Various Compositions – Series B
This CD features quite extraordinary pieces. They were not published in Chopin’s lifetime and most of them have remained virtually unknown. They had their first performances for this recording in the reconstructed version made by the editors of the National Edition of Chopin’s Works. Written for a wide range of occasions, the compositions are of various musical merit, from a musical joke (Galop Marquis) to a highly personal utterance (Lento con gran espressione), from fleeting thoughts written down in people’s diaries (Cantabile, Moderato, Sostenuto) to pieces which could have been included among those published in the composer’s lifetime (Nocturne in E minor, Impromptu in C sharp minor), from youthful attempts which were a response to outside inspiration (Funeral March in C minor, Variants) or improvisations at dancing parties (Ecossaises) to the poignant testimony to the suffering endured in the last months of life (Nocturne in C minor).
The Funeral March in C minor (WN-National Edition 9, in other editions Op. posth. 72 No. 2) dates from the beginning of 1826. It was written most probably under the impression of the ceremonial funeral of the prominent statesmen, writer and priest Stanisław Staszic (1755-1826). Chopin was among those attending the funeral (he mentions it in a letter to Jan Białobłocki), which turned into a patriotic manifestation. The composition exhibits some similarities to the funeral march from Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major (a rhythmically repeated minor chord in the opening phrase), a proof of Chopin having been versed in the early sonatas of Beethoven, who died the following year.
Of the five stylized Scottish dances, Ecossaises, which Chopin penned in G, D flat, D, B flat and E flat, only the first three have survived in their entirety. All of the Ecossaises were written most probably as improvised dance music. The Ecossaises WN – National Edition 13 No. 1 in G major, No. 2 in D flat major and No. 3 in D major were composed around 1827. As social dances, they were functional pieces, adding to the repertoire for the carnival balls in Warsaw prior to the November Uprising. They have the character of the then popular salon skipping dance in duple metre. Chopin marked them brillant. They all combine graceful simplicity (reminiscent of Schubert’s dances) with pianistic elegance and humour, typical of Chopin’s early period.
[Variants] in A major (WN-National Edition 16) is a set of variations published in 1881 by Jan Kleczyński under the title Souvenir de Paganini. Chopin composed the work after hearing a series of concerts given by Niccolo Paganini and Karol Lipiński between the end of May and 14 July 1829 to grace the coronation of Tsar Nicolas I as the King of Poland. During the last concert of the series, Paganini enthralled the audience, including Chopin, with the performance of his Fantasy Op. 10 entitled Le Carnaval de Venise. The Neapolitan melody Oh, mamma, mamma cara, quoted in the piece, was used by Chopin as the theme of the Variants. The work has a very peculiar structure, with four variations of the 16-bar theme coming one after the other in a continuous manner, without any distinct division, on the basis of the one-sided formula in which the melody is used as a basso ostinato. The persistent repetition of a single rhythmic pattern realising two harmonic functions seems to be an expression of Chopin’s peculiar sense of humour.
The Nocturne in E minor (WN-National Edition 23) is among Chopin’s most beautiful and evocative nocturnes. Musicologists differ as to the date of its composition. The editors of the National Edition believe the work was composed between 1828 and 1830. On the other hand, the style of the piece, its expressive features and particularly its pain-filled and elegiac character point to a later period in Chopin’s career. Simple and frugal in the use of compositional devices, the work’s texture is typical of a Chopin’s nocturne. Against a background of an arpeggio-like sequence of chords in the bass line there develops a highly expressive soprano line, rising and falling, rhythmically diversified and ornamented with a plethora of fiorituras, slowing down and accelerating in tempo rubato fashion.
Contredanse in G flat major (WN-National Edition 27) is a short, charming stylisation of a popular salon dance with the typical da capo structure including a trio. Until recently, the authenticity of the piece was questioned. The fact that its extant manuscript (not the composer’s autograph) comes from the collection of Tytus Wojciechowski, Chopin’s bosom friend from the time of his youth, however, implies that it came from Chopin’s hand. The type of melodic and harmonic devices employed in the work, similar to those in other Chopin’s pieces (Nocturne in F sharp major Op. 15 No. 2, Scherzo in B minor Op. 20, Fantasy in F minor Op. 49), leaves no doubt as to its authorship.
[Allegretto] in F sharp major (WN-National Edition 36) is an entry in an album of the pianist Leopoldyna Blahetka, whom Chopin met in Vienna in 1829. It was reconstructed by Jan Ekier. The work was initially known as the Mazurka in F sharp major and Chopin’s authorship was generally questioned, particularly since it was established that in some editions the work was ascribed to the German composer Charles Mayer. The prominent ethnographer Oskar Kolberg had no doubt that the Allegretto came from Chopin’s hand.
Lento con gran espressione in C sharp minor (WN-National Edition 37) stands out in Chopin’s entire oeuvre for its uniqueness. Sometimes called a nocturne, it only partly deserves this label as it is only the outer sections of this 65-bar miniature that fit the gen- re’s character. Its central section is a somewhat jocular blend of reminiscences of the Concerto in F minor (all its movements) and the song Życzenie (The Wish). Written in Vienna in 1830, the work has survived in two versions (both of which are jotted down in Blahetka’s album), which differ in their treatment of these quotations. In the earlier version, the original metre of 3/4 is retained, which, combined with the accompaniment in the metre of 4/4, gives an example of polymetry, unmet with anywhere else in Chopin’s output. Such an amazing device seems to have its psychological justification. The first version of the piece is a record of the composer’s nostalgia and sorrow following his departure from Poland and the parting with his family and friends (outer sections) and of the distinct reminiscences of the joyful moments spent among his dearest ones (polymetrically arranged quotations in the central section). The work’s later version was dedicated to the composer’s older sister, Ludwika, who, after some years, inscribed the piece into an album of Maria Wodzińska, Chopin’s sweetheart. In this version, Chopin adjusted the rhythm of the quotations to an even metre which holds true for the greater part of the composition. The renunciation of polymetry was dictated by practical reasons. It would have been probably too difficult to be realised by an amateur pianist, as Ludwika was. It could also be dictated by the need to communicate a different state of the composer’s spirit, this time in a story about sorrow brightened up by some cheerful recollections of the past.
It is reasonable to infer that the 14-bar Cantabile in B flat major (WN-National Edition 43) was sketched, signed and dated by Chopin (Paris, 1834) in order to please someone dear to his heart. It remains a mystery as to who that person was. The piece is a typical leaf from an album, subtle (dolce) and dreamy, piano throughout and flowing in the rhythm of a lullaby.
Presto con leggierezza in A flat major (WN-National Edition 44) is a miniature of playful character. It is sometimes labelled as the Prelude in A flat major, in view of its resemblance to a prelude. This autograph bears the inscription Paris, Juillet 1834 and the dedication: a mon Ami Pierre Wolff. The dedicatee, a future professor of piano in Geneva, was Chopin’s friend.
Impromptu in C sharp minor (WN-National Edition 46), dedicated to Baroness d’Este, was written in 1834, the early years of Chopin’s stay in Paris, and stylistically bears all the hallmarks of that period. It is a charming piece in three sections, with the outer ones exposing etude-like virtuoso figuration (allegro agitato) and the central one the sentimental tone of a nocturnal cantilena (moderato cantabile). The consistent use of the figuration has a didactic aspect as an exercise in the polyrhythmic independence of the two hands, combining the even rhythm of the melodic line and the odd rhythm in the accompaniment. The work is the only of Chopin’s four impromptus which the composer considered unpublishable, most probably because of its formulaic structure and some melodic affinities to Ignaz Moscheles’s Impromptu in E flat major, published several years earlier. Eventually published by Julian Fontana in 1855 as Fantaisie – Impromptu Op. 66, the work has enjoyed great popularity to this day.
“Spring” in G minor (WN-National Edition 52a) is a lullaby. A more mature and refined piece than the Cantabile in B flat major, it is flavoured by the same kind of sentimental feeling. It was one of Chopin’s most favourite album entries. Between April 1838 and September 1848 the composer gave it to at least six persons. “Spring”, its melody marked semplice, is in 6/8 metre and oscillates between G minor and B flat major. Even though originally written as a song to verse by the composer’s friend, Stefan Witwicki, the piece works as a piano miniature.
Sostenuto in E flat major (WN-National Edition 53) is a tiny miniature in waltz rhythm written in July 1840 for Emille Gaillard. A typical album entry, it belongs to the so-called private strand in Chopin’s oeuvre, i.e. the compositions which were not deemed suitable for concert performance.
Moderato in E major (WN-National Edition 56), entered into the album of Princess Anna Szeremietiew in January 1843, should be included among Chopin’s elevated lyrical pieces. It has the character of a hymn sung in marching rhythm, its heroic idiom reminiscent of the Fantasy in F minor and Allegro de concert.
Galop Marquis in A flat major (WN-National Edition 59), written during Chopin’s sojourn in Nohant, is a musical joke illustrating the lively antics of George Sand’s dogs, Marquis and Dip.
Nocturne in C minor (WN-National Edition 62) was considered lost for many years. It was eventually discovered and published in 1938. The date and circumstances of the work’s origin are subject to various interpretations. According to some claims the theme of the nocturne, simple if not naive, was not Chopin’s but Maria Wodzińska’s. This seems to be corroborated by Chopin himself, who wrote in a letter: I improvised in one of the salons here on Marynia’s nice theme. Wodzińska’s authorship of the theme, however, is only a speculation. The work differs from the nocturnes of Chopin’s main, concert performance strand. On the basis of many sources, as well as the work’s intimate, private character and its highly evocative, poignant tone expressed by means of simple devices, it seems that it was written towards the end of Chopin’s life.