It's been a year since my last installment in the Episodes In Virtuosity series. Let's rectify this with the magnificent Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli performing Frédéric Chopin's Marche Funèbre from his Piano Sonata Op.35 No.2.
The word virtuoso is defined as, "a musician who is a consummate master of technique and artistry." or "… an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability at singing or playing a musical instrument."
When I decided that I was going to be a serious (classical) musician, I regarded this word with esteem and respect. I saw the aspiration for virtuosity as a means of achieving self-actualization, and decided to dedicate my life towards this realization. However, like so many things, after six years of conservatory training the shine wore off this word and I fear that I have lost my reverence for the beautiful. After all, art is the habit of the artist. Nevertheless, it is my intent to use this platform to (re)discover, admire, and share music/musicians of the highest caliber, in any and all genres, strictly for the purpose of listening to Music worth listening to.
This performance is a prime example of what I had in mind when I began this series on TWD. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli strikes the perfect balance between technical control and staggering musicianship. There is not a moment in this performance where I am not completely captivated by his interpretation. To begin, the tempo of the A section may seem brisk considering the sad content, however, you could argue that since the funeral march functions as a public display of grief that his stately and stoic tempo is actually appropriate. Additionally, his control of both spacing and melodic shape gives this section an overwhelming sense of grief and fear. For instance, the left hand tremolo is such an aggressive gesture that for me is denotes not only the grief that accompanies death, but also the fear of life in the absence another.
In the B section, which is denoted visually by a change in the camera angle, Michelangeli's phrasing and use of rubato and melodic direction is breath taking. The nostalgic melody is held in stark relief to the simple harmonies of the left hand which allows the musician to fully dwell on shape. Finally, although Michelangeli is both pushing forward and pulling back on the tempo at various times, he does it so artfully that the listener is never lost in either rhythm of the piece of the syntax of each phrase.
The emotions contained in a work such as this are universal. We have all, or will all, experience the kind of traumatic sadness that can accompany death. Regardless, in the depth of despair you have to find strength – the strength to publicly display your loss and bid your final farewell. However, in this darkness we can also find refuge in the bittersweet memories of the past, and this is what the middle section of Chopin's composition is. This piece a wonderful programmatic work because in it's beauty it connects us with a shared human experience. Yet, it is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli who breathes the kind of life into this work which stirs these feelings and memories in us all, and that is the real power of music. You dig?