Frédéric Chopin


Born: 1810   Died: 1849   Period: Romantic
Frédéric Chopin has long been recognized as one of the most significant and individual composers of the Romantic age. The bulk of his reputation rests on small-scale works that in other hands would have been mere salon trifles: waltzes, nocturnes, preludes, mazurkas, and polonaises (the last-named two groups reflecting his fervent Polish nationalism). These works link poetically expressive melody and restless harmony to high technical demands. Read more Even his etudes survive as highly appealing concert pieces by emphasizing musical as well as technical values.

His birth date is a matter of controversy; the town registration of his birth specifies February 22, but Chopin always gave the date as March 1. His father was French, his mother Polish; he was raised in Warsaw by a family that mingled with intellectuals and members of the middle and upper classes, and as a teenager he spent two summers in the country, where he was exposed to Polish folk music. By the age of eight he was recognized as a child prodigy, performing in elegant salons and beginning to write his own pieces. Early on he studied composition with Josef Elsner, then took classes in various other music subjects as well as art and literature at the Warsaw Lyceum. In 1826 he enrolled at the University of Warsaw. He gave his first recital in Vienna in 1829, and over the next few years he performed at home and through much of German and Austria as well as in Paris. Feeling limited by Warsaw's cultural provincialism and uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding his performances there, he settled in Paris in 1832 and established himself as an exorbitantly paid piano teacher. In Paris he composed extensively, but limited his performances mainly to private salons.

In 1838 he began an affair with French novelist George Sand. The couple, along with Sand's children, spent a harsh winter in Majorca, where Chopin's health plummeted and he was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis). Chopin settled in with Sand in France, composing steadily although his increasing perfectionism slowed his output. By the mid-1840s, though, his health and romantic situation both had deteriorated. The affair ended in 1847 after, among other things, Sand had portrayed their relationship unflatteringly in her 1846 novel Lucrezia Floriani. Chopin then made an extended visit to the British Isles, but returned to Paris to die in 1849. Read less
Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2; Variations On
Release Date: 10/26/2010   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8572336   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin; Rachmaninov, Cello Sonatas / Lastrapes, Carroll
Release Date: 03/13/2012   Label: Centaur Records  
Catalog: 3196   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Preludes / Fliter
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 475   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Complete Piano Music Vol 5 / Idil Biret
Release Date: 09/28/1999   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554531   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Complete Piano Music Vol 7 / Idil Biret
Release Date: 09/28/1999   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554533   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Scherzo for Piano no 1 in B minor, B 65/Op. 20

About This Work
Chopin composed six Scherzos, four of which were published as individual works, the fifth as part of the Sonata, Op. 35, and the sixth as part of the Sonata, Op. 58. The best known scherzos before Chopin are those by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and Read more these undoubtedly served as models for Chopin. However, in Chopin's more mature scherzos, all that seems to be left of these models is the 3/4 meter. For Chopin, the scherzo form (ABA, or ternary) was indeed a skeleton, just as ternary form was for all of his dance music, and he embellished upon this skeleton as he saw fit.

In the Opp. 20, 31, and 54 Scherzos, Chopin achieves his dramatic effect through the ternary form we find in most scherzos. The third of the four independent scherzos, Op. 39, is in a modified sonata form. A great extension and harmonic foray into distant keys create tension that is resolved with the reprise of the opening material. By delaying the reprise and pushing toward the end of the piece, Chopin increases the dramatic power of its arrival. Furthermore, the reprise is not always given in full, but leads to a coda that features new material. This type of composition stood in the face of the prevailing Germanic works of the time, which were constructed with the principle of "thematic unity." In the scherzos, as in most of Chopin's single-movement works, the overriding principle is departure and return.

Chopin's first Scherzo, Op. 20, does follow the strict ternary form of its models. In his later examples we find him approaching the form more flexibly. Composed in 1831-1832, the Scherzo, Op. 20, was published in Leipzig in February of 1835. Writers have used terms such as "somber," "ironic" and "reckless" to describe the piece; no doubt these are reactions to different sections.

After an eight-measure introduction of two sustained chords, an arabesque-like figure begins that resembles the main idea of Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 56. This idea, distributed between the hands, becomes both melody and an accompaniment for sighing chords in the left hand. The first part of the scherzo moves agitatedly to the dominant before the repeat, closing with a leap up to sustained notes that will later become part of the transition to the trio and the introduction to the coda. The second, contrasting idea of the scherzo employs the same figuration as the main theme, but on new keys and with a different overall melodic shape. It is both quasi-developmental and insistently repetitive, with unusual harmonic shifts.

The central molt più lento section, the trio, is a masterpiece of polyphony, with two ideas in the right hand alone. The brightness of the trio's new key, B major, fades only a moment before the reprise of the first scherzo theme. Hesitant descending figures and the leaping idea from the first theme dissolve into a transition leading to the impetuous coda. Throughout the coda, accents on the first beat of the measure in the right hand vie for supremacy with accents on the second beat in the left hand. After a wash of chromatic scales, a few strident chords close the work in B minor. The dynamic range requested by Chopin in the closing measures of the scherzo pushes the music into the Lisztean range of power. Read less

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