of knowledge building of the pieces that we want to reconstruct as I was speaking about in a few seconds ago. So rejecting these scores as often is done today as being worthless in the field of research on musical performances, I think that’s one bridge too far. They give us valuable information and one of those particular spots that we are going to talk about it’s about this bar on page five I believe in which Hans von Bülow writes out in full notation one of the trills as he wants us to have it played and if you then calculate with his metronome number of 132 for the quarter note then we should play about 18 notes a second which is rather impossible So the metronome number of 132 I believe it’s his own. I didn’t find a metronome number by the hand of Chopin but anyway it’s interesting to look at this in the context of that edition. So very briefly on Hans von Bülow : he was a student of Liszt, of course, born in 1830, he was one of the favorite students also of Liszt, he was also one of the first students of Liszt So he made a lot of the Premier’s of the piano concerti, also of the

famous sonata in B minor in 1857 if I am not wrong on this, he was not even 30 when Liszt asked him to make the premiere for that The relationship with Liszt was very strong not only as a student but because Hans von Bülow, he fell in love with Cosima Liszt, the daughter of Liszt, they married, had two girls later on they got a divorce because Cosima actually left him for Wagner so Hans von Bülow had a kind of turbulent life but what few people know and what is not often mentioned in fact is that Franz Liszt was not the first teacher of hans von Bülow. He had first lessons from a gentleman named Friedrich Wieck and now, the name Wieck might say something to you because Wieck was the father of Clara Wieck, later Clara Schumann. I have here a book “Clavier und Gesang”, that’s an original print, 19th century in which – I will share it here on the second camera- in which Friedrich Wieck in fact, in a kind of dialogue format between teacher and student, talks about playing the piano, how to practice and things like that, very interesting. I mentione this relationship between Friedrich Wieck and Hans von Bülow especially because it’s exactly the time that we are covering here on the channel lately a lot, 1830 1840, the time where musicians started to play differently Pianists started to exercise in a way that the generation of Mozart Haydn Beethoven even Moscheles didn’t do, so you had a generation, an older generation and a newer one and the new one, the newer generation, they became so technically involved with the instrument in a way that we are still today, that they had a technique that simply was not available for the generation of Beethoven and so not only did they play very difficult pieces that were especially composed for them to show off their technique on stage, they were going to apply that technique as well for the older works that, for the first time actually ever, were played in concerts There the typical concert pianist as we still know him today, or her, is born in fact around that period not a composer anymore, but the person who plays works, composed by somebody else and even in that time, very new, compositions that were composed decades before, and so this older generation of people like Friedrich Wieck, they commented about the way that new generation played those old works as too fast, too mechanical and there was something that they were worried about and so explicitly in this book he writes about the kind of reconstruction of that old almost lost the tradition of performance practice. By the way, we have talked about this many times, Moscheles did it as well, Czerny did it, you had even, we had a video with beautiful quotes given us by Charles Marie Widor on the way Liszt played and so we learned from that that Liszt was not a virtuoso as we remember him today or as we see him, today because nobody remembers Liszt, nobody has met him of heard him playing, they must have been playing in a very impressive way but maybe not in the virtuoso way as we think they played, so it’s interesting to see Hans von Bülow in this context with his editions, because he is a kind of mystery figure in the sense of tempo research and also research of performance practice. What did he stand for and so let’s dive into this one bar at the clavichord. I’m not going to play on the Erard, I know you would love me to here play on the Erard but it’s so difficult to match the touch that’s necessary at that piano with my clavichord. If I practice one day on my Erard piano, just between brackets, I need a considerable time to level up my technique again for the clavichord because it’s really different once the pianoforte is over there and it will be there at the end of May, we will have way more flexibility to also share with you performances of pieces, later pieces by Schumann Chopin and things like that because that piano will be perfect for that but for now I’m going to take you to the clavichord just to give you some impressions. The clavichord is by no means suited to play this music of Chopin, it’s really piano music, but we can manage around things So again the clavichord is by no means an instrument that would, that

you can use for playing these impromptus I know have recently recorded some Mazurkas by Chopin, but the Mazurkas are different, they’re different – sometimes they are rather old-fashioned in technique, I have made a video on that, I link it here on screen if you want to check that out. So I cannot play this piece as it is written, in either single or double beat because you have to open your hand way too much for the clavichord, the clavichord really requires you to have a perfect contact between the finger and the key and that finger should is actually required to be always aligned with the direction of the key so that’s something that of course with piano playing is different. But anyway I can demonstrate you some elements that you get an idea. So before we come to that trill I must say that 132 for the quarter note is a tempo that actually people are reaching and rather easy. This piece is being played often even faster than this. I can share you one excerpt of a performance here (MUSIC ) So 132 for the quarter note is this tempo so literally this would mean also here this piece requires you actually to have a rather light touch which is only on the pianoforte feasible, the clavichord requires you to have a very firm touch, even if you play this kind of legiero playing is something that the clavichord is very bad at, but anyway, that’s the 132 for the quarter note. If we then go -I will do the double beat tempo in a minute- we then go to this one passage with this trill, where von Bülow explains us how this trill should be played, so two quarter notes and he says you have to play it like that, sixteen notes, of course it is very difficult to count, but if you play it in hundred thirty two you typically have the half so about eight notes is very normal if we would apply double beat here which means basically that the unity, so the two fold unity like the tactus up-down – we have made so many videos about that I will link also here in the info card some of them – that the unity is a quarter note with the individual elements the up down of the tactus are the ticks then are the 132, then you actually are halving the tempo according to this metronome number, then this becomes very much possible so a trill in this tempo like as I was playing is very normal even on today concert scene, pianists are playing that in that speed, there is also no reason why to speed up the tempo of the trill if that would be possible because there would not make the music more beautiful and so what we hear today in this Impromptu, is actually just the half of that written out trill by von Bülow. Did von Bülow apply the double beat, the old metrical reading of the metronome numbers? That’s an interesting question! If we looked at the Cramer etudes again, then we see in the von Bülow Edition that he is copying, or is taking over the majority of Cramer’s metronome numbers. Now, they are fast in a way that even for today concert pianists, it would be a really big challenge to meet those numbers and even some of them are really perhaps beyond reach. Von Bülow is increasing some of those metronome numbers even a little bit, so the pieces become a little bit faster, and so if you imagine that this music, these Cramer etudes were composed explicitly for students, not the beginners, but not the accomplished pianist either, it’s hard to imagine that these metronome numbers were meant to be played in a way that we are still reading them today, because they would make no sense. And again here, don’t make the mistake of saying that those metronome numbers were just a matter of a range or just an ideal that people would reach someday, or never, that they just mean as fast as possible because they weren’t People in those days, early 19th century mid 19th century we’re very serious about their metronome marks, they wanted

you to play exactly, not even with the kind of margin, exactly as they, as the speeds were given. Now of course if you like to play an allegro in 88 and I would like to play it in 92 or in 78, it’s about the framework reconstruction. But these metronome numbers, they give us a clue about a double, old metrical indication or the single-bit interpretation, but von Bülow, in this piece, if we would apply the same double beat old metrical reading to this metronome number ,then we would have a tempo in the beginning like this : (MUSIC) So of course played in this way, this piece becomes drastically different then we hear it on the main stages of today You could say even Allegro quasi presto which is the tempo indication Chopin gave, doesn’t match this tempo, but again there, and I will not dive into detail here, those tempo indications those Italian tempo words, they are to be understood in relationship with the time signature and the notation which is kind of complicated certainly in this time. So I see this mismatch also, but I see also a connection here, but again that’s for another time perhaps. There are other elements however that become also kind of nice and actually technical they make sense to have for instance this trill on the first eight note of that triplet is something that more indicates a slower tempo but anyway, on this bar here with these sixteenth notes in one second of about one second, or 18 notes even, that’s a strong indicator, and so this video is not about telling you how it is quote unquote, I think none of the videos I make is giving you a very strong confirmation from my side, that I really know how it was, I do see some problems, sometimes solutions for me are easier than here, but also here I cannot wait to have my pianoforte to try this impromptu really in that old metrical tempo so this metronome number read in the old metrical sense because there is something in there that might work and that gives us another Chopin that we know today and again, that ties into that whole contextual story where Chopin in that time was a composer that, certainly at the end of his life -we cannot imagine that – but he was a little bit out of fashion, he did not play a lot of concerts, not only I think because of his health problems that he had, but also that the audience developed towards liking a way of playing that was, certainly for Chopin, far from what he might have done, and the Chopin we hear today is sometimes a very very beautiful one, but perhaps more a reflection of how he was played in the second half of 19th century. But to close this video with Hans von Bülow, that’s a person that needs really much more research, look to his own works that he composed, what are the metronome numbers he gave there because there is a slow shift in that time from the old metrical reading to the new single beat notation for all the works, not only for the more popular works where people used the metronome as a time keeper instead of having this metrical time indication at the beginning of the piece and so von Bülow falls exactly in and that period as well. So more to be researched in the future, let me know in the comment section if you have experience with this piece with this Impromptu, maybe even with this edition von Bülow made and what your thoughts are about this, because I would love to read your input here. So anyway, if you are new here to the channel, I’d love to have you subscribed, we have Monday videos in which I perform my works I’m practicing and share with you on my clavichord , there is piano to come, on Wednesday we have these thought videos that give you some context or backgrounds, pose some questions and on Friday we have inspiration Friday where I share with you parts of my vinyl collection, often older recordings to put into perspective the work that we are doing today ,so if that concept appeals to you, hit that subscribe button, it is totally free and then we see each other very soon again bye!