CHOPIN: Scherzi / Impromptus / Allegro de Concert (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554538)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 12
Scherzi and Impromptus
Allegro de concert
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.
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 Impromptu, in title at least,was typical of its period in its suggestion of romantic abandon and freedom. Incommon with much else in European music, it had its origins in Prague with thepublication in 1822 of Impromptus by Jan Vaclav Vorisek, followed fiveyears later by the Bohemian-born composer Marschner. Schubert's publisher inthe 1820s, Tobias Haslinger, found the title commercially attractive, andthereafter the name endured, descriptive of an independent piano piece, lackingthe formality of a sonata movement.
The four Scherzi explorea new form of piano composition. Originally a musical joke, with Beethoven the scherzohad come to replace the more limited minuet as the third movement of asymphony. Chopin, however, made of it an independent virtuoso form. Hecompleted his first Scherzo in 1832 and dedicated it to Tomas Albrecht,wine-merchant and Saxon consul in Paris and a good friend, who was present atthe composer's death-bed in 1849. Two emphatic chords summon attention beforethe impetuous principal material of the piece makes its appearance, with itscontrasting B major trio section, a Polish folk-song transformed into a Berceuse.
The second Scherzo, Opus 31 in B flat minor and D flat major, waswritten in 1837 and dedicated to a pupil, Countess Adal?¿ von F??rstenstein. Onceagain the Scherzo opens with a call to attention, this time ominouslyquiet, until the answering burst of sound, followed by a display of agility,leading to a central oasis of general A major tranquillity that is not withoutpassing excitement. The third Scherzo, in the key of C sharp minor,belied in its opening, was written in 1839 and dedicated to his favouritepupil, Adolf Gutmann, one of the few professional pupils that he took during ateaching career largely devoted to the interests of rich amateurs. Marked Prestocon fuoco, the Scherzo embarks on a series of open octaves withwhich and with wider intervals Gutmann would be well able to cope and includesa central D flat major passage in contrast. The last of these pieces, the Scherzoin E major, Opus 54, composed in 1842 and published with a dedication tohis pupil Countess Jeanne de Caraman, after its introduction, moves into thefairy scherzo territory of Mendelssohn, a delicately nuanced conclusion to theseries, ending with an appropriate flourish.
Chopin wrote his firstImpromptu in 1837, the year of his first liaison with George Sand, dedicatingthe work, as he so often did, to one of his society pupils, the CountessCaroline de Lobau. Its delicate and lively outer sections enclose a moresustained F minor passage at the heart of the work. The second Impromptu followedtwo years later, to be issued by Chopin's new publisher Troupenas, who hadtemporarily replaced Maurice Schlesinger, whom he suspected of duplicity. Theleft hand establishes a pattern of chordal accompaniment, before the entry ofthe well-known principal melody and its elaborate embellishment. There is alilting D major section and an F major restatement of the main theme before apassage of filigree ornament leads to a conclusion. By 1843 Chopin had returnedto Schlesinger, who published his third Impromptu in that year, with adedication to Countess Jeanne Esterhazy, nee Batthyany, a member by birth andby marriage of one of the leading families of the Habsburg Empire. Following apattern he often used, Chopin frames a more sustained central section in therelative minor key with music of a livelier turn. The Fantaisie-Impromptu, publishedposthumously in 1855, predates the other three Impromptus and wascompleted in 1835. Its intense and excited outer sections frame a central Largoin D flat major, in which, as so often, an arpeggio left-hand accompanimentpoints an upper singing melody.
The Allegro deconcert, Opus 46, was conceived originally as a movement of a projectedpiano concerto in 1831, when it seemed Chopin might still have use for suchmaterial. It was revised as a solo work and published in 1841, with adedication to a new pupil, Friederike M??ller, who noted in her diary thephysical weakness of her teacher, his coughing and remedy of opium drops withsugar and his enormous patience. The Allegro de concert preservessomething of the rhetoric expected in a concerto.
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 und