CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Vol. 2 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554530)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 4
Mazurkas Vol. 2
Fryderyk Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of Nicolas Chopin,French by birth but a Polish patriot in sentiment. Chopin's early musicaltraining was in Warsaw, where he had made a name for himself before setting outin 1830 to conquer the musical world of Vienna. Failing in this attempt, hemoved to Paris, at a time when Poland had fallen a victim to Russia yet again,mixing there at first with emigre Polish patriots and then with a wider,fashionable circle. As a pianist he played with a delicacy better suited to thesalon than to the concert hall, where Liszt and his virtuoso contemporariesheld sway, although this did not prevent him from giving occasional concertsfor audiences of distinction and discrimination. At the same time he proved anacceptable and presentable teacher in the families of the leading members ofsociety. For ten years Chopin had a liaison with the novelist George Sand, whoprovided a refuge for him during the summer months spent at her country house,Nohant, but was alienated from her in the last years before his early death in1849.
Among the Polish dance forms that Chopin adapted to his own purposes wasthe Mazurka, in origin a country dance from the plains of Mazovia, near Warsaw, amongthe people known as Mazurs. The dance gained respectability in the fashionableball-rooms of Europe, losing much in the transformation. Chopin, however,relied more on the original rhythm and varying moods of the peasant dance forcompositions that transform and elevate the ingenuous into a poetic musicalform. The first of his Mazurkas was written in 1820, when he was ten,the last two in the year of his death, 29 years later.
The second of the Opus 41 Mazurkas, in E minor, bears the date28th November, 1838. With the third and fourth, in B major and A flat major,completed in 1840, they were published in that year with a dedication to thePolish poet Stefan Witwicki. The three Mazurkas of Opus 50, in G major,A flat major and C sharp minor, varying in mood, appeared in 1842, with adedication to Leon Szmitkowski, to be followed in 1843 by the three Mazurkasof Opus 56, in B major, a lively C major and a more sombre C minor, the setdedicated to Catherine Maberly, a foreign pupil of the composer. Two yearslater came a further set of three, in A minor, A flat major and F sharp minor,Opus 59, published in Berlin inthe year of composition, but without dedication.
In 1846, his healthnow deteriorating with his failing relationship with George Sand and herchildren, Chopin wrote another set of three Mazurkas, in B major, Fminor and C sharp minor. These he dedicated to Laura Czosnowska, an old friendof his and of his sister Ludwika, now 36, a guest for the summer at Nohant,whose behaviour did nothing to endear her to George Sand and her grown-upchildren Solange and Maurice. The four Mazurkas of Opus 67 were to bepublished posthumously, in 1855. The group includes two Mazurkas, in Gmajor and C major, Nos. 1 and 3, written in 1835, intended for friends fromPoland, Anna Mlokosiewicz and for the writer Klementyna Hoffmann. No.2, in Gminor, and Opus 68, No. 4, in F minor, were written in the spring of 1849, asChopin made a final attempt to summon energy. Opus 67, No. 4, in A minor, hadbeen written in 1846, before the political turmoil that induced the composer toaccept an invitation to London and to Edinburgh. The remaining Mazurkas ofthe group published in Berlin in 1855 as Opus 68 were early works. The first tobe written, Opus 68, No. 2, in A minor, was composed in 1827 and Nos. 1 and 3,in C major and F major, two years later, before Chopin left Warsaw. Two furtherMazurkas, both in A minor, were the work of 1841, designed for anthologypublication, the second dedicated to Emile Gaillard.
Interpreting Chopin byIdil Biret
Although the romanticera in its music and its performances is not so far from our own time, forvarious reasons we seem to have distanced ourselves from it. As a consequence,often composers very different from one another like Chopin, Liszt, Schumannand Wagner are brought under the same title of Romantic Composers. In thiscontext it is quite normal to find Chopin and Liszt mentioned together ascomposers of similar style, while there are no two sound worlds as differentfrom one another as those of Chopin and Liszt. The conception of the pianosound that Chopin created is based on the model of the voice. Liszt, on theother hand, fascinated by the development of the modern piano during his period,challenges the orchestra in an attempt to reproduce on the piano the richnessof the orchestral palette.
It must be among thefondest wishes of any pianist to be able to have heard Chopin perform his ownmusic. Fortunately there are some recordings providing indirectly some evidenceof this way of approaching the piano. One may in particular mention therecordings of Raoul von Koczalski who studied with Chopin's pupil Karol Mikuli.
It is also enlightening to listen to the recordings of Cortot, a pupil ofDecombes who received precious counsel from Chopin. Further, Friedman, dePachmann and Paderewski who were not direct descendants of Chopin were stillclose enough to his aesthetic conceptions to be able to convey the spontaneityChopin is said to have brought to his playing as well as the polyphonic andrhythmic richness which are so apparent in Chopin's conception of the piano. Inspite of the inferior quality of the recordings from the earlier part of thiscentury, a considerable number of common points are audible in the performancesof these pianists. Notably, a very fine legato, a piano sound that never losesits roundness since intensity replaces force, the exact feeling of rubato,recognition of the importance of inner voices and consequently a remarkablesense of polyphony. Contrary to the popular image of the romantic virtuoso,simplicity and naturalness remain exemplary in the way these great Chopininterpreters approach music.
It is interesting tonote also the evidence left by musicians, contemporaries of Chopin, andChopin's pupils about his interpretations. A perfect legato drawing itsinspiration from bel canto and unimaginable richness in tone-colour were theproduct of subtle variations in a sound full of charm and a purity that lost noneof its fullness even in its forte passages. Chopin could not sound aggressive,especially on the pianos of that period. Berlioz wrote, "To be able toappreciate Chopin fully, I think one must hear him from close by, in the salonrather than in a theatre."
Chopin's sense ofrubato was unrivalled. The temps derobe (stolen time) assumed under thehands of the great master its true meaning. Mikuli gives a description of therubato as Chopin conceived it, which seems to be of penetrating clarity. Afterrecalling that Chopin was inflexible in keeping the tempo and that themetronome was always on his piano, Mikuli explains, "Even in his rubato,where one hand - the accompanying one - continues to play strictly in time, theother - the hand which sings the melody - freed from all metric restraintconveys the true musical expression, impatience, like someone whose speechbecomes fiery with enthusiasm."
Together with acertain classicism, moderation was the basis of the world of Chopin. Hence,playing his music on the powerful modern pianos and in large concert halls isoften problematic. One should ideally never go beyond a self-?¡imposed limit ofsound and keep in mind as the criteria the possibilities of the human voice. Itis therefore better to s