Self-appraisals are often too charitable; at other times, too critical. “I hope I won’t write anything as dreadful too soon.” Those were Chopin’s words about his own Tarantella in A-flat Major, Opus 43 (1841). Was there justification for his remark?
The Tarantella belongs to Chopin’s occasional compositions, such as Bolero and Berceuse — in other words, works he never revisited. We don’t know what prompted Chopin to compose it. It was probably not a commission from some publisher. We know Chopin adored the opera and was very fond of Bellini and Rossini. Possibly in his Tarantella he simply attempted to follow in Rossini’s footsteps by writing an instrumental work that was of a vocal provenance. He knew Rossini’s “La Danza” and indicated that fact in a letter instructing his composer-friend and copyist, Julian Fontana [to] “. . . check in Rossini’s collection, if his Tarantella is in 6/8 meter or 12/8.”
Thus as a typical composition of that genre, Chopin’s Tarantella is from beginning to end played “in one breath,” without a moment of rest. It has four different segments, not really varied, which might be a reason the work attained rather poor marks. The best “compliment” in defense of this miniature (giving new meaning to the work lukewarm) came from Arthur Hedley, a noted musicologist and Chopin authority, proclaiming “the frantic character of the music is captured fine, except that without the Italian gaiety.”
The sentiments of Chopin and Hedley are certainly not universal. By popular demand, the folks in the great state of Iowa in America’s heartland, have requested an encore statewide Iowa Public Radio broadcast of Chopin Project pianist, Dmitri Vorobiev’s live performance of Tarantella in A-flat.
Iowa Public Radio’s brand new performance series, “PERFORMANCE IOWA” premiers tonight in celebration of Chopin’s 200th Birthday.
Host Jacqueline Halbloom presents Dmitri Vorobiev, Chopin Project pianist and UNI Assistant Professor of Music in live performance of two Chopin rarities: Tarantella in A-flat Major, Op. 43 (1841) and Allegro de Concert, Op. 46 (1834-41). Pianist Ksenia Nosikova, Associate Professor of Piano of University of Iowa will play pieces by Liszt and Schumann, each in honor of the composers’ association with Chopin in this Bicentennial year.
“PERFORMANCE IOWA” aspires to bring listeners closer to the music by including the views and observations of the performers.
Tonight’s performances will be broadcast live state-wide on Iowa Public Radio Classical frequencies. Listen at 7PM Central DT (00:00:00 UCT/GMT). A link to open the live player can be found at:
According to Wikipdia, a Contra Danse was an English folk dance incorporating two long rows of partners facing and moving towards or away from each other. At the end of the 17th century, these dances (then known as English country dances) were taken up by French dancers leading to hybrid choreographies. The French first called them contra-dance or contredanse. Usually set in 2/4 or 6/8 meter, the dances spread and over time were reinterpreted throughout the Western world. Eventually the French form of the name (following the erroneous belief that its genesis was French) came to be associated with American folk dances, especially in New England, where they have managed to survive.
The Contredanse in G-flat major, attributed to Chopin, was not discovered and published until 1934. This was more than 107 years after it was composed (at age 17). Though not subject to current debate, some speculation still exists as to its authenticity because the only remaining autograph (dated 1827) was not Chopin’s; the work is nevertheless believed by many to have come from Chopin’s pen.
It is a charming miniature though rarely performed, an engaging encore whose authorship may, especially in this bicentennial year, engage the attention of a youthful listener intent on solving a musical mystery.
Listen Now to Chopin Project performer, Dmitri Vorobiev play this Chopin rarity. Then, please participate in the experiment, explained below:
The Experiment: Start the YouTube video but turn the YouTube volume down so you can’t hear it at all. While you’re watching the now silent YouTube video, watch it through while listening to the Chopin Contredanse. Please send us a comment about your experience.
Acclaimed Chopin Project pianist Svetlana Smolina will play Chopin’s Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28 as part of her performance tomorrow at 4:30PM (Friday, March 5th) at the Winter Garden main stage in New York’s World Financial Center. Ms Smolina is among the virtuosi performing in the 200 hour Wall Street marathon celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth.
Chopin once wrote, “When one does a thing, it appears good, otherwise one would not write it. Only later comes reflection, and one discards or accepts the thing. Time is the best censor, and patience a most excellent teacher.”Upon further reflection, Chopin must have realized that this Waltz was an all-time keeper, a favorite of piano virtuosos and amateurs alike since Chopin’s own time. It was a notable favorite of Artur Rubinstein. In fact, the Chopin.Net site has a nice anecdote about Rubinstein:
When people asked him how he could continue to play the same waltz for over 75 years, he replied, “Because it’s not the same, and I don’t play it the same way.”
Presenting Chopin Project Audio Player and Chopin Planet:
With excitement and gratitude for Fryderyk Chopin’s music, we celebrate his 200th Birthday by introducing our newest feature – The Chopin Project Audio Player. Click the red “Listen Now” button and music will play. Click on a different title and it will (or should) play. Make a Playlist. Sort by Genre, Key and Year. Have some fun with it. Let us know what you think and how we can improve it.
Now that Chopin’s music is playing, enjoy a captivating view of the Global Community of Chopin Year Celebrants with Chopin Planet. Click the center of the spinning globe to activate a more complete visual experience. (If your browser isn’t responsive, try Firefox).The lights represent the cities of all visitors to the site during the past few months or so; the pulsing red lights represent current visitors, including you.
“Today’s entry takes us into far more familiar Chopin territory. The Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2 comes from around 1830, -after Chopin had left Warsaw forever. But the version I’m playing here has a bit of a twist. There are some scores of Chopin’s works that he marked up for his piano students, and they’ve been a fascinating find for musicologists. You can see where he marked things on the scores, adding fingerings and other instructions for his students. And in some of them Chopin added extra notes – and even little cadenzas! So if you know this beloved Nocturne, listen extra closely, and you’ll hear some things that aren’t usually there.”
From Britton Recital Hall, listen to Arthur Greene perform Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Op. 9 No. 2 (original cadenzas)
Today’s brand new edition of American Public Media’s Performance Today features Chopin Project Artistic Director, Arthur Greene‘s live performance of “Three Ecossaises,” Opus 72, in the program’s first hour.
Performance Today is broadcast on 245 public radio stations across the country and reaches 1.1 million listeners each week. Since each station decides what time to air the program, the most direct route to hear the show is the Performance Today website (Program Archive June 1, 2009) until Tuesday, June 7th.
On an earlier Performance Today program, host Fred Child, described the Chopin Project as
“. . . working towards being a comprehensive site of information about and music by, Frederic Chopin: lots of audio, lots of news bits, and . . . even a Chopin quotepage!. This is kind of Wikipedia-style project and they’re inviting YOUR feedback and YOUR information as well. “
“One is loath to believe that the echo of Chopin’s magic music can ever fall upon unheeding ears. He may become old-fashioned, but, like Mozart, he will remain eternally beautiful.”
Even for a piece barely more than a minute in length, the “eternally beautiful” Chopin cited by writer and pianist james Huneker (author of the definitive book Chopin: The Man and his Music) is evident in this brief Cantabile. This little gem often turns up folios and other albums devoted to 19th-century miniatures, though it didn’t actually appear in print until 1931, nearly 100 years after Chopin compoosed it.
Cantabile, after all, is defined as “to sing or play in a sweetly singing manner.” See if you don’t think that’s exactly what Chopin Project Pianist Noel McRobbie does in this performance…
Chopin Project Artistic Director Arthur Greene calls Chopin’s last nocturne a curious, but moving, work:
“It is rarely played. Its absolute simplicity of texture may lead performers to experiment with ornamentation, but I believe that it is an expression of Chopin’s new direction, in the difficult few years at the end of his life, towards a directness and purity of expression. The Polonaise-Fantasy has somewhat the same mood, although it is much more elaborate. The little nocturne is a tragic whisper.”
Chopin Biographer Arthur Hedley once wrote: “From the great Italian singers of the age [Chopin] learned the art of ‘singing’ on the piano, and his nocturnes reveal the perfection of his cantabile style and delicate charm of ornamentation.”
Recent scholarship by some musicologists hear the song of a sorrowful Venetian gondolier (borrowed from Italian opera composer Giaocchino Rossini, whom Chopin greatly admired) in the undulating Nocturne in C minor, the 21st and final essay in the genre that Chopin perfected. It dates from 1847, just two years before Chopin’s death, but was not published until decades later.
For years one of the knocks on Chopin’s music is that he was a “ladies’ composer,” spinning out his piano pieces for the sighing, swooning denizens of Parisan salons, the result being that his remarkable compositions were often trivialized or marginalized.
“Chopin enjoyed elegant feminine company, but he had harsh views of the fawning of his ‘adoring women.’ He himself used the phrase ‘music for the ladies’, but unhappily he meant it disparagingly. Another association with the salon was the ‘sentimental drawing room composer” – the ‘superficial genius’ – and the appellation was encouraged by a self-imposed limitation of meidum, but the connotations of small forms, and by the description titles assigned to his music by publishers…”
One publisher in particular who drew Chopin’s ire was a London-based German entrepreneur named Christian Rudolph Wessel. As you can see by the cover page, above, (courtesy of the fantastic Chopin Early Editions site at the University of Chicago) the publisher issued Chopin’s marvelous Impromptu No. 2 in a series he called “Les Agrémans au Salon” — loosely translated as “Drawing-Room Trifles.” With “friends” like that….
Nowadays, Chopin’s Impromptus are a robust staple of the concert hall. Hear pianist Noel McRobbie perform Chopin’s Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 36, in a concert performance at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
Produced and distributed by American Public Media, Performance Today is broadcast on 245 public radio stations across the country and is heard by about 1.1 million people each week. Each station individually decides what time to air the program. You’ll also be able to hear the show on the Performance Today website (Program Archive July 9, 2008) until Tuesday, July 15th.
Although this sprightly and march-like Mazurka in C major dates from Chopin’s younger years, (see this posting to discover what the “KK” designation means), it wasn’t published until 1870. The original published score (above) comes from the excellent Chopin Early Editions site maintained by the University of Chicago.
Hear pianist Noel McRobbie perform Chopin’s Mazurka No. 56 in C major in concert at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
Decades before Maurice Ravel came along, Chopin also found inspiration in the old Spanish dance known as the Bolero, defined as “A Spanish dance and song, in moderate tempo and triple metre, popular at the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th, often performed with guitar and castenets.” In fact, the Spanish Bolero was rythmically related to the polonaise of Chopin’s native country, and even Beethoven wrote a Bolero a solo … it’s one of his minor “without Opus” works, WoO 158.
Regardless of origin or inspiration, it’s one of Chopin’s more unusual works, dating from 1833. He tacked on an Introduction in C major that serves as an evocative attention-getter that sets up the uniquely Spanish-Polish Bolero that follows.
Hear pianist Xiaofeng Wu perform Chopin’s Introduction & Bolero in A, Op. 19 in concert at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
This delicate, haunting Waltz in another work that adds to the mystery and mastery of Chopin. This Waltz has long been a favorite of amateur pianists, as it’s one of the least difficult pieces of Chopin’s to play. Well, the NOTES may not be hard, but the FEELING? Rarely is this piece performed with such sensitivity, transparency and grace.
Now, for the mystery part: There is a lot of confusion over the title and date of this Waltz. It was published after Chopin’s death, and therefore carries no opus number (It is not to be confused with the Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2). In fact, the most popular published score didn’t appear until 1955! So as a result it can be harder to track down recordings and scores….so we’ve done it for you!
“I am compelled to think about paving my way in the world as a pianist.” – Shortly after arriving in Paris Chopin penned those memorable words in a letter to his old Warsaw music teacher Józef Elsner. And one of the first pianistic roads Chopin paved in his own way was through the development of the Nocturne, a form more or less invented by the Irish composer John Field, but, quoting the Guild Music website: “it was Chopin who brought the genre to its perfection. In his Nocturnes, he displays his unique melodic gift (very much influenced by the bel canto operas of his time) and his extraordinary ability to renew the accompaniment.”
Chopin’s development of the Nocturne form really came into its own with the publication of his Three Nocturnes, Op. 15 in the early 1830’s. Today’s entry – The Nocturne in G minor, Op. 15, No. 3 – showcases Chopin’s incredible gift for opera-like melody at the beginning and end of the piece, contrasted by a fierce, fiery and virtuosic middle section.
Hear Chopin Project pianistChristina Thayer Fox perform Chopin’s utterly original Nocturne In G minor, Op. 15, No. 3.
Chopin dedicated the Op. 15 Nocturnes to his friend and mentor Ferdinand Hiller, a German composer, conductor, and pianist whose own music has been almost totally forgotten, but whose name lives on as the dedicatee both of these Chopin masterworks as well as Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto.
Cross-posted from our companion daily blog site The Chopin Currency: By “Currency” we mean just how contemporary – and how powerfully it resonates in our own time, nearly 200 years since the composer’s birth.
This month we’re getting a compelling reminder of just how “current” Chopin’s music is from, of all places, MTV Networks, who commissioned this powerful and moving PSA/Web film called “None of Us Are Free” to raise awareness for disaster relief in Myanmar (a/k/a Burma). The film begins with Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1 (as well as a bit of the Fantaisie-Impromptu at the end…)…to dramatic effect:
Hear pianist Polina Khatskoplay this poignant Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1 in a Chopin Project live performance at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
Now, some details as to how Fryderyk C’s music got involved, courtesy of motiongrapher.com:
When and how the music was incorporated?
The music played a huge role in setting the tone and pacing of the piece. We knew that it would be huge in setting the right mood so it had to be perfect. We listened to a lot of tracks when we were cutting the first previz [sic] edits and when we heard Chopin’s nocturnes, we knew we found the right music. It had all the right elements, movement, and form.
Dante Nou who was working in—house with us took the two pieces we had roughly cut together and started tweaking them. Nate, our editor had some ideas about cadence and drawing out notes and keys and we just started fucking with it. By the time we finished the edit, the music had developed equally—it was then the foundation of what we took to Good Sounds. They replayed the original pieces and put their own loveliness in the mix—more sound design and tweaking, and by the time we finished the picture the music had finished as well.
There’s more about the “making of” the PSA on Gossipfeast.com as well, quoting from the MTV Press Release: “With the powerful melody from the feted virtuoso pianist Chopin, viewers will watch the beautiful red flowers float and dance towards Burmese soil.”
Smack-dab in the middle of Chopin’s Op. 25 Etudes lies this unique and memorable piece that is unlike any other Chopin creation. And one that has generated a considerable amount of ink over the decades.
Sometimes it’s called the “‘Cello Etude,” because the prominent melody is in the left hand, approximating the range of a cello. Others have called it “A Duet between a He and a She.” Or perhaps you prefer “Morbidly Elegaic?” Ballade-like? A Missing Nocturne?
Another school of thought says plainly: It’s an Etude. It’s supposed to help you with perfecting you piano technique. And the technique here is an exquisitely difficult phrasing and balance question – making the left hand carry the melody without being overpowered by the right — when the natural tendency is to go the other way.
Oh, and just to mess you up a little further, the left and right hand are playing quite independent musical lines that need to coincide at key moments.
The third of Chopin’s four Ballades for the piano has been called “probably the only 19th century ballade with a happy ending (as well as being the only ballade of Chopin’s that ends on a major chord).”
In everything Chopin writes, no matter how complex and virtuosic, that powerful simplicity is there at the core. Although he wrote some very difficult and impressive stuff, the ultimate effect of his music, I feel, should never really be to impress. But that’s exactly what the pianists we usually hear are striving to do: impress the contest judges, the critics, the public. The world we classical performers live in gives us very little room not to play big show pieces, or make everything we play into one.
Chopin’s third ballade suffers particularly from this problem. The ballades are all difficult, but it’s the easiest of them (sort of like the shortest Himalaya). It seems as though all the star performers I’ve heard end up trying to make it as hard as the others by plowing through it with virtuosic flare, and thus trivializing it.
What wonderful music it is that gets plowed under when that happens! I could spend the whole next month talking about this piece, about how Chopin plays with the sense of return, about his use of dissonance as an architectural device, about all those wonderful melodies … but for now, I’ll just leave you with this one thought to perhaps open a mental door: The melody that opens the piece is the stepping-off point for all that follows in the next two and a half minutes, but then it disappears, and the music goes somewhere else entirely. Listen for it. The experience of wanting that melody to return, and it not returning and not returning and then — that’s the force that shapes the piece.
Hear pianist Kay Zavislakplay this brilliant Ballade No. 3 in a Chopin Project live performance at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
Read the Wikipedia entry on the Ballade No. 3 here.
Is this indeed Chopin’s “farewell” to his Polish fiancee Marie Wodzińska? The autographed manuscript has the inscription “Pour Mlle Marie.” We’ll let the “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” blog pick up the story…with a tip of the hat…
#1 — In 1835, while in Dresden trying to find a cure or some relief for his “consumption”, Chopin renews his acquaintence with the Wodzinski family, who had lived in his father’s boarding house back in Poland years before. Their young daughter Maria is an accomplished pianist in her own right and Chopin falls in love with her. She is 17, he is 25.#2 — They maintain a strong relationship by letter and see each other periodically as Chopin criss-crosses Europe giving concerts and teaching the aristocracy. Not long after on September 9, 1936, Chopin proposes marriage during a holiday together, chaparoned by Marie’s mother. Marie accepts.#3 — Marie’s family tells the couple that the engagement will not be “official” until Chopin proves that he is gonna live long enough to take care of their daughter! He gets a one year trial period to improve his failing health or all bets are off. He also needs to prove that he can provide a stable home environment. Due to continual travelling and performing, he has not yet set up a permanent home.#4 — So into this milieu marches Georg Sand. They meet approximately October 24, 1836, a month or so after Chopin proposes to Marie. Chopin is ill and realizes he just may be rejected by Marie’s family as decent husband material. Sand is separated and soon divorced from her Baron husband and has 2 children, a boy, Maurice and a girl, Solange.#5 — As luck would have it, Chopin cannot do what the Wodzinski family requires of him. He becomes very ill over the winter months and eventually meets Marie in Germany the early part of July, 1837 after a series of concerts in England and the Netherlands. Marie’s family sees the state of his frail health and instructs her to reject his proposal….by letter….later. By the time he returns to Paris toward the end of July, he receives word of the broken “unofficial” engagement. He wraps Marie’s correspondence and the rejection letter in a bundle and labels it “My Sorrow”.
This song was heard in The Others and in an episode of Mad TV where Stuart gets piano lessons. It is prominently used in the PC game Alone in the Dark as both the game over music and as a song you can hear if you pick up a gramaphone and a certain record, though this version is played in a different tempo.
Hear pianist Chih-long Huplay Chopin’s farewell piece – the Waltz in A-flat, Op. 69, No. 1 , in a Chopin Project live performance at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
A case may be made for the Op. 42 as Chopin’s most perfect valse. After the first measures of trill, a call to the dance, there is a melody with a rare lilt composed in double time, with the triple time of the waltz in the left hand. Schumann remarked that “like his earlier waltzes it is a salon piece of the noblest kind.” The composition, Schumann feels, should be danced to only by “countesses at least.” This waltz is the most demanding technically of the series.
Chopin’s official title for the piece is the Grande Valse Nouvelle pour le piano, Op. 42. There’s a fascinating detail of its publication history available at Chopin First Editions Online.
The composer Stephen Heller related that Chopin called this slow (Lento) waltz his favorite. When Heller told the Pole that he, too, loved it best, Chopin immediately invited him for lunch at a fashionable cafe. Frederick Niecks wrote of this piece, “The composer evidently found pleasure in giving way to this delicious languor, in indulging in these melancholy thoughts full of sweetest, tenderest loving and longing.”
Hear pianist Polina Khatskoplay this poignant Waltz in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2 in a Chopin Project live performance at the University of Michigan’s Britton Recital Hall.
Today the Chopin Project spotlight falls on Russian-born Michigan pianist Olga Kleiankina, performing the First Impromptu (in A-flat, Op. 29, No. 1) by Chopin. By its very title “Impromptu” is supposed to mean just that — just a perky, playful little ditty that Fryderyk would dash off at the keyboard without a lot of forethought or consideration. The reality is, of course, anything but that! Chopin’s Impromptus are eternally popular, and devilishly difficult to pull off. Olga Kleiankina adds, “I felt a lot of pressure preparing for these concerts and was more than a little anxious. But the audiences were very warm, and it turned out to be such a pleasure. Even though I didn’t happen to play any major works, (many of them were almost unknown, in fact!), I came to love all my pieces, and I felt the audience did too. Even though they were miniatures, I felt that each one was perfectly organized from the very inside – in a way, a microcosmos….part of the transcendental world of Chopin’s imagination.”
This rare bit of Chopiniana was supposedly written after violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini came through Warsaw in the summer of 1829, a concert we know that Chopin attended. A month later he graduated from the Higher School of Music in Warsaw, where a teacher wrote, “Chopin, Fryderyk: third-year student, amazing capabilities, musical genius.”
Hear pianist Dmitri Vorobievplay these unusual Variations in a Chopin Project concert performance.
This is one of the best-known (and arguably, the most difficult!) of the set of twelve etudes Chopin dedicated to Franz Liszt. The Etudes were published in a single volume in 1833, when Chopin was 23, although four of them are supposed to have been completed as early as 1829.
“Etude” literally means “study” or “exercise,” which is especially apparent in this particular work, which is designed to strengthen the “weaker” (that is, the third, fourth, and fifth) fingers of the right hand. But Chopin doesn’t stop there: the thumb and index fingers have to play the accompanying chords to the dizzying melody going up and down the keyboard on those “weak” fingers.
Just to underscore the technical nature of this Etude, Chopin even takes a page from the J.S. Bach playbook and indicates the fingering – note by note — of the almost 800 notes in this piece!
Hear pianist Xiaofeng Wu perform Chopin’s tricky Etude in A minor, Op. 10, No.2 in concert.
Some other links to Chopin Etudes, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Why are Chopin’s Waltzes so perennially appealing to pianists? The folks at the boutique label Brana Records offer a clue: nicely: “They incorporate a range of moods from melancholy to effervescent but retain an air of sophistication suited to aristocratic salons.”
This Waltz in F minor, in fact, steps right out of a Parisian drawing-room. It’s one of two works dedicated to Elise Gavard (she was also the dedicate of the Berceuse in D Flat major, Op. 57 – more on that in a later post). It was composed in 1842, but was not published until 1855, six years after Chopin’s death. Indeed there’s some scholarly speculation that Chopin didn’t really want it to circulate very much. The Chopin Music sitecalls it a work of beauty amidst lost longing:
This dance is a gloomy song of failed entreaty. Its melody glances slightly at that which it temporarily enjoyed. The central section is one of absolute beauty, characterizing its style almost perfectly.