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Vision before death

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Joined: 29 Sep 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 14, 2007 12:21 pm    Post subject: Vision before death Reply with quote

Chopin was born in 1810 (Beethoven was 40, Schubert 13). He enjoyed a prodigy's childhood in Warsaw and at 21 began to drift westward, ending in Paris where he was to center the rest of his life. Judging from his intimacy with the French nobility, the dignity and elegance of his music must have translated into his private personality as well. He became a busy - and expensive - teacher to the rich, enjoyed love and protection in his long liaison with famous writer George Sand and in his later years played only rarely in public, even though his delicate skills at the piano were already legend. He died of tuberculosis in 1849.

In the 39 years of his life, Chopin wrote wonderful two concertos, a few chamber works, several songs and over 200 piano pieces. Most of the latter are brief, no more than ten minutes. Nothing monumental, no great breadth of vision, no heaven-storming, no pious profundities. No one can quite figure out how Chopin fits into music history, but no one doubts his hold on both musical sophisticates and the most innocent of listeners.

He invented a new way of playing the piano and a style of writing for it which only he really mastered. Chopin, in other words, opened up the instrument for all who came after but has no true imitators (Scriabin's early pieces come somewhat close). Chopin appreciated the classical period of Bach and Mozart. Chopin's music shares Mozart's elegance and grace as well as its dark ambiguities of tone. It also enjoys the fantasy, freedom and extravagance of the Romantic era during which it was composed. Still, the work seems as aloof from Romanticism as Chopin, the man, was aloof from those who practiced it. Chopin, for example, never liked Schumann's music and never understood what it represented.

As isolated and individual as Chopin's style is, most piano pieces written since 1850 refer back to it -either by embracing its newfound freedoms or else pointedly rejecting them. Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff are his indirect creations. Chopin's arpeggionic accompaniments, melodic delicacies, the arcane modulations, the brilliant syntheses of folk modality and salon style and his enormous ability to transcend both worlds still startle us today. He was a total original and yet was as beloved by his own public as by today's.

Reference: Bernard Holland - Archive of The New York Times 1986.
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