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Do Professionals Really Play Music "As They Want"?

A few days ago, I was scrolling through the comment section of my latest video. The title – "INJURED in Chopin's Name?" – was quite direct, I admit, but the underlying message was equally straightforward. A young professional pianist, Annique Göttler, of the YouTube Channel Heart of the Keys had to interrupt her first studio recording session after only three hours due to clear signs of inflammation in her arm and hand. How normal do we consider this?

Adding to this, a studio session is typically marked by numerous interruptions, breaks, which apparently weren't enough to protect such young talent from harm during a four-hour session. What would happen if someone were to play Chopin for a continuous three hours? What if it were a recording sessions of etudes by Liszt, Saint-Saëns, or Herz? I mean, genuinely challenging music within the context of that era, to which Chopin's music, to the surprise of many today, simply did not belong.

But let's not dwell on that now. I want to focus on one comment that caught my attention. The suggestion was made whether it would be possible to convince someone to record the etudes in two ways: one recording adhering to the principles of the WBMP – Whole Beat Metronome Practice – essentially, half the literal tempo, and another version in the modern interpretation of metronome markings – SB or Single Beat.

The etudes in the Whole Beat have already been recorded by Alberto, more than a year ago, and they will be released in 2024, initially on CD. However, there are two other aspects to this open and beautiful wish. First, are the etudes even possible at the modern tempo? Annick Göttler actually provides a clear answer in her video –the first etude already appears almost to be impossible, as we learn. What about the rest? But let's not dwell on this either. The question that stuck with me is this: can a musician today truly choose to perform the etudes in the Whole Beat?

The spontaneous answer that likely comes to mind, also for you, is: of course, why not?

I wonder if it's that simple. Everything in life is a choice, that's true. But recording the etudes in Whole Beat or even playing them in Whole Beat marks a very clear choice. By doing so, the musician is, in essence, suggesting that the Whole Beat approach deserves a fair chance in the search for historical correctness. And yes, I can already anticipate some responses, that no one would make such a recording, except for Alberto, because WBMP is nonsense. But is that the real reason? What would happen if someone genuinely made that decision? Or, let's put it more sharply, what if a student decided to perform the etudes in Whole Beat for their master's exam? Would the jury congratulate them for their choice and award them their diploma? Or what would happen if someone chose to present a lecture on this Whole Beat principle at the Chopin competition, linking it to performances in this manner? Would we see them on the stage in Warsaw? I don't think so.

So, yes, everything is a choice in life. But perhaps musicians today live with the illusion that they have absolute freedom in how they interpret music from the past. Maybe we have become so accustomed to the expectations and pressures of the musical system that we no longer realize that, fundamentally, we have much less freedom than we might think.

Perhaps we are living in a gilded cage, but have forgotten that we are confined. We no longer see the golden bars.

Is it time to break free from this? I sincerely hope so. It would also mean that musicians like Annique Göttler finally have the choice to perform without harming their bodies. It would pave the way for that "double" recording. Although I'm quite certain that someone involved in playing the Chopin etudes in Whole Beat will no longer consider the faster recording, if it's even possible.

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