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8.550362 - CHOPIN: Scherzi and Impromptus (Complete)

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1847)
Impromptus / Scherzi / Allegro de Concert

Fryderyk Chopin was born in 1810 at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw. His father Nicolas Chopin was French by birth but had moved to Poland to work as an accounting clerk, later serving as tutor to the Laczynski family and thereafter to the family of Count Skarbek, one of whose poorer relatives he married. His subsequent career led him to the Warsaw Lyceum as a respected teacher of French, and it was there that his only son, Fryderyk, godson of Count Skarbek, whose Christian name he took, passed his childhood.

Chopin showed an early talent for music. He learned the piano from his mother and later with the eccentric Adalbert Zywny, a violinist of Bohemian origin, and as fiercely Polish as Chopin’s father. His later training in music was with Jozef Eisner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, at first as a private pupil and then as a student of that institution.

In the 1820s Chopin had already begun to win for himself a considerable local reputation, but Warsaw offered relatively limited opportunities. In 1830 he set out for Vienna, a city where he had aroused interest on a visit in the previous year and where he now hoped to make a more lasting impression. The time, however, was ill-suited to his purpose. Vienna was not short of pianists, and Thaiberg, in particular, had out-played the rest of the field. During the months he spent there Chopin attracted little attention, and resolved to move to Paris.

The greater part of Chopin’s professional career was to be spent in France, and particularly in Paris, where he established himself as a fashionable teacher and as a performer in the houses of the rich. His playing in the concert hall was of a style less likely to please than that of the more flamboyant Liszt or than the technical virtuosity of Kalkbrenner. It was in the more refined ambience of the fashionable salon that his genius as a composer and as a performer, with its intimacy, elegance and delicacy of nuance, found its place.

In 1848 political disturbances in Paris made teaching impossible, and Chopin left the city for a tour of England and Scotland. By this time his health had deteriorated considerably. At the end of the year he returned to Paris, now too weak to play or to teach and dependent on the generosity of others for subsistence. He died there on 17th October, 1849.

The greater part of Chopin’s music was written for his own instrument, the piano. At first it seemed that works for piano and orchestra would be a necessary part of his stock-in-trade, but the position he found for himself in Paris enabled him to write principally for the piano alone, in a characteristic idiom that derives some inspiration from contemporary Italian opera, much from the music of Poland, and still more from his own adventurous approach to harmony and his own sheer technical ability as a player.

The Impromptu, in title at least, was typical of its period in its suggestion of romantic abandon and freedom. In common with much else in European music, it had its origins in Prague with the publication in 1822 of Impromptus by Jan Vaclav Vorišek, followed five years later by the Bohemian-born composer Marschner. Schubert’s publisher in the 1820s, Tobias Haslinger, found the title commercially attractive, and thereafter the name endured, descriptive of an independent piano piece, lacking the formality of a sonata movement.

The four Scherzi explore a new form of piano composition. Originally a musical joke, with Beethoven the scherzo had come to replace the more limited minuet as the third movement of a symphony. Chopin, however, made of it an independent virtuoso form. He completed his first Scherzo in 1832 and dedicated it to Tomas Albrecht, wine-merchant and Saxon consul in Paris and a good friend, who was present at the composer’s death-bed in 1847. Two emphatic chords summon attention before the impetuous principal material of the piece makes its appearance, with its contrasting B major trio section, a Polish folk-song transformed into a Berceuse. The second Scherzo, Opus 31 in B flat minor and D flat major, was written in 1837 and dedicated to a pupil, Countess Adèle von Fürstenstein. Once again the Scherzo opens with a call to attention, this time ominously quiet, until the answering burst of sound, followed by a display of agility, leading to a central oasis of general A major tranquillity that is not without passing excitement. The third Scherzo, in the key of C sharp minor, belied in its opening, was written in 1839 and dedicated to his favourite pupil, Adolf Gutmann, one of the few professional pupils that he took during a teaching career largely devoted to the interests of rich amateurs. Marked Presto con fuoco, the Scherzo embarks on a series of open octaves with which and with wider intervals Gutmann would be well able to cope and includes a central D flat major passage in contrast. The last of these pieces, the Scherzo in E major, Opus 54, composed in 1842 and published with a dedication to his pupil Countess Jeanne de Caraman, after its introduction, moves into the fairy scherzo territory of Mendelssohn, a delicately nuanced conclusion to the series, ending with an appropriate flourish.

Chopin wrote his first Impromptu in 1837, the year of his first liaison with George Sand, dedicating the work, as he so often did, to one of his society pupils, the Countess Caroline de Lobau. Its delicate and lively outer sections enclose a more sustained F minor passage at the heart of the work. The second impromptu followed two years later, to be issued by Chopin’s new publisher Troupenas, who had temporarily replaced Maurice Schlesinger, whom he suspected of duplicity. The left hand establishes a pattern of chordal accompaniment, before the entry of the well known principal melody and its elaborate embellishment. There is a lilting D major section and an F major restatement of the main theme before a passage of filigree ornament leads to a conclusion. By 1843 Chopin had returned to Schlesinger, who published his third Impromptu in that year, with a dedication to Countess Jeanne Esterhazy, née Batthyany, a member by birth and by marriage of one of the leading families of the Habsburg Empire. Following a pattern he often used, Chopin frames a more sustained central section in the relative minor key with music of a livelier turn. The Fantaisie-Impromptu, published posthumously in 1855, predates the other three Impromptus and was completed in 1835. Its intense and excited outer sections frame a central Largo in D flat major, in which, as so often, an arpeggio left-hand accompaniment points an upper singing melody.

The Allegro de concert, Opus 46, was conceived originally as a movement of a projected piano concerto in 1831, when it seemed Chopin might still have use for such material. It was revised as a solo work and published in 1841, with a dedication to a new pupil, Friederike Müller, who noted in her diary the physical weakness of her teacher, his coughing and remedy of opium drops with sugar and his enormous patience. The Allegro de concert preserves something of the rhetoric expected in a concerto.

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