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Archive for December, 2007

Ballade in G minor, Op. 23 In the previous post we discussed an all-time Chopin favorite, the Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2. What then, is left to say about another Chopin classic – this Ballade in G minor?Plenty, it would appear. There’s an extremely technical description in the La Folia online music reveiew by Beth Levin:

…..A rhythm of 6/4 suggests an underlying waltz, as does the set of chords that plays off each melody note. Further, the chords lie under portamento slurs which give them shape, gently tug at the second and third beats, and increase the inherent dance quality. However, a waltz in G minor is colored by the key and therefore imbued with a tender poignancy. One dances, but with a heavy heart….

Then there’s an entire dissertation by a Swedish graduate student. Here’s his abstract:

The purpose of this work is to make a general presentation of Chopin, the age in which he lived, his G minor Ballade and selected editions of the Ballade. I will also compare five recordings of the G minor Ballade, and make a presentation and a recording of my own interpretation of the G minor Ballade. This work discusses his life up to the time the Ballade was published, Chopin’s development as a composer, and the period in his life when the Ballade was composed. Background material on the history of the Ballade as a genre and its development is included to give the reader an enhanced contextual understanding. The issue as to whether Chopin had a literary model when composing the G minor Ballade and his relationship with the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz is discussed. This work considers the issue of form in the G minor Ballade, Chopin’s personality, how Chopin played, his use ofthe term ‘tempo rubato’, and how he used improvisation and composition.

Make what you will of this interpretation of an Arturo Benedetti Michalangeli fansite:

Miracle seems really a shortfall, rather than a longfall, when it is applied with Michelangeli’s Chopin (especially the Ballade in G minor, op. 23; Deutsche Grammophon 413 449-2): water seem to be loosing ground against the lack of distance. With proper distance however, there is a possibility the water might fall with greater flow and maturity. Michelangeli drive for that aim is to have more miracle and less than a human spirit is ultimately tested against the harsh background where one finds a waterfall equipped with sophisticated break-system.

Chopin primarily conceived the Work to be played out amongst the adult fellowship society of his peers nonetheless amounting to no fewer than the very composer himself as the sole guest. Chopin somehow wanted the work to be played by grownups; yet he himself when he conceived all this was a child. His excess employment of piano’s sustaining pedal is no justification for the larger framework thereof. He might have been using the principle to get beyond the fantastic element in the piano: he incorporated it into the Work very stylishly that the importance of the pedal desists when it is fused into the work as a whole. Sophistication still is called for. It is up to the individual pianist to start where it gains ground and appears appropriate to begin constructing the superstructure.

Last word goes to Arthur Greene:

The G minor Ballade, if I play it correctly, should need no introduction.

Listen to Arthur Greene’s performance of the Chopin Ballade in G minor, Op. 23

View and download the sheet music here.

Want more? Deeper into the Web we go. How about this “Interpretation of the Narrative Grammar of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor?”

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lilachopinnocturne.jpgArthur Greene:

“Today’s entry takes us into far more familiar Chopin territory. The Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 No. 2 comes from around 1830, -after Chopin had left Warsaw forever. But the version I’m playing here has a bit of a twist. There are some scores of Chopin’s works that he marked up for his piano students, and they’ve been a fascinating find for musicologists. You can see where he marked things on the scores, adding fingerings and other instructions for his students. And in some of them Chopin added extra notes – and even little cadenzas! So if you know this beloved Nocturne, listen extra closely, and you’ll hear some things that aren’t usually there.”

Click on the Piano Piano Player IconFrom Britton Recital Hall, listen to Arthur Greene perform Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Op. 9 No. 2 (original cadenzas)

Find the sheet music here.

Did we mention that this Nocturne is popular? Visit the 43things site to find out who wants to play this Nocturne to an empty concert hall.

How popular? Visit the online video agreggator FindInternetTV.com to see the 27 different video versions.
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Chopin at a Warsaw dance party Arthur Greene:

“In Warsaw, when Chopin was growing up, the social scene was extremely active, and anyone who wasn’t sick or crippled would go to dance parties almost every night. And the star of these events was usually Chopin, because he was both a great dancer himself – and he played for all of the other dancers. He would usually improvise at one of these events….sitting at the piano and playing for hours, coming up with mazurkas, waltzes, and ecossaises. (“eh-koh-SAY”) Nobody dances ecossaises anymore, but these are the types of dances that Chopin would have improvised at a party, and if he really liked it, he’d then go home and write it down.”

Hear Arthur Greene perform Chopin’s Three Ecossaises, Op. 72 (1826)

chopin-ecossaises.jpg Download the sheet music from pianopublicdomain.com

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Chopin Op. 1

Arthur Greene:

By the time he was 15, Chopin had developed has piano technique considerably, and he was writing pieces that were firmly in the virtuoso tradition of the early Romantic period. Now, the general aesthetic at the time was not particularly deep or profound — it was more about varied and pretty effects. Chopin later developed those techniques into some pretty profound utterances, but here it’s mostly surface charm. And I’ll bet you’ve never heard this piece before. In fact, even as a piano-faculty member who’s heard thousands of students playing untold thousands of piano works, I’ve never heard anyone play this piece. But I’ve really enjoyed getting to know it – and to play it.

Listen to Arthur Greene’s performance of Chopin’s Rondo in C minor, Op. 1 (1825)

Download the sheet music to Chopin’s Op. 1 (courtesy free-scores.com)


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Chopin - Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60 This is one of the last pieces that Chopin played in public. The excellent notes from the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s website sets the stage:

When in 1846 Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) completed the Barcarolle, the last work of its relatively large size to come from his pen, he was already laid low by the fatal illness that three years later would take his life. He must have had deep affection for the piece, for he included it on the program of a concert he gave in Paris, February 16, 1848, his last appearance in his loved adopted city. Reports of the event tell of this physically depleted man unable to play much above the level of pianissimo even in the Barcarolle’s most expansive sections, a depressing experience for his many friends in the audience.The Barcarolle is the single work of its type in his catalog, which is not surprising considering the limitations imposed by the necessity to maintain a “boat” accompaniment and to invent suitably artless – gondoliere – melodies. In light of these specific guidelines, Chopin has created a composition of remarkable continuity and diversity having, in this temperate context, unexpected dramatic intensity in a soaring climax. (Sudden storm on the Venice canal?) Read more of the notes here.

The Vancouver Chopin Society also has an interesting perspective of the performance challenges of this piece, along with some recording recommendations:

“…It has been the despair of many fine artists, being difficult to interpret successfully. It is easy to sound affected, as does [Claudio] Arrau, or nervous, as does [Vladimir] Horowitz, or too plain, as did [Walter] Gieseking. Chopin must have been its ideal interpreter… The Barcarolle displays Chopin’s ornamental genius in full bloom. Ravel wrote, “Chopin was not content merely to revolutionize piano technique. His figurations are inspired. Through his brilliant passages one perceives profound, enchanting harmonies. Always there is the hidden meaning which is translated into poetry of intense despair. . . . The Barcarolle is the synthesis of the expressive and sumptuous art of this great Slav.”

Hear Arthur Greene perform Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp minor, Op. 60

Read the Wikipedia definition of Barcarolle

Find more recordings

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rev_greene03.jpg “The very first piece on the program is a piece that Chopin wrote when he was seven years old. It’s very typical of the music that was being written at that time in Warsaw…a little Polonaise…with even a little virtuosic flourish in it. But Chopin was too young to write the notes down on the page..his father wrote it for him. He had probably written some things before this, but this is the first surviving piece that we have.”Arthur Greene.

Hear Arthur Greene perform the Polonaise in G minor – Chopin’s first piece

Publishing Information from Pianopedia

Download the score from the Werner Icking Archive

Watch “Charlie” (5 yrs 11 months) play it on YouTube

Title Page - Chopin’s Polonaise in G minor

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As you look through the entries and listings of Chopin’s keyboard works on these pages, you may run into this funny “KK” designation, particularly in the early recitals.   It stands for the Kobylanska Katalog, and it’s assigned to works by Chopin that don’t have opus numbers.    It’s named after Polish musicologist (and former Curator of the Fryderyk Chopin Society Museum in Warsaw) Krystyna Kobylańska, who in 1979 authored Frédéric Chopin: Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis.  It is in essence a complete (and definitive) thematic catalogue of all the works by the Polish piano master – not unlike what Ludwig Koechel did for Mozart in the 19th century.

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