About this Recording
8.554530 - CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Vol. 2

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Complete Piano Music Vol. 4
Mazurkas Vol. 2

Fryderyk Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of Nicolas Chopin, French by birth but a Polish patriot in sentiment. Chopin's early musical training was in Warsaw, where he had made a name for himself before setting out in 1830 to conquer the musical world of Vienna. Failing in this attempt, he moved to Paris, at a time when Poland had fallen a victim to Russia yet again, mixing there at first with émigré Polish patriots and then with a wider, fashionable circle. As a pianist he played with a delicacy better suited to the salon than to the concert hall, where Liszt and his virtuoso contemporaries held sway, although this did not prevent him from giving occasional concerts for audiences of distinction and discrimination. At the same time he proved an acceptable and presentable teacher in the families of the leading members of society. For ten years Chopin had a liaison with the novelist George Sand, who provided a refuge for him during the summer months spent at her country house, Nohant, but was alienated from her in the last years before his early death in 1849.

Among the Polish dance forms that Chopin adapted to his own purposes was the Mazurka, in origin a country dance from the plains of Mazovia, near Warsaw, among the people known as Mazurs. The dance gained respectability in the fashionable ball-rooms of Europe, losing much in the transformation. Chopin, however, relied more on the original rhythm and varying moods of the peasant dance for compositions that transform and elevate the ingenuous into a poetic musical form. The first of his Mazurkas was written in 1820, when he was ten, the last two in the year of his death, 29 years later.

The second of the Opus 41 Mazurkas, in E minor, bears the date 28th November, 1838. With the third and fourth, in B major and A flat major, completed in 1840, they were published in that year with a dedication to the Polish poet Stefan Witwicki. The three Mazurkas of Opus 50, in G major, A flat major and C sharp minor, varying in mood, appeared in 1842, with a dedication to Leon Szmitkowski, to be followed in 1843 by the three Mazurkas of Opus 56, in B major, a lively C major and a more sombre C minor, the set dedicated to Catherine Maberly, a foreign pupil of the composer. Two years later came a further set of three, in A minor, A flat major and F sharp minor, Opus 59, published in Berlin in the year of composition, but without dedication.

In 1846, his health now deteriorating with his failing relationship with George Sand and her children, Chopin wrote another set of three Mazurkas, in B major, F minor and C sharp minor. These he dedicated to Laura Czosnowska, an old friend of his and of his sister Ludwika, now 36, a guest for the summer at Nohant, whose behaviour did nothing to endear her to George Sand and her grown-up children Solange and Maurice. The four Mazurkas of Opus 67 were to be published posthumously, in 1855. The group includes two Mazurkas, in G major and C major, Nos. 1 and 3, written in 1835, intended for friends from Poland, Anna Mlokosiewicz and for the writer Klementyna Hoffmann. No.2, in G minor, and Opus 68, No. 4, in F minor, were written in the spring of 1849, as Chopin made a final attempt to summon energy. Opus 67, No. 4, in A minor, had been written in 1846, before the political turmoil that induced the composer to accept an invitation to London and to Edinburgh. The remaining Mazurkas of the group published in Berlin in 1855 as Opus 68 were early works. The first to be written, Opus 68, No. 2, in A minor, was composed in 1827 and Nos. 1 and 3, in C major and F major, two years later, before Chopin left Warsaw. Two further Mazurkas, both in A minor, were the work of 1841, designed for anthology publication, the second dedicated to Emile Gaillard.

Interpreting Chopin by Idil Biret

Although the romantic era in its music and its performances is not so far from our own time, for various reasons we seem to have distanced ourselves from it. As a consequence, often composers very different from one another like Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Wagner are brought under the same title of Romantic Composers. In this context it is quite normal to find Chopin and Liszt mentioned together as composers of similar style, while there are no two sound worlds as different from one another as those of Chopin and Liszt. The conception of the piano sound that Chopin created is based on the model of the voice. Liszt, on the other hand, fascinated by the development of the modern piano during his period, challenges the orchestra in an attempt to reproduce on the piano the richness of the orchestral palette.

It must be among the fondest wishes of any pianist to be able to have heard Chopin perform his own music. Fortunately there are some recordings providing indirectly some evidence of this way of approaching the piano. One may in particular mention the recordings of Raoul von Koczalski who studied with Chopin's pupil Karol Mikuli. It is also enlightening to listen to the recordings of Cortot, a pupil of Decombes who received precious counsel from Chopin. Further, Friedman, de Pachmann and Paderewski who were not direct descendants of Chopin were still close enough to his aesthetic conceptions to be able to convey the spontaneity Chopin is said to have brought to his playing as well as the polyphonic and rhythmic richness which are so apparent in Chopin's conception of the piano. In spite of the inferior quality of the recordings from the earlier part of this century, a considerable number of common points are audible in the performances of these pianists. Notably, a very fine legato, a piano sound that never loses its roundness since intensity replaces force, the exact feeling of rubato, recognition of the importance of inner voices and consequently a remarkable sense of polyphony. Contrary to the popular image of the romantic virtuoso, simplicity and naturalness remain exemplary in the way these great Chopin interpreters approach music.

It is interesting to note also the evidence left by musicians, contemporaries of Chopin, and Chopin's pupils about his interpretations. A perfect legato drawing its inspiration from bel canto and unimaginable richness in tone-colour were the product of subtle variations in a sound full of charm and a purity that lost none of its fullness even in its forte passages. Chopin could not sound aggressive, especially on the pianos of that period. Berlioz wrote, "To be able to appreciate Chopin fully, I think one must hear him from close by, in the salon rather than in a theatre."

Chopin's sense of rubato was unrivalled. The temps dérobé (stolen time) assumed under the hands of the great master its true meaning. Mikuli gives a description of the rubato as Chopin conceived it, which seems to be of penetrating clarity. After recalling that Chopin was inflexible in keeping the tempo and that the metronome was always on his piano, Mikuli explains, "Even in his rubato, where one hand – the accompanying one – continues to play strictly in time, the other – the hand which sings the melody – freed from all metric restraint conveys the true musical expression, impatience, like someone whose speech becomes fiery with enthusiasm."

Together with a certain classicism, moderation was the basis of the world of Chopin. Hence, playing his music on the powerful modern pianos and in large concert halls is often problematic. One should ideally never go beyond a self-­imposed limit of sound and keep in mind as the criteria the possibilities of the human voice. It is therefore better to somewhat reduce sonority without sacrificing the quality of the sound.

In performing Chopin's works one should neither try to reconstruct nor imitate the interpretations of the past which remain unique, but try, with the help of all the recorded and written material we are lucky to possess, to penetrate deeper into the musical texts and advance further in the unending quest for a better understanding of the art of Chopin.

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