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ClassicsOnline Home » CHOPIN, F.: Preludes (Complete) / Variations Brillantes
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"If you're a Chopin fan, this one's a must for your collection"
"this is for me the most beautiful recording of the Preludes I have ever heard"
Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1849) Preludes & Variations
Fryderyk Chopin was born at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, in
1810. His father, Nicolas Chopin, was French by birth, but had been taken to Poland in
1787, at the age of sixteen, working first as a clerk in a tobacco factory, before taking
part in the Polish rising against the foreign domination of the country as an officer in
the National Guard. After the failure of this attempt, he was able to earn his living as a
French tutor in various private families, and in 1806 he married a poor relation of his
then employer, Count Skarbek.
Chopin was to inherit from his father a fierce sense of loyalty
to Poland, a feelifl9 that he fostered largely in self-imposed exile, since the greater
part of his career was to be spent in Paris. His early education, however, was in Warsaw,
where his father had become a teacher at a newly established school. He was able to
develop his already precocious musical abilities with piano lessons from the eccentric
Adalbert Zywny, a violinist from Bohemia, who shared Nicolas Chopin's enthusiasm for
Poland and was able to inculcate in his pupil a sound repect for the great composers of
the eighteenth century. Chopin later took lessons from the director of the Warsaw
Conservatory, Jozef Eisner, and entered the Conservatory as a student in 1826. By then he
had already developed his own individual style as a pianist and had writ1en, during the
previous ten years, a number of pieces for the piano.
Warsaw offered a restricted environment for musical
achievement, although Chopin was able to hear Hummel there in 1828 and the violinist
Paganini in the following year. He had already acquired a considerable local reputation
when in 1830 he set out for Vienna, where he was to pass the winter with very little to
show for it. An earlier visit to Vienna had aroused interest, but this second visit,
undertaken with a more serious purpose, produced nothing, and the following summer he set
out for Paris, where he was to spend much of the rest of his life.
Chopin 's attitude to Paris was at first ambivalent. As a
provincial he found much to shock him, while, at the same time, there was much to impress
him in the splendour of the city and in the diversity of music there. He was to create a
special place for himself as a teacher to some of the most distinguished families and as a
performer in more intimate social gatherings than the theatres and concert-halls where his
cruder contemporary Franz Liszt could excel.
By 1837 Chopin had embarked on a liaison with the writer George
Sand, Aurore Dupin, the estranged wife of Baron Dudevant, generally spending the summer at
her country estate at Nohant. The winter of 1838 was spent with her in Mallorca, where an
attempt to battle against a high wind seriously affected his lungs, already weakened by
tuberculosis. Thereafter Chopin's relationship with George Sand took a more conventional
course, until the jealousies and rivalry of her two children led to a final quarrel in
1847. George Sand and Chopin were never to be reconciled, and he died in Paris in 1849,
his health having deteriorated considerably during the course of a visit to England and
Scotland the year before, when Paris was undergoing revolution.
As a composer Chopin's achievement was remarkable. He perfected
his own idiomatic style of performance, in which technical problems seemed not to exist, a
style of delicate nuance and elegance. His music, suited to his manner of playing, showed
considerable originality in its exploration of harmony and in its expansion of exi5ting
forms and creation of new ones, opening a world that later composers were to continue to
The set of 24 Preludes published as Opus 28 was completed
during the winter Chopin spent with George Sand in Mallorca. The greater part of the work
had been done before the couple, accompanied by George Sand's two children, arrived in
Palma at the beginning of November, 1838. Chopin's health suffered almost at once, with a
severe attack of bronchitis, and an expensive and correct diagnosis of tuberculosis from
local doctors forced the group to leave their Palma lodgings and seek refuge at the
deserted monastery of Valldemosa, a romantic spot that appealed to the writer's
imagination, while providing relatively primitive living conditions, exacerbated by the
increasing hostility of the local peasantry. As he recovered his strength, Chopin worked
on the completion of the Preludes, helped, in the end, when he was able to negotiate the
release of a new Pleyel piano from the Palma customs for a payment of duty that further
depicted the dwindling financial resources of the couple.
The Opus 28 Preludes,
completed in such difficult circumstances, form a complete work in their sequence of keys,
following the circle of fifths, each major key paired with its relative minor in a general
pattern of increased complexity at the heart of the set, where remoter keys are found.
Chopin used the form on two other occasions, in an A
flat Prelude of 1834, first published in 1918, and a Prelude in C sharp minor written at Nohant in the
summer of 1841 and published in the same year.
The Variations brillantes,
Opus 12, were written in 1833 and dedicated to Chopin's pupil Emma Horsford.
The work opens with an introduction, followed by the theme, "Je vends des
scapulaires", from the opera Ludovic by Hérold and Halevy. The first running
variation of the gently rocking melody is followed by a scherzo, a change of key for a
slow derivative of the original and a rapid lively final version of the theme.
Irina Zaritzkaya won distinction first in her native Russia,
before winning the second prize, after Pollini, in the Warsaw Chopin Competition, the
prelude to a busy career in the Soviet Union. In 1972 she moved to Israel and embarked on
an international career that brought engagements with major orchestras and appearances
in North and South America, in the Far East and throughout Europe. Today Irina Zaritzkaya
lives in London, where she teaches at the Royal College of Music, while continuing to
undertake concert engagements throughout Western Europe.
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