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Music Talks > 2016 Winter/Spring
 Wednesday 18 May 2016 (7 to 8 pm - Open to all)

Works: Chopin
1) Concerto No 2 in F minor Op 21
(Arthur Rubinstein with André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra)
2) Rondo a la Krakoviak
(K. Moskalewicz with Wroblewski conducting the The Fryderyk Chopin State Music School Complex in Warsaw)
Various versions are found on YouTube --- it would be good to review them before the talk.

Presenter: Akram Najjar

Various versions are found on YouTube --- it would be good to review them before the talk.

Chopin and the Piano Concerto No 2
(Adapted from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra site Click Here).
The young Chopin launched his career as an aspirant to the world of the touring virtuoso pianist. He discovered early that he had little stomach for that kind of life. Not only was he thin-skinned about negative criticism, but he detested sacrificing his privacy to the gaping curiosity of the general public. Happily, Parisian success enabled him to earn a fine living as a highly regarded (and expensive) piano teacher, his income solidly bolstered by his publishing royalties. For him the hurly-burly was done by the mid-1830s; for the rest of his short life his public performances were vanishingly few.
Chopin’s two piano concertos were written within a year of each other, during his earlier days when he was 19 or 20. They were published in the reverse order of their composition, thus the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Opus 21, is actually the earlier of the two concertos.
Chopin took his time kneading that third movement into satisfactory shape, but by early 1830 it was completed, with the first performance on March 17 of that year as part of Chopin’s Warsaw debut concert. Happily the concerto was successful enough to warrant being repeated five days later, with Chopin playing a considerably better instrument. Thus encouraged, Chopin set to work on his second piano concerto, in E minor, completed by the end of August 1830, and premiered on October 11 to slightly less enthusiasm than had greeted the F minor concerto. Chopin went on to play both concertos regularly during his short but impressive performing career.

The F minor concerto is laid out in three movements: fast-slow-fast.

The first movement is cast in double-exposition form, a variant of classical sonata form dating back to the eighteenth century, typically employed in concertos. The movement opens with a long orchestral exposition initially characterized by dotted, mazurka-like rhythms. Once the piano enters, the orchestra retreats into the background, the soloist carrying the musical argument from then on. The solo part enthusiastically offers up the full panoply of the virtuoso style yet tempers its razzle-dazzle showmanship with a degree of poetic cantilena atypical for concertos of the day. There is no need for a cadenza, given the nonstop virtuosity of the solo writing throughout the movement.
The second movement: early Romantic virtuoso concertos tend to suffer from egregiously banal slow movements, but this Larghetto, kissing cousin to a nocturne, lies at the innermost heart of the work. Chopin intended it as an expression of his first acute love for a woman, Konstancja Gladkowska, of whom he writes: “I already have my perfect one whom I have, without saying a word, served faithfully for a year now, of whom I dream, in whose memory the adagio of my concerto has been put up.” All of the treasured elements of later Chopin are to be found here in abundance — opulently limber melodies, sensual ornamentation à la Bellini, bewitching harmonies, and glowing pianistic sonorities.
The finale: arranged in a three-part, rondo-like form, offers up unmistakable references to Polish folk music, in the piquantly off-kilter rhythms of the mazurka and its slightly slower cousin, the kujawiak. The entire movement is refreshingly free of the endless figurations and pointless bombast of contemporary concertos, but nonetheless brings the work to an appropriately vivacious close.

2) Grand Rondo à la krakowiak for Piano & Orchestra in F major, Op. 14
The Krakowiak was written when the composer was 18 years old. Its title derives from a Renaissance-era Polish dance, said to be associated with courtship practices. Chopin, always showing an interest in native dances, as demonstrated by his numerous mazurkas and polonaises, was well-suited to adapting folk-like music to the concert hall.
The piece opens with a slow, rather exotic introduction on the piano (Andantino, quasi Allegretto), supported mainly by horn and subdued strings. The main section is a rondo, marked Allegro non troppo, that features a rhythmic theme on the piano whose infectious effervescence needs (and gets) little harmonic support. The piano writing turns darker and more muscular in the ensuing episode, though the bright and lively mood remains. The Polish flavor of the piece fades for a time here, but a playful dance theme in D minor brings back images, if not the sounds, of Krakow's dance halls. Again, there follows more serious, bravura writing, and then a rather bland but brief slow section is presented, which is probably the least effective episode in the entire work. The colorful dance music returns with some imaginative developmental ideas, as Chopin keeps the music light and uncomplicated to the end.
For the most part the orchestra's role is accompanimental, and at that almost dispensable. In fact, Chopin, cognizant of the limited orchestral part but also desiring wider performance of the piece, eventually fashioned a solo rendition of Krakowiak. Still, the work is to be preferred in its original version and while it may lack the depth of the later concertos, it is a thoroughly delightful, generally well-crafted composition.
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