©Barbara Kerstetter

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.

Listen to the performance and to Mr. Vorobiev’s discussion of Tarantella with host Jacqueline Halbloom on “Performance Iowa” Sunday April 4th at 1PM CDT