Nineteenth-century pianists routinely treated multimovement works—sonatas, suites, and character-piece sets—not as integral cycles but as sources of movements to excerpt, interpolate, and recombine. Exploring how five twenty-first-century pianists have adapted this practice illuminates the broader history of piano performance and the creative agency of performers invested in canonic works and ideals of Werktreue. Víkingur Ólafsson, Inon Barnatan, Alice Sara Ott, Khatia Buniatishvili, and Hélène Grimaud recombine multimovement works within the context of the concept album genre, a fixture of popular music largely unexplored within classical music. Within their opus-mixing concept albums, these pianists reinterpret the effect in performance and imagined cultural meaning of canonic repertoire. By determining an album’s track-to-track unfolding, they create original tonal, motivic, textural, and topical interrelationships and trajectories. The pianists, liner-note writers, and promoters also frame these albums with rich verbal discourses in which they assert this repertoire’s relevance and even contemporaneity for twenty-first-century listeners. Exploring these albums offers a glimpse of how performers of the classical canon navigate a twenty-first-century, digitally mediated media ecosystem. More broadly, it turns our attention to how this largely unexplored aspect of classical performance and recording shapes the way audiences encounter musical works and performers create public personae.
Remixing Multimovement Works, Classical Music Concept Albums, and Twenty-First-Century Pianists’ Interpretations of the Canon
Alexander Stefaniak is an associate professor of musicology at Washington University in Saint Louis, where his research focuses on piano music and performance, virtuosity, and Romantic aesthetics. He is the author of Becoming Clara Schumann: Performance Strategies and Aesthetics in the Culture of Musical Canon (2021) and Schumann’s Virtuosity: Criticism, Composition, and Performance in Nineteenth-Century Germany (2016), as well as articles in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Music & Letters, the Journal of Musicology, and the edited volume Clara Schumann Studies (2021).
Alexander Stefaniak; Remixing Multimovement Works, Classical Music Concept Albums, and Twenty-First-Century Pianists’ Interpretations of the Canon. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2023; 47 (1): 53–85. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2023.47.1.53
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