top of page
  • Writer's pictureIvan Hovorun

Why? The first and the most important question, but not the last.

Ivan Hovorun, photo by Andrij Zelenyj.
Ivan Hovorun at The Potocki Palace, photo by Andrij Zelenyj, Lviv, Ukraine.


The first and the most important question, but not the last. 

Usually, in an absence of the reasonable explanation from the listener, I often was conterattacked by accusation in lack of respect to the experienced musical authority, respect to the composer or lack of the time for discussion. And now it is happened and I am the master of my time and available information without any restrictions to use, but for how long?

Less often I have been provided with the links " made up" by decades and by some other music industry professionals, through few generations after composer death, which we can spicify as the "great local music tradition" of some "great musicians" sadly also dead.

The subject of the Great Tradition as well as music inheritance was deeply discussed in the book by Kenneth Hamilton "After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance" and I hardly could add anything apart from audio example in which we may compare "interpretation tradition through the piano music  generations" on example of Feruccio Busoni and Egon Peteri, student and teacher.

The recording of the Chaccone transcription by Johann Sebastian Bach, recorded by both , composer Feruccio Busoni (Aeolian Company Duo-Art 6928, recorded New York, July 1915, released 1925) and his student Egon Peteri ( LP, International Piano Archives, IPA 104, 1976 Rec. June 1945) will have more differences than similarities. Of course we know that Peteri had better recording facilities and recording equipment than Busoni, but assuredly "canonic interpretation blessing" suppose to be inheritated buy one of his (Feruccio Busoni) finest students, according to adepts of the " Ludvig van Beethoven and Franz Liszt grand children's and sons theory"

So, why? why you watching this video or reading this text?

Probably because I am trying to deliver, remind or raise as short as it is possible, an information. This information for you may be new, or everything new is well-forgotten old?

During my student years I was privileged to meet and spend time with the great, well known musicians, and once I was asked, do you really think that Rachmaninoff wanted everybody to play his music as he did?

We don't know answer for 100%, but according to Rachmaninoff's producer Charles O'Connell , " He was invincibly convinced of the rectitude of his musical ideas, and with the most implacable determination would enforce them upon his colleagues. Where he could not do this with reasonable amiability on both sides, he simply wouldn't play. This , as he told me himself, was why he would not play with Toscanini, and I think it is fair to infer that the same reason accounts for the extreme rarity of his appearences with Koussevitzky. "( O'Connell, p168. Martin, 1990, p 383.)

Was Rachmaninoff always satisfied with his recordings and was it always "his" recordings? (according to imperfect recording reproducing technology)

"He was concerned solely with his own performance, and rarely would permit the publication of any record in which his own playing was not flawless" ( O'Connell, p167, Martin, 1990, p 444.) At the Kreisler suggestion Rachmaninoff made four test Ampico rolls, and that when he came to hear the proofs he sat impassively, smoking. At the end he got up and went to the door, still saying nothing. Then he turned and calmly remarked: "Gentelmen, I have just heard my self play"( Ampico advertising literature and Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume, Player-Piano, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1979, p97, Martin, 1990, p 499. )

"He dreaded the process, often refused to record, or put it off as long as possible"( Sofiya Satina, VR/A 1, p.109, Martin, 1990, p 445.)

Do you think that Rachmaninoff was the best interpreter of his own works as well as other composers?

Well, according to his words:

To my mind, there are two vitally important qualities innate in the creative artist which are not found, to the same degree, in the man is who is solely an interpreter. The first is imagination. I do not suggest that a composer possesses the greater imaginative gift, because he must first imagine before he can create- imagine so powerfully that a concrete picture of his creation is vividly present in his mind before a single note is written. His finished composition is an attempt to recreate the essence of this picture in music. It follows that when a composer comes to interpret his own work, his own picture will be foremost in his mind, whereas every musician performing the work of another must imagine an entirely new picture for himself. Upon the vividness and extent of the performer's imagination the success and vitality of his interpretation largely depend; and in this sense, it seems to me that the composer-interpreter , whose imagination is by nature so highly developed, may be said to possess an advantage over the purely executive artist. The second and even more important gift distinguishing the composer from every other type of musician is an intensely refined sensitiveness for musical colouring. However fine musician the executant may be, I think he can never acquire the talent for sensing snd reproducing the full range of musical colour that is the composer's birthright. (The Composer as Interpreter, Rachmaninoff interview with Norman Cameron in The Monthly Musical Record, November 1934, p 201, Martin, 1990, p 400.)

If You are a composer you have an affinity with other composers. You can make contact with their imaginations, knowing something of their problems and ideas. (Conversations with Rachmaninoff, Basil Maine, Musical Opinion, Vol. 60, October 1936, pp.14-15,Martin, 1990, p 400.)

Is he always played music in the same way through the different years of his life?

I have had a privilege to get an access to Willem Mengelberg's manuscript of 3rd Concerto by Rachmaninoff , who "jotted down in his copy of the score the tempos and text cuts Rachmaninoff took during performances of the work in 1910-1911" given at Queen's Hall London (The Bells, February 2008. p16) through Rachmaninoff Society, and compare with his later recordings as well as with information collected by Barrie Martin in his book Rachmaninoff: Composer, Pianist, Conductor 1990, which I found in Manchester University Library. According to my personal observation of Rachmaninoff recordings as well as to Barrie Martin article " Rachmaninoff overall conception of the interpretation never varied, only the details". (Bells 2008. p 16-17) 

However it will be fair to mention that according to Rachmaninoff words as well :

"I am well aware that my playing varies from day to day" (The Composer as Interpreter, Rachmaninoff interview with Norman Cameron in The Monthly Musical Record, November 1934, p 201, Martin, 1990, p 383.)

I personally assume, that the last Rachmaninoff's passage mentioned above, was about technical concert performance stability, but not about musical ideas or overall conception at all.

Nevertheless, all of this does not prevent to place Rachmaninoff as a pianist No 1 at "the greatest pianists ever" in BBC magazine (Pianists poll, BBC Music, August 2010) among others around the decade ago. But again another question's arise ( if to omit bizarre question about ranking performers ) Rachmaninoff No1 through our perception as interpreter of his or other composers work's? choice was influenced by composer ikon or by his genius pianistic abilityes together with performance style ?

For me, all the puzzle finally come together, however I still feel cognitive dissonance.

It is always happens when some respectable age public experts , who maybe even heard Rachmaninoff in person, making a comment that the composer himself played to loud or to fast, and "Sir" or "Dame" played recently in a concert his music much much better than composer!!! and of course according to Rachmaninoff wish and taste approval!!!

But do we know that even when Rachmaninoff was alive playing concerts, some " gentlemen's "commented about his interpretation: "tore through at a pace you'd have through he had to catch a train from Victoria station-which he probably did" Wilfred van Wyck after performance of Beethoven Sonata op 27N2, last movement at the Queens Hall. ( Wilfred van Wyck reminiscing, 1981, Martin, 1990, p 409.)

This comment about Rachmaninoff reminded me the story from my past student life, when I was able to have public masterclass with Jean Efflam Bavouzet, whom I respect very much and who recorded complete Beethoven Sonatas for Chandos label. After coming across books written by Tilman Skowroneck and others, I've tried to express the spirit of the Presto movement of Beethoven Sonata op27N2 through not smart capable moderate pace like my piano fellows. Fairly, I was pointed about this, and about all dangerous effects it may have on the music perception. Couple days later after this masterclass, one of my fellows mentioned to me privately that the "Dame " from the audience approached Mr. Bavouzet and informed Maestro that I've played even more faster during my concert performance next day after the masterclass.

But why? why we take advantage to customise most sacred parts of immortal emotional and intellectual creation to our domestic taste needs? Why, if it is Beethoven, we will prepare him for a public concert buy making him nice "handsome jacket and haircut" together with rounded deep sound and endless sound restrictions? (It looks like Beethoven through his life tried to expand the range of the piano possibilities as well as the variety of sound even by the cost of broken strings, rough sound or adjusting the piano mechanics)

Who gave us rights today to make Rachmaninoff pompous, slow grand as well as roundly shaped?

Admiring professionalism above all, Rachmaninoff was naturally suspicious of what he considered dilettante English gentlemen conductors. Neville Cardus told the amusing story of how Rachmaninoff once confided to a friend that he was unhappy about forthcoming concert: "The Conductor- so-and-so- he has not temperament. It is always so in England. Too many the English gentlemen's." 'But,' his friend pointed out 'last year you said your concert with Sir Thomas Beecham was one of the best and happiest of your life. 'Ah.' rejoined Rachmaninoff, 'but Sir Thomas is not one of your English gentlemen's'(Neville Cardus, Sir Thomas Beecham, Collins, London, 1961, pp 61-62, Martin, 1990, p383)

You may respect Mr. Martin's book or not, but the fact that he knows more about Rachmaninoff than ordinary listener or performer is evident for me.

Erroneously, our customized taste of music today becoming to be so deep and so profound, as well as so far a way from the composer intentions , that even if composer recorded his music on the tape, there is not enough evidence or depth in his performance to convince  demanding ordinary or professional listener, who will concentrate on the technical aspects of the recording reproducing in 20th-40th, instead of interpretation style or voicing!

Unfortunately Rachmaninoff could not appeal from the grave. And again unfortunately according to "the public expert" opinion , his "drustic" text cuts as well as fast music tempos was not made in purpose of the form structure development, but because he never had enourg space to accomodate his works ether during concert or at the recording studio. Please kindly do forgive my sarcasm and irony about this matter.

So, how to represent Rachmaninoff works and do we need to play his works according to the sequences of his piano style?

According to my perception, academics some times could deny (by nature of their work) definite sentences as well as always says maybe in the fear that somebody would be able to find the source or avidence against their work. If the public does not support individual interpretation much, because the music business industry, taste evolution, as well as luck of general music education in the new music evidence adventures, do we have to go "by the flow of the taste" to be succesful?

So, shall we be nice, to tolerate the general public taste and play not slow not fast, not loud and not soft, and of course let's not stress or over disturb the listener refined taste by emotions, because majority of ticket buyers coming to enjoy and relax, but not to  feel or think intensivly ? And everybody will love it? but why? is there is anything left from the music? of course , apart from endless slow accompaniment murmuring during which we may have a breakfast, lunch ,after lunch sleep, and after all surprisedly finding poor pianist still playing on the stage...

Presumably according to Rachmaninoff, and as far as somebody will not prove opposite:

"The virtuoso must have some far greater motive than that of playing for gain. He has a mission, and that mission is to educate the public. It is quite as necessary for the sincere student in the home to carry on this educational work. For this reason it is to his advantage to direct his efforts toward pieces which he feels will be of musical educational advantage to his friends. In this he must use judgment and not overstep their intelligence too far. With the virtuoso it is somewhat different. He expects, and even demands, from his audience a certain grade of musical taste, a certain degree of musical education. Otherwise he would work in vain. If the public would enjoy the greatest in music they must hear good music until these beauties become evident. It would be useless for the virtuoso to attempt a concert tour in the heart of Africa. The virtuoso is expected to give his best, and he should not be criticised by audiences that have not the mental capacity to appreciate his work. The virtuosos look to the students of the world to do their share in the education of the great musical public. Do not waste your time with music that is trite, or ignoble. Life is too short to spend it wandering in the barren Saharas of musical trash." (The Etude Magazine, March 1910)

I would like to conclude this subject metaphorically:

It is not questionable, does God exist or not. Half of the scientists will proof by evidence that yes, half no, and even among of them you will find some, who will try to prove by evidence that all is irrelevant. The most important for me is, do you believe in God or not? and in what God you believe ? All what is written could be proved or denied, so , do we have to say always maybe without fulcrum? If so, how we going to breakthrough music business which was turned for centuries in to monopoly of "expert" opinions?

I am a pianist, who trough reading and understanding , trying to create intensive unique emotion image information, which hopefully may be passed through the sound to the listener. By all means, you got right as well as may proof or deny above later, but as soon as question was a raised and open, I have the motivation to read and play.

The question mark and availability of the newly discovered sources always will drive me to play even if I , or somebody else, will prove that I accidentally was mistaken!

126 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page