Complete Album Notes
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My love of playing Chopin’s miniatures surprises me — much as Bach becoming my favorite composer surprises me. During my years of study, I was taught to play, and did play, the so-called grand forms (sonatas, concertos, etc.). But over time, I began to realize that miniatures could be remarkably vibrant and rich. Chopin’s “salon music” is more than simply entertaining, and it is certainly not inconsequential! These works provide a continuing challenge for pianists, sometimes technically, but always interpretively. Many performers return to them throughout their career to find previously undiscovered beauty with each return.
Chopin challenges the listener, too. Although superficially easy to listen to, his miniatures have depth and charm conveyed with shimmering elegance, nuanced melancholy, and an underlying sense of tragedy. For example, the Muzurka in a minor, Op. 17, No. 4, with its major-key fragment is music in the fullest sense. For much of the piece, the music circles in desperation until finally a heartrending cry explodes into the music — perhaps like someone trapped and looking for an escape, and who, when finding none, cries out in despair.
In the Etude in c minor, Op. 25, No. 12, the choral (played by the first finger of the right hand) evokes an exquisite pathos, reminding me of a story about a prisoner of war who quietly defies his captors, refusing to be completely effaced, by singing a simple melody, his remnant of dignity and hope.
No etude is less like an etude that Chopin's Etude in c-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7. It is a study in legato styles, but also has an operatic quality with its sustained cantilena for two "voices," cello and piano.
The Polonaise-Fantasie is named like no other work because it is made like none other. Chopin found naming this most complex piece difficult. The title he eventually settled on was unique and to the point, reflecting the combination of two forms in this singular work. It is perplexing music in which a series of miniatures creates a sequence of ever-changing imagery, filled with tumult and commotion. In it, I hear the reverberations of a polonaise, the distant echoes of a nocturne and a sentimental barcarole, and the triumphant, proud spirit of his last etude. And yet, Chopin balances all these elements with his characteristic aristocratism, patriotism, and tragic elegance.
Chopin’s music is always autobiographical. He expressed his life through his music, and it was through his music that he sought to comprehend all of life. His storms and dramas speak directly to us. Even though the musical plot of the Polonaise-Fantasie describes a mythic world (partly inspired by the work of the Polish poet Miukevich) it resonates deeply with our lives, struggles, and emotions, today.
Chopin is the poet of the fortepiano. He demands of the performer a deep, abiding, and passionate love that is found as rarely as great talent. No other composer has succeeded in revealing the soul of the piano so profoundly.
©2013 Marianna Rashkovetsky