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Some random thoughts.
Rubato is give and take. If you slow down, you also have to speed up. The idea is to balance both. If you only slow down, you’re making a giant ritard. (When will it ever end?)
Rubato must feel natural, & cannot sound forced.
Rubato done to indulge a personal whim doesn’t work.
Rubinstein, Horszowski, & other pianists of earlier generations sometimes played w/their hands slightly out of sync. (Example: listen to some Chopin. In melody & accompaniment, the melody sounds clearer.) The result was a clarity of the parts that was very expressive. This type of playing was commonly employed. It sounds like it was in their blood! Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, that technique has disappeared. I’ve tried it while practicing, & it always sounds fake. So I don’t think I’ll be using it in performance any time soon.
I had a wonderful opportunity to rehearse a Brahms trio w/the eminent violinist Joseph Fuchs. He was around 94 yrs. old at the time. Although he no longer had the muscle tone required for performing, his sense of style was all there. Coaching Brahms w/him felt like the real deal, as Fuchs was born only 2 yrs. after Brahms’s death. I felt that one or two generations of reinterpretation had become thankfully unnecessary.
Mr. Fuchs used mega Brahms rubato. It was balanced, passionate, & absolutely meshed w/the music. In the trio we were rehearsing, I had wanted to go all out, & I felt very grateful to Mr. Fuchs for confirming my wishes. I had so much fun!
Before you add rubato to a piece, do your homework!
You need to know that you have a rubato composer.
A little bit about structure ~ in Verdi & Puccini, rubato is expected. Sometimes all you need to know is indicated in the score ~ nothing to add. So, even though rubato is necessary, it is still not the result of a personal whim.
Why would you use rubato? Some reasons include pointing out a harmonic change, making a subito “piano” more effective, exaggerating the sweep of a line, bringing drama to the text (a quote, or a change of mood, a declamatory phrase).
Would you use rubato in playing Bach? My take on the music is that it is sometimes improvisatory, as in a toccata, for example. But I wouldn’t rewrite a fugue, coming to a dead stop at each entrance of the subject.
Use rubato judiciously. Being hyper-espressive at all times takes away from the intent. Everything begins to sound the same.
When not to use rubato: some pieces are in the opposite camp. When a composition depicts something that is in continuous motion, such as someone walking, marching, waltzing, rocking a baby to sleep, or a rushing stream or flowing fountain, the motion must keep going w/o being disturbed. You don’t want your dancer to trip or your baby to fall out of the cradle!
Today I practiced in a different order, deliberately. When I start w/Bach, I tend to stay there. I could play his music all day! Instead, I alternated Stravinsky w/Liszt, total of 4 pieces; 6 of Charles Turner’s 12 Preludes; & a Bach prelude & fugue. Total time: 2 hrs.