CHOPIN: Waltzes, Nos. 1-19 / Ecossaises, Op. 72 / Tarantelle, Op. 49 (Idil Biret) (Naxos: 8.554539)
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Complete Piano MusicVol. 13
Fryderyk Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a Frenchemigre, Nicolas Chopin, who had established himself in Poland as a teacher ofFrench, married a Polish wife and embraced his new nationality with thegreatest patriotic enthusiasm. Chopin himself was to settle in Paris and remainchiefly in France for the greater part of his career. At the same time heretained his full share of Polish patriotism, associating with refugees fromPoland and grieving for the fate of his country under continued Russiandomination.
Chopin's early career was in Warsaw, where he studied at first privatelywith the Director of the Conservatory, Jozef Elsner, before continuing with thesame teacher as a student at the Conservatory. He was already beginning to winsomething of a reputation at home, when he took the inevitable and naturaldecision to seek his fortune in the wider musical world. A visit to Vienna in 1829seemed promising, with a good response from the public to his Polish music, inspite of the grumbling of orchestral players, handed illegible parts. Thisfirst success was not repeated when Chopin returned to Vienna in the autumn ofthe following year, now in earnest. He passed there a winter of considerablediscontent.
In July 1831, Chopin set out for Paris, having with some difficultyprocured a passport that would have taken him to London, a less revolutionarypart of Europe, at which the Vienna authorities looked less askance. Polanditself was in turmoil, and Russia had finally occupied the country, to hispatriotic dismay. Paris was to prove a centre for Polish nationalists, and itwas in these circles that Chopin was first to mix.
In Paris Chopin was not, in any case, without friends and connections,and he was to establish himself as a teacher of the piano to the mostdistinguished families, and as a performer at elegant soirees in the Frenchcapital. At first he entertained considerable suspicion of the unorthodoxbehaviour of musicians like Liszt, and his Bohemian associates. Nevertheless by1837 he had embarked on a liaison with the writer George Sand (Baroness Dudevant), a woman whose femininity he hadfirst doubted.
The affair with GeorgeSand was to continue for ten years, allowing Chopin to retreat in summer to hercountry house at Nohant, and bringing in 1838 a very much less desirable winterin Mallorca, which decisively weakened his health, already debilitated bytubercular infection. The couple finally separated in 1847, after a period inwhich George Sand's two children, Maurice and Solange, made life difficulteither by their resentment, in the case of the former, or by enlisting hissupport, as Solange did, against her mother.
The politicaldisturbances in Paris in 1848 deprived Chopin of his usual sources of income,and he took the occasion to visit England and Scotland. By this time, however,his health was already extremely weak. He returned to Paris at the end of theyear and died there on l7th October 1849.
As a composer Chopinwas innovative. In particular he developed his own idiosyncratic and poetic wayof playing, lacking the thunder and histrionics of Liszt and Thalberg, butoffering instead an infinite range of delicate nuances. In melody he wasinfluenced by the Italian opera of Bellini and Donizetti, while in harmony hedevised his own remarkably adventurous language that later composers were toextend still further.
The waltz, a Germancountry-dance in origin, had, by the end of the eighteenth century, wonconsiderable popularity in the ball-room, in spite of the warnings of doctorsand moralists, who feared physical and spiritual degeneration as a result. EvenLord Byron objected. Fashion, however, could not be denied, and the waltz wasto grow in popularity, particularly with the help in Vienna of Lanner and theStrauss family. The dance made its way into opera and into ballet, and, withthe work of composers like Chopin, into the salon. It was to undergo a laterapotheosis in the concert hall in the symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler andTchaikovsky, and in the evocative choreographic poem of Ravel, La valse.
Chopin had firstturned to the form in Warsaw in 1827, having already adapted Polish dances, theMazurka and the Polonasie, to his artistic purposes. He was tocontinue to write waltzes until the year before his death. Within the formitself there still remains scope for variety of harmony and melody and even ofspeed and mood, since these dances are not intended for the ball-room. It mightbe added that there is no sign of a final flagging of spirits. The last threesurviving waltzes that Chopin was to write, in 1846 and 1847, open with thefamous "Minute" Waltz, published with the rather lessexuberant C sharp minor Waltz and the remarkable, chromatic A flat Waltzthat completes the set of Opus 64.
It should be addedthat Chopin's dislike of writing his music down has complicated the work oflater editors and scholars. The opus numbers do not represent the order of compositionof the Waltzes, with the B minor Waltz, Opus 169 No. 2, and the Waltzin D flat, Opus 70 No. 3, the work of 1829, and similardiscrepancies of opus number and date of composition throughout.
The listing of thecomplete Chopin waltzes here recorded includes, for greater clarity, thechronological numbers assigned by Maurice Brown (Chopin: An Index of his Worksin Chronological Order). Julian Fontana, a musician who was a contemporary ofChopin in Warsaw, later settled in France, near Paris, and copied out someeighty of Chopin's compositions by hand and after Chopin's death wasresponsible for the publication of works numbered from Opus 66 to Opus 77. Itis his version of these later publications that is here followed.
Chopin's short Gflat major Contredanse, with its C flat major Trio, was composed in1827 and perhaps sent to the composer's intimate friend Titus Woyciechowski asa name-day present. The three Ecossaises written during his student daysin Warsaw in 1826 use a form based on a French ball-room conception of aScottish dance, with foreign echoes of the pipes in a form that had acquiredconsiderable popularity in the earlier years of the nineteenth century,whatever its national origin. The A flat major Tarantelle of 1841preserves the more typical form of the energetic dance, reputedly either causedby or a cure for the bite of the tarantula spider. In the hands ofChopin and of Liszt it is a vehicle for virtuosity.
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 wi