The form of performance: analyzing pattern distribution in select recordings of Chopin's Mazurka Op. 24 No. 2

Spiro, N. and Gold, N. and Rink, J. (2010) The form of performance: analyzing pattern distribution in select recordings of Chopin's Mazurka Op. 24 No. 2. Musicae Scientiae, 14 (2) pp. 23-55. ISSN 1029-8649 (print) 2045-4147 (online)


Performances of the same piece can differ from one another in innumerable ways and for many different reasons. The aim of the current study is to analyze the timing and dynamic patterns of a large sample of performances in order to explore the musical reasons for both the occurrence of such patterns and the differences in their location and characteristics. The investigation focuses on twenty-nine performances of Chopin's Mazurka Op. 24 No. 2, which features clear four-bar phrases and correspondingly consistent sectional units, but which also has characteristics such as a steady crotchet accompaniment that remain constant throughout. This results in a potential tension between “through-performed” and sectionalized features. In this study we examine the performances accordingly, investigating the relationship between the work's structural and thematic characteristics on the one hand and the timing and dynamic characteristics of performances on the other. Following this, we narrow our investigation of these and other features by undertaking a comparative analysis of three recordings by the same performer, Artur Rubinstein. A toolkit of methods is employed, including an approach that has been little used for this purpose: Self-Organizing Maps. This method enables the systematic analysis and comparison of different performances by identifying recurrent expressive patterns and their location within the respective performances. The results show that, in general, the structure of the performed music emerges from and is defined by the performance patterns. Particular patterns occur in a range of contexts, and this may reflect the structural and/or thematic status of the locations in question. Whereas the performance patterns at section ends seem to be most closely related to the large-scale structural context, however, those within some sections apparently arise from typical features of the mazurka genre. Performances by the same performer over a 27-year span are characterized by striking similarities as well as differences on a global level in terms of the patterns themselves as well as the use thereof.

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