Chopin's Trois Nouvelles Etudes were composed in 1839 as a contribution to the "Méthode des méthodes de piano" compiled by Ignaz Moscheles and François-Joseph Fétis. While not as stunningly dramatic and technically challenging as are many of his Opus 10 (1829-1832) and Opus 25 (1832-1836) studies, these three études are the works in the genre, along with several of the Études-Tableaux by Rachmaninoff and the Harmonies du Soir by Liszt, that would accompany me to a desert island should the need arise.
The first recording offered here is by Moritz Rosenthal who studied with Mikuli, a pupil of Chopin, Joseffy and Tausig, and finally became a star pupil of Liszt himself. I do not for a minute believe that there is any real influence of Chopin the pianist in this style of playing, but it is a stunning example of the late 19th century style which has nothing to do with the way Chopin is played today as you will hear below. The A♭ major étude is followed by Op 10 n1.
Next is a performance of the complete set of Trois Nouvelles Etudes by Raoul Koczalski. Another Polish pianist of a generation later, and student of Mikuli, His playing could not be more different from Rosenthal's. I prefer it and consider Koczalski to be one of the greats of all time. He reminds us, without giving up any of the musicality, that these are études after all. But in his hands, the technical difficuties are a vehicle by which he exposes musical marvels. It is interesting to note that the order of the second and third pieces is reversed in my Paderewski edition of the complete works of Chopin.
Excellent examples of the F minor and D♭ major études in a more modern style are those by David Saperton, a teacher with whom I might have studied had I had any sense as a teenager. He was the son-in-law of Leopold Godowsky and the teacher of such luminaries as Jorge Bolet, Shura Cherkassky, Julius Katchen, and Abbey Simon. His is a taut performance with little exaggeration of any kind. But the lines are long in developing and his dynamic gradations take my breath away. And the tone ...
Polish Pianist (1862 – 1946)
recorded in 1935
Polish Pianist (1884 – 1948)
American Pianist (1889 – 1970)
recorded in 1952
Étude in f minor
Étude in D♭ major
Here are two recordings by Alfred Cortot, magnificent pianist and quitessential romantic. There is no pianist I love more . Well, I have been known to step out with Glenn Gould, Beth Levin and Angela Lear on occasion, but there is something about Cortot that is the music and the time and the philosophy. I even love his wrong notes which are to me like the nose of the Sphinx or the arms and head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The 1949 recording is Cortot at his best.
Alexander Goldenweiser's performance of the A♭ major étude is another marvel. This is the man who taught all the great Russian pianists who in turn taught a third generation of great pianists. His playing is fitting of his reputation.
The performances by Robert Lortat from 1931 are among the finest here. His way with the A♭ major étude is heavenly, almost as if it were one long phrase from beginning yo end, increasing in tautness and leaving one gasping for breath.
Claudio Arrau, in contrast to Cortot, gives thoroughly transparent performances. Never in a hurry, never losing sight of the line or the destination, his interpretations are beautifully crafted and satisfying, though never my first choice. But if you want to hear every note with with perfect clarity and balance, he's your man. And Valdo Perlemuter, another of my old faves, gives a fine performance of the F minor. I find his performance of the other two études ever so slightly heavy handed.
Richter gives creditable, if somewhat stodgy performances, of the études, Shura Cherkassky takes a long phrasing approach but he does not have the sinuous tension Saperton gets out of the music, and Samson François, in a performance of the first of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes, sits comfortably inbetween the two.
Franco-Swiss Pianist (1877 – 1962)
recorded in 1947
recorded in 1949
Russian pianist (1875 - 1961)
French pianist (1885 - 1938)
recorded in 1931
Chilean Pianist (1903 – 1991)
recorded in 1953
Lithuanian-born French pianist (1904 - 2002)
starting @03:00 [preceded by Op 25~12]
recorded in 1982
Soviet Pianist (1915 – 1997)
recorded in 1990
Russian-American Pianist (1909 – 1995)
recorded in 1953-55
French Pianist (1924 – 1970)
The following recording of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes by Heinrich Neuhaus, the great Russian pianist and pedagogue, is
troubling. In it are distortions of all sorts, none of which make
sense to me. Neuhaus taught a generation of magnificent Russian
pianists, Yakov Zak, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Anatoly
Vedernikov, Lev Naumov, Alexander Slobodyanik, Leonid Brumberg, Igor
Zhukov, Oleg Boshniakovich, Eliso Virsaladze, Aleksey Nasedkin, Vladimir
Krainev, Radu Lupu, and Nina Svetlanova, none of whom manifests his
bizarre approach to Chopin.
By the time we get to Vladimir Horowitz's performance of the A♭ major étude, yet another generation removed from Rosenthal, the extraordinary interplay of voicing, rubato and technical detail is nearly gone. In their place, beautiful playing notwithstanding, is the adorned sentimentality with which so many pianists of subsequent generations occupy themselves.
And some are
just boring. Rubinstein, elegant as always, does not excite, though it was through his performances of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes that I fell in love with this music in the early 1960s.
The performances by Woytowicz are bizarre. I can't think of another word. He plays these studies withe a bare minimum of pedal. The effect is startling, at first. But I found myself warming to them.
Soviet Pianist (1888 – 1964)
Russian-American Pianist (1903 – 1989)
Polish-American Pianist (1887 – 1982)
Polish pianist (1899 - 1980)
recorded in 1958
The women! A magnificent performance of the first and third of Chopin's Trois Nouvelles Etudes by Guiomar Novaes who can build drama and create landscapes out of sound using great delicacy of rubato and dynamics. Then a somewhat turgid performance by Harriet Cohen of the F minor étude, a bit sloppy at times, but interesting.
There is a very disappointing performance of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes by Ruth Slenczynska, entirely without interest, at times irritatingly erratic. The brief intro to the F minor was enough to make me want to go back and listen to one or another of my favorites. If you want to understand the meaning of tone and interpretation, the difference between making music and playing the notes, take the time to compare her performances of these études with the 1949 Cortot performances. It's nearly impossible to believe that these performances are by a pianist who studied with Artur Schnabel, Egon Petri, Alfred Cortot, Josef Hofmann, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Finally, a very appealing performance by Martha Goldstein on an Erard piano built in 1951. The approach is somewhat different to what we are accustomed to from modern pianos, but the performances are very fine and could offer a glimpse of what these pieces really sounded like when played in Chopin's time.
Brazilian Pianist (1895 - 1979)
DAME HARRIET COHEN
British Pianist (1895 - 1967)
recorded in 1939
American Pianist (1895 - 1967)
recorded in 1971
20th century American pianist
performed on a 1951 Erard piano
As for the men still living, I would like to begin with Nelson Freire, a favorite of mine since his records first hit these shores when I was a student. I love the beautiful way he plays the Trois Nouvells Etudes. These are followed by disappointing performances by another Brazilian pianist, Arthur Moreira Lima, a bit plodding and without the lilting grace of Freire.
Fou Ts'ong, another old favorite who sometimes scrapes the sky, plays two of these in his inimitable style. Of the two, I prefer his way with the D♭ major étud
I used to be passionate about Ashkenazy's pre-stereo Russian recordings. Now, sadly, while these are well played, the thrill is gone. The first is nonetheless quite lovely, but the 2nd is rushed and the inner voices lost, and the 3rd is devoid of its delicate charm.
Louis Lortie is another pianist I have liked, but here the verticality of his playing of all three of the Trois Nouvells Etudes interferes with the lines of these three internally self-propelled pieces. The is no rhythmic lilt to his playing, no structural imperative.
Lewin, excellent pianist that he is, represents all that has been lost from the style of playing this marvelous music over the last sixty years. The subtleties of rhythmic interplay has ceased to be an integral aspect of the interpretation of a piece. A nip here, a tuck there, and the hidden meaning of the music opens like a flower. Today, Rhythm is relegated to the status of a frame within which the notes are played. The frame itself may be embellished with a ritard or an accent, but it so often is something that is done to the music rather than something that emerges of necessity from within the music. Lewin's performance of the nearly haunting A♭ étude becomes prettily matter of fact, offering no discernable reason why this particular piece should have been played by this particular pianist who seems to offer nothing that we haven't heard before in performances we are not motivated to remember.
Much could be said of the performance of the F minor étude by Konrad Skolarski. I was very interested to hear this because I have heard a fabulous recording of the <i>Precipitato</i> movement from Prokofiev's 7th piano sonata. Different music, different age. We can't be all things to all people.
Brazilian pianist (b 1944)
recorded in 2005
ARTHUR MOREIRA LIMA
Brazilian pianist (b 1940)
recorded in 1999
Chinese pianist (b 1934)
Russian-Icelandic Pianist (b 1937)
French pianist (b 1959)
contemporary American pianist
recorded live in 2004
Polish pianist (b 1920)
The most accomplished pianists of the 20th century, among them Rachmaninoff, Hofmann, de Pachmann, Rubinstein, and Arrau, considered Leopold Godowsky to be the greatest of all. Among his many transcriptions -- apparently he felt Chopin's Etudes were just not quite difficult enough to play -- are transcriptions for the left hand of the F minor étude, and two-hand transcriptions of the entire set of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes. The first version of the second étude has been expanded to rhapsodic proportions. I offer these for your amusement as performed by David Saperton who plays the original Chopin followed by the Godowsky transcription of the second étude, and Marc-André Hamelin, a contemporary Canadian pianist with a monster technique, who plays the Godowsky transcription of second.
Chopin & Chopin - Godowsky Trois Nouvelles Etudes - No. 2
Study in D-flat major after Trois nouvelles études 2 - 2nd version
For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background
which is also available as an audiobook.
And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:
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