Episode 164: Great Non-Chopinists

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35: ii. Scherzo

rc-nonchopinists-200It’s virtually impossible for a concert pianist to have a major career without playing at least a little Chopin. But there are several who appear to have gotten by playing very little, indeed.

Glenn Gould: brilliant at Bach, bracing at Beethoven…and no time for Chopin. He was once asked by a radio interviewer if he ever missed playing Chopin. "No, I don't,” he replied. “It doesn't convince me." Chopin, according to Gould “had no idea how to write for the piano.”

Alfred Brendel is more generous in his praise, if not in practice. In Brendel's opinion, Chopin “may have been the only pure piano composer of consequence.” But he goes on to say that you’re either a Chopinist, or you’re not. Brendel is by his own description an Austrian. You’ll look long and hard to discover any of Brendel’s Chopin.

Rudolf Serkin, like Brendel, was known for his Mozart interpretations. And Mozart was revered by Chopin. But Serkin relegated Chopin to the practice room. He assigned Chopin’s music to his students as a way to correct deficiencies. Onstage, Serkin rarely performed Chopin, and never released a Chopin recording during his lifetime.

Some big pianists avoided playing Chopin to escape being labeled “miniaturists.” Add that adjective “unmanly,” and you’ve got the case of Hélène Grimaud. She avoided Chopin to prove a point to her conservatory teachers, who suggested Chopin would suit her better than Brahms. Grimaud countered that she wanted to “play like a man.” Since then she has recorded some Chopin – and played it, for better or worse, her way. - Frank Dominguez

Radio Chopin Episode 164: Great Non-Chopinists



Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35: ii. Scherzo