Charles Rosen, the pianist and great cultural critic (especially of music), died in December. The New York Review of Books just republished a piece he wrote on Chopin, which does that rare thing of magically capturing in words the essence of someone’s music.
Chopin insisted that each finger had a fundamentally different character, and that the performer should try to exploit that difference (this is the most interesting point he makes in a series of unfinished notes for a piano method that Eigeldinger prints in an appendix). Delicate passages are played by the weakest fingers; the more emphatic notes of singing, lyrical melodies by strong fingers, often by one finger alone. This sense of the different character of each finger reveals something of the nature of Chopin’s musical thought: what interested him were subtle gradations of color, inflections of phrasing, and it was what he expected from performers.
This conception of technique places contrast of touch at the center of musical interpretation, and it was upon this that Chopin’s style was based. His idea of tone color is pure keyboard writing: he achieves by touch alone the contrast of timbres that other composers achieve by the use of different instruments.