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Composer: Chopin, Fryderyk Franciszek (1810-1849)

April 2017
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LuganoLouis Schwizgebel

Schumann, Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert
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RavelloPiano Ballades

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LondonAurora Orchestra with Shai Wosner

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MunichSymphony in C/In the Night/Adam is

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Yura Zaiki, Piano
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Delicate, refined, passionate, emotive, romantic. Many music lovers consider Chopin's piano works to be the very greatest of all music written for the instrument. It's certainly distinctive: you can listen to an awful lot of music from the same period and be in no doubt whatsoever when you hear Chopin. 

A large part of the effect comes from Chopin's talent for melody. In every generation, just a few composers have the talent for writing tune after tune that sticks in your memory as soon as you've heard it, and Chopin was certainly one of them. But what makes him special is his ability to wrap intricate tracery around his melodies and to surprise you repeatedly with shifts of key and rhythm while always putting across a feeling that every note is in the right place. Perhaps the best descriptions come from the Paris Revue Musicale, which described the 22-year old Chopin as a young man who had found “an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere” and from Robert Schumann, who found in his music the sound of “cannon concealed amid blossoms”.

Chopin was a less versatile composer than most of the greats with whom he is frequently and fairly bracketed. There is a handful of chamber pieces and orchestral works and a few songs, none of them massively distinguished. Through and through, Chopin was a salon composer: he wrote piano music to be played in the living rooms of the rich. And within that compass, he was matchless.

Part of Chopin's unique sound comes from a unique background. Born Fryderyk Franciszek to a Frenchman settled in Poland, he became an ardent Polish nationalist Polishness and is treated as one of the great men of Polish history. By the time he was eleven, the young Chopin was already acclaimed as a great pianist and had played for the Tsar of Russia at the opening of the Polish parliament; at twenty, he set off to make his fortune in Western Europe. Just 27 days after he left, the Poles rebelled against the rule of Russia in the November uprising, a rebellion which was crushed the following year, leaving Chopin distraught and providing the creative impulse for one of his most famous works, the “Revolutionary” Etude (Op.10 no.12). He suffered from ill health throughout his life.

Chopin settled in Paris, where he became “Frédéric-François”, the name by which he is best known in English-speaking countries today, although he never learnt French perfectly. He enjoyed great concert success, but became aware that his style of playing was not suited to larger concert halls, preferring to play at his home or in salons, often on his much beloved Pleyel pianos.

In 1848, Chopin’s life was transformed by revolution once again, as the French nobility who formed his clientèle fled Paris, leaving him without income and in sharply deteriorated health. His last concert was in London in November that year: an ill-fated benefit concert for Polish refugees (no-one knows what was played since he could not be heard above the chatter of the social occasion). He died a year later in Paris, with his sister Ludwika, who had given him his first piano lessons, at his bedside.

Every lover of Chopin has their own favourite works and their own favourite performers: his music seems to lend itself to an extraordinary variety of performance styles, with endless argument possible about tempos, rubato, accenting and many other features of a performance.

Famous interpreters of the past include Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau and my personal favourite, the Romanian Dinu Lipatti. A “must have” play-list would include the Etudes, the Waltzes, the Preludes, the Ballades (a form that Chopin invented), and several of the Polonaises and Mazurkas. Also unforgettable are the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. posth. 66, the Barcarolle in F sharp (a transcendent, lilting Venetian boating song) and the B flat minor Piano Sonata with its famous funeral march whose glorious gift is to uplift one’s spirits in the face of death.

David Karlin
18th December 2009

List of works
12 Etudes, Op.1012 Etudes, Op.252 Nocturnes, Op.272 Polonaises, Op.4024 Preludes, Op.283 Mazurkas, Op.503 Mazurkas, Op.633 Nouvelles études, Op.posth4 Mazurkas, Op.174 Mazurkas, Op.304 Mazurkas, Op.334 Mazurkas, Op.65 Mazurkas, Op.7Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante, Op.22Ballade no. 1 in G minor, Op.23Ballade no. 2 in F major, Op.38Ballade no. 3 in A flat major, Op.47Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op.52Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op.60Berceuse in D flat major, Op.57ChopinianaComplete 4 Ballades Op.23, Op.38, Op.47, Op.52Etude in A flat major, Op.10 no.10Etude in A flat major, Op.25 no.1Etude in A minor "Winter Wind", Op.25 no.11Etude in A minor, Op.25 no.4Etude in B minor, Op.25 no.10Etude in C Major, Op.10 no.7Etude in C Minor, Op.25 no.12Etude in C major, Op.10 no.1Etude in C minor "Revolutionary" , Op.10 no.12Etude in C sharp minor "Torrent", Op.10 no.4Etude in C sharp minor, Op.25 no.7Etude in D flat major, Op.25 no.8Etude in E flat major, Op.10 no.11Etude in E major "Tristesse", Op.10 no.3Etude in E minor, Op.25 no.5Etude in F major, Op.10 no.8Etude in F major, Op.25 no.3Etude in F minor, Op.10 no.9Etude in F minor, Op.25 no.2Etude in G flat major, Op.10 no.5Etude in G flat major, Op.25 no.9Etude in G sharp minor "Thirds", Op.25 no.6Fantasy in F minor, Op.49Impromptu Fantasie in C sharp minor, Op.66Impromptu in A flat major, Op.29Impromptu in G flat major, Op.51In The NightLa Dame aux CaméliasMazurka in A minor, Op.17 no.4Mazurka in A minor, Op.67 no.4Mazurka in B major, Op.41 no.3Mazurka in B major, Op.56 no.1Mazurka in B minor, Op.33 no.4Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.50 no.3Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op.63 no.3Mazurka in D flat major, Op.30 no.3Mazurka in F major, Op.68 no.3Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op.59 no.3MazurkasMazurkas, Op.67Mazurkas, Op.68Melodia (elegy) in G major, Op.74 no.9Moja pieszcztka (my sweetheart) in G flat major, Op.74 no.12Narzeczony (the betrothed) in C minor, Op.74 no.15Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posthNocturne no. 1 in B flat minor, Op.9 no.1Nocturne no. 13 in C minor, Op.48 no.1Nocturne no. 14 in F sharp minor, Op.48 no.2Nocturne no. 17 in B major, Op.62 no.1Nocturne no. 19 in E minor, Op.72 no.1Nocturne no. 2 in E flat major, Op.9 no.2Nocturne no. 20 in C sharp minor (posthumous)Nocturne no. 21 in C minor (posthumous)Nocturne no. 3 in B major, Op.9 no.3Nocturne no. 4 in F major, Op.15 no.1Nocturne no. 8 in D flat major, Op.27 no.2Nocturne no.2 in E flat major, Op.9 no.2Nocturnes, Op.9Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, Op.11Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, Op.21Piano Sonata no. 3 in B minor, Op.58Piano sonata no. 2 in B flat minor (funeral march), Op.35Polonaise Brillante, Op.3Polonaise in G minor, Op. posthPolonaise no. 1 in C sharp minor, Op.26 no.1Polonaise no. 2 in E flat minor, Op.26 no.2Polonaise no. 3 in A major "Military", Op.40 no.1Polonaise no. 5 in F sharp minor, Op.44Polonaise no. 6 in A flat major, "Heroic," Op.53Polonaise no. 7 in A flat major "Polonaise-fantaisie", Op.61Prelude in D flat major "Raindrop", Op.28 no.15Prelude in E flat minor, Op.28 no.14PreludesScherzo no. 1 in B minor, Op.20Scherzo no. 2 in B flat minor, Op.31Scherzo no. 3 in C sharp minor, Op.39Scherzo no. 4 in E major, Op.54Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op.65Ssss...Three Mazurkas, Op.56Three Mazurkas, Op.59Waltz in A Minor "Grande Valse Brillante", Op.34 no.2Waltz in A flat major "Valse Brillante", Op.34 no.1Waltz no. 10 in B minor, Op.69 no.2Waltz no. 12 in F minor, Op.70 no.2Waltz no. 5 in A flat major, Op.42Waltz no. 6 in D flat major "Minute Waltz", Op.64 no.1Waltz no. 7 in C sharp minor, Op.64 no.2Waltz no. 9 in A flat major "L'Adieu", Op.69 no.1