Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

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Chopin by his Peers20190627

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, Chopin through the eyes of his most illustrious contemporaries.

“Every now and then, a breath of the music of Chopin would waft over us from the windows opening onto the garden, while he worked away; the music mingling with the singing of the nightingales and the scent of the roses.” Imagine being able to eavesdrop on Chopin in the act of creation. That’s what the painter Eugène Delacroix was lucky enough to do during his visit to Nohant, the country retreat of the composer’s lover George Sand, in the summer of 1842. Sand gave us the most intimate insight into Chopin’s creative process: “His composing was spontaneous, miraculous. He found the ideas without looking for them. But then began a labour more heart-breaking than I have ever seen. He shut himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, walking about, breaking his pens, repeating or altering a measure a hundred times, writing it down and erasing it as often, and starting over the next day with scrupulous and desperate perseverance.” Chopin’s relationship with Sand eventually soured, as did his friendship with the composer Franz Liszt; it didn’t help when Liszt published a lengthy and spiteful review of one of Chopin’s rare public performances. Robert Schumann also went into print on Chopin, a composer completely unknown to him at the time: “Hats off, gentlemen – a genius!” was his celebrated reaction on reading the score of Chopin’s Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’.

Etude in C, Op 10 No 1
Moriz Rosenthal, piano

Ballade No 2 in F, Op 38
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano

Variations in B flat major on ‘La ci darem la mano’, from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, Op 2
Emanuel Ax, fortepiano
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Charles Mackerras, conductor

Scherzo No 4 in E, Op 54
Sviatoslav Richter, piano

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op 65 (2nd and 3rd movements)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Martha Argerich, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the composer as his contemporaries saw him.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Chopin the Pianist20190626

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, the composer’s relationship with his instrument is centre-stage.

Martha Argerich once said that she loved to play the piano very much, but didn’t like being a pianist. The same words could have been uttered by Chopin, who resorted to playing in public only when he needed a quick injection of cash. As a result, his reticence became a marketable commodity, giving his ventures into the concert hall such rarity-value that they became lucrative money-spinners; and it doubtless didn’t escape him that after a public appearance, sales of his sheet-music shot up. Income-generation aside, Chopin was much happier as a performer in the more intimate and sociable surroundings of the salon, where his trademark light touch could be appreciated to the full. According to one contemporary account, “he appeared hardly to touch the piano; one might have thought an instrument superfluous”. That observation is borne out by the recollections of his pupils: “Caress the key, never bash it!”, he’s quoted as saying.

Etude in A flat, Op 25 No 1 (‘Aeolian Harp’)
Alfred Cortot, piano

‘Krakowiak’: Grand Concert Rondo in F, Op 14
Jan Lisiecki, piano
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Krzysztof Urbański, conductor

Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4
Ignaz Friedman, piano

Andante spianato, Op 22 No 1
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano

Impromptu No 3 in G flat, Op 51
Stephen Kovacevich, piano

Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op 48 No 2
Ivan Moravec, piano

Barcarolle, Op 60
Dinu Lipatti, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the composer's relationship with the piano.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Chopin's Correspondence20190625

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, we catch fleeting glimpses of the composer through his letters.

Chopin was a prolific if reluctant letter-writer on a wide range of subject-matter, from practicalities – instructions for negotiating with publishers, requests for items to be purchased and sent – to detailed accounts of his recent activities; his longest surviving epistle, a 6,000-word epic to his family in Warsaw, paints a picture of his time in Scotland during the summer of 1848. Around 800 of Chopin’s letters have come down to us. They’re an invaluable source of information about his life, but an exceedingly patchy one; for one reason or another, most of his correspondence seems to have been gone missing over the course of time, leaving holes in his biography that will probably never be filled.

2 Mazurkas (Mazurka in G; Mazurka in B flat)
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor, Op 11 (2nd mvt, Romance—Larghetto)
Jean Marc Luisada, piano
Quatuor Talich
Benjamin Berlioz, double bass

Preludes, Op 28 (No 1 in C, Agitato; No 2 in A minor, Lento; No 15 in D flat, Sostenuto; No 16 in B flat minor, Presto con fuoco)
Grigory Sokolov, piano

3 Mazurkas, Op 50 (No 1 in G; No 2 in A flat; No 3 in C sharp minor)
Janina Fialkowska, piano

2 Nocturnes, Op 55 (No 1 in F minor; No 2 in E flat)
Samson François, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, we glimpse the composer through his letters.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

'Dying all his Life'20190628

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, Donald considers the parlous state of the composer’s health.

“Chopin was dying all his life”, Hector Berlioz is supposed to have said. Whether or not the quotation is accurate, the remark has a grim resonance. Chopin has become the archetype of the Romantic composer – weak, sickly, world-weary, neurotic. By the time of his visit to Scotland in 1848, he was so enfeebled that he had to be carried upstairs to his bedroom by his manservant, Daniel. There’s been plenty of debate about Chopin’s constitution and the causes of his death, but the likeliest explanation for the ill-health that dogged him on and off throughout his short life and eventually ended it, is that he contracted the disease popularly known as ‘the White Death’ – the same condition that carried off many of his friends and family, and, indeed, millions of his contemporaries throughout Europe – in his teens, thereafter living with it as his constant companion. Against the bleak backdrop of chronic tuberculosis – sometimes a minor inconvenience, at others completely debilitating – the scale of his achievement seems almost heroic.

Mazurka in G minor, Op 67 No 2
Samson François, piano

2 Nocturnes, Op 27 (No 1 in C sharp minor, Larghetto; No 2 in D flat, Lento sostento)
Nelson Freire, piano

Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39
Maurizio Pollini, piano

Ballade No 3 in A flat, Op 47
Jorge Bolet, piano

Sonata No 3 in B minor, Op 58 (3rd movement, Largo)
Tamás Vásary, piano

Waltz in E flat, Op 18 (‘Grande valse brillante’)
Artur Rubinstein, piano

Berceuse, Op 57
Ivan Moravec, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the parlous state of the composer\u2019s health.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

01Polish Roots20190624

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, how Chopin’s Polish heritage shaped his music.

Chopin’s precocious musical gifts – not just as a pianist, but as a composer too – were apparent very early on. His first composition appeared in print in 1817, in Warsaw, when he was just seven years old. It’s a ‘polonaise’, the Polish national dance – a stately, triple-time number danced by aristocracy and country folk alike – a form Chopin continued to explore throughout his life. Even more so the mazurka; Chopin didn’t invent the genre, but he became its major exponent, producing almost 60 mazurkas, from his teens right through to his very last composition. The mazurka originated in a Polish folk dance called the mazurek, itself derived from the slow kujawiak and the fast oberek – both of which Chopin experienced ‘in the field’ when he spent two summers in his mid-teens in a village called Szafarnia, in the province of Mazovia, 125 miles northwest of Warsaw. This childhood experience left a deep mark, and it’s in his mazurkas that some of Chopin’s most adventurous and innovative music is to be found. The heroic ballads of the Polish nationalist poet Adam Mickiewicz left a more subtle imprint on Chopin’s consciousness – one that subsequently emerged in his wonderful sequence of Ballades, which, while they aren’t programmatically related to individual poems of Mickiewicz, draw their powerful narrative drive from his work as a whole. All of which suggests that though you may take the Pole out of Poland – Chopin left the country when he was 20, never to return – you can’t take Poland out of the Pole.

‘Życzenie’ (The maiden’s wish), Op 74 No 1
Eugenia Zareska, mezzo soprano
Giorgio Favaretto, piano

Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op 21 (3rd mvt, Allegro vivace)
Murray Perahia, piano
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta, conductor

4 Mazurkas, Op 17
(No 1 in B flat; No 2 in E minor; No 3 in A flat; No 4 in A minor)

Polonaise No 5 in C minor, Op 40 No 2
Polonaise No 6 in A flat, Op 53 (‘Heroic’)
Emil Gilels, piano

Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op 52
Krystian Zimerman, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and work of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, how his Polish heritage shaped his music.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201901Polish Roots20190624

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, how Chopin’s Polish heritage shaped his music.

Chopin’s precocious musical gifts – not just as a pianist, but as a composer too – were apparent very early on. His first composition appeared in print in 1817, in Warsaw, when he was just seven years old. It’s a ‘polonaise’, the Polish national dance – a stately, triple-time number danced by aristocracy and country folk alike – a form Chopin continued to explore throughout his life. Even more so the mazurka; Chopin didn’t invent the genre, but he became its major exponent, producing almost 60 mazurkas, from his teens right through to his very last composition. The mazurka originated in a Polish folk dance called the mazurek, itself derived from the slow kujawiak and the fast oberek – both of which Chopin experienced ‘in the field’ when he spent two summers in his mid-teens in a village called Szafarnia, in the province of Mazovia, 125 miles northwest of Warsaw. This childhood experience left a deep mark, and it’s in his mazurkas that some of Chopin’s most adventurous and innovative music is to be found. The heroic ballads of the Polish nationalist poet Adam Mickiewicz left a more subtle imprint on Chopin’s consciousness – one that subsequently emerged in his wonderful sequence of Ballades, which, while they aren’t programmatically related to individual poems of Mickiewicz, draw their powerful narrative drive from his work as a whole. All of which suggests that though you may take the Pole out of Poland – Chopin left the country when he was 20, never to return – you can’t take Poland out of the Pole.

‘Życzenie’ (The maiden’s wish), Op 74 No 1
Eugenia Zareska, mezzo soprano
Giorgio Favaretto, piano

Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op 21 (3rd mvt, Allegro vivace)
Murray Perahia, piano
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta, conductor

4 Mazurkas, Op 17
(No 1 in B flat; No 2 in E minor; No 3 in A flat; No 4 in A minor)

Polonaise No 5 in C minor, Op 40 No 2
Polonaise No 6 in A flat, Op 53 (‘Heroic’)
Emil Gilels, piano

Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op 52
Krystian Zimerman, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and work of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, how his Polish heritage shaped his music.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201902Chopin's Correspondence20190625

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, we catch fleeting glimpses of the composer through his letters.

Chopin was a prolific if reluctant letter-writer on a wide range of subject-matter, from practicalities – instructions for negotiating with publishers, requests for items to be purchased and sent – to detailed accounts of his recent activities; his longest surviving epistle, a 6,000-word epic to his family in Warsaw, paints a picture of his time in Scotland during the summer of 1848. Around 800 of Chopin’s letters have come down to us. They’re an invaluable source of information about his life, but an exceedingly patchy one; for one reason or another, most of his correspondence seems to have been gone missing over the course of time, leaving holes in his biography that will probably never be filled.

2 Mazurkas (Mazurka in G; Mazurka in B flat)
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor, Op 11 (2nd mvt, Romance—Larghetto)
Jean Marc Luisada, piano
Quatuor Talich
Benjamin Berlioz, double bass

Preludes, Op 28 (No 1 in C, Agitato; No 2 in A minor, Lento; No 15 in D flat, Sostenuto; No 16 in B flat minor, Presto con fuoco)
Grigory Sokolov, piano

3 Mazurkas, Op 50 (No 1 in G; No 2 in A flat; No 3 in C sharp minor)
Janina Fialkowska, piano

2 Nocturnes, Op 55 (No 1 in F minor; No 2 in E flat)
Samson François, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, we glimpse the composer through his letters.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201903Chopin The Pianist20190626

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as "the poet of the piano". Today, the composer’s relationship with his instrument is centre-stage.

Martha Argerich once said that she loved to play the piano very much, but didn’t like being a pianist. The same words could have been uttered by Chopin, who resorted to playing in public only when he needed a quick injection of cash. As a result, his reticence became a marketable commodity, giving his ventures into the concert hall such rarity-value that they became lucrative money-spinners; and it doubtless didn’t escape him that after a public appearance, sales of his sheet-music shot up. Income-generation aside, Chopin was much happier as a performer in the more intimate and sociable surroundings of the salon, where his trademark light touch could be appreciated to the full. According to one contemporary account, “he appeared hardly to touch the piano; one might have thought an instrument superfluous”. That observation is borne out by the recollections of his pupils: “Caress the key, never bash it!”, he’s quoted as saying.

Etude in A flat, Op 25 No 1 (‘Aeolian Harp’)
Alfred Cortot, piano

‘Krakowiak’: Grand Concert Rondo in F, Op 14
Jan Lisiecki, piano
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Krzysztof Urbański, conductor

Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4
Ignaz Friedman, piano

Andante spianato, Op 22 No 1
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano

Impromptu No 3 in G flat, Op 51
Stephen Kovacevich, piano

Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op 48 No 2
Ivan Moravec, piano

Barcarolle, Op 60
Dinu Lipatti, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the composer's relationship with the piano.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201904Chopin By His Peers20190627

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, Chopin through the eyes of his most illustrious contemporaries.

“Every now and then, a breath of the music of Chopin would waft over us from the windows opening onto the garden, while he worked away; the music mingling with the singing of the nightingales and the scent of the roses.” Imagine being able to eavesdrop on Chopin in the act of creation. That’s what the painter Eugène Delacroix was lucky enough to do during his visit to Nohant, the country retreat of the composer’s lover George Sand, in the summer of 1842. Sand gave us the most intimate insight into Chopin’s creative process: “His composing was spontaneous, miraculous. He found the ideas without looking for them. But then began a labour more heart-breaking than I have ever seen. He shut himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, walking about, breaking his pens, repeating or altering a measure a hundred times, writing it down and erasing it as often, and starting over the next day with scrupulous and desperate perseverance.” Chopin’s relationship with Sand eventually soured, as did his friendship with the composer Franz Liszt; it didn’t help when Liszt published a lengthy and spiteful review of one of Chopin’s rare public performances. Robert Schumann also went into print on Chopin, a composer completely unknown to him at the time: “Hats off, gentlemen – a genius!” was his celebrated reaction on reading the score of Chopin’s Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’.

Etude in C, Op 10 No 1
Moriz Rosenthal, piano

Ballade No 2 in F, Op 38
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano

Variations in B flat major on ‘La ci darem la mano’, from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, Op 2
Emanuel Ax, fortepiano
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Charles Mackerras, conductor

Scherzo No 4 in E, Op 54
Sviatoslav Richter, piano

Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op 65 (2nd and 3rd movements)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Martha Argerich, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the composer as his contemporaries saw him.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201905 LAST'dying All His Life'20190628

Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Fryderyk Chopin, often referred to as “the poet of the piano”. Today, Donald considers the parlous state of the composer’s health.

“Chopin was dying all his life”, Hector Berlioz is supposed to have said. Whether or not the quotation is accurate, the remark has a grim resonance. Chopin has become the archetype of the Romantic composer – weak, sickly, world-weary, neurotic. By the time of his visit to Scotland in 1848, he was so enfeebled that he had to be carried upstairs to his bedroom by his manservant, Daniel. There’s been plenty of debate about Chopin’s constitution and the causes of his death, but the likeliest explanation for the ill-health that dogged him on and off throughout his short life and eventually ended it, is that he contracted the disease popularly known as ‘the White Death’ – the same condition that carried off many of his friends and family, and, indeed, millions of his contemporaries throughout Europe – in his teens, thereafter living with it as his constant companion. Against the bleak backdrop of chronic tuberculosis – sometimes a minor inconvenience, at others completely debilitating – the scale of his achievement seems almost heroic.

Mazurka in G minor, Op 67 No 2
Samson François, piano

2 Nocturnes, Op 27 (No 1 in C sharp minor, Larghetto; No 2 in D flat, Lento sostento)
Nelson Freire, piano

Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39
Maurizio Pollini, piano

Ballade No 3 in A flat, Op 47
Jorge Bolet, piano

Sonata No 3 in B minor, Op 58 (3rd movement, Largo)
Tamás Vásary, piano

Waltz in E flat, Op 18 (‘Grande valse brillante’)
Artur Rubinstein, piano

Berceuse, Op 57
Ivan Moravec, piano

Produced by Chris Barstow for BBC Wales

The life and music of Fryderyk Chopin. Today, the parlous state of the composer's health.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.