A Floating Melody of Sadness

Chopin's piano music is as delicate as Mozart's piano pieces and yet very different. © Charles Thibo
Chopin’s piano music is as delicate as Mozart’s piano pieces and yet very different. © Charles Thibo

1983 was my second year in highschool. Pop music started to invade my ears, and every week, I would watch – like my class mates – a popular German pop music show on TV. And pop music brought me to Chopin. In 1983, the Italian pop star Gazebo (Paul Mazzolini) released a song with the title “I like Chopin” that stayed at position nb. 1 in the charts in Germany, Switzerland and Austria for weeks. I loved that tune, but one day my father teased me by asking: “Any idea who or what Copin is?” Ooops.

I went to THE record store in Luxembourg City, where all of us went after school to buy records. Its name was “Tele-Disc”, and it is long gone. The building is occupied now by a posh hotel. And in the said record store, I got a cassette – yes, I am that old – with music written by Chopin. The cassette is long gone too, and I don’t remember what was on it, most probably the “Nocturnes”, that I have discussed in an earlier post.

Losing myself in the piano part

I recently listened to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor with the solo part performed by one of my favourite pianists, Maria Joao Pires. It goes without saying that Chopin’s piano concerto is far more delicate than Gazebo’s forgotten pop song. However, the self-obliviousness of Chopin’s music that makes Gazebo “like Chopin” becomes apparent in the first solo part of the first movement “allegro maestoso” after the introduction of the themes by the orchestra. A vigorous start, reminding me of Franz Liszt, is followed by a floating melody of sadness and gentleness. Close your eyes and you will drift away just as with one of Mozart’s late piano concerts (post scheduled for September!), but into a different realm. Chopin’s beyondness is closer to our world, it has a contemporary touch.

A melancholic romance

The second movement, labeled “Romance (larghetto)”, is characterized by Chopin himself with the words: “I did not look for force. It is more a calm and melancholic romance.” He compares it to a soft look at a place evoking many souvenirs, to dreaming at moon light on a beautiful spring day (“une rêverie par un beau temps printanier, mais au clair de la lune”). The third movement takes up the main theme in a shorter, humoristic manner and impresses me by the crystal clear articulation of the piano theme contrasting starkly with the orchestra’s accompaniment.

Leaving Poland forever

Chopin explanations about the second movement are part of a letter he wrote in May 1830 to a friend. He had been recognized by his teachers at the High School of Music in Warsaw as an “exceptional talent, musical genius” when he had left school the year before. He had given a first large concert in March (Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, op. 21) and a second one in October, our op. 11. He was in love for the first time and about to travel to Vienna for a first tour. He was 20 years old and he was lost between early fame, emotional insecurity and doubts about his future as Poland had little to offer for a genius.

On November 1, 1830, he left for Vienna. He would never come back. A week after his arrival, he learned about the uprising in Warsaw against Russian occupation and the attempt to assassinate the Grand Duke Constantin, a brother of the Russian czar. As a Pole he was no longer welcome in the capital of a reactionary monarchy and without a valid passport, he was nolens volens a refugee. In 1831, he moved to Paris, the city that would become his new home.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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