Fryderyk Chopin (1810 -1849)
Complete Piano Music Vol.1
Ballades / Berceuse / Nouvelles etudes
Fantasie / Galop Marquis / Largo
Marche funebre / Cantabile
Fryderyk Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810, the son ofNicolas Chopin, a Frenchman drawn by chance to Poland through the assistanceand kindness of a Polish estate administrator in France, who, on his return to Poland,had taken young Nicolas with him and given him employment as a clerk. He was tobecome a respected figure in Warsaw as a teacher of French, after serving as atutor in various families and marrying a poor relation of one of his employers,Count Skarbek.
Fryderyk was educated in Warsaw. His musical abilitieswere given every encouragement and he took private lessons from Jozef Elsner,director of the Conservatory, before finally becoming a student there. He hadbegun to make a name for himself locally, but Warsaw offered relatively limitedopportunities, and in 1830 he set out for Vienna, a city where he had alreadyaroused some interest during an earlier visit.
As matters turned out, Chopin was to receive relativelylittle attention in Vienna now that his intentions were more serious, and thefollowing year, on the pretext of travelling to London, he obtained a passportfor Paris. It was there that he was to spend the greater part of his career, recapturingthe spirit of his native Poland, its armies now defeated by Russia, in amusical language that was entirely his own.
In Paris Chopin had immediate connection with Polishrefugees. At the same time he established himself as a popular teacher of thepiano for the more distinguished families of the capital, and as a performer inthe fashionable salons of the leading hostesses of the day. His style of playing,with its delicate variety of nuance, its idiomatic pedalling and rhythmicfreedom, was not of a kind to offer serious competition to the showmen of thekeyboard, to Liszt, Thalberg or Kalkbrenner.
At first Chopin regarded Liszt and his Bohemian circlewith some reserve, but it was through Liszt that he was to meet the novelistGeorge Sand (Baroness Dudevant), a woman who became his mistress for some tenyears, before estrangement as her children grew older and tempers wore thinner.
His health had for long been seriously endangered by tubercular infection,exacerbated during the famous winter he spent in Mallorca with George Sand in1837. The revolution of 1848 and an interruption to normal sources of incomebrought temporary exile with recitals in England and Scotland. He returned to Paristowards the end of the year and died there on 17th October, 1849.
Chopin was largely responsible for the creation of theBallade for piano The word itself describes a kind of poetic composition thathad found particular favour in Germany at the close of the eighteenth century,with the verses of Goethe and Schiller appearing in the famous Balladenjahr
of 1797. Thereafter the Ballade continued to hold the romanticimagination as a re-creation of the primitive narrative verse of an earlierage, particular that of the Scottish borders.
The four Ballades of Chopin are said to have beeninspired by the verses of the poet Adam Mickiewicz, an exile in Paris and afriend of the composer. The source of the first Ballade, it has beensuggested, was the poem Kanrad Wallenrad, a medieval story of patriotic vengeancewrought through treason, and a thinly disguised attack on the Russiandomination of Poland. Here the characteristic lilt of the music is preceded bya dramatic introductory passage, a call to the listener's attention. After thisthe tale unfolds, a story of increasing intensity, with moments of serenity,moments of passion, and what seems to be the recurrent voice of the narrator,captured in the first, principal theme.
The first Ballade was completed in 1835 and publishedthe following year with a dedication to the Hanoverian ambassador in Paris,Baron Stockhausen The second Ballade was published in 1840 with adedication to Robert Schumann, who found it inferior to the first, "lessartistic, but equally fantastic and intellectual", but suggesting that themore intense episodes had been inserted as an afterthought. The literary sourcemay have been Mickiewicz's account of the Lake of the Wilis, a legendevoked in Adam's ballet Giselle. Here the narrative begins at once, inthe simplest form, to be interrupted by a sudden, feverish burst of activity.
The voice of the story-teller is heard again, mounting in excitement andinterrupted once more by a passage of fierce intensity, on which there is the briefestmelancholy comment in conclusion.
The third Ballade, published in November, 1841, witha dedication to the composer's pupil, Princess Pauline de Noailles, is said todraw on Mickiewicz's poem Undine, the story of the water-spirit, subject ofFriedrich de la Motte Fouque's fairy-tale and of operas by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Lortzing,as well as the inspiration of the first episode in Ravel' s Gaspard de la Nuit.
Undine loves a mortal, who would be unable to survive her aquatic embraces. Themoderate voice of the narrator opens the Ballade, a tale of love, setagainst the gentle rocking of the waves, an intervening episode leading to a recapitulationof greater passion and intensity.
The last of the Ballades was published in 1843 anddedicated to Baronne Nathalie de Rothschild. In F minor, the Ballade
opens with some harmonic ambiguity, gently introducing the narrative and goingon to moments of greater intensity and a gently lilting chordal passage, beforethe increased elaboration and passion of the conclusion. Those who have soughtliterary inspiration for the Ballades have had less to say on the matterwith this work, with its contrasting episodes of naive simplicity and filigree complication,although there are many who regard it as the summit of Chopin's achievement.
It was Chopin who elevated the cradle-song into a higherart form in his D flat major Berceuse, in which he established therhythm and mood to be followed by later composers, including Liszt, who tookChopin's Berceuse as his model. The work was completed in 1844 andpublished a year later, with a dedication to Elise Gavard, one of those femalepupils and admirers who joined in later general attempts to console him afterhis breach with George Sand in 1847. The Berceuse was principally the work ofan otherwise largely unproductive summer at Nohant in 1843, its inspirationperhaps the small daughter of the singer Pauline Viardot, left with George Sandfor the summer, while her mother was on tour. It is music of charm and elegantsimplicity.
The three Nouvelles etudes were written in 1839 forthe Methode des methodes published by the piano virtuoso Ignaz Moschelesand the Belgian musicologist Francois-Joseph Fetis in Berlin 1840, s