The starting point for the article is some variants of dynamic art in Chopin’s Nocturne op. 27 no 2. The background is a study of textual variants and different renditions of the Nocturne from its creation to our own time. The aim is to study interpretative variants from a broader ontological perspective. What do these variants tell us about the conception of the musical work of the time? The investigation is based on Chopin’s manuscript, 3 scores annotated by the composer, about 30 different editions and 70 recordings of the nocturne. To answer such a question, one also has to consider the variants in their historical context, and to study the interpretative ideals as they emerge in theoretical and pedagogical works of the time, in performance directions by Chopin and his contemporaries, and in arrangements and edited scores of music from earlier times.
According to his contemporaries, Chopin never played his own compositions alike twice, and he often changed his performing directions even in his published scores. This inability to reach a decision or - from a different perspective - this great improvisational ability was a part of the interpretative and compositional process in the nineteenth century. The variants are interesting in many ways. They point to something fundamental in the musical work, not only in older times, but also in our day. To ability to adjust the interpretation to the mood, the personal feeling, the acoustics and the instrument, and to find a personal rendition is still valued among musicians in our day.
The intentional work concept of the twentieth century cannot explain this variability of the musical work in a satisfying way. The fact that one can play a work of music in so many ways, indicates that the musical structure is to some extent - and in certain contextual environments an important extent - changeable. The musical work seems to have some autonomy in relation to the composer and the score. The variability is also a part of the personal and stylistic approach to the musical work. The works of some composers are said to have more interpretative variability than the works of others, and Chopin is often seen as one of the most ambigious composers in this respect.
The problem of the changeable musical work has been discussed from time to time, but its ontological implications seem not to have been clarified. Even the variants as such have not been systematically investigated. The paradoxical conclusion is that what constitutes a great problem for the editor of an Urtext, is from the historical and interpretative point of view a unique possibility to understand what the musical work is about, not only for the performer but also for the composer and the public. Instead of being a problem, the Chopin variants bring us back to the concept of musical work in the first half of the 19th century. They can provide a clue to the ambiguity of the musical work answers to the questions: How is it possible to play music in so many different ways? What gives the musical work its identity in spite of this variability?
Polska Akademia Chopinowska, Warszawa , 2003. 433-454 p.