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8.572585 - CHOPIN, F.: Piano Trio / Rondo in C Major (Kungsbacka Piano Trio, Beynon, P. Moore)

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)
Piano Trio • Rondeau • Variations for Flute and Piano • Mazurka Valse mélancolique


Chopin throughout his life remained a Polish patriot. Paradoxically he was the son of a French father, who had settled in Poland to avoid conscription into the French army and had become a respected teacher of French in Warsaw. To add to the paradox, Chopin spent almost his entire professional career in Paris, where he moved in 1831, quickly winning acceptance as a fashionable piano teacher and as a performer in the elegant salons of the French capital, a social milieu in which he felt at home.

Born in Warsaw in 1810, Chopin had piano lessons from the age of six with the old Czech musician Adalbert Żywny and from the age of twelve with Józef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, where Chopin was enrolled as a pupil in 1826. By the end of the decade he had begun to win a considerable reputation at home and a visit to Vienna had allowed him to play his two piano concertos there. It was this success that persuaded him to leave Warsaw to seek his fortune abroad. In 1830 he set out for Vienna, hoping to repeat his earlier success, but on this second occasion he achieved nothing, and after an unsatisfactory winter he turned his attention to Paris. At the same time his native Poland was in the turmoil of a political disturbance that led to the firm establishment of Russian hegemony. By early October 1831 Chopin was in Paris, a city of pianists, where contacts in Polish émigré circles and, above all, with the pianist Kalkbrenner, brought his concert début in 1832.

It soon became clear that Chopin’s particular genius lay not in competition with the virtuosi of Paris, with more ostentatious performers such as Liszt, Thalberg or Kalkbrenner, but in more intimate performances and in teaching. He found a congenial position for himself with a socially distinguished clientèle and was able, at the same time, to enjoy the society of Polish friends. Through Liszt, at whose way of life he had previously looked askance, Chopin met the blue-stocking writer George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), recently separated from her husband. The two became lovers and in the winter of 1838–39 travelled together to Mallorca, where the climate had a deleterious effect on his health, with further signs of tuberculosis that were alarming not only to the couple but also to the local people, who had already nurtured suspicions of the strange couple, accompanied, as they were, by George Sand’s two children. In France again he returned to his life in Paris, generally spending the summer months at George Sand’s country-house at Nohant. The complications of involvement with George Sand’s children, as they grew up, led to their separation in 1847. During the political disturbances of 1848, when normal life was impossible in Paris, Chopin accepted an invitation to Britain, but the climate greatly affected his weakened health. He returned to Paris, where he died in 1849.

Chopin wrote his Rondeau in C major for two pianos in 1828 and it was edited for posthumous publication by his friend Julian Fontana in 1855. He had spent the summer of 1828 staying with the family of his school-friend Konstanty Pruszak at their estate at Sanniki. Back in Warsaw he wrote, on 9 September, to his friend Tytus Wojciechowski with details of his activities. He had, he tells him, rewritten his Rondo in C major for two pianos and tried it through with the young composer and pianist Moritz Ernemann at the establishment of the piano manufacturer Bucholtz. He adds that they were thinking of playing it at the Resursa kupiecka, the Merchants’ Club Warsaw concert-hall. The Rondeau reflects the fashionable musical idiom of the time rather than anything of the language that Chopin was later to make his own. The two piano parts are evenly matched in a work that brings the necessary elements of contrast in its minor key episodes and has its own elegant charm.

The Variations for flute and piano on ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola’ have been conjecturally dated to as early as 1824 or, more probably, between 1826 and 1830. The piece was seemingly dedicated to Józef Cichowski. Rossini was at the height of his popularity and even in Warsaw there were performances of operas, in whole or in part. In ‘Non più mesta accanto al fuoco / Starò sola a gorgheggiar‘ (No longer shall I sit sad by the fire) Cinderella celebrates the end of her troubles. In Chopin’s E major Variations the theme is heard first, followed by four variations and the return of the theme. The first variation is in triplets, the second slower and in E minor, the third livelier and again in the major key and the final variation has rapid staccato figuration.

The Valse mélancolique in F sharp minor, KK.Ib/7, attributed to Chopin, but perhaps a reasonably convincing imitation of his style of writing, as it developed, has been dated by some to 1838. The F sharp minor opening returns in conclusion, framing a contrasting central passage in F sharp major. The Mazurka in D major, KK.IVb/2, is an 1832 revised version of a work written in 1829. It was published in 1880.

It was during the summer of 1828 that Chopin worked on the composition of his Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 8, published in 1833. Chopin had met Prince Radziwill in 1827 and in 1828 had visited his estate in Poznań. The following year he returned to Antonin at the Prince’s invitation, and during a short stay was able to help Prince Radziwill’s two daughters in their musical accomplishments and to write for the Prince a Polonaise for cello, the Prince’s instrument, and piano. They were also able to play through Chopin’s new Piano Trio, dedicated to Prince Antoni Radziwill, in whose future patronage Chopin’s father had placed some hope for his son.

The Piano Trio is in four movements, starting dramatically with an Allegro con fuoco, broadly in sonata-form. Here, as elsewhere, the piano remains important, with a relatively simple violin part and rather more demanding writing for the cello. The Scherzo is in G major, with a contrasting C major Trio followed by an E flat major Adagio which gradually reveals more of Chopin himself. It is in the Finale that he comes into his own with a movement of more overtly Polish inspiration.

Keith Anderson

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