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 genre’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.
Spring in G minor (WN-National Edition 52a) is a lullaby with a sentimental flavour. 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.
The last piece on this CD is the Mazurka in F minor (WN-National Edition 65), Chopin’s last and unique composition. It was written as a barely legible sketch in the last weeks of Chopin’s life, when his struggle with an incurable disease was coming to an end. It would be interesting to trace the successive stages of the efforts to reconstruct the piece, but this goes beyond the scope of these notes. At any rate, a comparison of Chopin’s last compositional attempt with the way it is performed in this recording gives some idea of the reconstruction methods applied in the National Edition. Thanks to them, Chopin’s most moving piece was brought back to life. In his biography Franz Liszt quotes Chopin as saying that he was never able to free himself from the most profound sense of grief and sorrow, ever present deep at his heart. The Mazurka in F minor, Chopin’s farewell composition, seems to be the fullest embodiment of such feeling.
Translation by Henryk Zwolski