When we view Chopin's later works in the context of his biography, we find a conjunction of real-life machines (trains, the telegraph), mimetic mechanical music (music boxes), and prolific textual variants. Particularly fascinating are several late pieces that feature canons, a form of strict counterpoint that at once evokes the notion of “machine music”—the leading line seems automatically to generate the following line—and produces relatively few textual variants that concern pitch. Variants in the realm of performing indications, though, occur frequently. Chopin worked hard to ensure fidelity of pitch, but—this article shows—in giving the performer leeway to choose among various modes of performance, he ensured a role for individual expression in musical textures otherwise evocative of notions of science and logic.

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