Rediscovering Chopin

Chopin Monument in Warsaw with the permission of the authors Marek and Ewa Wojciechowscy (from Wikipedia).

 

Literally a stone’s throw away from Aston University, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire makes for a much needed pit stop from my weekly grind. It is a reassuring sight to see scores of eager young individuals immersing themselves in music and honing their craft to perfection.

A couple of days back I went to one of their ‘Commuter concerts‘, aptly named as it roughly lasts an hour after work, and you can still make home in time for dinner. It was more curiosity that drew me to that concert, as it was a lecture demonstration on Chopin. The following is essentially an exercise for posterity, lest the musical strains get drowned by my other distractions.

My first encounter with Chopin was in Warsaw, where he is everywhere. And it is also home to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, where I had the good fortune to listen to some of his pieces performed by the students. Before I left Warsaw, I got myself a t-shirt as a souvenir with one of Chopin’s scores on it – shame I don’t remember the piece. But, true story, I got placed almost to the shop where I got it from by a random Polish lady on the street in Birmingham, three years after. Music does indeed help you connect with people.

So when I was presented with the opportunity to listen to Chopin live again, I didn’t have to think twice. And I must say the lec-dem by Dr. Orit Wolf at the Conservatoire was wonderful. Not only did she so beautifully bring out the romanticism in the pieces she played, her anecdotes about those pieces added so much more meaning to them.

I learnt many things I hadn’t known about Chopin – like the fact that he was a contemporary of Liszt, or the fact that he was often compared with Mozart, and was performing for nobility from the tender age of six.

But what was indeed more surprising was I actually knew many of the pieces performed. And many of us know them too. It is just that there wasn’t a thread that was leading us back to Chopin. A standing example would be the Waltz in D Flat major. Apparently, Chopin had composed this piece as a consolation for a member of nobility whose generous proposition of marriage he had gentlemanly turned down. Check it out here – I am sure you would recognize it.

The piece that will stay with me for a long time to come would be the Nocture, Opus 9, no. 1. That was the piece Orit opened with, which immediately established her mastery of the instrument. This will remain my go-to reference for compositional scale changes. Here’s a link to this piece by Arthur Rubenstein, whom I now know as one of the few pianists who captured the essence of romanticism of Chopin.

The revelation of emotions in  Chopin’s compositions heavily relies on the pianist’s improvisational abilities. For instance, Orit played the score directly without any dynamism (as in, with one intensity), and it was quite frankly difficult to listen to. To get a feel of this, you could listen to Benjamin Zander’s demonstration of the progression of piano learning, right up to the teen years.

Orit played several other pieces – Waltzes in C Sharp Minor, the Opus 20, a piece he composed when he was briefly in Mallorca, a couple of preludes, and finally concluding with the Fantasie Impromptu.

She also played a lovely piece where she had interchanged the sheets, and no one actually noticed! Sadly I don’t remember the name of the composition any more, but hope to rediscover it soon.

In rediscovering Chopin, I now realise the whole track list of the movie ‘The Pianist’ (barring one) comprises of his famous compositions. So, if you have found your love in Chopin by way of reading the above, I strongly suggest a review of the movie. At least, that’s what I intend to do over this weekend.

Cheers!

Post edit (28th January 2018) –

The name of the piece where the sheets were interchanged is ‘Berceuse’. Here’s Arthur Rubenstein’s rendering of the same. Note how the left hand remains fairly the same throughout the piece, while the right hand trots happily across the keyboard.

To listen to more of Orit, you can subscribe to her youtube channel here.

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Rediscovering Chopin by Srikanth Sugavanam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.