Chill with Chopin
Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French emigre and aPolish mother, Fryderyk Chopin was a prodigiously gifted child. He entered theWarsaw Conservatory at the age of sixteen and left three years later with areport from the head of the Conservatory that read \Lessons in musicalcomposition: Chopin, F., third year student, amazing capabilities, a musicalgenius". It is for his myriad solo piano works that he is far and away bestknown: as a pianist himself he instinctively knew how best to write for thatinstrument and in fact did not write a single work that does not include apiano in some capacity.
Chopin was afflicted by poor health throughout his life, andthe years he spent in Paris giving lessons, practising and composing late intothe night took their toll on his constitution. His own physical frailtyprevented him from performing works of great power and bravura like those ofhis contemporaries Liszt and Brahms, and his concert appearances were few andfar between as
a result. He preferred the more intimate environment of thesalon recital and composed accordingly, with very few large-scale orchestralworks in his oeuvre. In 1836 he developed tuberculosis, an incurable illness inthose days; and by the time of his death in October 1849
he weighed less than 45kg. He was buried at the famousP?¿re-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but in accordance with his last will his heartwas returned to Warsaw.
Although Chopin won early fame in his native country, hegrew increasingly restless in Warsaw and decided to embark on a European tourin late 1830. His departure coincided with the unsuccessful national risingagainst Russian domination; there was no welcome for a Polish artist in Austriaand Germany, so Chopin ended up in sympathetic Paris. Here he forged asuccessful career as a pianist and piano teacher to the European elite. Hestayed almost exclusively in Paris for the rest of his life, though he alwayshad an unbearable homesickness for Poland that manifested itself in the Polishpeasant tunes and a wistful melancholy that can be heard in many of his works.
Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57
One of the few "stand-alone" works by Chopin - it does notform part of a larger set - the Berceuse takes its name from the French wordmeaning "lullaby" or "cradle-song". Chopin was the first composer to make thisstyle of piece his own, influencing later composers such as Brahms, Liszt,Debussy, Ravel and even Stravinsky to write similarly titled pieces. Chopin'swork, completed in 1844, is essentially a set of sixteen variations upon theopening theme. It is more often heard in the original version for solo piano,but this arrangement for piano and orchestra beautifully captures the shiftingcolours of the music. It is hard to believe that this tranquil, serene piece ofmusic was written at one of the lowest ebbs in Chopin's life, with his healthrapidly deteriorating, his family life in turmoil and, in May 1844, the deathof his father.
Tohear Chopin's Berceuse in its original solo piano form try:
8.554527 CompletePiano Music, Vol. 1 (includes Ballades Nos. 1-4, Fantaisie in
Fminor, Op. 49 and other solo works)
Tracks 2, 4, 5 and 7
Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2
Nocturne in C sharp minor, BI 49 (arr. Piatigorsky)
Nocturne in B flat minor, Op. 9 No. 1
Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1 (posth.)
Of all the various genres in which Chopin wrote, it isperhaps the nocturnes ("night pieces") that best sum up what his style was allabout. Though he was not the first composer to write in this genre, he took theexisting form and moulded it into something unmistakeably his own, with thethree Op. 9 nocturnes already under his belt by the time he reached Paris in1831. The first of this set perfectly captures the melancholy which became aconstant feature of Chopin's work: a beautifully simple lyrical line is setagainst arpeggiated chords in the left hand, with filigree ornamentationsembellishing the underlying melody and an impassioned middle section providingthe contrast. In 1836 Chopin wrote the two nocturnes that make up Op. 27, thesecond of which shows a move away from the conservative harmonies he hadthitherto favoured, instead making bolder use of chromaticism.
The Nocturnes, BI 49 and Op. 72, No. 1 were both publishedposthumously, though they were in fact the first two to be written - Op. 72,No. 1 in 1827, betraying an incredible maturity for the then seventeen-year-oldcomposer. The version of BI 49 heard here is an arrangement for cello and pianoby the legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
Ifyou would like to hear more of Chopin's Nocturnes, try:
8.554531 Nocturnes,Vol. 1
8.554532 Nocturnes,Vol. 2
Impromptu No. 2 in F sharp major, Op. 36
Chopin's four impromptus were written between 1835 and 1843,a prolific time for the composer, and follow the model provided by Schubert inhis eight impromptus of 1827. The title suggests an amount of improvisationrequired of the performer, though it may also refer to the composer's suddenburst of inspiration behind each piece. This impromptu, numbered 2 of the four,was in fact the third to be written (as with the nocturnes, Chopin's firstattempt in the genre was not published until after his death). It makesuncharacteristic use of a simple chordal accompaniment rather than the usualarpeggiations, with a simple melody embellished with delicate ornamentation andan imposing central section in the contrasting key of D major.
Chopin'scomplete Impromptus can be sampled on:
8.554538 CompletePiano Music, Vol. 12 (also includes Scherzi, Nos. 1-4
andAllegro de concert, Op. 46)
Tracks 6 and 13
Piano Concerto No. 2: Larghetto
Piano Concerto No. 1: Romanza - Larghetto
Chopin's time in Paris coincided with the era of the greatcomposer-performers: Liszt, Paderewski, Busoni and others. These Pop