CHOPIN: Preludes / Barcarolle, Op. 60 / Bolero, Op. 19 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554536)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 10
Preludes: Barcarolle;Bolero; Bourrees; Wiosna; Feuille d'Album; Fugue
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 Parissociety. 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 Venetian barcarollesgondoliers' songs, were well known to the many visitors to Venice even inthe eighteenth century, forming even then a collectable item for the curious.
The characteristic rhythm, if not the title, found a place in some of the songsof Schubert and more overtly in three of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words. Themost famous example of a Barcarolle for solo piano is Chopin's Opus 60in F sharp major, written in 1845, the precursor of a set of thirteen writtenby Gabriel Faure towards the end of the century. Chopin completed his Barcarollein the winter of 1845, after his return to the city from autumn monthsspent at Nohant. It was dedicated to Baroness Stockhausen, wife of theHanoverian ambassador in
Paris, providing musicof greater complexity than its title might have suggested.
The Bolero hadreached Paris by the time of Chopin's arrival in the city in 1831, itspopularity assured by the fame of the singer, guitarist and composer ManuelGarcia, Pauline Viardot's father. Chopin's single use of the dance was writtenin 1833 and dedicated to Countess Emilie de Flahaut, wife of a diplomat andlater Lady Shelburne. Three opening notes summon the attention of the listener,before the dance begins, music that seems to stem rather from contemporaryoperatic convention than from the villages of Spain, a country that he had notthen visited.
In the two Bourreesof 1846 Chopin returned formally to the French court dance of theseventeenth century. The Andantino in G minor, written sevenyears earlier, is a piano arrangement of the song Wiosna ('Spring'), asetting of a poem by the composer's Warsaw friend and fellow-exile StefanWitwicki. The Albumleaf was written in 1843, with a dedication to hispupil Countess Sheremetieff. The two-?¡voice Fugue in A minor, writtenin 1841-2, while using a form not generally associated with Chopin, may remindus of the solace he found in the 48 Preludes and Fugues of Bachduring weary hours at Nohant.
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 enlight