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Nineteenth-Century Transcriptions of Works by Fryderyk Chopin

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Barbara Literska

This book is the first monographic study of nineteenth-century transcriptions of Chopin's music. The work is based on the quantitatively and qualitatively rich source material, which formed the basis for considerations from the perspective of social history, music analysis and aesthetics. Thanks to these multiple perspectives, as well as the time range and the source base, this study may contribute to the history of the reception of Chopin’s work in nineteenth-century culture; it may also prove significant in overcoming the attitude that aesthetically deprecates transcriptions and in adopting a different stance, regarding such adaptations as valuable texts of musical culture.

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3 Between adhering to substance and trivialising content: a systematics of nineteenth-century transcriptions of works by Chopin

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3.1 The adopted criteria of the systematics

The huge number and great variety of Chopin adaptations makes it essential to adopt a systematics that presents them in the broadest possible spectrum. When I began work on this study, there was no ready model relating to Chopin transcriptions.294 I drew inspiration from Leopold Godowsky’s systematics, referring solely to his own fifty-three arrangements of Chopin etudes,295 contained in the five-volume work Studien über die Etüden von Chopin.296 Godowsky preceded ←117 | 118→his arrangements with a lengthy commentary. In the introduction (Einleitung), he set out the aims of his work:

Die 53 Studien, welche auf 26 Chopin-Etüden aufgebaut sind, verfolgen einen dreifachen Zweck: die mechanischen, technischen und musikalischen Möglichkeiten des Klavierspiels zu bereichern, die eigentümliche, der polyphonen, polyrhythmischen und polydynamischen Arbeit zugängliche Natur des Instruments weiter zu entwickeln und die Möglichkeiten der Tonkoloristik zu vermehren. […] Die 53 Chopinstudien eignen sich für den Konzertgebrauch ebenso wie für das Privatstudium.297

In his ‘Personal remarks’ (‘Persönliche Bemerkungen’), Godowsky pointed to the aesthetic and ethical responsibility that weighed upon him, resulting from turning to the works of other composers and creating arrangements of different kinds (transcriptions, paraphrases, variations):

Da bestritten wird, ob ein Komponist das (ästhetische und ethische) Recht hat, Werke eines anderen Komponisten zu benutzen, um auf deren Themen und Motiven freie Bearbeitungen, Transkriptionen, Paraphrasen, Variationen aufzubauen, möchte der Autor einem solchen Einwand begegnen und...

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