About this Recording

Chill with Chopin

Chill with Chopin


Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French émigré and a Polish mother, Fryderyk Chopin was a prodigiously gifted child. He entered the Warsaw Conservatory at the age of sixteen and left three years later with a report from the head of the Conservatory that read “Lessons in musical composition: Chopin, F., third year student, amazing capabilities, a musical genius”. It is for his myriad solo piano works that he is far and away best known: as a pianist himself he instinctively knew how best to write for that instrument and in fact did not write a single work that does not include a piano in some capacity.


Chopin was afflicted by poor health throughout his life, and the years he spent in Paris giving lessons, practising and composing late into the night took their toll on his constitution. His own physical frailty prevented him from performing works of great power and bravura like those of his contemporaries Liszt and Brahms, and his concert appearances were few and far between as

a result. He preferred the more intimate environment of the salon recital and composed accordingly, with very few large-scale orchestral works in his oeuvre. In 1836 he developed tuberculosis, an incurable illness in those days; and by the time of his death in October 1849

he weighed less than 45kg. He was buried at the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but in accordance with his last will his heart was returned to Warsaw.


Although Chopin won early fame in his native country, he grew increasingly restless in Warsaw and decided to embark on a European tour in late 1830. His departure coincided with the unsuccessful national rising against Russian domination; there was no welcome for a Polish artist in Austria and Germany, so Chopin ended up in sympathetic Paris. Here he forged a successful career as a pianist and piano teacher to the European élite. He stayed almost exclusively in Paris for the rest of his life, though he always had an unbearable homesickness for Poland that manifested itself in the Polish peasant tunes and a wistful melancholy that can be heard in many of his works.




Track 1

Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57

One of the few “stand-alone” works by Chopin – it does not form part of a larger set – the Berceuse takes its name from the French word meaning “lullaby” or “cradle-song”. Chopin was the first composer to make this style of piece his own, influencing later composers such as Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel and even Stravinsky to write similarly titled pieces. Chopin’s work, completed in 1844, is essentially a set of sixteen variations upon the opening theme. It is more often heard in the original version for solo piano, but this arrangement for piano and orchestra beautifully captures the shifting colours of the music. It is hard to believe that this tranquil, serene piece of music was written at one of the lowest ebbs in Chopin’s life, with his health rapidly deteriorating, his family life in turmoil and, in May 1844, the death of his father.


            To hear Chopin’s Berceuse in its original solo piano form try:

            8.554527       Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1 (includes Ballades Nos. 1-4, Fantaisie in

                        F minor, Op. 49 and other solo works)

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Tracks 2, 4, 5 and 7

Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2

Nocturne in C sharp minor, BI 49 (arr. Piatigorsky)

Nocturne in B flat minor, Op. 9 No. 1

Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1 (posth.)

Of all the various genres in which Chopin wrote, it is perhaps the nocturnes (“night pieces”) that best sum up what his style was all about. Though he was not the first composer to write in this genre, he took the existing form and moulded it into something unmistakeably his own, with the three Op. 9 nocturnes already under his belt by the time he reached Paris in 1831. The first of this set perfectly captures the melancholy which became a constant feature of Chopin’s work: a beautifully simple lyrical line is set against arpeggiated chords in the left hand, with filigree ornamentations embellishing the underlying melody and an impassioned middle section providing the contrast. In 1836 Chopin wrote the two nocturnes that make up Op. 27, the second of which shows a move away from the conservative harmonies he had thitherto favoured, instead making bolder use of chromaticism.

The Nocturnes, BI 49 and Op. 72, No. 1 were both published posthumously, though they were in fact the first two to be written – Op. 72, No. 1 in 1827, betraying an incredible maturity for the then seventeen-year-old composer. The version of BI 49 heard here is an arrangement for cello and piano by the legendary cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.


            If you would like to hear more of Chopin’s Nocturnes, try:

            8.554531       Nocturnes, Vol. 1

            8.554532       Nocturnes, Vol. 2

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Track 3

Impromptu No. 2 in F sharp major, Op. 36

Chopin’s four impromptus were written between 1835 and 1843, a prolific time for the composer, and follow the model provided by Schubert in his eight impromptus of 1827. The title suggests an amount of improvisation required of the performer, though it may also refer to the composer’s sudden burst of inspiration behind each piece. This impromptu, numbered 2 of the four, was in fact the third to be written (as with the nocturnes, Chopin’s first attempt in the genre was not published until after his death). It makes uncharacteristic use of a simple chordal accompaniment rather than the usual arpeggiations, with a simple melody embellished with delicate ornamentation and an imposing central section in the contrasting key of D major.


            Chopin’s complete Impromptus can be sampled on:

            8.554538       Complete Piano Music, Vol. 12 (also includes Scherzi, Nos. 1-4

                        and Allegro de concert, Op. 46)

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Tracks 6 and 13

Piano Concerto No. 2: Larghetto

Piano Concerto No. 1: Romanza – Larghetto

Chopin’s time in Paris coincided with the era of the great composer-performers: Liszt, Paderewski, Busoni and others. These Pop Idols of their time would write for themselves works of dazzling brilliance, showcasing their flawless technique and impressive stamina. Although Chopin had learnt early on in his career that he was better suited to salon performance than grand displays in the concert hall, he still composed two piano concertos and other works for piano and orchestra, with which to make his name as he started on his career.

Both of the piano concertos were written before Chopin left Warsaw for Paris; No. 1 was actually the second to be written. Chopin dedicated the work to his school friend Tytus Woyciechowski, though the slow movement gives away something of his feelings for his first true love, fellow Conservatory student Konstancja Gladkowska. He described the Adagio as “like dreaming in beautiful spring-time – by moonlight”. Concerto No. 2 is reminiscent in style of the work of Spohr and Hummel, two of the leading composers of the time, with a slow movement in the style of a nocturne.


            To hear the Piano Concertos in their entirety, try:

            8.554540       Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

                        Idil Biret (piano)

                        Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Kosice)

                        Robert Stankovsky



Track 8

Prelude in D flat, Op. 28 No. 15 ‘Raindrop’

Among the best known of all Chopin’s piano works is this sublime prelude, taken from his unsurpassed Op. 28 set, written between 1836 and 1839. There are 24 preludes in the opus, one in each of the major and minor keys, of which No. 15 is easily the longest. It has earned the nickname of ‘Raindrop’ because of the repeated A flat note in the bass pervading the entire piece – legend has it that it was inspired by the sound of the rain on the roof of the Spanish monastery where Chopin was staying in 1839. Two peaceful outer sections in D flat major frame an ominous central “thunderstorm” section in C sharp minor.


            More of Chopin’s Preludes can be heard on:

            8.554536       Complete Piano Music, Vol. 10 (includes Barcarolle, Op. 60,

                        Bolero, Op. 19 and other solo works)

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Track 9

Mazurka No. 13 in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4

Another form with which Chopin is often accredited as having brought to fruition is the mazurka, though it was already a popular dance in the fashionable ballrooms of western Europe by the time he arrived in Paris. This sometimes contemplative, sometimes vigorous traditional Polish dance in 3/4 time is similar to the waltz, though it can be distinguished by the fact that the weak beats of the bar are accented. Chopin wrote his first mazurka at the age of 10 and his last in the year of his death; it is one of the most nationalistic genres in which he composed, doubtless representing a link with the country he missed so keenly.


            If you would like to hear more of Chopin’s mazurkas, they are available on two CDs:

            8.554529       Mazurkas, Vol. 1

            8.554530       Mazurkas, Vol. 2

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Track 10

Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in G, Op. 22: Allegro maestoso

Chopin’s Op. 22, the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, brings together two movements written in 1834 and 1831 respectively. It is quite an unusual work in that the introductory Andante spianato is written for solo piano, while the longer Grande Polonaise is for piano and orchestra (it was in fact Chopin’s last attempt at orchestral composition, at the age of only 21!). The Andante spianato, heard here without its accompanying polonaise, takes its name from the Italian word spianare, “to smooth out” – it should be played incredibly smoothly, with very little dynamic variation. It is absolutely typical of Chopin’s poetic and lyrical compositional style.


            To hear the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in its entirety, try:

            8.554541       Complete Piano Music, Vol. 15 (also includes Fantasia on Polish Airs,

                        Op. 13, Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni,                               Op. 2 and Krakowiak, Op. 14)

                        Idil Biret (piano)

                        Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Kosvice)

                        Robert Stankovsky



Track 11

Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 65: Largo

Among Chopin’s compositions for instruments other than the piano are three works for cello and piano. The most substantial of these is the Sonata for Cello and Piano, a relatively late work completed in 1846. It was dedicated to Chopin’s friend, the cellist Auguste Franchomme, and three of the four movements were played in 1848 by the two musicians at Chopin’s last concert. The brief third movement opens with a singing cello melody, taken up gently by the piano.


            More of Chopin’s works for cello and piano can be sampled on:

            8.553159       Works for Cello and Piano (also includes Polonaise brillante in C major,                                    Op. 3, Grand Duo Concertant in E major on themes from Robert le                                      Diable, Nocturne in C sharp minor, BI 49 arr. Piatigorsky, and other                                       arrangements of piano works)

                        Maria Kliegel (cello)

                        Bernd Glemser (piano)



Track 12

Grande Valse brillante in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2

Along with the mazurka, the waltz was one of the genres in which Chopin composed all the way through his life. By the end of the 18th century it was already a fashionable ball dance, in spite of the warnings of doctors and moralists, who feared physical and spiritual degeneration as a result! Chopin took it from the ballroom into the salon with his numerous waltzes for solo piano which range in mood from exuberant to melancholy, as they were not intended to accompany dancing. He wrote nineteen waltzes, of which four were termed Valses brillantes: brillante (“sparkling / glittering”) was a fashionable 19th-century title for virtuoso pieces.


            To hear the rest of Chopin’s waltzes, try:

            8.554539       Complete Piano Music, Vol. 13 (also includes Contredanse in G flat major,                                  BI 17, Ecossaises, Op. 72/3, and Tarantelle in A flat major, Op. 43)

                        Idil Biret (piano)



Chopin’s complete piano music is available in a 15CD box set from Naxos,

catalogue number 8.501501.


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