CHOPIN: Nocturnes, Vol. 2 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554532)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 6
Nocturnes Vol. 2
The son of a French emigre of relatively humble origin, who hadestablished himself as a schoolmaster in Warsaw and espoused the cause ofPoland with enthusiasm, Fryderyk Chopin was to make his home and career inParis, after early success at home, where he was trained at the Conservatoryand gave a series of public concerts before trying his luck in Vienna. Paris,however, proved more suitable for his particular talents. As a pianist heexcelled in a peculiar delicacy of nuance, while as a teacher and as agentleman he proved acceptable in the elegant salons of the French capital.
For some ten years Chopin enjoyed or occasionally suffered arelationship with the strong-willed blue-stocking Aurore Dudevant, better knownby her pen-name of George Sand, a woman of a distinctly liberated cast of mind,who was to find even in her inamorato a source for her own fiction. Chopin wasto die of tuberculosis, from which he had long suffered, at the early age of39.
Among forms that Chopin made his own was the Nocturne, at onetime synonymous with the Serenade, but with the Irish pianist John Field and Chopin, hissuccessor, a lyrical piano piece offering, nominally at least, a poetic visionof the night. Field wrote eighteen piano pieces with this title between theyears 1814 and 1835 and these introduced a new form of piano music that wasdeveloped not only in the Nocturne but in other separate movements forpiano throughout the century.
Two nocturnes were published in 1840 by Eugene-Th?¿odore Troupenas, whobriefly replaced Schlesinger, whom Chopin now accused of sharp practice indisposing of one of his German copyrights, giving vent, in privatecorrespondence, to his rooted anti-semiotic suspicions. The G minor Nocturne,Opus 37, No. 1, encloses a tranquil chordal E flat major section, and isfollowed by a G major Nocturne, with a lilting secondary episode.
By 1841 disagreement with Schlesinger had been put aside and hepublished a set of two nocturnes, the first in C minor and the second in Fsharp minor, dedicated to Chopin's pupil Laure Duperre. Opus 48, No.1, movesforward to a central C major section of gentler character, increasing inexcitement as the opening material returns.
The F sharp minor Nocturne that completes the set moves into arelatively sombre D flat major section of some harmonic complexity.
Two more nocturneswere published by Schlesinger in 1844, dedicated to Jane Stirling, amiddle-aged Scottish pupil of Chopin whose nuptial ambitions outweighed hermusical talent. It was through her that Chopin travelled in 1848 to London andto Scotland and to an endless round of tedious social visits that lasted sevenmonths, until he could escape back to Paris again, his health now much worse.
In 1844, however, Chopin was still involved with George Sand, although theirrelationship had its difficulties as her two children, Maurice and Solange,grew up and used him in their own rivalries and jealousies. The F minor Nocturne,Opus 55, No. 1, allows the opening material to re?¡appear in more elaborate formin conclusion. It is followed by a second, the Nocturne in E flat,marked by its use of a second melodic voice, accompanying the first.
Chopin wrote his last two nocturnes in 1846 and they were published inthe same year by Brandus, who had bought Maurice Schlesinger's business and waslater to acquire Troupenas. They were dedicated to another of the composer'spiano pupils, Mlle. de K?«nneritz. Opus 62, No.1, in B major, is introduced bytwo chords, the first suggesting another tonality. There is an A flat majorcentral section and an elaborated return of the material of the openingsection. The final work, the Nocturne in E major, has a secondaryepisode with a more energetic accompanying figure. The two nocturnes werewritten in the autumn of 1846 at Nohant, which Chopin only left in November toreturn alone to Paris, giving rise to rumours about a quarrel with George Sand,with whom he quarrelled definitively the following year, after her daughter'smarriage.
Chopin became a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, a relatively newinstitution, in 1826, committing himself to a continuation of his studies inharmony, counterpoint and theory, but in fact largely going his own way, underthe supervision of the head of the institution, Josef Elsner, with whom he hadalready studied for some years. His second year brought a variety ofcompositions, waltzes, a polonaise, a mazurka and the first of his nocturnes,the Nocturne in E minor, published only posthumously, in 1855, as Opus72, No. 1. It is a work of relative maturity, marked by its translucenttexture.
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 hisperiod, challenges the orchestra in an attempt to reproduce on the piano therichness of 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 Chopin interpretersapproach 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 lostnone of its fullness even in its forte passages. Chopin could not soundaggressive, especially on the pianos of that period. Berlioz wrote, "To beable to appreciate Chopin fully, I think one must hear him from close by, inthe salon rather than in a theatre."
Chopin's sense ofrubato was unrivalled.