Chopin Op.70 n°2

Chopin Op 70 n°2

 

For this magazine fashion shoot with the  photographer Myuran Ganesh (http://www.mginspired.com.au) , 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:

 

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 : http://www.classicalnotes.net

Alida Altemburg