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Ridding, Josepha

Cultural Considerations of Rubato in Czech Piano Performance, with Specific Reference to Chopin's Works

Ph.D. University of Kingston, 2003

This thesis is a study of the rubato style adopted by Czech pianists in the interpretation of Western classical art works, and of the cultural factors which influence this approach. Using the Czech interpretation of Chopin's works as a basis for discussion, problems involved in the study of national performance traditions are investigated, conclusions are made as to whether or not a distinct Czech approach to rubato can be identified, and the factors which have contributed to the formation of such a unified style are discussed. Findings are based on the study of the relevant Czech literature, on material gathered from interviews with Czech pianists and on the comparative analyses made of Czech and non-Czech recordings. Arguments are supported by graphical representations of tendencies and audio extracts (in CD audio format) taken from actual performances.

Through the comparison of performing and compositional styles, music education systems and piano training methods in Czechoslovakia, it is proposed that all these sectors of the Czech musical world are linked through similar aims and through a dependence on similar ideologies such as the aesthetic of Naturalism. The types of rubato used and their positioning within the Chopin interpretations of the Czech pianists are also found to be governed by the same ideologies -- in particular by the demands of Naturalism. In addition, it is suggested that the Czech rubato style displays characteristics which can be related to certain rhythmic features of Czech and Slovak folk musics and of the Czech spoken language. All these influences combine to create a Czech approach towards agogic change and tempo fluctuation which emphasizes simplicity, retains momentum and highlights overall formal structure, whilst maintaining expressivity and remaining acutely sensitive to the organic nature of melody and to the changing characteristics of rhythmic accentuation implicit in Chopin's scores.