A dream. A promise. A hope. Everything is possible. At the beginning of the new year I want to be optimistic. I want you to be optimistic too. Yes, we have all had our share of bad news and personal disappointments last year, but… there are many well-meaning people out there. Like-minded people, people caring for their family, their neighbourhood, the environment and a peaceful coexistence. They may not be very visible, but they are there. Nobody fighting for a better world fights on his own. We are many, from all walks of life, with different approaches but with one aim: making this place a better one.
Brilliant and emotional
Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, gives me hope and strength. It is a wonderful composition, showing the composers early maturity. I would like to highlight two aspects of this piece, written in 1829/30: its brilliance and its emotionality. These two elements are complementary. The brilliant character is the consequence of Chopin’s choice to give the pianist a dominant and the orchestra a subordinated role. The emotionality is the result of the composer’s choice to oscillate between tension and lyricism. The music’s dramatic depth is shrouded in a golden veil of melancholy.
The critic’s voice
The piece’s emotionality becomes most apparent in the second mouvement. Chopin associated it with his ideal of femininity, a woman called Konstancja Gladowska. She was a Polish soprano and Chopin had fallen in love with her in 1829. The Chopin biographer Tadeusz Zielinski explains that “Chopin declares his love with just as much sincerity as poetic refinement.” Contemporary critics were more guarded in their assessment. The Berlin based critic Ludwig Rellstab was an arch-enemy of Chopin, who once had suggested to simply discard all of Chopin’s music. Rellstab conceded that the second piano concerto is “very interesting” and a challenge to pianists, but devoid of any structure, an accumulation of difficult details”.
Rescued by Schumann
Robert Schumann came to the rescue of Chopin and acidly remarked with a nod to Rellstab: “What does a whole year of musical journal publications represent in the face of one single Chopin concerto? How could the folly of a professor ever compare to folly of the poet?” Chopin’s Polish origin, the fate of his country explain the qualities and deficiencies of his compositions, Schumann wrote and he associated Chopin’s works with dreams, charm, spiritedness, ardour, nobility, eccentricity, hate and ferociousness.
Almost 200 years later I interpret Chopin’s second piano concerto as a declaration of love to life as such, as a reverence to youth, vitality and optimism. Everything is possible. And the recording by Maria Joao Pires and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra my personal force multiplier.
© Charles Thibo