Frederic Chopin, the Poet of the Piano

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

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

This week on Reflections from the Keyboard, host David Dubal begins a new four-part series exploring Frederic Chopin's preludes and impromptus. Dubal dives deeply into the repertoire of the Polish master, from comparative performances to samplings of notable historic recordings.

Chopin was devoted to the keyboard music of J.S. Bach. So much so, that he emulated the great composer in his own cycle of 24 preludes. Chopin’s set has one prelude for every major and minor key, just like Bach’s. His preludes have become some of the most honored miniatures in music history.

Alongside the preludes, Chopin wrote four impromptus, each one showcasing the composer’s poetic nature. In this episode, the least known impromptu, No. 3 in G Flat, is performed by Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Sofronitsky. The famous “Raindrop” prelude is played by Helene Tysman. The miniscule C Major Prelude is played in a comparative performance by four pianistic giants.

Program playlist (all by Frédéric Chopin):

Prelude Op 28 No 4 in E minor
Jorge Bolet, piano
Philips

Impromptu for piano in G flat major, Op. 51
Vladimir Sofronitsky, piano
Philips

Impromptu for piano in G flat major, Op. 51
Claudio Arrau
Philips

Prelude Op.28 no. 1 in C
Claudio Arrau
Appian, piano

Prelude Op.28 no. 1 in C
Martha Argerich, piano
Philips

Prelude Op.28 no. 1 in C
Jorge Bolet, piano
Philips

Prelude Op.28 no. 1 in C
Alfred Cortot, piano
Philips

Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45
Martha Argerich, piano
Philips

Impromptu no.1 in A flat major, op.29
Yundi Li, piano
Deutsche Grammophon

Impromptu in A Flat Major, Op.29
Artur Rubinstein, piano
Philips

Prelude op.28 no. 21
Robert Lortat, piano
Dante

Prelude Op.28 No.7 in A
Claudio Arrau, piano
Appian

Prelude No.7 Op 28 in A
Martha Argerich, piano
Philips

Prelude No.7 Op 28 in A
Alfred Cortot, piano
Philips

Prelude No.7 Op 28 in A
Robert Lortat, piano
Dante

Prelude Op28 No15 in D flat "Raindrop"
Helene Tysman, piano
Self Released

Prelude No. 22 Op 28 in G minor
Robert Lortat, piano
Dante

Prelude No. 22 Op 28 in G minor
Alfred Cortot, piano
Philips

Comments [3]

Meredith from nyc

On youtube there are several rave comments to the Sofrinitsky Impromptu 3. I’m crazy about it. Can hardly believe this is a little known piece, as you say in your book-- Reflections. I am blown away by it, and it’s been haunting me since Thursday’s program. I think It’s unusual among Chopin’s pieces. I love the 1st quick intro notes. And then it’s like a whirlwind, with an intoxicating, unique melody and harmony.
The middle section by contrast is not that interesting to my taste. But that makes the return of the main theme even better.

I wish you could just call it Impromptu number 3. instead of the key and opus # to try to remember—a long title, Impromptu op 51, g flat major. Titles like that are just another barrier among many for people to get into classical music, if they happen to hear it on the radio. Unless very motivated people won’t remember a long, complicated title. And it just puts people off. It’s not as if millions are avid for classical music. At least mention the number not just the opus and key.

I also like the Cortot recording on youtube. Others seemed too fast for me...Pollini, Rubinstein, Ashkenazy, Cziffra, and some others....they seem to glide through it and lose some of its flavor which somehow Sofrinitsky brings out. Cortot was quite fast but more interesting and moving than the others. Some pianists seem to show how fast they can play and still hit the notes. Arrau I didn’t care for particularly in this piece—but he did make a contrast to Sofrinitsky, so worth playing on your program.

On youtube--- an interesting performance by young Austrian pianist Ingolf Wunder, who won a Chopin competition and has great reviews online. Maybe check him out.

Oct. 11 2015 01:33 AM
Alfred from NYC

LOVED the Chopin program of Oct. 8 and will re-hear on Sun., Oct 11.

The comparative performances of preludes and impromptus were most revealing. A work as familiar as any of the aforementioned becomes new,fresh,more interesting in comparative performance.

But beyond the recordings is the narrative form Mr. Dubal used, sheer poetry in a radio talent so long gone from most who seem to think that talking into a mic is all that's necessary.

Oct. 09 2015 10:47 AM
Meredith from NYC

Mr. Dubal.....looking fwd to your show ...your last recent series was superb....discussing his harmony and chromaticism for us non musicians made me appreciate his music even more than before, if that were possible. Unique.

Too bad there's not a picture with a less sick and miserable looking Chopin than the 1 above, even if it is the only known photo. What a downer.

Oct. 08 2015 05:22 PM

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