Here’s where you can read and/or download the complete 17-page program guide that serves as a companion to the Chopin Project. Download by clicking on this link: chopin_program.pdf
Or you may prefer to read it online.
While Chopin’s 129 piano compositions, among the largest and most influential bodies of work ever composed for the instrument, easily merits a celebration such as the University of Michigan Chopin Project, Chopin himself likely would have avoided any such event. He apparently found publicity and public concerts distasteful. Rather, Chopin thrived as a performer in the rarefied and intimate salon culture of Europe’s cultural capitals, especially Paris—his primary residence from August 1831 until his death on October 17, 1849.
Chopin’s topsy-turvy biography helps define the very notion of the romantic composer, one who creates works of genius despite incessant waves of personal strife. Silenced after a long-term battle with pulmonary tuberculosis (then commonly known as “consumption”) at the early age of 39, Chopin’s chaotic life was characterized by personal indecision, intermittent depression, failed love affairs, and the traumas of revolutionary politics.
In her autobiographical novel, Lucrezia Floriani (1847), Chopin’s one-time lover Georges Sand (1804–76), offered a post-mortem on their ten-year relationship (beg. 1838). The novel’s main characters represent Sand (Lucrezia) and Chopin (Prince Karol). Karol/Chopin is depicted alternately as a sickly patient and jealous madman. “He,” wrote Sand, “would be supercilious, haughty, precious, and distant. He would seem to nibble lightly enough, but would wound deeply, penetrating right to the soul. Or, if he lacked the courage to argue and mock, he would withdraw in lofty silence, sulking in a pathetic manner.” Chopin’s friends found Sand’s libelous portrayal a vengeful attack. Yet the novel captures the emotional volatility of these paradigmatic romantic artists—spirits of passion expressing details of their innermost life through their art.
Chopin’s musical talent was identified early, and he was celebrated in his native Poland as a child prodigy—a “second Mozart”—who performed brilliant virtuoso works for aristocratic audiences. Fryderyk was born in 1810 in Żelazowa Wola, some 45 km west of Warsaw, the second of four children of Tekla Justyna Kryżanowska and Mikolaj Chopin. Although Mikolaj was a teacher at the Lyceum who saw to it that his son received a musical education, Chopin was largely self-taught as a pianist—a fact that may help account for the individuality of his mature style. His first surviving works date from 1817 (when he was seven), and he grew up among the professional academic and aristocratic classes.
His compositional style changed following Poland’s Cadet Revolution or November Uprising. On November 29, 1830 conspirators from the Officers Training School in Warsaw attacked the Russian forces that controlled Poland. Despite broad support and local victories, the uprising was put down and Chopin, who was traveling in Vienna when the outbreak occurred, never returned to his homeland. While many of his supporters hoped that Chopin would write the first great Polish opera, it was only after the uprising, after being cut off from his home and family, that Chopin took up the nationalist project in earnest, transforming the polonaise, mazurka, étude, nocturne, and waltz from brilliant, but light genres into deeply felt essays often referencing his homeland.
Chopin moved to Paris in 1831 and, although he played a public debut concert, found he could make a good living as a teacher combined with his sheet music sales. (Chopin had a fantastic reputation as a teacher and soon commanded high rates.) After his marriage proposal to the 17-year old Maria Wodzinski was rejected, Chopin began his passionate and often turbulent relationship with Sand. In his later years, Chopin became more and more a perfectionist, composing longer works with renewed interest in counterpoint and writing more slowly
As we experience all the works of Chopin for solo piano in the nine recitals that make up the project, listen in part for glimpses into the life of the composer to see if the romantic ideal of music as a window into the soul holds true for your own listening to Chopin. Conversely, do you hear Chopin the innovator of musical form and technique, one who stretched the boundaries of musical tradition to create a new vehicle for artistic expression?
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