The ambiguity of Chopin's music and its amenability to reinvention help account for its enduring appeal to pianists, composers, and critics. This article examines the conditions under which such ambiguity has taken shape on the page and at the piano. Just as curves become jagged—or “aliased”—when represented by the grid of discrete pixels that form digital displays, so have the contours of Chopin's music been both veiled and disclosed by the straight lines that define the staff and the keyboard. Despite the term's contemporary ring, the issues raised and reflected by aliasing are rooted in a set of nineteenth-century dichotomies concerning the discrete and the continuous, artifice and nature, instruments and bodies, virtuosity and poetry, machines and voices, and constraints and liberties, all of which Chopin's music was heard both to invoke and to elude. By way of recordings and transcriptions by Leopold Godowsky, Marc-André Hamelin, Josef Lhévinne, Vladimir de Pachmann, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and Arthur Rubinstein, the article presents various instances of aliasing and attempts to mitigate it via a range of compositional, pianistic, and cultural techniques that reveal how aliases can produce ambiguity by calling the very distinction between identity and difference into question.
Roger Moseley is an associate professor of music at Cornell University whose recent research has focused on intersections between keyboard music, digital games, and the diverse ways in which they can be played. His first book, Keys to Play: Music as a Ludic Medium from Apollo to Nintendo, received the American Musicological Society's Otto Kinkeldey Award in 2017. He is currently working on his second book, Romantic Artifacts: The Technological Disclosure of Nineteenth-Century Music, which will address the music of Schubert, Chopin, Alkan, and Brahms and instrumental mediation.
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Roger Moseley; Chopin's Aliases. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2018; 42 (1): 3–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2018.42.1.3
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