In music, as in life, music lovers and musicians alike sometimes confuse familiarity with knowledge. Music lovers possess recordings, with which they forge an “image” of a given work. Artists are bestowed with a long tradition that is passed down by teachers, who, for generations, have served as guardians of the keys to the work’s mysteries. In both cases, the recording or tradition furnishes an “off-the-shelf” interpretation in which the score and its hieroglyphs are merely a starting point toward Beauty–abstract, comfortable and insignificant.
A new take on any masterpiece is likely to provoke the same shock that the restoration of the Sistine Chapel recently created when centuries of soot, wax, and sweat were removed to reveal its original splendour. Yet even upon its publication in 1839, Chopin’s cycle of Preludes disconcerted the great Schumann himself: “I thought the Preludes most singular. I confess that I imagined something quite different: compositions in the grand style, like his Études. These are almost the contrary: sketches, the beginnings of studies, or, if you will, ruins; eagle feathers in a rag-tag jumble. But every piece bears his distinctive, impeccable handwriting, “This is by Frédéric Chopin”; we recognize his agitated breathing. He is and remains the purest poetic spirit of these times. Mind you, the collection also contains the morbid, feverish, repellent.
But let everyone seek for what suits him, and let the Philistine step away”. And it is to recreate the contemporaneity of the Preludes that one respects the pedal and tempo indications and dares to sustain the rests.
A suggestion: divide the 24 preludes into four categories of works that feature a common writing style or mood. For instance, the preludes in C major (1), G major (3), D major (5), A major (7), C-sharp minor (10), B major (11), and E-flat major (19) would fall into the “Luminous” category.