CHOPIN: Famous Piano Music (Balazs Szokolay/ Irina Zaritzkaya/ Istvan Szekely/ Peter Nagy) (Naxos: 8.550291)
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Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1847)
Fryderyk Chopin was born at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, in 1810. Hisfather, Nicholas Chopin, was French by birth, but had been taken to Poland in1787, at the age of sixteen, working first as a clerk in a tobacco factory,before taking part in the Polish rising against the foreign domination of thecountry as an officer in the National Guard. After the failure of this attempt,he was able to earn his living as a French tutor in various private families,and in 1806 he married a poor relation of his then employer, Count Skarbek.
Chopin was to inherit from his father a fierce sense of loyalty toPoland, a feeling that he fostered largely in self-imposed exile, since thegreater part of his career was to be spent in Paris. His early education,however, was in Warsaw where his father had become a teacher at a newlyestablished school. He was able to develop his already precocious musicalabilities with piano lessons from the eccentric, Adalbert Zywny, a violinistfrom Bohemia, who shared Nicholas Chopin's enthusiasm for Poland and was able toinculcate in his pupil a sound respect for the great composers of the eighteenthcentury. Chopin later took lessons from the director of the Warsaw Conservatory,Jozef Elsner, and entered the Conservatory as a student in 1862. By then he hadalready developed his own individual style as a pianist and had written, duringthe previous ten years, a number of pieces for piano.
Warsaw offered a restricted environment for musical achievement,although Chopin was able to hear Hummel there in 1828 and the violinist Paganiniin the following year. He had already acquired a considerable local reputationwhen in 1830 he set out for Vienna, where he was to pass the winter with verylittle to show for it. An earlier visit to Vienna had aroused interest, but thissecond visit undertaken with a more serious purpose, produced nothing, and thefollowing summer he set out for Paris, where he was to spend much of the rest ofhis life.
Chopin's attitude to Paris was at first ambivalent. As a provincial hefound much to shock him, while, at the same time there was much to impress himin the splendour of the city and in the diversity of music there. He was tocreate a special place for himself as a teacher to some of the mostdistinguished families and as a performer in more intimate social gatheringsthan the theatres and concert halls where his cruder contemporary Franz Lisztcould excel.
By 1837 Chopin had embarked on a liaison with the writer George Sand,Aurore Dupin, the estranged wife of Baron Dudevant, generally spending thesummer at her country estate at Nohant. The winter of 1838 was spent with her inMallorca, where an attempt to battle against a high wind seriously affected hislungs, already weakened by tuberculosis. Thereafter, Chopin's relationship withGeorge Sand took a more conventional course, until the jealousies and rivalry ofher two children led to a final quarrel in 1847. George Sand and Chopin werenever to be reconciled, and he died in Paris in 1849, his health havingdeteriorated considerably during the course of a visit to England and Scotlandthe year before, when Paris was undergoing revolution.
As a composer Chopin's achievement was remarkable. He perfected his ownidiomatic style of performance, in which technical problems seemed not to exist,a style of delicate nuance and elegance. His music, suited to his manner ofplaying, showed considerable originality in its exploration of harmony and inits expansion of existing forms and creation of new ones. The Cminor Study, Opus 10 No.12, generally known as the RevolutionaryStudy, was once thought to have been Chopin's reaction to news of theRussian occupation of Warsaw, when the report reached him in September 1831. Thestory adds an extraneous element to a work of considerable bravura, the last ina set of twelve etudes dedicated to Franz Liszt when they were published in1833.
The E Flat Major Nocturne
was written at the time when Chopin was leaving his native country to settle inParis. The piece is a well-known example of Chopin's extension of the range ofpiano music in his own instantly recognizable idiom.
The Ballade in A Flat Major
is the third of the set of four which make up Opus47. Published in November, 1841, it is dedicated to the composer'spupil, Princess Pauline de Noailles and is said to draw on Mickiewicz's poem Undine,the story of the water spirit, subject of Friedrich de la Motte Fouque'sfairy-tale and of operas by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Lortzing, as well as theinspiration of the first episode in Ravel's Gaspardde la Nuit. Undine loves a mortal, who would be unable to survive heraquatic embraces. The moderate voice of the narrator opens the Ballade,a tale of love, set against the gentle rocking of the waves, an interveningepisode leading to a recapitulation of greater passion and intensity.
It seems probable that the inspiration for the Berceuse,Opus 57, might have come to Chopin because of the presence of thebaby daughter of the singer Pauline Viardot at George Sand's country house atNohant during the summer of 1843. He was much taken with the child, who hadlearned to say his name, "petit Chopin". The months spent at Nohantwere relatively tranquil, interrupted, perhaps to the composer's relief, by thevisit of the painter Delacroix and by the late arrival of the Viardots. Duringthe year Chopin wrote little, apart from a group of three Mazurkas
and the Berceuse, a work of tendersimplicity, with no hint of the tension that was creeping into his relationshipwith George Sand or the deteriorating state of his health.
The Polonaise Fantasie of1845 and 1846 is the final imaginative exploitation of a form that Chopin haddeveloped since his first childhood attempt in 1817, a form in originessentially Polish, but here transcending any such national limitation.
Among other forms Chopin developed that of the Nocturne, a poeticcreation for the piano in which he was able to employ all those delicate nuancesof which he was a master. The Nocturne in FMinor was written in 1843.
Schumann, as a young critic, had been among the first to recognize theability of the Polish pianist and composer, greeting his performance with thewords "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!" He later went on to parodyChopin's style in his pianistic parade, Carnaval,something that Chopin never forgave. The FantasieImpromptu was written in 1835 and was the first of four suchcompositions.
For the piano Chopin created an idiosyncratic style of composition andperformance, delicate, poetic and highly characteristic. The two sets of twelve studies,Opus 10 and Opus 25,explore technical problems of performance in a completely musical way, as in thefamiliar E Major Etude, Opus 10 No.3.
The Scherzi also explore anew form of piano composition. Originally a musical joke, with Beethoven the scherzo
had come to replace the more limited minuet
as the third movement of a symphony. Chopin, however, made of it an independent,virtuoso form, subjecting the player to severe technical demands. The Scherzo,Opus 31, in B Flat Minor, was completed in 1837 and is dedicated to apupil, Countess Adele de Furstenstin.
Chopin had first turned to the Waltz form in Warsaw in 1827, havingalready adapted Polish dances, the Mazurka
and the Polonai