Frederic Chopin

After being featured on NPR's All Things Considered, Chad Lawson's CD, The Chopin Variations, shot to No. 1 on iTunes Classical before it was even released in September, 2014. 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.

WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston learns about the power of simplicity in her conversation with pianist Chad Lawson.

Do you want to know what made the composer Frederic Chopin so special? I'll tell you. Chopin (March 1, 1810 - October 17, 1849) was one of the greatest pianists and composers who ever lived. 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.

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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.

Susan Lewis considers why Chopin's music appeals to ballet choreographers, as Pennsylvania Ballet stages a trio of works on March 13 and 14, 2010 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 19th-century composer's birth.

As part of celebrations of Samuel Barber's centenary, David Patrick Stearns looks ahead to performances of Antony and Cleopatra by the Curtis Opera Theatre.

Join Jill Pasternak for a candid interview with the distinguished pianist Garrick Ohlsson. Since his triumph as winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, Ohlsson has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. In celebration of Chopin's 200th Birthday that's coming up on March 1, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society will host a performance by Ohlsson on January 19th at 8 pm at the Kimmel Center with an all-Chopin program.