Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), Polish/French by birth, early in his life expressed his dream of one day of living in Paris. At the age of sixteen, he set off for Vienna to initiate the fulfillment of the Paris dream. A Polish son of a Frenchman who had settled in Poland, would now take Poland to France. With him he would carry his Polish patriotism, combine that with his musical genius and become ‘the poet of the piano’ during the romantic period.
On November 2, 1830, Chopin left Warsaw for Vienna, arriving in Vienna on November 22. His Vienna stay lasted only until July 1831 when he requested passage to Paris. Initially the Russian embassy refused to stamp his passport, but after much insistence by Chopin, they gave him clearance to go to London via Paris and stamped his passport ‘in passage’ through Paris. Thus began Chopin’s life in Paris. He spent the rest of his life ‘in passage’ in France.
In the 1830’s, Paris was considered the cultural and musical capital of the world This was a time when art and politics, culture and history, influenced each other like no other time in history. Although Chopin’s Paris beginnings were uncertain, his poet style of playing and his unusual charm soon brought him many friends in literary and musical circles. Liszt, Bellini, Berlioz, Meyerbeer were admiring music friends. They described him as a person with two distinct personalities, the private Polish personality that was warm and loving, reserved only for those closest to him, and the public personality that was impeccably polite, but cold and distant.
Early in his Parisian days, Chopin gained the patronage of the Nathaniel de Rothchild family, and Baroness Charlotte became one of his favorite students of piano. This helped to establish him as one of the most fashionable piano teachers in the city. His relationship with the family brought the world of music and the world of business together.
Although Chopin loved his Parisian life, he also found comfort in maintaining a relationship with the Polish refugees, an emigration of intellectuals, who had made their way to Paris to avoid Russian repression after the disastrous revolt of 1830. He continued to express his national patriotism in polonaises and the gaiety of his homeland in mazurkas.
Chopin’s playing style was unique, but his temperament and physical weaknesses (tuberculosis) limited his career as a virtuoso. During his lifetime, he performed a mere thirty or so public concerts. He much preferred private recitals in salon settings to public performances. In one such salon held by Liszt (1836), Chopin was introduced to George Sand. This
introduction led to a loving, but tumultuous relationship. Eventually, the couple rented the square d’Orleans apartments where they worked and hosted soirees. They spent summers in Nohant, a town located in central France. There was nothing like the Chopin-Sand soirees in Paris. Talent in all the arts, intellectual power, political power, aristocratic tradition, and enormous wealth gathered in a most civilized convergence of culture and politics. For Chopin, the summers in Nohant provided release from the stress of city life and healing time for his body. Chopin produced a remarkable body of new music in the combined locations, Nohant and Paris. Among this outstanding group of compositions was the Ballade no.4 in f minor, op. 52., dedicated to Baroness Charlotte de Rothchild.
Since pianist Kevin Kaukl chose to include Ballade no. 4 in f minor on his resent library concert, I thought it appropriate to share a few reflections concerning this monumental composition, starting with a quote from Charles Rosen, “the introduction and main theme coming back with a display of counterpoint and coloristic transformation which is one of the most moving pages of all 19th century music…Chopin’s masterpiece of elegiac style….one of Chopin’s most original
Chopin had purchased a copy of Adam Mickiewiez’s Ballads and Romances in Warsaw at the age of sixteen. Much later he told Schumann (Leipzig) that Mickiewiez’s poem, ‘The Three Budrys’ had led him to ‘this idea’ (inspiration for his 4th Ballade). The question then arises - ‘do words trigger sounds in a musical mind or the other way around?’ The question remains unanswered, but I think we can safely say that romanticism created a bridge between words and music. This ballade does not have a programmatic subtitle because Chopin was opposed to such identity. The title, ‘Ballade’, may indicate deliberate links of this composition to the literary ballad.
If you missed Kevin’s performance, you may view it below.
2/19/2021 10:50:12 am
Lovely. Thank you Charlotte and Kevin.
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