Frederic Chopin

Chad Lawson's interpretation of Chopin's nocturnes, preludes, and waltzes involves a surprising reconfiguration of the piano, and offers a sense of intimacy with the music that is likely new to most listeners.  A couple of years ago,  WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston learned about the power of simplicity in her conversation with pianist Chad Lawson.

As Halloween approaches, what better time to consider classical music composed for, and about, the night? WRTI’s Susan Lewis sat down with pianist Jeffrey Siegel for insights into the nocturne and other music of the night.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2016-17 season is under way with Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium for his fifth year as music director of the Orchestra. WRTI will broadcast all 30 subscription concerts beginning Sunday, November 20th.

Do you want to know what made the composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) so special? I'll tell you. Aside from revolutionizing the piano itself, enlarging its scope, the genres it lent itself to, and its breadth of color, Chopin essentially invented the scherzo and instrumental ballade as virtuoso piano movements, and reinvented the etude as a musically engaging genre, rather than a mere exercise.

His melodies haunt you with their beauty, and his harmonies and delicate passagework for the piano still astonish us with their freshness. Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) wrote almost exclusively for the piano—preludes and ballades and mazurkas and nocturnes and concertos; Chopin is the pianist’s composer. He is so universally loved that you voted him our No. 12 most essential composer.

A family-owned business in Ardmore, PA is based upon a shared appreciation of one-of-a kind messages from the past. At any given moment, The Raab Collection contains letters, memos, signed photos, and other writings by some of the nation's, and the world's, most prominent historical figures.  

Even if you're not a fan of classical music, you have heard of Frédéric Chopin: His music has appeared in countless movies, TV shows and commercials, even video games. But it's almost certain you haven't heard the Polish composer performed the way Chad Lawson plays him.

It’s not settled whether 19th-century pianist and composer Frederic Chopin was born on February 22nd, or March 1st, 1810.  But as Susan Lewis reports, one thing that’s clear is that he made a significant mark on music in his short life of just under 40 years.    

LEWIS:  Born in Poland and raised in Warsaw, Frederic Chopin’s virtuosity was recognized early. As a young man, he went to Paris and joined a community of like-minded performers and artists, including the female writer who took the name George Sand, with whom he had an extended love affair. University of Pennsylvania Music Professor Jeffrey Kallberg says Paris was a mecca for pianists who typically performed their own music.

KALLBERG: Liszt being one, but people like Frederick Kaltbrenner, Theodore Durler, people we tend to forget these days.  Chopin fit in with these, but what really set him apart was the extraordinary quality of what he composed.

LEWIS: Kallberg says Chopin preferred the craft and counterpoint of Bach and Mozart to the styles of his musical contemporaries, many of whom were writing program music that followed a story line.  Instead of writing for the piano as a pure melodic instrument, Chopin, would allow it to blur sounds together.

KALLBERG: ...and to produce a sort of sonic haze that looks forward to a composer like Debussy, for example. I’m thinking of  in a work like  the Nocturne in c sharp minor , which is a work unlike most nocturnes seems not to have a lyrical melody at the beginning, what you have is a melody that moves scarcely at all. 

What you hear is just chords undulating and a mood being set without any melody to hang onto.. so he was rethinking what forms and genres were about by putting emphasis on new kinds of sounds.

LEWIS: Kallberg is author of Chopin at the Boundaries: Sex, History and Musical Genre.

Pages