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 Music
Release Date: 02/22/2005   Label: Opus Arte  
Catalog: 893   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin, Debussy, Corghi: Cello Sonatas / Chiesa, Baglini
Release Date: 04/28/2009   Label: Concerto  
Catalog: 2035   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Piano Concertos / Barenboim, Nelsons, Berlin Staatskapelle [Blu-ray]
Release Date: 09/27/2011   Label: Arthaus Musik  
Catalog: 108029   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin, Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonatas / Walton, Owen
Release Date: 11/29/2005   Label: Somm  
Catalog: 26   Number of Discs: 1
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Michelangeli Plays Chopin
Release Date: 02/21/2006   Label: Opus Arte  
Catalog: 940   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Grande valse brillante, Op. 18


About This Work
Frédéric Chopin's published waltzes (actually valses -- a subtle but significant stylistic distinction) fall into two distinct categories: sparkling, highly ornamented jewels suitable, to at least some degree, for actual ballroom use; Read more and more introspective, often rather melancholy, miniatures that are far removed from the fashionable Viennese waltzes of Joseph Lanner or Johann Strauss I. The earliest of the published waltzes (actually fifth in order of composition), the Grande Valse brillante in E flat major, Op.18, is an example of the former.

This aristocratic work presents its young composer in a particularly extroverted mood; surely the main theme of the work, introduced after a lively four-bar fanfare, is one of Chopin's most famous. The composer toys with a secondary, repeated-note gesture (marked leggieramente) before making a happily-chosen move to D flat major; the chromatic figure in parallel thirds that runs throughout a good part of this central section provides a good taste of the composer's more mature style. An extended version of the opening fanfare ushers in the reprise of the initial tune, which, upon reiteration some forty bars later, is broken up by the unexpected intrusion of two bar-long grand pauses.

While some, including the famous musicologist Huneker, have felt the (perhaps overly) effervescent quality of the Opus 18 Waltz to be vulgar, others see a kind of sly humor in the work's irrepressibly joyous tone. Whatever the Waltz's true sentiment is, Chopin, having visited Vienna and found the Viennese waltz to be entirely foreign to his nature (declaring, upon his return to Paris, that "I am still unable to play valses), seems wholly determined to reinvent the form in his own image.

-- Blair Johnston, All Music Guide Read less

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