Monday, July 22, 2013

As Ed McMahon might say...

Heeeere’s Chopin!

...or to be more exact, Frédéric François Chopin, or to be even more exact, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin (as he is known in Poland -- he was Polish after all, even though he spent much of his life in Paris).

The painting is an 1835 watercolor portrait of Chopin at 25 by then-16-year-old Maria Wodzinska (1819-96). According to my source, the artist and her sitter became engaged the following year but never married each other. The portrait is described on page 137 of Tad Szulc’s book Chopin in Paris as “one of the best portraits of Chopin extant -- after that by Delacroix -- with the composer looking relaxed, pensive, and at peace.”

Here is the Delacroix portrait, which to my mind makes him look not relaxed, pensive, or at peace. I will leave it to you decide which portrait you prefer, Ted Szulc’s opinion notwithstanding:

...and here is the only known photograph of Chopin, made a few years later than the portraits, possibly in 1848 or 1849:

Please note, All Consuming across the pond, that in none of these images does Chopin sport a beard. Also please note, everyone else, that the three images look nothing alike. They could be three different people for all I know.

In keeping with an earlier post of mine that contained the last words of 38 presidents of the United States, I must tell you now that on October 17, 1849, after midnight, a physician leaned over Chopin and asked him whether he was suffering greatly. “Not any more,” Chopin replied. He died a few minutes before two o’clock in the morning. It is believed he died of tuberculosis. He was 39 years old.

More to the point (and according to Wikipedia), over 230 Chopin works survive, although some compositions from early childhood have been lost. All his known works involve the piano, and only a few range beyond solo piano music, as either piano concertos or chamber music. Believe it or not, he composed:

59 mazurkas,
27 études (twelve in the Op. 10 cycle, twelve in the Op. 25 cycle, and three in a collection without an opus number),
27 preludes,
21 nocturnes,
20 waltzes,
18 polonaises, including one with orchestral accompaniment and one for cello and piano accompaniment,
5 rondos,
4 ballades,
4 impromptus,
4 scherzos,
4 sets of variations, including Souvenir de Paganini,
3 écossaises,
3 piano sonatas, and
2 concerti for piano and orchestra, Op. 11 and 21

He also composed a fantaisie; an Allegro de concert (possibly the remnant of an incomplete concerto); a barcarole; a berceuse; a bolero; a tarantelle; a contredanse; a fugue; a cantabile; a lento; a Funeral march; a Feuille d'album; a krakowiak for piano and orchestra; Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” for piano and orchestra; fantasia on themes from Polish songs with accompanying orchestra; a trio for violin, cello and piano; a sonata for cello and piano; a Grand Duo in E major for cello and piano on themes from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le diable, co-written with Auguste Franchomme; and 19 Polish songs for voice and piano.

For even more details about the works of Chopin, click here if you dare.

If you have made it this far, you will now be treated to a few of Chopin’s pieces, and you will be able to follow along in the sheet music, if you can, as you hear the notes being played.

Here is Fantaisie Impromptu(5:08).

Here is Etude Op. 25, No. 1 (Aeolian Harp) (2:13).

Here is Waltz Opus 64, No. 2 (3:44).

Well, that’s enough already with the sheet music.

Here is the young pianist Yundi Li playing a favorite of mine, Nocturne Opus 9, No. 2 (4:40).

I saved the best for last. It’s the pièce de résistance. Here is the not-so-young Vladimir Horowitz playing Polonaise Opus 53 in
A Flat Major

Playing Chopin can be bardzo trudne, I mean très difficile.

This stuff ain’t easy, Clyde. Not by a long shot.

Only the pros can make it look that way.


  1. Chopin looked rather sickly and miserable. If music is uplifting, how come it didn't translate itself into his everyday demeanour? If I had been his dad, I'd have been yelling, "Frederic! Get off that piano right now and go and climb some trees or kick a football around ye great nancy boy! And while you are at it, here's five bucks to get a MacDonald's meal down at the mall!"

  2. Yorkshire Pudding, I understand what you are saying but I disagree with you vehemently. Thank God you weren't Frederic's father.

    In other news, MacDonald's wasn't around until almost 100 years after Chopin shuffled off this mortal coil, so he was never able to avail himself of their goodies. Come to think of it, there weren't malls then, either.