CHOPIN: Rondos and Variations
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 11
Rondos and Variations
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, was ill-suitedto his purpose. Vienna was not short of pianists, and Thalberg, in particular,had out-played the rest of the field. During the months he spent there Chopinattracted 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.
Most of Chopin's music was written for his own instrument, the piano. Atfirst it seemed that works for piano and orchestra would be a necessary part ofhis stock-in-trade, but the position he found for himself in Paris enabled himto write principally for the piano alone, in a characteristic idiom thatderives some inspiration from contemporary Italian opera, much from the musicof Poland, and still more from his own adventurous approach to harmony and hisown sheer technical ability as a player.
The first of Chopin's four Rondos was written in 1825 andpublished as the composer's Opus 1, with a dedication to Madame Linde, neeNusbaum, wife of Samuel Bogumil Linde, Rector of the Warsaw Lyceum, where thecomposer's father taught and Chopin himself studied. In the year of itspublication Chopin had been called upon to play for the Tsar of Russia on a newinstrument, the aeolomelodicon, and at a later charity concert used the sameinstrument for a performance of his Opus 1. The Rondeau in C minor, aremarkable enough achievement for a fifteen-year-old, may seem derivative inits thematic material, which accords very much with prevailing tastes forItalian opera. The principal theme leads to a contrasted first episode in amore expressive E major and an A flat section in which left-hand arpeggiosaccompany the operatic melody. After the reappearance of the principal themethere is a further episode in D flat, followed by the return of the secondtheme, transposed and of the principal theme in conclusion.
The Rondeau a la Mazurka, Opus 5, was written in 1826 andpublished in Warsaw two years later. It was dedicated to Alexandrine deMoriolles, daughter of the tutor to Pavel, the illegitimate son of Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, the Tsar'sbrother and his representative in Poland. As a boy Chopin had been invited toperform for the Grand Duke and afterwards to play with Pavel and Alexandrine. Abrief introduction leads to a fuller statement of the F major principal theme,with its mazurka rhythm, relaxing into a B flat episode, marked tranquillamentee cantabile. Transposed versions of the principal theme return and a Cmajor version of the second episode, before the final refrain.
The Rondeau inC major, written in 1828 and published posthumously in 1855, wasoriginally designed for one piano and shortly afterwards arranged for two. Anautograph copy of the original version was given to the Viennese collector and musicologist Aloys Fuchs, who entertained Chopin in Vienna in thewinter of 1830. A shortintroduction leads to the principal theme, elaborated and succeeded by acontrasting episode in A minor, which returns in a transposed version beforethe bravura conclusion.
The Rondeau inE flat major, Opus 16, is a slightly later work, written in Paris in 1832 anddedicated to Caroline Hartmann, one of Chopin's few professional pupils. Shedied in 1834, before her promise could be fulfilled. The Rondeau startswith a C minor introduction of technical complexity, leading to the livelyfirst theme of the rondo in a composition of greater maturity, composed at atime when the composer was enjoying considerable success.
The collection of 51 Mazurkas,which already includes two posthumously published A minor Mazurkas, iscompleted by a further group of six, the first, numbered in Maurice Brown'sdefinitive catalogue BI 4, in D major, was written in 1820, followed by anA flat major Mazurka, BI 7, in 1825. The next year brought two more, inB flat and in G major, BI 16. A C major Mazurka, written in 1833, wasfirst published in Warsaw in 1870, and carries the catalogue number BI 82. Asecond Mazurka in B flat major, BI 73, bears the date 24th June, 1832,and was first published in 1909.
Variations for thepianoforte, i