Author Topic: Chopin  (Read 35357 times)

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Offline marvinbrown

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #20 on: April 30, 2008, 07:02:28 AM »


  During the past couple of years I have read a lot about Chopin.  The one thing that struck me the most was his early death from Tuberculosis.  After suffocating slowly from this terrible illness (thank God we have antibiotics and a vaccine now) Chopin wrote his last request on a sheet of paper:  "As this cough will choke me, I implore you to have my body opened, so that I may not be buried alive" 

  I find Chopin's last words heartachingly painfull! 

  marvin

Offline Brian

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #21 on: April 30, 2008, 07:27:31 AM »
I do think of Chopin's mazurkas when I am asked to think about his foreshadowing of modernism - there's one in A minor which never resolves - but I also think of the last movement of the Sonata No 2, and of a couple of the scherzi, which seem to eschew melody in the outer sections (try whistling the one in B minor...).

Offline marvinbrown

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #22 on: April 30, 2008, 08:12:59 AM »
I do think of Chopin's mazurkas when I am asked to think about his foreshadowing of modernism - there's one in A minor which never resolves - but I also think of the last movement of the Sonata No 2, and of a couple of the scherzi, which seem to eschew melody in the outer sections (try whistling the one in B minor...).

  Now this a very interesting post Brian.  It never occurred to me to link Chopin with modernism (I am assuming here that you are referring to the period of Richard Strauss, Shostakovitch etc. and dissonance in music in general).  I have most of Chopin's Mazurkas and perhaps it is about time I paid them another visit.  Which Mazurka in A minor are you referring to: the "Notre Temp" or the "A Emile Gaillard"??

  marvin

Monsieur Croche

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #23 on: May 02, 2008, 08:13:34 AM »
  Now this a very interesting post Brian.  It never occurred to me to link Chopin with modernism (I am assuming here that you are referring to the period of Richard Strauss, Shostakovitch etc. and dissonance in music in general).  I have most of Chopin's Mazurkas and perhaps it is about time I paid them another visit.  Which Mazurka in A minor are you referring to: the "Notre Temp" or the "A Emile Gaillard"??
  marvin

Hm. Perhaps he is referring to the Op. 17, No. 4?

I find the music of Chopin to hide a wealth of adventurous harmonic innovations behind the beautiful melodies for which he is usually (and primarily) credited with. Most of his pieces tend to take some time to establish their tonic, and then only gradually, employing typically evasive and heavily chromatic harmonies in order to delay this establishment. Therefore there are a lot of passages, especially at the start or end of the piece, that is tonally ambiguous or essentially atonal. Sometimes this tonal ambiguity may extend to permeate the entire piece; the Prelude in A Minor, for instance, borders on atonality. Of course, Chopin is different from Richard Strauss and Shostakovich in that he doesn't usually explicitly reveal his dissonances in order to shock, create sensations or otherwise provoke strong reactions. Strauss could write music that is ugly when he feels that his subject matter warrants it (not that the result is 'bad' music), but I feel such a thing must be alien to Chopin's personality.

The Mazurkas provide the canvas for the most radical of Chopin's harmonic experimentation. For the start, most of the mazurkas have a modal feel to them - or at least sections where modality is employed in favour of conventional tonality, thus creating an ambivalence between the two. This modal character might be inherent to the Polish mazurka (can any Polish here enlighten me on this subject!), but overall the extent of harmonic sophistication is such that I find it a stretch to attribute them to mere folkloric influence. It is more likely that Chopin absorbed the progressive musical language of the day and combined it with the traditional mazurka to achieve a truly original result. We all know how Chopin transformed this genre from a humble folk dance. It is in the Op. 17, No. 4 that I find the initial tonal ambiguities most heavily prolonged such that it permeates the entire piece, where the modal/tonal tension feels the strongest, and just when you thought you are going to have a resolution, whoosh, the piece ends - not in the tonic - but on an F major chord!

I must also mention the Preludes, Op. 28 as an example of Chopin's radical approach to form. They are outstanding in their brevity; in fact, I don't remember hearing any works where the musical material is so concentrated within such a short length from this period! Listen to, say, the Prelude in E Minor - surely this is a world all unto itself, and to think that it is developed from such a simple material! Doesn't this anticipate the modern era, in a way?

While I do not in any way deny Chopin's greatness, I have rather a mixed feeling about this composer. I admire his restraint and balance, reminiscent of Classicism, and his almost poetic elegance; but as I have said elsewhere, virtuosic playing doesn't really interest me, so his brand of pianistic writing I find not all that appealing to me. The works from his late period though I consider to be some of the dearest musical gems to me; I like particularly the Op. 62 Nocturnes, Op. 63 and Op. 67 Mazurkas, Op. 69 and Op. 70 Waltzes, the Cello Sonata, and a few others I can't recall at the moment. It is in these works that Chopin - after abandoning all that extraneous ornamentation - achieved true simplicity, which he himself described as his highest goal! I also like Sonata 2, Sonata 3, and the Preludes. The Concertos I find terrible (just a personal opinion). Ah, all this talk is whetting my appetite for some Chopin! Perhaps I will give my collection another spin later tonight...

Harry

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #24 on: May 02, 2008, 08:26:44 AM »
Where do you place the Etudes dear friend?
Excellent post by the way, enjoyed reading that, and learning. :)

Offline marvinbrown

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #25 on: May 02, 2008, 09:57:19 AM »
Hm. Perhaps he is referring to the Op. 17, No. 4?

I find the music of Chopin to hide a wealth of adventurous harmonic innovations behind the beautiful melodies for which he is usually (and primarily) credited with. Most of his pieces tend to take some time to establish their tonic, and then only gradually, employing typically evasive and heavily chromatic harmonies in order to delay this establishment. Therefore there are a lot of passages, especially at the start or end of the piece, that is tonally ambiguous or essentially atonal. Sometimes this tonal ambiguity may extend to permeate the entire piece; the Prelude in A Minor, for instance, borders on atonality. Of course, Chopin is different from Richard Strauss and Shostakovich in that he doesn't usually explicitly reveal his dissonances in order to shock, create sensations or otherwise provoke strong reactions. Strauss could write music that is ugly when he feels that his subject matter warrants it (not that the result is 'bad' music), but I feel such a thing must be alien to Chopin's personality.

The Mazurkas provide the canvas for the most radical of Chopin's harmonic experimentation. For the start, most of the mazurkas have a modal feel to them - or at least sections where modality is employed in favour of conventional tonality, thus creating an ambivalence between the two. This modal character might be inherent to the Polish mazurka (can any Polish here enlighten me on this subject!), but overall the extent of harmonic sophistication is such that I find it a stretch to attribute them to mere folkloric influence. It is more likely that Chopin absorbed the progressive musical language of the day and combined it with the traditional mazurka to achieve a truly original result. We all know how Chopin transformed this genre from a humble folk dance. It is in the Op. 17, No. 4 that I find the initial tonal ambiguities most heavily prolonged such that it permeates the entire piece, where the modal/tonal tension feels the strongest, and just when you thought you are going to have a resolution, whoosh, the piece ends - not in the tonic - but on an F major chord!

I must also mention the Preludes, Op. 28 as an example of Chopin's radical approach to form. They are outstanding in their brevity; in fact, I don't remember hearing any works where the musical material is so concentrated within such a short length from this period! Listen to, say, the Prelude in E Minor - surely this is a world all unto itself, and to think that it is developed from such a simple material! Doesn't this anticipate the modern era, in a way?

While I do not in any way deny Chopin's greatness, I have rather a mixed feeling about this composer. I admire his restraint and balance, reminiscent of Classicism, and his almost poetic elegance; but as I have said elsewhere, virtuosic playing doesn't really interest me, so his brand of pianistic writing I find not all that appealing to me. The works from his late period though I consider to be some of the dearest musical gems to me; I like particularly the Op. 62 Nocturnes, Op. 63 and Op. 67 Mazurkas, Op. 69 and Op. 70 Waltzes, the Cello Sonata, and a few others I can't recall at the moment. It is in these works that Chopin - after abandoning all that extraneous ornamentation - achieved true simplicity, which he himself described as his highest goal! I also like Sonata 2, Sonata 3, and the Preludes. The Concertos I find terrible (just a personal opinion). Ah, all this talk is whetting my appetite for some Chopin! Perhaps I will give my collection another spin later tonight...


  I agree with Harry, a very enlightening post.  I'll have to give the Mazurkas another listen sometime in the near future paying very close attention to Op.17 No.4.  It turns out I have that recording in my collection  :).  I too would be interested to hear from Polish members of GMG who are familiar with Polish folk music.  Perhaps you can educate me on the effect this Polish folk music had on the tonality of Chopin's mazurkas. 

  marvin   

lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #26 on: May 02, 2008, 10:17:05 AM »

...(Luke attatched pdfs of said mazurka to the above post and the two that followed. If you want them, this is a link to the first one.)...


Just a small point, but that E flat minor piece isn't a mazurka but an idea for an alternative to the E flat minor Prelude. And, though it wouldn't have been Chopin's greatest piece - he did scrap the idea after all - it would have been his most radical. Do try to hear/see it (just follow those above links) because it does give an idea of quite how extreme Chopin could be.But to me, Chopin is very frequently almost this radical, at least incipiently - it's near the surface but doesn't often break through as here. I've said it before, but the Mazurkas are simply the finest examples of this - the complete set being one of my desert island volumes - and particularly illustrate Chopin's genius at opening and closing forms, at detailed, meaningful and always varied articulation, at harmonic subtlety - op 17/4, one of my favourites and just cited, is one of many. Add the Preludes (plus the later C# minor one), the Barcarolle, Berceuse, Third Sonata and the op 27 Nocturnes and I have enough to keep me happy for years.

karlhenning

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #27 on: May 02, 2008, 10:19:58 AM »
Just a small point, but that E flat minor piece isn't a mazurka but an idea for an alternative to the E flat minor Prelude. And, though it wouldn't have been Chopin's greatest piece - he did scrap the idea after all - it would have been his most radical. Do try to hear/see it (just follow those above links) because it does give an idea of quite how extreme Chopin could be.But to me, Chopin is very frequently almost this radical, at least incipiently - it's near the surface but doesn't often break through as here. I've said it before, but the Mazurkas are simply the finest examples of this - the complete set being one of my desert island volumes - and particularly illustrate Chopin's genius at opening and closing forms, at detailed, meaningful and always varied articulation, at harmonic subtlety - op 17/4, one of my favourites and just cited, is one of many. Add the Preludes (plus the later C# minor one), the Barcarolle, Berceuse, Third Sonata and the op 27 Nocturnes and I have enough to keep me happy for years.

To chime in with a wildly inappropriate analogy, perhaps to some degree Chopin played a sort of Mendelssohn to Liszt's Berlioz.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2008, 10:24:15 AM »
Just a small point, but that E flat minor piece isn't a mazurka but an idea for an alternative to the E flat minor Prelude.

Absent-minded me. ::) Thanks for pointing that out. Corrected.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #29 on: May 02, 2008, 10:25:38 AM »
And here's to remind you of the existence of another interesting thread, perhaps in the need of resuscitation.

lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #30 on: May 02, 2008, 10:31:38 AM »
To chime in with a wildly inappropriate analogy, perhaps to some degree Chopin played a sort of Mendelssohn to Liszt's Berlioz.

Hmm..I can see what you mean, but I can't quite go along with it. Chopin seems to me to be an innovator, plain and simple - we're so used to the surface beauty of his music that we tend to forget that there is little in his major output which isn't new in some way or other - formally, technically, texturally, harmonically. He is a quiet, intimate figure compared with Liszt, perhaps, simply because he kept to small scale forces and shorter pieces for the most part - but he's far more radical than Mendelssohn, to my mind anyway.

karlhenning

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #31 on: May 02, 2008, 10:34:05 AM »
Hmm..I can see what you mean, but I can't quite go along with it. Chopin seems to me to be an innovator, plain and simple - we're so used to the surface beauty of his music that we tend to forget that there is little in his major output which isn't new in some way or other - formally, technically, texturally, harmonically. He is a quiet, intimate figure compared with Liszt, perhaps, simply because he kept to small scale forces and shorter pieces for the most part - but he's far more radical than Mendelssohn, to my mind anyway.

I spoke off the cuff, and in fact discarded the cuff soon after speaking; I knew there would be holes found in the analogy, and I am delighted at the gaping hole you've found in it, Luke.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #32 on: May 02, 2008, 01:10:37 PM »
Well, since no replies are forthcoming from the legion of Polish GMG members, a couple of thoughts from me re the folklore subject:

Is the influence of folklore visible in Chopin's mazurkas? Yes. And very clearly.

Does Chopin ever quote original folk melodies? As far as I'm aware, there isn't a single instance of that.

Does the use of modal scales have anything to do with the folk inspiration? You bet! In fact, I'd say that's where Chopin's originality lies: in adapting folk material he did not cram it into a strictly tonal framework. There were lots of Polish composers who wrote folk-inspired pieces before and after Chopin (especially after) in the 19th century but practically none of them avoided that terrible reef. Moniuszko's folk dances, fine as they are, had been "tamed" by the composer. Even Paderewski's Album tatrzańskie is completely "tonalized"! Not to mention names such as Maria Szymanowska or Karol Kurpiński.

Offline Brian

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #33 on: May 02, 2008, 02:05:22 PM »
Yes, I was referring to the mazurka Op 17, No 4. Excellent post, Monsieur Croche; I learned a great deal from it, a lot about that very piece. :)  Here's a recording by Wladyslaw Szpilman, subject of the great film The Pianist and one of my favorite Chopin interpreters.

lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #34 on: May 02, 2008, 02:18:35 PM »
Does Chopin ever quote original folk melodies? As far as I'm aware, there isn't a single instance of that.

Depends on your definition of folk melodies, I suppose. There are non-Polish ones - 'Der Schweizerbub', which is the German theme of his early variation set; or the 'Carnival of Venice' tune he varies in the Souvenir de Paganini. Then there are Chopin's elaborations of the 'Dabrowski' Mazurka which have been reconstructed. And above all - the best music, and the most notable quotation - there's the central section of the Scherzo no 1, which draws on the lullaby 'Lulajze, Jezuniu'. But I suppose in all these cases one could argue that these are scarcely folk melodies by the time Chopin gets to them. I bow to your knowledge on matters of Polish folk music in any case....


lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #35 on: May 02, 2008, 02:21:00 PM »
...and there's the Grande Fantasie on Polish Themes op 13 - though again, I'm not sure how much these melodies can count as 'folktunes'.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #36 on: May 02, 2008, 02:29:13 PM »
Don't be silly, Luke. My knowledge of Polish folk music is practically nonexistent. ::) But I should have made clear I was talking only about Polish folk tunes, and really only thinking about the mazurkas - which is why Lulajże Jezuniu escaped me. 0:) But then, that's not really a quotation - more of an "impression"; what I mean to say is it's done in a very intricate way, much more than just an "arrangement" (feebly trying to turn the tables here ;D).

lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #37 on: May 02, 2008, 02:31:02 PM »
No, that's absolutely fair!

Monsieur Croche

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #38 on: May 03, 2008, 08:12:06 PM »
Where do you place the Etudes dear friend?
Excellent post by the way, enjoyed reading that, and learning. :)

Thank you for your compliment, Harry. :) Chopin is one of the "transitional" composers who played an important part in shifting my preference away from emotional excesses, which I described in my Introduction thread. I actually became acquainted with his pieces when I started taking up the piano, and he is also one of the very first composers with whom I became engaged on a more theoretical level, beyond the "emotional-but-eventually-rather-mindless" kind of listening that I was accustomed to. My piano teacher is quite the Chopin fan. So, you see, I have rather a special place for this composer.

I find the Etudes to be fascinating works. Given my general dislike of virtuosic pieces (Well, maybe 'dislike' is putting it a little too strongly here), I find myself liking this work more than I should! Perhaps this is because I find the figurations in these pieces to be something more than 'ornaments' or flashy show-off passages; indeed, they actually penetrate ever-so-subtly into the realm of melody and harmony. I detect a blurring, so to speak, between melody and harmony/accompaniment and the decorative, in a way foreshadowing Debussy (Indeed Debussy's piano music owes much to Chopin). The figurations are more extended and interesting in Op. 25. I don't listen to the Op. 10 Etudes as much, and then I tend to cherry-pick the more lyrical ones, such as the No. 3 in E Major and the No. 6 in E Flat Minor (Chopin himself thought the Op. 10/3 to contain his finest melody! - though I disagree), though I like the more epic "Revolutionary" Etude as well. On the other hand, the Op. 25 Etudes IMO benefits more from being played as a cycle - which I usually do. Surely the last three Etudes of the set, when played in that order, provides an exciting climax to the cycle, and a sense of closure - with a bang that is!

Overall, I still listen more to the late works, the Sonatas, and the Preludes, but the Etude is no doubt a work of great artistry, and we ought to at least give credit to Chopin for transcending the limitations of the genre to create something beyond mere technical exercises.

I've said it before, but the Mazurkas are simply the finest examples of this - the complete set being one of my desert island volumes

Do you have any desert island recordings of the Mazurkas, Luke?

Well, since no replies are forthcoming from the legion of Polish GMG members, a couple of thoughts from me re the folklore subject:

Is the influence of folklore visible in Chopin's mazurkas? Yes. And very clearly.

Does Chopin ever quote original folk melodies? As far as I'm aware, there isn't a single instance of that.

Does the use of modal scales have anything to do with the folk inspiration? You bet! In fact, I'd say that's where Chopin's originality lies: in adapting folk material he did not cram it into a strictly tonal framework. There were lots of Polish composers who wrote folk-inspired pieces before and after Chopin (especially after) in the 19th century but practically none of them avoided that terrible reef. Moniuszko's folk dances, fine as they are, had been "tamed" by the composer. Even Paderewski's Album tatrzańskie is completely "tonalized"! Not to mention names such as Maria Szymanowska or Karol Kurpiński.

Thank you for clarifying, Maciek!

Of course, folk-inspired pieces are already common in Chopin's time, but usually they are treated as mere exotic novelties, designed more for domestic consumption of music-loving amateurs. Chopin is perhaps one of the first composers to let folk idiom consistently inform his more serious works, as well as allowing that influence to override, or at least go hand-in-hand with - rather than being subservient to - the technical conventions of his day. Will it be a stretch to suppose that in this regard he at least sets some precedent for the nationalists to come?

Here's a recording by Wladyslaw Szpilman, subject of the great film The Pianist and one of my favorite Chopin interpreters.

Ah, yes, The Pianist. I love that movie, not least for having one of the most tasteful usage of classical music in a film - but that is an entirely different discussion. Thank you for sharing the recording.

I bow to your knowledge on matters of Polish folk music in any case....

I, too, eagerly wait for your insight on this subject (and others). Could you enlighten me, on, say, the Polonaises, with which I am relatively less familiar (compared to the Mazurkas)?

lukeottevanger

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Re: Chopin
« Reply #39 on: May 03, 2008, 11:01:13 PM »
Do you have any desert island recordings of the Mazurkas, Luke?

Well, not really - I'm a little conventional in listening to Rubinstein most of all (his early recordings in my case). You really need to look at the Chopin Mazurkas thread, and to pay attention to people like Sidoze, who has heard and compared many, many more versions of his Chopin than I have.

That said, my favourite version of the Mazurkas is the one I play - not because I play them so fantastically (I don't!), but because this is fantastic music, and communing with it, reveling in its imagination and detail, is one of life's great pleasures. Like playing Beethoven sonatas or Bach's WTC, or indeed the Chopin Preludes in this respect. So I guess my desert island would need a piano and a copius supply of sheet music too.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2008, 11:16:22 PM by lukeottevanger »

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