Chopin and Liszt: The whole endless shebang
Whenever I get to practice my cello, I like to look at small notations that are written in the margins of some of my sheets of music. Mostly the notations are by my former teachers reminding me to play the music a certain way ... "with attitude" ... "with melancholy" ... "with playfulness." One of my teachers also had a way of encouraging me to add slides and ornamental additions to infuse a unique attitude and interpretation with the music that was before me ... composed in black and white.
Recently, I listened to a program on the radio about a well-known argument that happened between composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt back in the 19th century. After Liszt performed one of Chopin's pieces by adding embellishments that had not be part of the original composition, Chopin expressed annoyance and is said to have said something like "he should play the music as written or not play it at all."
I think Chopin had it wrong. I don't say that with glibness or disrespect because there are certain instances when a person's interpretation of a work might just feel ... I don't know ... not right. And I know that original art ... whether music or writing or sculpture reflects an important essence and intent of the creator. But at the heart of it, if a performer is given music and decides to add embellishments or play something in a mood that is completely opposite of the mood that it was intended, that is the performer's prerogative. And it is the audience's prerogative to embrace or reject the performance and/or composition.
The application of this thought to visual arts is more troubling, I suppose. Because if anyone came into my studio and up to an original painting and painted something over it, I would probably be highly annoyed. But if a person did that after having bought the painting from me, I'm not sure if I'd feel the right to express annoyance. Especially if the altered painting brought the owner great joy. Perhaps how a painting is framed ... in a distressed wooden frame or a leopard print plastic number could also be a point of contention between artist and consumer but ultimately how the art is framed is a choice that the consumer gets to make, to the pleasure or annoyance of the artist.
The application of the thought that I strenuously disagree with is when humans try to police the ways in which reproductions of originals are handled. Like art magazines. Like those who say magazines that contain photos of art ought not be altered because then we are defacing and disrespecting the artist.
Photos inspire paintings. Paintings inspire sculptures. Art magazines get cut up and painted and altered to become collages and other things. These collages and other things inspire photos. These photos inspire paintings. And these paintings inspire sculptures ... and music, and food, and dance, and poetry, and relationships. The whole endless shebang.
As far as I'm concerned, I can throw the magazines I buy (or original works of artists that I buy) in the mud and run them over with my car if I want to. (Haven't wanted to yet, btw.)
It's ultimately about letting it go. Deep down, I don't think Chopin or any composer would want the world to be policed in a way where performers are bullied into playing compositions only if they will do it the way it was written.
Because then there might be a chance that it is never played at all.