Frédéric Chopin

Biography

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
Favorite Chopin / Vladimir Ashkenazy
Release Date: 01/19/1993   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 436389   Number of Discs: 2
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Chopin Edition Vol 9 - Piano Sonatas / Eugene Mursky
Release Date: 01/29/2013   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4074   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2, Etc; Respighi / Cherkassky, Kempe
Release Date: 07/19/2005   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4015   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin Edition Vol 8 - Preludes & Variations / Eugene Mursky
Release Date: 08/30/2011   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4073   Number of Discs: 1
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Beethoven, Schubert & Chopin / Menahem Pressler
Release Date: 11/19/2013   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1999   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Scherzo for Piano no 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31

 

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 Chopin as models. 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. (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 "Germanic" works of the time, which are constructed with the principle of "thematic unity" in mind.

Chopin's Scherzo in B flat minor/D flat major was published in Leipzig in the same year it was composed. It is the most popular of Chopin's scherzos. Chopin wished his students to perform the opening phrase of this scherzo in a manner that evoked the image of a mortuary. In a way, Chopin has ultimately gotten his wish, because the piece has been played to death. The problem with this is that our familiarity with the work can lead us to miss its many great moments. Among these are the vast contrasts in the first theme, with its wide leaps and pregnant pauses in the first half and rising and falling scales in the second.

The lengthy trio, in A major, is lacking entirely the somber atmosphere that pervades much of Chopin's music. Its opening idea, which brings to a halt the frenetic energy of the preceding scherzo, is serious, but it is the seriousness of a love song. A single line over sustained chords closes with a Gypsy music-like, dotted-rhythm tune that evaporates into the upper register. The contrasting segment of the trio is a layered idea with the main theme in the highest voice and a counter melody in the alto range with a rapid, duplet/triplet figure. The segment's initial emphasis on C sharp minor shifts to the dominant in its contrasting material, a passage of swirling eighth notes that encompasses nearly the full range of the piano. The "love song" returns, but this does not signal the end of the trio; instead, Chopin brings back the contrasting segment, this time preparing for the return to B flat minor, while working with his material in a developmental fashion. Near the end of the trio, Chopin works in a reference to the secondary scherzo theme.

As if infected by the mood of the trio, the return of the scherzo is less detached than its predecessor, with a sustained note after the second of the triplets. The shift to D flat major (the relative major of B flat minor) begins immediately, albeit surreptitiously. The powerful coda is an admixture of snippets from the scherzo that gives a firm close on D flat.

-- John Palmer, All Music Guide Read less

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