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Behind the Notes: Music Edited by Ignaz Friedman

Behind the Notes: Music Edited by Ignaz Friedman

When learning a new musical work, we trust that all the notes confronting us have been accurately deciphered from a manuscript or its earliest source. While this is a must, it only serves to get one's footing, something quite hard in a time that has banished older editions as irrelevant loads of personal commentary and misguided revisions by people long gone and forgotten. Why not open this Pandora's box and see what pops out from old editions? 

A unique opportunity came to me in 1989 through the pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993). I discovered a recording of him made from a concert performance of the Diabelli Variations in Buffalo, NY, in 1982. I convinced Pearl Records to release the recording, and Horszowski approved. I was asked to write the liner notes, but, given his artistry and background, it seemed ludicrous to limit the notes to the typical biographical or analytical discussion. One day when he was home from Curtis, I was able to sit down and interview him about his learning process. 

Horszowski asked his wife, Bice Costa, to find scores and as she looked, he began. "I did not play the Diabelli in public until 1949. I first heard them when Artur Schnabel played them four times during one season. I started with the urtext, then studied the first edition. Then I gained access to the autograph." He picked up an ancient tome. "Von Bülow's edition. He makes comments and changes that are wrong but obvious if you know the urtext. His explanations are very important. Artur Schnabel also edited them." (While the Beethoven sonatas are available, Schnabel's edition of the variations remains nearly inaccessible.) "Schnabel has much to say. I read [Sir Donald Francis] Tovey's comments on Beethoven. Also, it is very important to know as many of a composer's works as possible. 

"I played them several times to [Pablo] Casals and [Arturo] Toscanini who made comments." Horszowski leaned back in his chair, folding his arms he gazed upward with relief: "Then I meditated on it all." 

A first hearing of any of the Chopin recordings left by Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948) often comes as a shock, an experience that exhilarates and startles new listeners. Like Horszowski, he was a Polish pupil of Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915). Their teacher was prepared by Czerny, knew several Chopin pupils, and was also acquainted with Chopin's colleague Liszt. The aura and background projected in Friedman's interpretations stunned many who upheld him as the heir to Chopin's tradition. In this regard it wasn't long before a leading publisher commissioned the twenty-eight-year-old Friedman to edit Chopin's piano music—while touring throughout Europe, a request arrived from Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig. Friedman located first editions, as there were differing details amongst Chopin's publications in France, Germany, and England. Many variants were integrated into Friedman's resulting edition, yet he sought to get ever so close to the composer through ethnographic research. Crucial advice came from his colleague Moriz Rosenthal (1862-1946), a Polish pianist who had studied with Chopin's assistant Mikuli and had private lessons from Liszt. Rosenthal wrote on how Liszt analyzed Chopin's compositional development, explanations of structural and figurative details from a creator's perspective. Of Mikuli, he recalled: 

Mikuli had the Chopin traditions of touch and legato playing, of phrasing and of interpretation as far as a talent can understand a genius. [italics mine] Chopin, in his teaching, insisted on a perfect legato. We know that a pure legato is one of the touchstones of all legitimate piano technique and is something that every good pianist should try to acquire. Mikuli was very careful, very thorough in giving me a good foundation and in requiring me to cultivate the pure legato touch.1

Rosenthal sent Friedman a letter with fingerings (Chopin's Berceuse—in Rosenthal's ornate script) that Friedman incorporated into his edition. One striking suggestion is to take the Nouvelle Etude in D flat's right hand's detached two-note pattern with the thumb alone in order to free up four fingers for more legato in the upper voice. 

Friedman's Chopin edition offers added figuration by older pianists. In his own recording of the Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 7, Friedman urges on its lightning fast tempo into a fi nale of added sixths, credited in a footnote to Alexander Michalowski (1851-1938). An infl uential piano teacher in Warsaw and student of a Chopin pupil, Michalowski's athletic gestures impress as willfully personal rather than transmitting any bygone embellishment. Friedman's adding of this perspective endows his edition with a crossroads where authenticity, tradition, and individuals spanning a century all collide in music. 

Soon after Friedman's edition was published, Alfred Cortot brought out his guide to mastering the Chopin Etudes through original finger-busting exercises allegedly meant to make Chopin's easier. Friedman's star pupil and colleague Ignace Tiegerman (1893-1968) once was asked whether his student should study them. Tiegerman dismissed it at once: "Cortot wrote them because he needs them!" Friedman soon prepared his own Instructive Edition, in which each etude was weighed with observations of style and technique, accompanied by his own exercises. A rare edition of four volumes, it vanished soon after publication. This writer tracked them all by searching in New York, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Munich. Scans of the complete commentary are now reproduced on a PDF contained in Masters of Chopin (Arbiter CD 158, disc IV). 

Portion of a letter from Moriz Rosenthal to Ignaz Friedman pertaining to Chopin’s Berceuse. 2

One owner of Friedman's edition was Debussy. When war blocked contact between France and Austria, music from Leipzig and Vienna could no longer arrive in France, and a Chopin edition was sorely lacking. The publisher Durand commissioned Debussy to edit the piano music. As he progressed, Debussy wrote Durand: 

I find the Chopin manuscripts truly terrifying . . . ! How can you expect three manuscripts, certainly not all in Chopin's hand, to agree with each other? Of course, only one can be right . . . and that's where the story begins. Chopin, impressionable and sensitive as he was, must have cor rected his proofs—when he had the time, poor man! That's why I have considerable confidence in the "Friedman" edition. It takes into account all the previous editions and testifies to a lively understanding of Chopin's style. As for Scholz [Edition Peters], he's an imbecile.3

Friedman's edition contains details present in his performances of works that had not been recorded by him. In Chopin's Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23, a right hand voices two notes into a pattern by tying the sixth eighth-note into the following second eighth-note to syncopate and echo the descending bass notes: José Vianna da Motta, a Portuguese pupil of Liszt and von Bülow reviewed Friedman's edition: 

In passages with different variants, Friedman's edition does not fundamen tally distinguish itself from Mikuli's, who really already did most of the work with this and left little for his successor to do. The phrasing given is very subtle, without falling into "overcrowded" detail. The careful pedal markings are wonderful, as the half pedal is often given, which is so important in practice and is so seldom fixed in writing. I can come to terms with the fingerings less frequently. Here I believe, contrary to Friedman, that Chopin's fingerings can still be mastered. And where one cannot stay with them or the author does not give an alternative, I find Klindworth's fingerings suppler than Friedman's. But fingering is perhaps the most individual part of piano technique; it is not easy to find a valid fingering that is generally accepted.4 

Friedman continued his editorial work with Liszt's major piano works, Schumann, Bach's Two and Three Part Inventions, and several Beethoven sonatas. Unlike his Chopin editions, these scores bear fewer markings but are of interest for occasional pedal marks, phrasing, and fingering.

Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, mm. 150-155, by Frederic Chopin, Ignaz Friedman edition.

"The Friedman edition takes into account all the previous editions and testifies to a lively understanding of Chopin's style."

Although pianists today tend to avoid edited scores, many overlooked editions surprise. Imagine what there is to be detected in Debussy's covering of Chopin, Brahms editing Chopin and Couperin, Liszt and Busoni detailing their ideas on other masterworks. A final example of how these revealing editorial forays draw us into a grand forum of past musical thinkers comes from Horszowski. He mentioned Busoni's edition of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: its final volume has an overlooked analysis of the fugue in Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, Op. 106. Busoni suggested a rhythmic regrouping of its fi nal bars. While attracted to the solution, Horszowski remonstrated: "I like what Mr. Busoni has done but I cannot play it so. I have to defer to the composer."

Moriz Rosenthal in a letter to Ignaz Friedman. Nachlass Ignaz Friedman, Musikabteilung, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin. 

2 Ibid. 

Claude Debussy in a letter to his publisher, Durand. In Debussy, C. (2005). Correspondence (1872-1918). Paris: Gallimard. 

Vianna da Motta, J. (1914). Chopin's Klavierwerke. Die Musik (13) 19.

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Louis Nagel "The People's Pianist"
One pianist's choice not to memorize


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