Dedicated to the memory of Polish President Lech Kacziński and all the others who lost their lives on the air disaster in Smolensk (Russia) on April 10th, 2010. Released on April 10th, 2011. Booklet (32 pages) in Estonian and English.
|Étude in F minor, Op posth
|Nocturne in F minor, Op 55 No 1
|Waltz in A minor, Op 34 No 2
|Mazurka in A minor, Op 17 No 4
|Mazurka in A minor, Op 68 No 2
|Mazurka in G minor, Op 24 No 1
|Nocturne in G minor, Op 37 No 1
|Mazurka in C minor, Op 30 No 1
|Mazurka in F minor, Op 63 No 2
|Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 No 4
|Etude in E-flat minor, Op 10 No 6
|Waltz in A-flat major, Op 69 No 1
|Waltz in F minor, Op 70 No 2
|Mazurka in G-sharp minor, Op 33 No 1
|Prelude in B minor, Op 28 No 4
|Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4
|Waltz in B minor, Op 69 No 2
|Prelude in E minor, Op 28 No 4
|Mazurka in E minor, Op 41 No 2
|Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op 63 No 3
#16, Mazurka in B minor, Op 33 No 4, fragment, 2 min 9 sec, mp3
#17, Waltz in B minor, Op 69 No 2, fragment, 1 min 20 sec, mp3
Performed by Vardo Rumessen
Recorded in Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn on Oct 27th, Nov 13th, and Dec 5th, 2010
Instrument: Steinway & Sons D-274
Sound engineer: Tanel Klesment
Häälestaja / Piano tuner: Ants Saluraid
Design: Tiina Sildre
Front Cover: Coloured litograph Solo. Melancholy (1861) by Cyprian Kamil Norwid
Special thanks to Warsaw National Library
Liner notes: Vardo Rumessen and Virve Normet
English translation: Juhan Peipman
Producer: Peeter Vähi
© Estonian Record Productions, Estonian Classics, 2011
ERP 4211 / EC 006
A great Russian pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein once said that the heart of the piano lives in the music of Chopin. This phrase encapsulates the essential elements which are natural to Chopin’s music. Rubinstein added that his music “is filled with tragedy, romanticism, lyricism, heroism, fantasy and naivety”. Heinrich Heine made the following remark about Chopin: “He is a true poet of music, whose artistic home resides in the land of poetic fantasy”. Ferenc Liszt wrote a biography about Chopin where he describes the history of piano music as if it lies between two points of division − music before Chopin and music after Chopin.
Although Józef Hofmann has stated that every work of Chopin is created in its own style, there is, to be sure, a noticeable simplicity and sincerity which generally underpins and characterizes Chopin’s overall musical output. The most significant characteristic of Chopin’s music can be seen in its breadth and range of musical expression. It was Arthur Rubinstein, one of the twentieth century’s greatest pianists and respected authority on piano music who once commented that “Chopin speaks directly to the hearts of people”.
Chopin’s early compositions written in Warsaw had already captured the imagination and interest of many listeners. The publication of his music endowed the composer with almost instant fame as well as widespread interest in performing his compositions. Over a period of one hundred and fifty years his music has constantly retained a prominent position in most reknowned pianists’ repertoires. Chopin’s fame as a composer found its way into the broader artistic imagination of his day, unlike Johann Sebastian Bach whose personal fame rested primarily on his reputation as the most outstanding organist of his time. Fryderyk Chopin rose to a position of national hero, alongside his recognition as a first rate pianist and composer. While still a student in Warsaw his teacher, Józef Elsner, commented that Chopin “was a musical genius”.
Chopin made his name as a craftsman of the musical form known as miniature, the most important being the mazurkas, waltzes and preludes. Of no less significance are his polonaises, ballads and scherzos. Chopin rose to the pinnacle of his compositional life at the time of writing his Piano Sonata no 2, which is widely considered to be the most uniform and musically perfect work of its time. Sonata no 2 is a superlative example of human struggle and tragedy that was previously unknown in any work written for piano. The sheer musical contrast and depth of feeling is wholly unique among compositions written during the Romantic period. Such uniqueness is most clearly evident in the music’s formal structure, its richness of imagination and growing dramaticism, where detailed thematic transformation progressively shapes the music bringing to it a unified whole. This progressiveness of thinking is revealed for example in his Polonaise-Fantasia Op 61, and also in Chopin’s ballades which seemingly point the way to a later stage of musical development most notably observable in Liszt’s Symphonic poems.
Although virtuosity was the key to Liszt’s works, there is also sometimes a certain element of philosophy which underpins his work. Traces of an etherial kind of lyricism are not unusual in Liszt’s music, but what captures the listener’s attention is the fact that he achieves this quality by way of a rather conventional harmonic structure. Liszt’s melodies tend to lack even the slightest element of flamboyancy, instead inclining towards being short and assymetrical in overall structure. By contrast Chopin had an incomparable sense of line and depth of feeling superbly weighed with dramatic harmonic movement, thereby positioning Chopin as a force majeure of his age. Chopin was convinced that correct phrasing was the key element which undergirded a good melody, and believed that bel canto effect should be mastered by all students. At the same time Chopin’s music displays a clear sense of inner harmony and formal balance; a quality comparable only to the masterworks of Mozart. There is an inner logic to this music, giving it an attractive sense of freshness and spontaneity. Using limited resources, Chopin manages to create a rich palette of expression without ever losing its innate simplicity. Such an achievement is only possible in the hands of the finest of composers. Indeed, the majority of Chopin’s output has always been considered music of the highest artistic standards. There isn’t even the slightest hint of any technical weakness which can, for example, be found in Mendelssohn’s or Tchaikovsky’s ouvre. Any implication as to the background or the creative inspiration behind a given work was revealed in the relatively obscure meaning behind the title of a composition.
It could be argued that Chopin was very protective” of his music − any implication as to the background or the creative inspiration behind a given work was restricted to the relatively general wording in the title of a composition. Though it could be argued that Chopin’s contemporaries wrote music of more profound substance, his own innate sincerity and immediate accessibility raises his music to the highest of heights, as if it were music touched by the gods.
Chopin spent a considerable period of his life moving among the Parisian aristocratic class, enjoying the company of the cultured; those who fed their curiosity of the popular arts through membership in any one of the city’s numerous salons. Chopin was a man of high taste, always impeccably dressed. This outward sense of elegance resonated deep within his heart, giving rise to a very natural yet discreetly “tailored” form of music. It could be said that Chopin’s music is crafted in the same fashion and care that a fine old Grecian sculptor would produce from marble.
Chopin came to be recognised as an innovator whose compositions inspired generations of younger composers, beginning from the time of Liszt onwards. Through his revolutionary sense of harmony and structure, Chopin could be considered a forerunner of Richard Wagner. A study of his Mazurkas (Op 63 No 1 or Op 68 No 4 for example) or the section before recapitulation of Barcarolle Op 60 are clear examples of being music which is ahead of its time. Such harmonic perfection is unknown in the work of any other composer. It points the way towards the complicated harmonic nature, for example, of Tristan and Isolde. The nature of Chopin’s melodic contours is even adopted in the music of Grieg and Tchaikovsky, not to mention Rachmaninov and Scriabin who could be considered to be Chopin’s direct musical descendants. In fact, Chopin’s influence resonated into the early Twentieth Century period of musical experimentation of Debussy and Ravel.
By nature, Chopin was a friendly, supportive and − from outward appearances − generally happy person. It therefore probably comes as a surprise to many readers that he bore pain and grief in his heart – qualities to which we bear witness when we hear his most intimate musical compositions. Chopin once said that in his heart of hearts there was a dualism taking place, a clash of feelings which expressed itself in terms of personal tension. Displays of beauty contrasted with deep sorrow were the dual emotions existing side by side in his music, like a violin E string which is raised to maximum level of tension. This sense of sorrow and joy are played out as in an ancient Greek tragedy where the goddesses Melpomene and Thaleia look down with favor upon Chopin, guiding the composer’s every move and thought behind the creation of his masterpieces.
Characteristic of Chopin’s music is a high sense of drama, an internal restlessness and heroism, but also a lonely man’s hidden sadness which finds expression especially in his melancholy nature; in his minor key compositions. These qualities are most obviously discernible in his nocturnes, mazurkas and even his waltzes. This melancholy undertone is as natural to Chopin as it was in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Cyprian Kamil Norwid. Indeed, Chopin and Norwid were close friends and shared many similar personality traits. There is further evidence of it, for example, in the haunting expression of a painting called Melancholy by Norwid, whose masterpiece is reproduced on the front cover of this recording.
Chopin was always yearning for love and for much of his life he kept images of someone special within his heart. Though these emotions more often than not brought him considerable heartache, they profoundly influenced much of the outcome of his compositions where delicacy, desire and pain often mixed together. In spite of his many love affairs, it seems that the composer’s one true love was the Polish born Maria Wodzińska, to whom he dedicated his Waltz Op 69 No 1 − a portrait of Maria. In the knowledge of her deteriorating health, Chopin clung to every letter of correspondence with Maria in spite of intensely growing resentment from Maria’s mother over their relationship. These letters were bundled into paper onto which was written Moja bieda (My pain). This feeling stands in sharp contrast to his strained relationship with George Sand towards whom he ceased to hold any affection, let alone the slightest wish of dedicating any of his compositions to her memory. In fact he flatly refused to have her seen anywhere near his deathbed.
What lay behind such personal bitterness? Was it a lack of love, lack of a homeland or maybe deteriorating health? On one occasion Ferenc Liszt recalls a conversation about Chopin which took place at a French salon music evening, when an ardent admirer of his music approached Chopin and asked him: „What is the secret to your music, and how can one describe this particular quality which embodies such a broad range of musical expression?” Chopin, moved by the question and barely able to hold back his tears responded, that in spite of joyous moments in his life, there is always a pervading sense of sadness which follows him everywhere. It is a feeling which is best encapsulated in the Polish word Ózal, which describes his music as if it consisted of „burning silver tones”.
Polish friends persuaded Chopin to write a national opera or symphonic work, but he remained stubbornly faithful to the piano, and herein lies his personal success as a Polish national and that country’s most loved musician. It enabled Chopin to create a very intimate musical language which was the envy of masters such as Liszt.
Chopin’s name looms large over the entire period of 19th century musical life. Only in Chopin’s music is the co-existence of musical ideas and pianistic technique so perfectly in tandem. Indeed it was Chopin who raised the profile of the pianoforte to such a degree that it replaced the organ as the primary keyboard instrument of its day, owing to the piano’s extensive range of colour and overall flexibility. Time has shown that very few composers have managed to create music on a scale comparable with Chopin. Even the many orchestral arrangements which various composers have made of his works pale into insignificance beside his piano music.
So far-reaching is Chopin’s thinking, even the characteristically airy quality that he frequently employed soon becomes one of the leading elements which propelled musical advancement towards Impressionism (eg Berceuse Op 57). It could be said that this same airy quality gives music a sense of intangibility, creating lines of division between outstanding piano music and otherwise mediocre com-positional efforts. Chopin’s ouvre is widely considered to be the perfect embodiment of piano music.
A new approach to piano technique rose out of the nature of Chopin’s compositional challenges, including melodic ornamentation, enlarged chords and arpeggiated sections, all of which came to be seen as having more poetical importance rather than merely serving a technical purpose. Chopin’s greatest victory was overcoming the struggle − and subsequently achieving − a sense of unity between musical intentions and technical demands. There appears to be a link between the composer’s technical application together with unity of form particularly in his preludes and etudes.
Chopin preferred the intimacy of salon concerts as a venue for performing his music and he is known to have said that the beauty of high artistic achievement is often lost in the large concert hall. Chopin preferred performing on Pleyel pianos which produced a warmer and more intimate melodic sound quality. He disliked the sharpness of forte sounds. Instead he inclined towards quieter sounding instruments which, in his opinion, lent themselves to a wider dynamic range. Chopin most often played in a dynamic range between piano and mezzo-forte, rarely reaching the forte level. His playing style is characterised by a wide range of colour and expression of sound and a gentle touch of the keys (touché). This last technique often creates serious problems for pianists attempting to play Chopin’s music on contemporary Steinway pianos.
Chopin was a Polish patriot. Though his father was French, nevertheless this genetic background produced an intrinsically Polish character of music, reflected in national hardship and political scourges that united many centuries of troubled times between countries lying both East and West of Poland. There is an intrinsic parallel here concerning national fate which also applies equally to other countries including Estonia.
Chopin’s music reflects these heroic moments through dramatic outbursts, tragic conflict and revolutionary heroism. It is music that encompasses the passions of its time. Indeed, apart from Chopin, it is difficult to find another composer whose music reflects so clearly the notions of revolutionary freedom. At this point it is worth noting that in spite of attempts to label Chopin a French composer, his music is and remains unmistakably Polish. This can be seen in every one of his opuses. Whilst residing in Paris, Chopin experienced a deep sense of homesickness, evident, for example in his Funeral March from Sonata no 2. One critic stated that it is impossible for anyone other than a Pole to write such music. It is therefore nothing short of ironic that Chopin’s music has sounded at the funerals of many great Soviet leaders when in fact the USSR not only occupied but actively attempted to destroy Polish culture.
Towards the end of his life Chopin refrained from performing or even personally appearing in public. He once described his inner condition dating from around that time: “My soul is burdened though I am trying to control my state of heart”. This state of heart and mind comes through in his late works, with their fractured melodies and restless harmonic sequences. Especially sorrowful is Chopin’s final work − Mazurka in F minor Op 68 No 4.
The present recording is largely the product and inspiration stemming from the sentiment expressed in these late works of Chopin. His last wish and desire was to be buried in his native Poland.“I know”, said Chopin,“that Russian officials will not allow my burial to take place in Warsaw, but at least let my heart be buried there”. Nevertheless this request was met by authorities, and in time Chopin’s heart was buried in the Church of the Holy Cross, Warsaw. Furthermore in the cemetery of Paris’ Per Lachaise a sculpture in the mournful image of Euterpe by Auguste Clésinger adorns the composer’s final resting place.
Pianist and musicologist Vardo Rumessen is widely known as an authority of Estonian music, having written many books on the subject. He has also published a wide range of scores and performed on a significant number of records and CDs featuring the music of Estonian grand masters Eduard Tubin, Rudolf Tobias, Mart Saar and Heino Eller. Besides Estonian music Rumessen has also researched and recorded the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Alexander Scriabin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Johannes Brahms and Fryderyk Chopin and many other composers’ works.
Rumessen has a special affinity with the music of Chopin, having per-formed the complete etudes, all four ballades as well as numerous preludes, waltzes, nocturnes and mazurkas. Many of these compositions were featured in a special series of concerts presented by Rumessen to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of Chopin’s birth.
The present recording features piano music intended to commemorate the plane crash near Smolensk in April 2010, where the President and many important Polish government officials lost their lives. The album expresses condolence of the Estonian pianist to the Polish people as can only be experienced through the music of Chopin. The composer’s personal grief and devotion to his homeland helps towards understanding both the heart and soul of Chopin’s music, whilst also assisting the listener of this CD towards a clearer understanding with regard to the tragedy. The pianist believes that when the sounds of Chopin’s music are left sounding in our ears can we say that the ultimate goal in pursuit of the beauty and pain behind this music has been finally attained.
Download: Vardo Rumessen, recording session – Chopin (2010, Tartu University Hall), photo by P. Vähi, jpg, 300 dpi, 3.7 MB
See also other recordings of Vardo Rumessen by ERP: Koidust Kodumaise viisini, Eduard Tubin and His Time, Northern Lights Sonata, Estonian Preludes, The Call of the Stars, The Well-Tempered Clavier I, Sergei Rahmanionov. Piano Works, Silent Moods