Antonio Guccione “From Jesus to Yves Saint Laurent”

Antonio Guccione


Hello Antonio, I would like to thank you for give me the oppportunity to interview you in exclusive.

You have photographed the most beautiful woman in the world, like Tyra Banks and Carol Alt, Hollywood actors as Dustin Hoffman and charachters from Jet-Set and Fashion  as Giorgio Armani.

Between all this fashion campaign count high-fashion exellence as Versace, Moschino,Roberto Cavalli, Moncler and many others. In your longer career you make sure not to miss anything! Now you show us a part of you very introspective, but we can speak always about potrait.


Potrait full of pop art and surrealism in exibithion @Galleria Bianca Maria Rizzi  & Matthias Ritter in Milan “From Jesus to Yves Saint Laurent”.

Humans skulls everywhere, but not normal skulls: Andy Warhol with his fake air, Jason Pollock with his skull liquefy in the colours and again Jhon Lennon arrivining to Jesus. Sacred and profane. From Eros to Zanathos, with a little of humour.


Alida: Would you like to tell me how was made the creative process that brings your thought that became marvellous photographic canvas?

Antonio Guccione:“How the creative process it’s manifest? I don’t know, I know only the all happens for a game, like a misterious fluid that brings me between the lights, the colours and the comopositions.

It’s like I was sitting infront a pianoforte trying to invent a kind of harmony that didn’t exist before, but will exist only in the moment of creation.“From Jesus to Yves Saint Laurent” was born for a quirk of fate, for play, during I was “playing with my photographic camera”, I was wondering about that Skull.The first one that I photographed look like Benito Mussolini. After, when I printed the photo I’ve put my singature on and I showed to the most important art curator in Milan, who was enthusiast, and not only she bought the photo but she said to me that the idea was very intersting. Since that moment I have started to memorize a series of charachters from History and the creative process even during 5 years. I hope that project it is finished finally”

Salvador Dalì

Salvador Dalì

Alida:  What is your relation with Eros and what about Zanathos?

Antonio Guccione:Eros: the pulsion of life. Never growing up, remain children for ever, watch everithing with desire and if it’s necessary make some mistake, live life with a strongly infinity desire to under stand better. The pulsion of dead: I see the dead in every place, in the sad face of old people, in the sick, in the poor, she (the death) try to catch me, but I walk away, and she appears again and I mock her , and this is a sort of a game, the important is  havent’t fear about that.

 Alida: You are more like Apollo or Dioniso?

Antonio Guccione”Today I can say, I’m more Apollo, only for the experience that I gained in the time/during the life time, but I was Dioniso in the past between experience of the mind brings to exess. I love Nietzsche, the difference between me and him it’s that I never growing older, the symbol that represent me it’s the SUN.”

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

 Alida: This Skulls still differencing for what we think they are, otherwise in  reality they are kind of stereotipe about what we thinking to see. But rather than a platitude:  Dali’s mustaches, Jhon Lennon’s glasses, Andy Wharol’s grey fake hair, Magritte’s pipe, Jhon Lennon’s glasses. Feature particularity reconizable between thousand ,therefore  overdue the death . There is also you in  one of this pictures, in a self-picture with your camera and  the hat so ironic and sly. What have you felt when you did this self potrait?

Antonio Guccione: “In truth, I wanted to made a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe my american colleague that I met  in New York, when my son Alexander looked at the Skull  with the camera my son Alexander said “Daddy, are you  doing  a potrait of your self?” After I’ve just added my glasses and my hat. When it was finished I was afraid, and I decided to sign with  the title of “Artist Proof”.


Antonio Guccione "Artist Proof"

Antonio Guccione “Artist Proof”


 Alida: Your portraits are extremely communicative, much more than just fashion pictures, them are more like paints. One of the photos that struck me the most sensitivity and tenderness emotion is the potrait of the famous pianist Lang Lang. In this shot he showed almost an adolescent shyness. What memories do you have of the shots with Lang Lang?

Antonio Guccione:“Lang Lang is an extraordinary person, I have never met people like him. I went to met him in the Theater of Parma while he was rehearsing for the concert in the evening, for no reason he established an atmosphere flashing, Lang Lang played and I paralyzed I listened to him, Lang Lang communicated with me throughout  sounds, everything was so intense that I felt I die, I do not know, the photographs that I realized immortalized a genius, simple, simple.”

Lang Lang

Lang Lang Potrait by Antonio Guccione All rights reserved

Alida:  In addition to Lang Lang’ve taken other great music, an all Dizzi Gillespie. During yours photo shoot, do you listen to music? What genres do you like?

Antonio Guccione:“ I love all music, depends on the situation, sometimes the invitation of the band to play while a photographer, sometimes depend by the mood of the  moment, classical music, jazz, experimentation. Dizzy Gillespie was a child doce and shy. In these days I’m listening to Bjork and even Amy Winehouse .”

 Alida: If you’ll have to describe yourself with a soundtrack, what would it be?

Antonio Guccione:“Lennon’s Imagine”



Alida: In this era of great change, of supersonic speeds and Social Network how it moves your soul as an artist? Today with Instagram are all photographers and all of them are artists. What do you think of the new technologies  in the field photography?

Antonio Guccione: “I’m glad the new technologies, help everyone to be someone, maybe an artist.Photography in traditional terms is no longer exists and I think it’s  over. Today there is cyberphotograph, blogger, “Mister Istagram” …I am fine about that because I take what I need to create, without limits and without shame, the important for me is to make a true and authentic CREATION.” 

Alida: I met you a little time ago at one of your shows at the “Hotel Boscolo Milano” and I must admit that your style does not go unnoticed, you’re always very elegant and sophisticated as well as in photography and also in your look in the accessories you wear. What is your relationship with fashion?

Antonio Guccione: “ With fashion and my relationship bad, I do not like to be fashionable.In the  winter I use dark clothing for the whole summer I prefer white suit. I dress the same way for several years now, if you like my habit are hats, I love them.”


Alida: I remember with pleasure that you took a photo of the beautiful model Iman, who later became the wife of David Bowie. What can you tell us sull’altera black Venus?

Antonio Guccione “Iman is not only a beautiful woman, Iman has an attitude out of the ordinary, her way of being is amazing, I understand why an artist like David is in love with her. Iman has no equal.”

Iman portrait by Antonio Guccione

Iman portrait by Antonio Guccione


Alida: Your photographic style is more and more valuable with the play of light and your backgrounds surrealists borrowed from Magritte or Dalì. In the historical period the is an overload of Photoshop. What are the techniques that you like when you shoot?


Antonio Guccione: “Alida, I’m using the same technique on photograph since over 30 years, and it is pretty much  the same photograph, just that. I don’t take notice,probably. Yes, Photoshop is a risk and can be dangerous, but look, that retouching has been around since the days of ” de Cart visit “by Nadar. Film wrap, developing, printing these today are still the means that I need to create, only that: they are expensive compared to digital and non-rejection.”


Alida: What are the pictures in which you are most tied?

Antonio Guccione: “No, I’m not tied to any photograph. So I hope to be able to bind myself to the next picture I’ll do.”


Alida:  Have you started when you was a kid,hungry and inspired. What do you remember of that time and if you’ll meet a guy like you motivated and with talent, today what you would like to say to him ?

Antonio Guccione:The memory I have of my past is the energy, the smells and sounds that have made me discover who I am now. If I’ll meet a guy I’d say the reasons to love life, be generous with love, do not be afraid of anything and remember that whatever the mind of man conceives, the man can achieve.”

Alida:  What are your future plans? Do you want to reveal to your fans a preview of what’s cooking?

Antonio Guccione: “What a good question, what’s cooking? See my dear and sweet Alida along the way I discovered that it is the achievement of a goal but my dream but rather the creative process, being in the middle of an ocean in a storm, not knowing where to go and not knowing when it will end. The creative process makes me happy. Maybe I’ll can change jobs, maybe put on a band and I’ll become a musician!”


“From Jesus to Yves Saint Laurent”

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 1.01.40 pm


 "Appreciate what we are and what we have is the first step toward happiness"







Antonio Guccione e Alida Altemburg

Antonio Guccione e Alida Altemburg

Exclusive interview with Benjamin Lee Photographer


On the internet you can find everything and this is fascinating and also very weird. One day while I was looking through my paperwork and my inspirations online, try to guess who I found,with his contagious smile and happiness ? Benjamin Lee, the legendary photographer!

And he opened his heart and his world characterized by spontaneity,surrealism, pop-art,soul and his unique approach to life, for this special interview.

Alida: “Hello Benjamin! Can I do interview you?

I would like to begin this interview with a question relating the way to which we met : Facebook.
What do you think  of regards  these new media, as an artist, and what is your relationship with them?”

Benjamin Lee: “Having worked, as a advertising photographer, for 10 years in London, from 1977 to 1987, for most of the international Ad Agencies: Saatchi Saatchi, JW Thompson, Doyle Dane Bernbach and many others. So I’ve been involved in media world, quite a bit… Marshall McLuhan, once lectured us on The Global Village.”


Benjamin  on El Mundo Tv Program NHKBS-2  with  Yokoo Tadanori  Artist/ Graphic Designer

Alida: “Do you think Social Networks are related to art? And if yes, what to do you think about art in Global Village?”

Benjamin Lee: “The comining of globalization. Well that’s what Facebook has become,a catalyst ,for this global village, connecting over a billion people. Myself, I find  Facebook very useful for making connections with new friends, before visiting cities, on assignment. But I usually try meeting only one or two new people.It’s good  for letting people know what you are doing, useful for arranging meetings,  Facebook wall gives people an opportunity, to understand, what you do, who you are. Yes, in a way of course, Facebook and Social Media allows you to be in touch with new and familiar artist and galleries, museum and opening parties, private art gatherings.

Art in the internet age, there is so much, it can be mesmerizing/confusing, unless, you have a sense of what style/form of art you will pursue… Just imagine Man Ray, Picasso,Magritte… Living now…”

Alida: “Taking a look at your beautiful site I saw that one of your first work commissioned photos for Vogue was just for a classical pianist, the brilliant and talented Ivor Pogolerich.
What are your memories about that meeting?”

Benjamin Lee: “I photographed, Ivor Pogoreleich, about 1984, in his magnificent residence, behind the Royal Albert Hall. He was at the hight of his popularity, very precocious. If not a bit arrogant: he insisted to be stylized in Valentino, quote I must have Valentino it was a unusual triptych agreeable to him. He wasn’t sure what I was asking him to do, but when, he saw the final results, he loved it, well, he loved himself! Was a interesting way, to enter in Vogue. Have photographed, Issey Miyake, Haruki Murakami, Kawakubo Rei, Yohji Yamamoto, Sir David Tang and many others.

Alida: “Another pianist you’ve photographed is the great Ryuichi Sakamoto,who I’m a great admirer of. Do you have any memento of that meeting? Some particular anecdote?”

Benjamin Lee: “Ryuichi Sakamoto, I photographed formally two times. First time, privately, for my show at the Embassy Canada,using a 5×4 Plate Camera. Loved his music for Bernardo Bertolucci “The Last Emperor” wonderful film with John Lone and Peter O Toole. For which he recived an Academy Award. We became quite friendly, going drinking sometimes.

The second photography session, was for magazine “Pen”, for which I’ve just completed 100 potraits, in my signature, triptych style, four years later we photographed Ryuchi at the “Museum of Contemporary Art” in Tokyo, where he was involved in an interesting exhibition, where music meets art.

I was very fortunate to photograph him, with his elongated shadow on the wall. Originally curators said “There is not enough time for doing this”, but luckily, Ryuichi persuaded them and he was very happy with the final results and I’m looking forward meeting Sakamoto San again…”

Ryuichi Sakamoto by Benjamin Lee

Ryuichi Sakamoto by Benjamin Lee

Alida : “When you’re working, do you love listening to music? What is your relationship with music (classical) or in general with music?”

Benjamin Lee: “I do enjoy listening to my favourite music. Mostly theme music from movies, like “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone. I enjoyed meeting him during his conducting in front of 800 VIPs in Civitavecchia in Italy, it was amazing. But generally, during a shoot on location, it’s so difficult to have music. You love present and it gives me a lift and create a relaxed atmosphere”

I can play for you some Chopin or Liszt. Ben send me and emoticons☺

Benjamin Lee with Yayoi Kusama

Benjamin Lee with Yayoi Kusama


Alida: “Your photographs are really something special, with a mixture of fashion, surrealism and pop art.
I’m really curious to ask you how it was taking pictures of the great artist Yayoi Kusama. I guess both of you work with an emotional feeling? I saw on Facebook the beautiful gift she gave to you!”

Benjamin Lee: “What a suerral question, You must have studied psychology… Photographed Yayoi Kusama, first time in 1993, Isamu Noguchi Plaza, “Sogetsu Hall/Center of Avant Garde Art” in Tokyo, led by the amazing film director/Ikebana master, Hiroshi Teshigahara. Do you know his surreal movie, “Woman of the Dunes”? Was a wonderful show, before she became globally famous, I followed her and did my show in the same space in 2002, nine years later. So, she inspired me, forward to 2012, magazine “Discover Japan” wants to do a whole magazine on Kusama’s art/life. Luckily I was chosen to cover her in 2012, the year when Luis Vuitton sponsored her shows in Madrid, Centre Pompidou (Paris), Tate Modern (London), Whitney (NYC) and launching Yayoi Kusama inspired Louis Vuitton in Nyc 10/11 2012. So we were everywhere that year, plus having photographed her 3 times in the Tokyo Studio.

Very soon  her private museum  be completed, just beside her studio/office building, looking forward to seeing this museum really soon. Having read her autobiography Infinity Nets. One has to admire her perseverance, against so many obstacles and at 84 year old, she is still creating her artistic universe. Hopefully my Yayoi Kusama Exhibition from 30 july to 6 september Galerie, “Eye of Gyre”, Omotesando, Tokyo will reflect, how we have influenced each other. Alida, you must come to Tokyo,then….”

Yayoi Kusama

Alida : “Of course Ben, with pleasure! You have worked and still work everywhere, we can say that you are a legend! But one thing that shines through is just your humility and your infectious smile, which broadcasts vitality and energy!
Looking at your profile on Facebook I was struck by  your positive energy that shines through your smile. I think you are very spiritual,are you?”
Benjamin Lee: “Well, you could say, spiritual energy is perseverance!”

Alida:”What are the portraits of your career that are most important to you on an emotional level, which represented a special moment or that have changed your life?”

Benjamin Lee: “There are photographs from different periods of my life which were influential. When I was attending first year photographic arts course,  street scenes and portraits. In particular a photograph of a ballet dancer.This took first prize in our school of 400 students. At this point, I realized my perception of some subjects was unique which encouraged me to develop my sense of perception. Later, when I arrived in Japan only knowing one person:  Sir Hugh Casson, President of the “Royal Academy” of London. Sir Casson introduced me to Nobutaka Shikanai, founder of Fujisankei Communication Group a “Japanese Rupert Murdoch” . Nobutaka  invited us to visit and stay at the “Hakone Open Air Musem”, which has the largest collection of sculptures by Henry Moore. I was commissioned to take a portrait of Henry Moore and that gave me a start in Japan. Once arriving Tokyo, I tried persistently to arrange portraits of Issey Miyake, Eiko Ishioka,Rei Kawakubo for two years unsuccessfully . Then, by a quirk of fate, British Vogue, commissioned me to photograph these personalities. After that they embraced me as a photographer,  the movie director, Hiroshi Teshigahara, welcomed  me  into their circle .This was exceptional.  Starting in Japan was a challenge but serendipity was on my side; “Lady Luck”. Concerning the “Elegant Humanity” exhibition  and becoming good friends with Princess Hisako Takamado ( she gave me her personal message ” I have seen many photographs from Benjamin Lee and he sends us the message in regards to the importance of using our imagination and also encourages us to use our own imagination when appreciating art and his photography.Freedom of expression is what we all have and we can all express by using different art forms and media. However, to have the ability to fully express ones self by perfectly understanding ones own talent and utilising our own abilities like Benjamin, is what I call a true artist. There is something that appeals to our heart today when seeing his past art and appreciating his new images this time, there is still that same appeal that touches our heart”) Patron of “Canadian Embassy”, has become a wonderful memory.”


Henry Moore

Herny Moore

Alida: “Are you always travel around the world Ben! Born in China moved to Canada and now in Japan but anyway you are always “on the go”! In your travels what you take with you?
There are places in your heart that you’re particularly tied?”

Benjamin Lee: “When I travel I take a sense of optimism and prepare like hell making many arrangements and arrive, letting things happen as they will. Hopefully better than expected, infortunate to be reasonably well connected. But never,never, understimate Luck. It’s very precious!”






Alida: “I’ve heard about your wonderful exhibition at the Canadian Embassy entitled “Elegant Humanity”, what can you tell me about it?”

Benjamin Lee: “Well, hopefully ,those who visited if they were left with a impressionable view of how I see. I’m content!”

(Here the personal message  from The Elegant Umanity to Benjamin Lee “There is something that appeals to our heart today when seeing his past art and appreciating his new art this time, there is still that same appeal that touches our heart”)


Alida: “Your fans will be curious to know in which project you’re working on now. Can you give me a «heads up»?”

Benjamin Lee: “My next and very challenging exhibition,from 30 July to 6 september at “Eye of Gyre Gallery Omotesando”, Tokyo. Portraits, Silkscreens , Insatllations, documentary photographs and portraying the artist Yayoi Kusama. Taking a lot of thought/imagination, whatever, it takes to reach the outer limits. I’ll let you imagine where that is! (HAHAHA!)”

Thank you Ben for this special moment that you shared with us! See you on the web! 


Benjamin Lee Photography for Alida Altemburg


In his long and brilliant career he has worked with:

Fashion magazines – Esquire, GQ, National Geographic, Valentino, Kateigaho, Jal (Winds), Ana (Wingspan), British Vogue, Spanish Vogue, Starwood Hotels, One & Only Resorts, Mandarin Oriental and much more

Advertising – McCann Erickson, Fuji Film, Kodak, Saatchi & Saatchi, JWT, DDB, Leo Burnett, CDP, Panasonic, Olympus, Heineken, Carlsberg, Toppan, Mazda and much more


Benjamin Lee website:


Benjamin Lee

The New Exhibition ” The Universe of Yayoi Kusama” Photographed by Benjamin Lee

from 30 July to 6 September 2014

“Eye of Gyre”



Omotesando- Tokyo

Benjamin Lee covers her artistic work in Paris,London,NYC,Hong kong,Tokyo for LOUIS VUITTON

The Exibition about Yayoi Kusama


Insallations and silkscreens

If you visiting Tokio, don’t miss it!

Chopin Op.70 n°2

Chopin Op 70 n°2


For this magazine fashion shoot with the  photographer Myuran Ganesh ( , I’ve played the Waltz composed by Chopin

” Op.70 n°2″.

I’ve found this wonderful article about Chopin written by Peter Gutmann, that explain a lot about the life and the composition of Chopin.

Hope you like it!


About Chopin:



For the entire 19th century and much of the 20th the piano was the most popular of all instruments – although lacking others’ portability, no respectable home lacked one.

Many composers contributed mightily to the art and prominence of the piano, but none as much as Frédéric Chopin. Perhaps the ultimate tribute to his distinction and proof of his influence is the prominence his music holds in the core repertoire of nearly every great pianist and its inclusion in the programs of so many recitals.

Chopin’s impact on those who heard him perform was mesmeric. Thus Franz Liszt, an ardent admirer, Chopin’s first biographer, only peer and arguably the most famous pianist of the time: “Such a poetic temperament as Chopin’s never existed, nor have I heard such delicacy and refinement of playing.” Antoine Marmontel: He “envelopes melodic phrases and ingenious arabesques in a half-tint which has something of both dream and reality.” Elizavieta Cheriemietieff: “He has discovered how to give the piano a soul. Every sound goes straight to the heart. Listening to him, one feels suspended somewhere between heaven and earth.” Charles Hallé: “There is nothing to remind one that it is a human being who produces this music. It seems to descend from heaven – so pure and spiritual. … You listened to the improvisation of a poem.”

Despite the brevity of his life, Chopin’s biography did not seem to influence his compositions, whose emotional content are hard to tag to specific events, including his curious nine-year relationship with George Sand; indeed some of his brightest music emerged from his seemingly most depressing periods. Yet, he clearly was influenced by his Polish heritage, which accounted for much of the searching harmonies and quirky dance rhythms of his work. Liszt heard the inspiration of Polish lamentation that “lent to his tones a strange and mysterious poesy, … a sadness concealed beneath a show of gaiety.” Chopin also catered to the expectations of the Parisian nobility upon whose patronage he depended for his livelihood after his emigration and settlement there at the mid-point of his life.


Yet there was one more facet of crucial significance in Chopin’s constitution – his health. Throughout much of his adult life, Chopin suffered from tuberculosis and related ailments that sapped his strength. The only known photograph of Chopin, taken in his final year, shows his deterioration and pain all too well. Liszt likened Chopin’s art to drawings with a delicate pencil rather than with a scene-painter’s brush, and hailed his expansion of the resources of art by concentrating his inspiration in a lesser space – a particular compliment from a fellow composer who sought to wrest from the piano a spectrum of splashy orchestral effects. That, in turn, raises an intriguing but unanswerable question – did Chopin play with frailty because he chose to or because he had to? More important, should the legion of interpreters who play his music emulate his style or assume that his music contains bolder ideas than the composer himself could realize in his own performances?That was just as well. Again Liszt: “Chopin knew he could not strike the masses and had no effect upon the multitudes. They are like a sea of lead – their waves are stirred only by fire” rather than the exquisite subtlety of Chopin’s writing and playing.

Remarkably, Chopin’s primary teacher was a violinist so he was almost completely self-taught;. Indeed, he stood apart from any musical movement, largely shunning the music of his contemporaries and citing Bach, Mozart and Bellini as his favorite predecessors. But perhaps it was his lack of formal keyboard training that freed him to disregard convention and to find and explore new techniques that directly served his expressive proclivity. In the process, he reinvented the art of the piano.

The Waltzes

Alida Altemburg

Chopin was a miniaturist, having written only five large-scale works (two concertos and three sonatas). His compositions included ballades, études, impromptus, mazurkas, nocturnes, polonaises, preludes, scherzos and waltzes. The waltzes are rarely found on lists of his greatest works or of performers’ favorites. Yet they afford a unique opportunity to consider the wonder of his art. While most of his other morsels are free-form and deeply personal in conception, the waltzes dwell within prescribed dance forms and their social function. Moreover, with only a few exceptions (the Préludes and two sets of Études), his works in a common genre were neither published together nor meant to be heard that way – indeed, the prospect of two hours of unrelieved nocturnes or mazurkas is daunting to all but the most focused listeners (and the trend of bundling them together into complete recordings is far more a marketing ploy than an artistic justification, and would never be heard that way in concert). Yet, the waltzes boast a variety, accessibility and fascination that invite integral performance.

Scholars agree that the waltz is derived from the German Ländler, whose roots lie in a lascivious folk dance. Smoothing the deliberate, uniform hopping and stamping of the gawky Ländler into a graceful, rotating, gliding, stylized form, the waltz took Vienna by storm in the 1770s to mixed reaction. In 1808 Charles Burney decried it as dirty and riotous, cautioning “how uneasy an English mother would be to see her daughter so familiarly treated and still more to witness the obliging manner in which the freedom is returned.” Yet in 1816, Thomas Wilson assured the public that the waltz was “a promoter of vigorous health and hilarity of spirits.” In any event, it seems clear that the dance was far removed from the staid formality we associate with most socially-approved dances of the time, and its appeal may well have sprung from its call to liberation and vitality.

Mozart, Haydn and many others had been commissioned to write waltzes for royal balls. The elevation of the waltz from rusticity to art was boosted in the 1820s by Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss, Sr., both contemporaries of Chopin. By the time Chopin arrived in Paris after spending his childhood and teen years in Poland, the waltz was hugely popular.

The basic waltz rhythm
Basic waltz rhythm 

Its standard structure comprised an introduction, a half-dozen or so melodies, and a coda that recapped them. Of the two primary national styles that emerged, the French consisted of three complementary dances of increasing vigor, performed with much leaping and springing, while the Viennese held to a single underlying tempo and a constant rotating glide. The distinctive accompaniment invariably finds one chord per three-beat measure, with the bass note on the downbeat and the remainder of the chord on the second and third. It was Carl Maria von Weber who brought the waltz to the concert hall through his 1819 Invitation to the Dance, a compelling ten-minute portrait of a diffident girl swept up in the exhilaration of the waltz amid episodes of more relaxed introspection, and finally left alone to ponder her memories.

 Chopin Walzes

But it was Chopin who transformed the waltz into something altogether sublime, adding refinement, nuance and reflection more suited to aristocracy than the masses and for private sittings than the ballroom. Indeed, Robert Schumann quipped that if Chopin’s waltzes were to be danced, at least half the ladies should be countesses. Alec Robinson notes, though, that none of Chopin’s waltzes are suitable for dancing at all, but rather are idealized reflections of the ballroom form. He further notes that waltz steps are not even used in the choreography of “Les Sylphides”, a ballet set to orchestrations of Chopin music featuring three of his waltzes that has been described (in the notes to the Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music LP) as: “a moonlit vision of ballerinas who dance delicately in filmy half-length skirts, with garlands in their hair and little wings on their backs.”

During his lifetime Chopin published eight waltzes in four groups:

  1. Op. 18 (in E-flat major, written in 1831)
  2. Op. 34, # 1 (A-Flat major, 1835)
  3. Op. 34 # 2 (A minor, 1831)
  4. Op. 34 # 3 (F major, 1838)
  5. Op. 42 (A-flat major, 1840)
  6. Op. 64 # 1 (D-flat major, 1846-7)
  7. Op. 64 # 2 (C-sharp minor, 1846-7)
  8. Op. 64 # 3 (A-flat major, 1846-7)

On his deathbed, Chopin reportedly instructed his publisher Pleyel to destroy all his unpublished work. Fortunately for posterity, Pleyel didn’t. Five more waltzes were issued posthumously in arbitrary sets (and with deceptively late opus numbers) by Julian Fontana in 1855:

  1. Op. 69 # 1 (A-flat major, 1835)
  2. Op. 69 # 2 (A-flat major, 1829)
  3. Op. 70 # 1 (G-flat major, 1835)
  4. Op. 70 # 2 (F minor, 1843)
  5. Op. 70 # 3 (D-flat major, 1829)

The standard canon was completed with the publication in 1868 of a final waltz:

  1. Op. Post. (E minor, 1829)


As a measure of their relative popularity, a 1952 discography by Cyril Clarke (in the Cortot biography) indicates the following available 78s (reflecting the taste of the era when individual waltzes, rather than integral sets, were issued): Waltz #1 – 11 recordings; #2 – 9; #3 – 9; #4 – 9; #5 – 11; #6 – 18; #7 – 25; #8 – 7; #9 – 9; #10 – 4; #11 – 15; #12 – 4; #13 – 9; #14 – 9. The eclectic roster of artists is worth listing, as many are now forgotten: Jacques Abram, Wilhelm Backhaus, Simon Barere, Alfred Cortot, Ania Dorfman, Jean Doyen, Myrtle Eaver, France Ellegard, Orazio Frugani, Robert Frouard, Rudoof Ganz, Walter Gieseking, Jacob Gimpel, Robart Goldsand, Cor de Groot, Mark Hambourg, Vladimir Horowitz, José Iturbi, Maryla Jonas, Louis Kentner, Edward Kilenyi, Raoul Koczalski, Kubka Kollesa, Leonid Kreutzer, Oscar Levant, Robert Lortat, Nicholas de Magaloff, Bronislaw Malcuzynski, Arturo Michelangeli, Margarita Mirimanowa, William Murdoch, Leo Nadelmann, Vladimir de Pachmann, Ignzcy Paderewski, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Moriz Rosenthal, Artur Rubinstein, Emil von Sauer, Solomon, Willi Stech, Johann Stockmarr, Raymond Trouard, Otakar Vandrovic, Wilfred Worden, Michael van Zadora and Carlo Zecci.

Although rarely performed, there are many further Chopin waltzes. Those designated as #s 15, 16 and 17 (in E major, A-flat major and E-flat major) predate the 1831 Op. 18. While short, simple and pleasant, they barely hint at the glories to come. Numbers 18 and 19 (in E-flat major and A minor), published only in 1955, present a deeper challenge, as they stem from Chopin’s maturity – # 18 is dated 1840 and scholars place # 19 anywhere from 1843 to 1848. Their melodies, if not as compelling as those of the published ones, are characteristic, yet Chopin seemed content to merely state rather than develop them. Some scholars doubt their authenticity, while others suggest that they are merely unfinished. When played in sequence with the familiar 14, all five are a letdown. Robert Ståhlbrand cites a dozen further Chopin waltzes, including six catalogued by Chopin’s sister but lost when her house burned down in 1863.

The first and last published sets form stylistic bookends for the Chopin waltzes.

Before writing his Op. 18,

The opening fanfare for Op. 18
The opening fanfare of Op. 18 — note the unusual fingering
The opening melody of Op. 18
The opening melody of Op. 18

Chopin wrote home from Vienna, marveling at the “terrific applause” garnered by the Strauss and Lanner waltzes, yet citing them as evidence of the public’s “corrupt taste,” and claiming that he was unable to play them. Yet, the structure of his own first published waltz, entitled “Grand Valse brilliante,” closely adhered to the style he claimed to deplore. Following an opening fanfare (a standard functional device of the time to draw dancers’ attention) that coalesces into ¾ time, a schematic outline, assigning a letter to each distinct 16-bar melody, would read: A, A, B, A, B, C, C, D, E, F, F, G, F, G, F, H, a bridge to reassert the rhythm, A, B, A (interrupted by two pauses), four bars of bass rhythm, and then a coda combining fragments of B, G and A, followed by A that dissolves into scalar elaborations that lead to cadential chords. A typical performance packs this profusion of music, arguably danceable, into five minutes.

The three waltzes of Op. 64 are far simpler, yet more affecting.

The melody of Op 64/1
The melody of Op 64/2
The melody of Op. 64/3
The opening melodies of the three Op. 64 waltzes

The first, reputed to be a depiction of the scampering of Sands’ pet dog, is the shortest and has been nicknamed the “minute waltz,” prompting some pianists to attempt the impossible task of cramming it into 60 seconds, perhaps not realizing that the title refers to the French word for tiny, rather than the unit of time. After a four-bar intro, its structure is a mere A-B-A, with a lovely sustained complementary middle section and the return of the opening heralded by a trill. The second, which has been likened to a mazurka, has a set of three themes arrayed as A-B-C-B-A-B, that unify the piece through their interrelationships, and again the central “C” section provides a contemplative change of mood. Perhaps most remarkable is the third, which really has only a single genuine melody that meanders off into a stream-of-consciousness meditation that Charles Stanley aptly describes as having “wondrous shifts in harmonies” and “gliding chromatics,” even presenting a counter-melody in the bass as a novel central episode. Together, the Op. 64 waltzes display Chopin at the height of his powers, transforming the most commonplace of all the forms in which he composed into remarkable personal statements even while respecting and preserving their fundamental essence.

George Sand, Nohant, listen to  Chopin

George Sand, Nohant, listen to Chopin

Perhaps more than with any other composer, Chopin’s music is integrally related to his own unique performing style, which scholars and artists have struggled to infer from surviving evidence and the vast range of others’ descriptions and interpretations.

At his death, Chopin left a dozen pages intended as a rough draft of a treatise which Sand claimed was intended to cover not only piano playing but an overall theory of music, and which surely would have been both fascinating and illuminating. Yet, the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot, famed as a Chopin interpreter, dismissed the treatise as Chopin’s attempt to cash in on his fame and rejected its value: “[T]he manuscripts bear no sign of any personal touch and is of surprising vacuity [with] no logical sequence of ideas [and is] nothing more than a puzzle made up of the most commonplace clichés on the teaching of the elements of music.”

Yet Chopin’s playing and composing were based on a loose set of three theoretical precepts. The first was his belief that music was a language with a unique structure, grammar and vocabulary, all to be placed in the service of expression. Second was his reverence for singing. He urged his pupils to study singers and to sing themselves, insisting that music be phrased as declamation, conveyed in long breaths to avoid fragmentation yet with natural accents, including crescendos on ascending melodies and decrescendos on falling phrases.

Chopin’s own playing was distinguished with three traits that transformed piano technique. The first was legato, described by Mikuli as tones melting into each other. In James Huneker’s admonition: “If you want to play Chopin, play him in curves.” The second was rubato, a special type of rhythmic freedom in which the left (bass) hand kept strict time while the right (melodic) hand played more intuitively. Huneker cautioned: “Without the skeleton, a musical composition is flaccid, shapeless, weak and without character.” Liszt likened the effect to wind rippling the leaves of a tree while the trunk remained steady. The third was overall delicacy, in which nuance rose to a level of subtle power, unobscured by pronounced dynamic outbursts. Chopin’s favorite piano was a Pleyel, having an easy touch and veiled sonority, which he often brought with him to a recital. Commentators have said that Chopin single-handedly transcended the essentially percussive nature of the piano. Sophie Leo: “He appeared to hardly touch the piano; there was no suggestion of the mechanical.”According to Mikuli, Chopin analogized notes to syllables, bars to words and phrases to thoughts. Third, Chopin eschewed the standard goal of uniform scalar runs by exploring and respecting the unique physiology and individual attributes of each finger. Thus, to him the fourth finger, bound by a tendon to the third, is inherently the least independent. He held the C Major scale to be the most difficult and unnatural of all, as the long fingers fell more naturally on black keys, and so he would start his pupils on scales of B, F# and D-flat and asserted that the most natural position of the hand was on E-F#-G#-A#-B. Even today, with all the development of technique that has followed, pianists remain in awe of how wonderfully Chopin’s music fits the hands and feels natural to play – while other composers forced the piano and its players to express their inner thoughts, Chopin’s expression was inseparable from the demands of the keyboard and the human body.

Chopin had few notable pupils. The most promising, Karl Filtsch, died at age 15. Most of the others were mildly talented girls of society, whose parents paid handsomely for the prestige of his tutelage. Chopin prized spontaneity, forbidding his students to practice more than three hours per day and ordering them not only to dispense with the score but to not even look at the keyboard and even to play in the dark, as only then would one’s hearing function with all of its sensitivity.

Supple fingers, flexible hands and wrists and passive arms and elbows fostered a weightless variety of touch and nuance of tone. Among the traditional rules that Chopin broke through his own playing were using the thumb on black keys, passing fingers over each other, sliding fingers between adjacent notes and changing fingers on a single key like an organist.

Sand wrote that “only at the piano does he really open his heart.” Yet, unlike Liszt, Thalberg and the other keyboard giants of his time whose fame derived from constant exposure, Chopin is known to have given only 30 public concerts in his entire life (and in many of those he was but one of several participating artists). He explained: “Concerts are never real music. You have to give up the idea of hearing in them the most beautiful things in art.” Rather, Chopin’s art blossomed in private, as he gave recitals before the aristocratic and cultural elite. He also played extensively before students and friends. Fontana recalled that Chopin would improvise for hours with “an inexhaustible torrent of precious materials out of which coalesced his finished compositions.” Emile Galliard recalled that: “upon finishing a piece, Chopin would often stay sitting at the keyboard in silence, pursuing a dream of his own.”

Not only was Chopin revered as a unique stylist, but a persistent theme among commentators is how his music suffered in other hands. Thus Hallé: “Nobody has ever been able to reproduce his works as they sounded under his magical fingers.” Hector Berlioz: “His playing is shot through with a thousand nuances of movement of which he alone holds the secret, impossible to convey by instructions. … [A] sense of the unexpected is one of its principal beauties.” Mathias: “Nothing remotely resembling his playing has ever been heard since. The instrument Chopin played never existed except beneath Chopin’s fingers.” Cheriemietieff: “It is a desecration to play his compositions. Nobody [else] understands them.”

Yet nearly every great pianist has tried to rise to this daunting challenge. Fortunately, Chopin’s supreme and enduring popularity with both artists and audiences has bequeathed us a bounty of recordings stretching back to the dawn of the 78. While intrinsically fascinating, some afford a particular opportunity to infer the composer’s own style that his contemporaries deemed such a crucial part of his legacy, while others suggest the glories of scores that invite artists to add their own creative interpretive input.


The article Peter Gutmann :

Alida Altemburg