Thursday, November 29, 2012

Notes on Chopin by André Gide, translated by Bernard Frechtman


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The book's description from the publisher:

An inspiring discourse on the power of music from one of the twentieth century’s most important figures, André Gide. 
André Gide, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century and a devoted pianist, invites readers to reevaluate Frédéric Chopin as a composer “betrayed . . . deeply, intimately, totally violated” by a music community that had fundamentally misinterpreted his work. As a profound admirer of Chopin’s “promenade of discoveries,” Gide intersperses musical notation throughout the text to illuminate his arguments, but most moving is Gide’s own poetic expression for the music he so loved.

I'm not very familiar with the works of André Gide, the French writer, philosopher and Nobel laureate. Notes on Chopin did thankfully give me a pretty good idea of what kind of writer Gide was. He had strong opinions on topics he cared for and it's very clear in Notes on Chopin where he didn't hesitate to use strong words, such as imbecile when talking about pianists who misunderstood the music of Chopin, or barbarity when describing what direction the whole music movement was going. I admit, it was refreshing to read such unchecked anger and indignation when nowadays one is surrounded by authors who seem to be walking on tiptoes careful not to make to strong of a statement dictated by this awful monster of 'political correctness'.

First and foremost, Notes on Chopin is a kind of an homage to Chopin by one of his most ardent admirers who not only was passionate about classical music but also knew quite well what he was talking about. Such knowledge is displayed in what is perhaps the most exasperating side of this work for readers who are not music afficionados: very technical explanations and instructions on how certain notes should or should not be played, complete with drawings of such noted, names of tempos, etc. Thankfully, Gide counterbalances his classical music 'lessons' with opinions and judgements that at times become thrilling and spicy, as well as inviting to music laymen, such as myself. Whether he does it with intent is quite another issue. Something tells me, not so much. André Gide seemed to have taken on a pompous and condescending attitude, and he certainly didn't care one whit about it.

I may be unjust in such judgement of this accomplished and esteemed writer. It may also be some residue from reading Notes on Chopin. One probably shouldn't pay any mind to it. Mostly because, even if you know little about Chopin or classical composers, it won't be a waste of time to devote a day at most (the book is quite sort) to reading this book/essay. Especially if one likes to expand one's knowledge in the field of music world.

A Note On Translation

This Open Road e-book edition has been translated from French by Bernard Frechtman. After some investigation of mine as to his body of work, he seems to be quite  an accomplished translator of French literature. It is therefore somewhat baffling to me that there should be errors, such as can not instead of cannot, repeatedly appearing throughout the book and signs of a bit of a struggle with sentence composition making a few of them sound slightly off and/or awkward. I'm inclined to fault the translation and the editing equally, instead of putting the blame solely on Mr. Frechtman's. Overall, it doesn't make the reading experience unbearable. This issue only takes a little bit of enjoyment away from what otherwise is a work quite worthy of a reader's time and attention.


FTC: I purchased Notes on Chopin e-book.