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
Live: Beethoven, Enescu, Chopin / Richard-Hamelin
Release Date: 10/14/2016   Label: Analekta  
Catalog: 29129   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Works for Piano & Orchestra / Urbanski, Lisiecki, NDR Elbphilharmonie
Release Date: 03/10/2017   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 002633102   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Mazurkas, Waltzes, Etc / Schoonderwoerd
Release Date: 07/20/2004   Label: Alpha Productions  
Catalog: 40   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes / Schoonderwoerd
Release Date: 07/14/2009   Label: Alpha Productions  
Catalog: 147   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin, Beethoven, Barber, Brahms / Van Cliburn
Release Date: 10/25/2011   Label: Orfeo  
Catalog: 841111   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Polonaise-fantaisie for Piano in A flat major, B 159/Op. 61


About This Work
The Polonaise-Fantasie has much in common with the Ballades, but still retains the basic ternary dance form and the characteristic rhythms of the polonaise. A long and improvisatory introduction leads to the initial presentation of the polonaise Read more material. This section is not a typical dance section divided into structured phrase groups. Instead, Chopin presents a theme in polonaise style that is subjected to continuing and ongoing variation and development. The effect, especially with the complex harmonies and frequent key changes, is one of a self-generating improvisation. Unlike all the previous polonaises, there is no literal duplication of material. This long and passionate section eventually leads to slow, lyrical and introspective central Lento. This entire section represents the usual trio, but as there is no actual reprise, it cannot really be considered as such. The Lento begins with a sustained, chordal melody over a richly melodic bass part. This leads to a passage that is a return to the polonaise character, but new material. A cadenza using double trills leads in turn to a partial reprise of the Introduction and the final brilliant peroration on the Lento theme. The principal polonaise material is never fully reprised.

Although it retains something of a ternary dance structure, the effect of the Polonaise-Fantasie is of an organic improvisation that grows and develops to a climax rather than as a dance with its set sections and repetitions. This characteristic places it formally with the Ballades, even though the principal material and rhythmic drive are more clearly polonaise-like. This is an extraordinarily complex and forward-looking work. The kind of continuing variation that Chopin uses here as well as the highly chromatic and adventurous harmony anticipate the techniques of Wagner and Mahler. In spite of its somewhat loose structure, the Polonaise-Fantasie remains as one of Chopin's greatest and most effective pieces. Read less

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