The Virtual Chopin





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Published on Mar 1, 2013

Fryderyk Chopin is one of the most enduring composers of all time, universally celebrated for the originality and expressive power of his music. But Chopin is as frustrating as he is fascinating, because he rarely left behind just one version of his works. More often, there are three, four or more versions -- any number of which might be an authoritative representation of how he wanted the piece to sound. Listeners, performers and researchers alike may find this liberating as well as bewildering because there are so many options from which to choose.

John Rink, Professor of Musical Performance Studies at the University of Cambridge, is director of a project that is transforming the way in which we understand Chopin's work by bringing this compositional cornucopia together in one place. Launched in 2005 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Online Chopin Variorum Edition will eventually provide digital images of all the available primary sources of Chopin's music -- including sketches, complete manuscripts, first editions and later impressions. Thousands of pages from these documents are already available, and the entire site is free of charge. Users anywhere in the world can explore, compare and combine elements from the composer's music, comment on it as they go, and ultimately construct their own version of the Chopin work to an extent that has never before been possible.

In this film John Rink explains why Chopin's music retains such a hold on us. Referring to the composer's boundless genius, he describes the sources and provides examples of interesting and revelatory changes of mind on Chopin's part. His demonstrations on a Pleyel "pianino" from 1846 are accompanied by images of manuscripts and editions alike, along with action shots of the OCVE website.

"Music does not exist in a single, correct version," John Rink notes. "It constantly changes over time. Chopin reminds us of that because he himself kept changing his music. Whenever we perform or listen to it, our experience is different from the last. By putting his compositions into a digital space, we can model and capture that evolutionary process. In doing so, we breathe new life into Chopin's music and witness for ourselves his compositional genius at work."


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