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CHOPIN: Piano Favourites, Vol. 1

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Piano Favourites

Fryderyk Chopin was born in 1810 at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw. His fatherNicolas Chopin was French by birth but had moved to Poland to work as anaccounting clerk, later serving as tutor to the Laczynski family and thereafterto the family of Count Skarbek, one of whose poorer relatives he married. Hissubsequent career led him to the Warsaw Lyceum as a respected teacher of French,and it was there that his only son, Fryderyk, godson of Count Skarbek, whoseChristian name he took, passed his childhood.

Chopin showed an early talent for music. He learned the piano from his motherand later with the eccentric Adillbert Zywny, a violinist of Bohemian origin,and as fiercely Polish as Chopin's father. His later training in music was withJozef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, at first as a private pupiland then as a student of that institution.

In the 1820s Chopin had already begun to win for himself a considerable localreputation, but Warsaw offered relatively limited opportunities. In 1830 he setout for Vienna, a city where he had aroused interest on a visit in the previousyear and where he now hoped to make a more lasting impression. The time,however, was ill-suited to his purpose. Vienna was not short of pianists, andThalberg, in particular, had out-played the rest of the field. During the monthshe spent there Chopin attracted little attention, and resolved to move to Paris.

The greater part of Chopin's professional career was to be spent in France,and particularly in Paris, where he established himself as a fashionable teacherand as a performer in the houses of the rich. His playing in the concert hallwas of a style less likely to please than that of the more flamboyant Liszt orthan the technical virtuosity of Kalkbrenner. It was in the more refinedambience of the fashionable salon that his genius as a composer and as aperformer, with its intimacy, elegance and delicacy of nuance, found its place.

Chopin could not but admire the ability of Liszt, while not sharing his tastein music. His own background had been severely classical, based on the music ofBach, Mozart and Haydn, and by these standards Beethoven, the object ofadulation for Liszt and his circle, seemed on occasion uncouth, by comparisonwith the classical restraint of Mozart's pupil Hummel. At the same time he heldreservations about the Bohemian way of life that Liszt followed, although hehimself was to become involved in a liaison with the novelist George Sand (AuroreDudevant), which lasted for some ten years, coming to an end two years beforehis death, while Liszt's more dramatic association with another married woman, aless successful blue-stocking, the Comtesse d' Agoult, forced his withdrawalfrom Paris society. Both women were to take literary revenge on their paramours.

Paris was to provide Chopin with a substantial enough income as a teacher,and there was a ready market for his compositions, however reluctant he might beto commit them to paper. The country retreat of George Sand at Nohant provided achange of air that was certainly healthier for him than that of Mallorca, where,in 1838, the couple spent a disastrous winter that intensified the weakness ofChopin's lungs, already affected by the tuberculosis from which he was to die.

In 1848 political disturbances in Paris made teaching impossible, and Chopinleft the city for a tour of England and Scotland. By this time his health haddeteriorated considerably. At the end of the year he returned to Paris, now tooweak to play or to teach and dependent on the generosity of others forsubsistence. He died there on 17th October, 1849.

The greater part of Chopin's music was written for his own instrument, thepiano. At first it seemed that works for piano and orchestra would be anecessary part of his stock-in-trade, but the position he found for himself inParis enabled him to write principally for the piano alone, in a characteristicidiom that derives some inspiration from contemporary Italian opera, much fromthe music of Poland, and still more from his own adventurous approach to harmonyand his own sheer technical ability as a player.

The Impromptu, in title at least, was typical of its period in itssuggestion of romantic abandon and freedom. In common with much else in Europeanmusic, it had its origins in Prague with the publication in 1822 of Impromptusby Jan Vaclav Vorisek, followed five years later by the Bohemian-borncomposer Marschner. Schubert's publisher in the 1820s, Tobias Haslinger, foundthe title commercially attractive, and thereafter the name endured, descriptiveof an independent piano piece, lacking the formality of a sonata movement. Thefourth of Chopin's essays in the form, the Fantaisie-Impromptu, publishedposthumously in 1855, predates the other three and was completed in 1835. Itsintense and excited outer sections frame a central Largo in D flat major,in which, as so often, an arpeggio left-hand accompaniment points an uppersinging melody.

Chopin made the nocturne his own, developing the form from the earlier workof the Irish pianist John Field. He wrote the three Nocturnes publishedas Opus 9 before he left Warsaw. They were published in Paris in 1833, with adedication to Marie Moke, once engaged to Berlioz but from 1831 until theirseparation four years later wife of the piano-manufacturer Camille Pleyel. Thesecond is probably the most immediately familiar of the set. The two Nocturnesthat make up Opus 27, published in 1836, were dedicated to Countess Apponyi,wife of the Austrian ambassador to France. The second of the set, in D flatmajor, marked Lento sostenuto, includes considerable chromaticembellishment.

The waltz, a German country-dance in origin, had by the end of the eighteenthcentury won considerable popularity in the ball-room, in spite of the warningsof doctors and moralists, who feared physical and spiritual degeneration as aresult. Chopin had first turned to the form in piano pieces written in Warsaw.

The seventh of his nineteen waltzes, the Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64,No.2, is here coupled with the famous "Minute" Waltz, therapid Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No.1, written towards the end ofChopin's life, one of a series of works that starts with the Grande valsebrillante in E flat major, Op. 18.

The famous funeral march of Chopin forms the slow movement of the second ofhis three sonatas, the Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35. In its originalcontext it forms a contrast with the movements that precede and follow it.

Among forms that Chopin made his own was the Mazurka, a Polish dancethat takes its name from the Mazurs, inhabitants of the province of Mazovia,near Warsaw. Chopin wrote some fifty compositions under this title, making useof the characteristic rhythmic patterns of the dance. The Mazurka in B flatmajor, Op. 7, No.1, was published in Paris in 1834.

The Polish dance, the Polonaise, also 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 raise thePolonaise to a new level, imparting a degree of complexity and a degreeof feeling that had not always been present in the work of his elders in Warsaw.

His first a
Item number 8553170
Barcode 730099417020
Release date 12/01/1999
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Biret, Idil
Biret, Idil
Composers Chopin, Fryderyk
Chopin, Fryderyk
Disc: 1
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
1 Impromptu No. 4 in C sharp minor
2 Nocturne No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2
3 Nocturne No. 8 in D flat major, Op. 27, No. 2
4 Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2
5 Waltz No. 6 in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, "Minut
6 Waltz No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 18, "Grande valse
7 Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, "March
8 Mazurka No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 7, No. 1
9 Polonaise No. 3 in A major, Op. 40, No. 1, "Milita
10 Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53, "Heroic"
11 Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op. 28, No. 15
12 Etude No. 5 in G flat major, Op. 10, No. 5, "Black
13 Etude No. 3 in E major, Op. 10, No. 3
14 Etude No. 12 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12, "Revolut
15 Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
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