By now established and living in Paris, Chopin composed a small number of pieces that are concessions to public taste—this exuberant showpiece written in the stile brillante is a convincing example. The haunting melancholy of its C minor introduction gives no hint of the glittering and graceful rondo section. Modelled on Hummel but identifiably Chopin, this is one of the early works that deserves to be far better known. They also offer a vade mecum of piano technique which, once mastered, gives unfettered access to all subsequent piano writing until well into the twentieth century, even if their comparative brevity does not prepare the pianist for the stamina needed.
Yet in every such example, Chopin exceeds these earlier models in harmonic invention, melodic inspiration and technical development, extending the range of tonality and revolutionizing finger technique in the process. While he devoted much of his creative output to the shorter forms of the waltz, mazurka, nocturne and prelude, Chopin here not only writes in an extended form but abandons any preconceived or classical structures to compose music of liberated, poetic expression. Significantly, each Ballade was allotted a separate opus number and, though they are frequently performed as a group, they should be savoured for what they are—independent works that share the same title.
The writing, between its arresting opening and conclusion shows a remarkable assurance, evidence of a rapid development from the extrovert pieces of his youth to a more mature and novel means of expression. When Schumann told Chopin that he liked the G minor Ballade best of all, after a long pause, Chopin replied: It is the one I too like best. The Ballade No 2 Op 38, dedicated to Schumann, is unusual in beginning in one key F major and ending in another A minor. The gentle pulse of the sotto voce opening leads one to believe that this is to be an innocent pastoral narrative—but no.
The gentle theme returns only to be crushed once more. When it surfaces for a final time after the coda, it is reduced to a pathetic whimper in the minor.
After such anguish, the Ballade No 3 in A flat major Op 47 is an optimistic, endearing affair that even its stormy central section in C sharp minor cannot dispel. Indeed, the ending is a triumphant affirmation of the soothing rocking theme that opens the work. Chopin composed the Ballade No 4 in F minor Op 52 in the summer of at Nohant where he was regaining his strength after months of ill health.
Soirs, Op.5 (Schmitt, Florent) - IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music
This work finds Chopin at his most adventurous and skilful; its concluding pages—with its mini-cadenza, canonic treatment of the opening theme and the coruscating coda—are as remarkable as anything that he wrote. Scherzos The four Scherzos have many features in common with the four Ballades: He began work on it in Vienna in , completing it in Paris in A repeat of the earlier material leads to a furious coda with a chromatic scale which Liszt and many virtuosi since played with interlocking octaves.
After a chorale-like central section the music becomes increasingly agitated, reaching a climax before a return to the opening theme and a final rush to the triumphant coda. It was composed partly in Majorca in and completed in Nohant the same year. This episode is repeated after the impetuous opening theme has been heard again, but Chopin then unexpectedly treats it with a modulation of striking beauty. The final Scherzo, No 4 in E major Op 54, is the only one of the four to be written in a major key and its mood, consequently, is predominantly untroubled and sunny. Ironically, it is the most difficult of the four to play.
Chopin adheres to a basic A—B—A structure, though with each section subtly expanded through numerous textual and thematic devices. His first published work was a Polonaise in G minor, also composed in and published privately in Warsaw the same year. So, too, is the earliest surviving autograph we have of his music in A flat major, published in His last extended solo work was also a Polonaise—the Polonaise-Fantaisie Op 61—written in , three years before his death.
The Polonaise is another musical form where Chopin raised an existing genre to another musical level, providing models for Liszt, Scharwenka and later generations. Nevertheless, his boyhood attempts not surprisingly show little of the originality that was to come in his mature works in the genre. The first, in D minor, was probably written in ; Nos 2 and 3 in B flat major and F minor respectively, were composed in Discounting the Introduction and Polonaise brillante Op 3 for piano and cello and the Grande Polonaise Op 22 for piano and orchestra —35 , seven years elapsed before Chopin turned again to the polonaises for solo piano.
The two Polonaises Op 26 , in C sharp minor and E flat minor, are of a completely different order to his earlier attempts. Not only are they written with a new-found maturity but reflect his situation as an exile in Paris. The trio of the C sharp minor Polonaise could almost stand by itself as a nocturne: It is, perhaps, the most typical example of his six mature polonaises in terms of its structure, rhythm and character.
Here is Chopin at his most patriotic yet it is strange that so heroic a work has no coda but simply restates the opening theme before coming to an abrupt conclusion. The Op 40 Polonaises are dedicated to Julian Fontana. The introduction alone is a masterpiece, perfectly setting the scene for what is to come. Its striking central section with its descending semiquaver bass octaves is usually said to depict a cavalry charge, but if it is played at the correct tempo with grandeur and majesty, as Chopin himself insisted, it is more like an approaching cavalcade.
The Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op 61 is, by both its title and structure, in a class of its own. It is an exploratory, original work which, judging from the manuscript, caused Chopin some difficulty before he arrived at a satisfactory version.
Through thematic recall and his subconscious sense of form, pacing and proportion, Chopin manages to achieve a remarkably cohesive whole. The first occasion he used it was for his Fantaisie-Impromptu in , one of his most popular pieces and yet never approved for publication it was issued posthumously by Fontana in as Op Each Impromptu was, significantly, allotted its own opus number like the Scherzos and Ballades.
No 2 in F sharp major Op 36 has an entirely novel structure with its dream-like opening progressing to a march in D major and concluding with three pages of brilliant passage work. The third Impromptu in G flat major Op 51 exists in two versions; it is the final form that is recorded here. It is a strange, uncheerful piece for which Chopin had a particular predilection according to his pupil Lenz.
Between and , Chopin composed eighteen nocturnes, which were published roughly in the order in which they were written. No 20 in C sharp minor dates from it was published in No 21 in C minor —some musicologists say —published in , like its predecessor, has no opus number and was not authorized by Chopin to be published. The next set already shows a marked development. On the manuscript of No 3, Chopin wrote: Let them guess for themselves. The second of the two Nocturnes Op 32 will be familiar to ballet-goers as the opening section of Les Sylphides.
Its companion in F sharp minor Op 48 No 2 is a slighter but nevertheless beautiful work. Chopin told his pupil Gutmann that the middle section should be played like a recitative: Both were composed in and published the following year. No 2 in E flat major is a stream of pure lyricism unusual among its companions in having no contrasting middle section. The delicate brush strokes of the coda are quite bewitching. Its lingering coda makes it sound as though Chopin was unwilling to bid farewell to this last inspiration in the form.
Waltzes The waltz reached Warsaw in the early years of the nineteenth century. As a teenager, Chopin would have known the piano waltzes of Polish composers like Maria Szymanowska, Kurpinski, Dobrzynski and Stefani. Of the twenty waltzes he would eventually compose, only eight were published in his lifetime. The two Waltzes Op 69, three Waltzes Op 70 and six of the seven early waltzes without opus numbers were all published posthumously. Of all the posthumous waltzes rescued for posterity, we must be most grateful for the dazzling Waltz in E minor Like the Fantaisie-Impromptu, it is a mystery how Chopin could have overlooked it, for with its bravura introduction and coda and its spirited motifs this Waltz has all the hallmarks of a mature work.
The first waltz that Chopin authorized to be published, in E flat major Op 18, was written in Vienna in and entitled Grande valse brillante. In welcoming the three Waltzes Op 34 in Schumann wrote: In his own performances it embodied his rubato style to the fullest; he would play it as a continued stretto pianissimo with the bass maintaining a steady beat. A garland of flowers winding amidst the dancing couples! Its hackneyed status should not detract from the miracle of its economy and invention.
Despite its nickname, it is impossible to play the waltz in a minute, at least not musically. No 2 of the set in C sharp minor alternates between a lovesick opening theme, a rapid quaver passage with echoes of Op 42 and a tender nocturne-like theme in D flat. These two contrasted miniature masterpieces are followed by a further Waltz in A flat, less well-known but with a graceful, insinuating theme of wistful regret. Mazurkas It has been said that the mazurkas are the soul of Chopin, revealing facets of his personality and emotions more directly than any other of his compositions.
The mazurka did not acquire its status as a national dance and stylized dance form until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century long after the polonaise had done so. It takes its name from the area of Mazovia around Warsaw but is really a generic title for many regional dances that share similar characteristics, most notably the mazur, oberek and kujawiak. The features common to all these dances are triple time, the strongly accented second or third beat accompanied by a tap of the heel , and a dotted rhythm.
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Some of these regional variations are fast and wild like the obereks , others are tinged with melancholy. Chopin preserved the various quintessential elements of the dance—the sudden changes of emotion, or the drone bass of the bagpipes—and, as with the waltz, polonaise and nocturne, elevated an established form into the realm of high art. But in the mazurkas he went even further by investing in these miniature poems few last longer than four minutes a greater harmonic daring than in almost any of his other works.
In some, his writing verges on the experimental. Meyerbeer called on Chopin while he played one of these Op 63 No 3 giving rise to an anecdote that gives an insight into the way Chopin played his mazurkas. His rubato was so free that some took it to be erratic timing. No, Chopin insisted, he was playing in triple time. Chopin is said to have screamed in rage at the suggestion he was playing in anything other than strict time.
Soirs, Op.5 (Schmitt, Florent)
More than any other form he wrote in throughout his career, Chopin turned most frequently to the mazurka, the earliest being the two in B flat major and G major composed and published in Warsaw in ; his very last work was the Mazurka in G minor Op 67 No 2, published in In all, he composed some 62 mazurkas more if one includes doubtful and spurious works of which 41 were published during his lifetime in groups of three, four or five.
The chronology of their composition is sometimes unclear. In some cases, ideas he had improvised waited some time before being committed to paper. Further revisions and second thoughts meant delays before publication. Briefly, the nine mazurkas of Opp 6 and 7 were composed in Vienna in shortly after his departure from Warsaw and where he heard of the unsuccessful uprising of the Poles against the Russians. The thirty-two mazurkas contained in Opp 17 to 63 were composed and published at fairly regular intervals between and The eight mazurkas of Opp 67 and 68, ordered by the composer to be destroyed but published posthumously by Julian Fontana, were written at various times between Op 68 No 2 and Op 67 No 2 ; a further thirteen have no opus numbers, mainly early works either published separately while Chopin was still alive or after his death—the one in A flat major, for example, was composed in but did not appear in print until Piano Concertos Between and Chopin wrote four of his five works for piano and orchestra.
After the Grande Polonaise of he composed nothing further in this form. While these works have clung to the fringes of the concert hall repertoire the Grande Polonaise Op 22, more frequently heard in its solo guise , the two piano concertos have remained very much centre stage. No 1 in E minor Op 11 is so designated simply because it was the first of the two to be published It is easy to think of these works as standing in isolation, without contemporary equivalents. Op 11 has a lengthy orchestral exposition twice as long as that of Op 21 marked Allegro maestoso.
The touching second subject is archetypal Chopin and its first appearance a moment of exquisite beauty. The second movement, labelled Romanza, consists of a yearning nocturne-like theme in E major contrasted with a second subject in B major. He was still working on the Concerto when he wrote a letter dated 15 May in which he described his thoughts about this movement.
It is one of the rare occasions that he made any allusion to the programme behind the music: It is a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather, but by moonlight.
That is why I have muted the accompaniment. It was the last concert he gave before leaving Poland for good. The event was a sell-out people, his largest audience to date and was so successful that a second concert was arranged for 22 March. The Adagio and Rondo had more effect; one heard some spontaneous shouts.
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- Andree Chedid (Collection Monographique Rodopi en Litterature Francaise Contemporaine 1).
A vivacious Hummelesque rondo concludes the work with some imaginative touches, such as the second subject being underscored by the violins playing col legno i. Works for piano and orchestra Chopin composed his first work for piano and orchestra during the second half of and early After a slow, brilliantly decorated introduction and the statement of the theme, Chopin follows a fairly standard pattern for variation sets from this period, leading off with one played in triplets followed by a moto perpetuo.
Variation 3 requires an agile left hand, No 4 is a sequence of leaping figures for both hands, the fifth an Adagio in B flat minor and the finale Alla Polacca. This is the work that the young Robert Schumann greeted with the famous words: When I finished, they clapped so much that I had to come out and bow a second time. His second concertante work followed swiftly, this time using a selection of national folk tunes for his material. He was clearly fond of the work and kept it in his repertoire for many years despite the incidental contribution of the orchestra and the somewhat clumsy welding together of the different sections.
All eyes are on the soloist. Like its predecessors, it is a sparkling display piece though here the orchestral role is more telling. Though he played it frequently after its composition, Chopin seems never to have returned to it after leaving Poland. The polonaise section of the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major Op 22 was composed in Vienna in shortly before his arrival in Paris.
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