CHOPIN: Polonaises, Vol. 2 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554535)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 9
Polonasies Vol. 2
Fryderyk Chopin wasborn in 1810 at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw. His father Nicolas Chopin wasFrench by birth but had moved to Poland to work as an accounting clerk, laterserving as tutor to the Laczynski family and thereafter to the family of CountSkarbek, one of whose poorer relatives he married. His subsequent career ledhim to the Warsaw Lyceum as a respected teacher of French, and it was therethat his only son, Fryderyk, godson of Count Skarbek, whose Christian name hetook, passed his childhood.
Chopin showed an earlytalent for music. He learned the piano from his mother and later with theeccentric Adalbert Zywny, a violinist of Bohemian origin, and as fiercelyPolish as Chopin's father. His later training in music was with Jozef Elsner,director of the Warsaw Conservatory, at first as a private pupil and then as astudent of that institution.
In the 1820s Chopinhad already begun to win for himself a considerable local reputation, butWarsaw offered relatively limited opportunities. In 1830 he set out for Vienna,a city where he had aroused interest on a visit in the previous year and wherehe now hoped to make a more lasting impression. The time, however, wasill-suited to his purpose. Vienna was not short of pianists, and Thalberg, inparticular, had out-played the rest of the field. During the months he spentthere Chopin attracted little attention, and resolved to move to Paris.
The greater part ofChopin's professional career was to be spent in France, and particularly inParis, where he established himself as a fashionable teacher and as a performerin the houses of the rich. His playing in the concert hall was of a style lesslikely to please than that of the more flamboyant Liszt or than the technicalvirtuosity of Kalkbrenner. It was in the more refined ambience of thefashionable salon that his genius as a composer and as a performer, with itsintimacy, elegance and delicacy of nuance, found its place.
Chopin could not but admire the ability of Liszt, while not sharing histaste in music. His own background had been severely classical, based on themusic of Bach, Mozart and Haydn, and by these standards Beethoven, the objectof adulation for Liszt and his circle, seemed on occasion uncouth, bycomparison with the classical restraint of Mozart's pupil Hummel. At the sametime he held reservations about the Bohemian way of life that Liszt followed,although he himself was to become involved in a liaison with the novelistGeorge Sand ('Aurore Dudevant'), which lasted for some ten years, coming to anend two years before his death, while Liszt's more dramatic association with another married woman, a less successfulblue-stocking, the Comtesse d'Agoult, forced his withdrawal from Paris society.
Both women were to take literary revenge on their paramours.
Paris was to provideChopin with a substantial enough income as a teacher, and there was a readymarket for his compositions, however reluctant he might be to commit them topaper. The country retreat of George Sand at Nohant provided a change of airthat was certainly healthier for him than that of Mallorca, where, in 1838, thecouple spent a disastrous winter that intensified the weakness of Chopin'slungs, already affected by the tuberculosis from which he was to die.
In 1848 politicaldisturbances in Paris made teaching impossible, and Chopin left the city for atour of England and Scotland. By this time his health had deterioratedconsiderably. At the end of the year he returned to Paris, now too weak to playor to teach and dependent on the generosity of others for subsistence. He diedthere on 17th October, 1849.
The greater part ofChopin's music was written for his own instrument, the piano. At first itseemed that works for piano and orchestra would be a necessary part of hisstock-in-trade, but the position he found for himself in Paris enabled him towrite principally for the piano alone, in a characteristic idiom that derivessome inspiration from contemporary Italian opera, much from the music ofPoland, and still more from his own adventurous approach to harmony and his ownsheer technical ability as a player.
The Polish dance, the Polonaise, found its way from village toball-room and thence abroad. In Paris in 1830 Poland was in the news, with theattempted rising against Russia and its suppression, and things Polish enjoyedconsiderable popularity, a fact from which Chopin benefited on his arrival inthe city. As with other relatively trivial dance forms, he was able to raisethe Polonaise to a new level, imparting a degree ofcomplexity and a degree of feeling that had not always been present in the workof his elders in Warsaw. His first attempts at the form were at the age ofseven and his last in 1846, three years before his death.
The three Polonaisespublished as Opus 71 are all early works. The first, in D minor, wasprobably written in 1825, and the second and third in 1828. All three werepublished posthumously in Berlin in 1855. The first Polonaise of all is the Polonaisein G minor, BI 1, written in 1817 and published with the help ofCanon Cybulski of the Church of our Lady in Warsaw, a family friend. Theprinted dedication is to Countess Victoria Skarbek, the wife of Chopin'sgodfather, Count Fryderyk Skarbek. The composer's father had served as tutor tothe Skarbeks and married a poor relation of the family. Count Skarbek did muchto advance Chopin's early career in Warsaw as the Polish Mozart. The derivativeB flat major Polonaise, BI 3, of the same year, only remarkable for the age ofthe composer and his subsequent achievement, was first published in 1947.
In 1821 Chopin wrote aPolonaise in A flat, BI 5, which he dedicated to his eccentric teacher,the Bohemian violinist Adalbert Zywny, as a birthday present. It was followedin 1822 by a Polonaise in G sharp minor, BI 6, dedicated to a familyfriend, Madame Du Pont. A further work in the form, the Polonaise in Bflat minor, BI 13, based on Rossini's La gazza ladra, performedin Warsaw in the same year, was written in 1826 and dedicated to hisschoolfriend Wilus Kolberg. The series of early Polonaises comes to an end withthe G flat major Polonaise of 1829, BI 36, first published in 1870.
The GrandePolonaise in E flat, Opus 22, was written in Vienna, where Chopin spent adisappointing winter in 1830, before leaving for Paris. Originally for pianoand orchestra, the work was later augmented by an introductory Andantespianato for piano alone, and later performed by the composer as a solopiano work. It was published in Paris in 1836 by Schlesinger with a dedicationto Baroness d'Est.
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 pian