Frédéric Chopin: The Poet of the Piano

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

The only known photograph of Frédéric Chopin, taken in 1849. The only known photograph of Frédéric Chopin, taken in 1849. (Louis-Auguste Bisson)

By the 1830s, the piano could sigh or shiver, quiver and swoon as no other instrument had ever done. No one had understood the piano's special resources and enchantments more completely than Frederic Chopin, as David Dubal illustrates on this week's episode.

One of the chief aspects of the Romantic Age is the cult of the individual. The solo piano was ideal for the creation of larger than life virtuoso gods viewing the stars. At conservatory, Chopin was hardly a good student and almost failed every class he took. But at home, he continuously experimented with the piano, the only thing that ever interested him. From this intense devotion, Chopin grew to become one of the greatest coloristic virtuosos.

When Chopin arrived in Paris, the city had attracted the great and the near great in every field. The liberal city teamed with Polish exiles which delighted Chopin because he loved speaking in his own language. In early 1832, the young Pole made his debut at the hall of the Pleyel Piano firm. In the audience were Mendelssohn, Liszt and many other important musicians: all of them intoxicated by his ravishing tone and poetic playing. From that moment forward, Frederic Chopin held a unique place in the crowded pianistic pantheon of his time.

The English composer, Cyril Scott once wrote, "Chopin was the musical poet par exellence of refinement - not a superficial, but an inner refinement of soul; his refinement... was the character and keynote of his music... in his music, at times, and in varying degrees, is that aroma of sadness which is the quintessence of all genuine lyric poetry."

It is safe to say that Chopin is the overwhelming favorite composer of the piano.


Chopin: Prelude for Piano, Op. 28: no 24 in D minor / Martha Argerich

Chopin: Mazurka for Piano, B 105/Op. 30: no 4 in C sharp minor / Vladimir Horowitz

Chopin: Nocturne for Piano, B 152/Op. 55: no 2 in E flat major / Ignaz Friedman

Comparison pieces of Chopin:

Etude for Piano, Op. 25: no 6 in G sharp minor "Etude in 3rds" / Josef Lhévinne

Etude for Piano, Op. 25: no 6 in G sharp minor "Etude in 3rds" / Ignaz Friedman

Chopin: Prelude for Piano, Op. 28: no 4 in E minor / Alfred Cortot

Chopin: Sonata for Piano no 3 in B minor, B 155/Op. 58: 4th movement, Presto non tanto / William Kapell

Chopin: Impromptu for Piano no 3 in G flat major, b 149/Op. 51 / Vladimir Sofronitzki

Chopin: Scherzo for Piano no 3 in C sharp minor, B 125/Op. 39 / Byron Janis

Chopin: Etude for Piano, Op. 25: no 2 in F minor / Emil Gilels

Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major, B 147/Op. 53 "Heroic" / Artur Rubinstein

Comments [11]

Zachary from Maryland

Why on EARTH is there not audio for this? There's nowhere else to listen to this? Come on, let the people who enjoy this support it!

Aug. 14 2015 06:51 PM
Allison from Newton NJ

I only wish there was archived audio for these segments, they are pure gold!

Feb. 02 2014 11:14 PM

What a wonderful treat .. I miss David Dubal's Comparative Piano Program. I love Chopin's music, and enjoyed this very much. Thank you!

Jan. 30 2014 09:00 PM

OK, I'm confused. Is this a re-broadcast at 10pm on 1/30/14? With seven comments from May 2013? Two of which referred to a typo and a missed listing, which have been fixed?

Shoddy editing, WQXR.


Jan. 30 2014 01:30 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

CHOPIN WAS THE POET OF THE PIANO !!! The intelligenzia of his day were thrilled at the prospect of attening his soirees. Composers, authors, politicians and the wealthy were in great numbers attracted to his sensitive playing of his own compositions. Among them were Cherubini, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Delacroix, Heine, Bellini, Berlioz, Maria Malibran, and Pauline Viardot-Garcia. Madame Dudevant the novelist known as George Sand were lovers but broke up in a quarrel in 1846 He never saw her again. And, more importantly, NEVER COMPOSED again. Nervous breakdowns and the weakness of his lungs and a never robust health contributed to his death , in Paris on October 17th, 1849.

May. 18 2013 12:34 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Thanks to WQXR for this treasurable programming by DAVID DUBAL whose knowledge and great sense of programming is unique and exciting to hear. Chopin's intensity and sensitivity at a precocious age is part and parcel of all his compositions which indeed appear biographical. At eighteen he suffered his first nervous breakdown and he was never in robust good health thereafter. Like all geniuses his works appear inevitably spontaneous. But, in truth, he re-worked, revised them to such perfection that they appear seamless. Another great composer for the piano Schumann, like Donizetti had problems with self-deprecation, in Schumann's case it ended in a mental institution, in Donizetti's case it ended in paralysis. Tschaikovsky also suffered from melancholia. It is amazing how many masterpieces these three composed, despite their mental or physiological problems. Assumptions that the combination of poor nutrition, frantic, obsessed need to write quickly and for sustained periods when the inspiration demanded at all hours of the day with poor lighting at night and inadequate writing implements and without the proper ophthalmics might explain why so many creative artists of the past had suffered poor health and psychological problems.

May. 17 2013 06:28 AM
patrick p. cosgrove from Connecticut

What an delightful surprise, the ever-excellent Mr. Dubal for lunchtime listening at my desk. And what a promising site this is. Deo Volente for a friend of impeccable taste who sent me the link, WQXR for spreading the good word and, of course, Chopin for the creative brilliance! PPC

May. 03 2013 01:34 PM
ruth schapira

What a welcome surprise to hear David Dubal again. His program on Comparative Piano was one of the most interesting series ever. I hope we will become a regular contributor to WQXR.

May. 02 2013 07:27 PM
Miles from Montclair, NJ

David Dubal --- what a wonderful host! Thank you WQXR for bringing him back. Now, if you would only bring back "First Hearing" (even if it has to be without the great Lloyd Moss as host).

May. 02 2013 07:14 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Another captivating broadcast/webcast from Mr. Dubal.

I noticed that the listing of pieces leaves out the second of last one (penultimate!) presented.

Chopin: Etude for Piano, Op. 25: no 2 in F minor / Emil Gilels

May. 02 2013 03:50 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

No audio at this time, though with changing headings and images I guess the page is still a work in progress. Also, a typo. "in his music as times" -- at times.

May. 02 2013 07:39 AM

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