A Chopin Affair: Sonatas
December 29, 2017
Chopin has been part of my life since I first played one of his waltzes at the age of seven. Ever since - when I fell in love, when I felt nostalgic, homesick, frustrated or proud - I embraced the piano with his music. He was the reason I pursued a career as a pianist: so that I did not miss out on playing these beautiful, immortal pieces that added meaning and purpose to my mortal life.
Despite being an excellent performer and improviser, Chopin did not care much about impressing audiences. Instead, he focused on composing to create a unique voice for the piano - as opposed to his colleagues, who used it to imitate orchestral instruments. He combined his love of Italian “Bel Canto”, German Classicism and Polish folk music in an extraordinary fashion that became his signature sound, and turned him into the "poet of piano”. I wonder - if he lived today, which styles would he merge?
What fascinates me about Chopin was his open mind, not just as an artist but also as a human being. He had a ten-year relationship with the famous feminist author George Sand, who already had two children and many lovers before they met. She was rebellious and very different to most women of her time. She wore trousers and talked openly about politics, philosophy and sex. Their relationship fuelled the creation of each of their famous works.
Circle of friends
Chopin's exposure to the most important figures of Romanticism in music, literature, art and theatre was very important to his artistic development. Amongst his friends were Liszt, Berlioz, Heine, Robert & Clara Schumann, Mickiewicz and Delacroix. This unique social environment, made up of such high-calibre intellectualism and creativity in so many forms, is one aspect of his life that I envy.
I played the Third Sonata in my bachelor’s and the Second Sonata in my master’s graduation recitals. Now, after a few years out of academia, I have recorded them to share my current interpretations with you. Please treat this recording not as a final product, but as a frozen moment in time from Henry Wood Hall in London: I take my cue from Chopin himself, who would never play a piece the same way twice.
B-Flat Minor Sonata No. 2
Chopin worked on this sonata in Majorca with George Sand, as his tuberculosis worsened. The sonata revolves around the Funeral March (the third movement), which was written two years before, on the eve of the anniversary of the November Uprising in Poland, giving us a sense of the patriotic and tragic thoughts of the composer.
In my imagination, the first movement begins like the knocking of a dangerous force - perhaps Death - followed by a dark knight who shoots off, anxious and impatient, on a galloping horse. The second theme comes as a contrast, with a hopeful, relaxed and melodic character, similar to a woman singing a love song. My favourite moment is the climactic development where Chopin overlaps the opening 'knock' motif with the anxious melody in a series of harmonic explorations. I will let you imagine the other movements of the sonata and create your own storylines.
E Minor Prelude, Op. 28 No. 4
This famous prelude was played at Chopin’s funeral at his own request, along with his Funeral March and Mozart’s Requiem. I added it to this album to create a transition between the sonatas and to commemorate Chopin.
B Minor Sonata No. 3
Chopin worked on this sonata in the countryside in Nohant (1844), where he felt comfortable and was very productive. The first movement reminds me of a painting that has many layers, represented by different registers on the keyboard that create various moods with the help of chromatic notes and
The second movement is brilliantly elegant, while the slow movement is a gem of composition, with its minimalist descending patterns that create a state of trance. The finale is based on a simple theme that repeats three times, but is interrupted with flares of scales burning like fire on the keyboard; I love the adrenaline rush it gives me.
In 1795 Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, which effectively wiped Poland off the map. With national sovereignty taken away, protecting and promoting Polish identity became a challenge.
In 1815, when Chopin was five years old, Warsaw became the centre of the Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under Russia created by the Congress Vienna after Napoleon failed to invade Russia. This new puppet state structure replaced Napoleon's Duchy of Warsaw.
The Poles had a fervent desire for national independence, but their attempt at liberation in 1830 failed, devastating Chopin. Like many artists, thinkers and musicians, he settled in Paris, joining the Polish émigré community. His music became an iconic representation of Polish identity.
Recorded: London, Henry Wood Hall, 02-04.VIII.2017
Recording Producer, Balance Engineer, Editing & Mastering: Jean-Martial Golaz.
Photos: Ray Tarantino.
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35:
1 - I. Grave - Doppio Movimento
2 - II. Scherzo - Più Lento - Tempo I
3 - III. Marche Funèbre - Lento
4 - IV. Finale - Presto
5 - Prelude, Op. 28, No. 4 in E Minor - Largo
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58:
6 - I. Allegro Maestoso
7 - II. Scherzo - Molto Vivace
8 - III. Largo
9 - IV. Finale - Presto, Ma Non Tanto