Chopin and His World.
Halina Goldberg and Jonathan Bellman introduce Chopin and His World by situating nineteenth-century Polish national music within the context of partitioned Poland, which did not exist politically between 1795 and 1918. Their overview points to "probably no better introduction to Chopin than one of the most famous passages in Polish literature, which describes a vision of Poland's history as expressed through music" (p. 6): the "Concert of Concerts" concluding Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz. They deserve kudos for promoting this world-class epic poem.
Goldberg's "Chopin's Oneiric Soundscapes and the Role of Dreams in Romantic Culture" offers a compelling dream-based aesthetic of Frederic Chopin, who created dreaming effects via "temporal distancing through auditory distortions--fading, blurring, and fragmentation" (p. 20) evoked by "soft dynamics, the use of pedal points, drones, or non-chord tones, rubato, and ... the pedals" (p. 21). She traces the interest of Fruhromantik writers in "liminal states" to German idealism and Naturphilosophie "that could be manifested as both the subjective and objective" (p. 26), which helps explain those qualities in Chopin's music. Goldberg links Fruhromantik philosophers to Warsaw intelligentsia and Chopin's circle, keenly noting, "Chopin's teacher Jozef Eisner included an iconic dream sequence in Krdl Lokielek, his opera about King Wladyslaw the Short, who restored partitioned Poland at the end of the fourteenth century" (p. 35). In relation to Chopin, she discusses Karol Kurpiiiski's Chwila snu okropnego (A Moment of a Frightful Dream; 1820), observing "chromatic melodic lines, extremes of register, and loud dynamics" (pp. 35-36). Regarding the evolving capabilities of the piano, she points to a "variety of timbres that could be achieved through the use and various combinations of the pedals" (p. 36).
Goldberg introduces "Jozef Sikorski's 'Recollection of Chopin': The Earliest Essay on Chopin and His Music," expertly translated by John Comber. Sikorski believed that Chopin's wide-spanning chords "represent the boundlessness of the spirit encompassing space, penetrating infinity" (p. 53) and acknowledged the "indeterminate meaning of musical expressions" (p. 80).
Anatole Leikin's "Chopin and the Gothic" detects "three cases of direct literary connections" (p. 85) in Chopin's music: Alphonse de Lamartine with the preludes, op. 28; Adam Mickiewicz with the ballades; and William Shakespeare with the Nocturne in G Minor, op. 15, no. 3. Leikin argues that "Gothic fiction" (p. 85) unites those writers. He extends the Gothic aesthetic from the Dies irae--infused preludes into nocturnes and ballades by astutely recognizing that "each ballade follows the general outline of a typical Gothic story: tranquil beginning leading through abrupt plot twists and violent episodes to a calamitous denouement" (p. 99).
David Kasunic's "Revisiting Chopin's Tubercular Song, or, An Opera in the Making" links "the sounds produced by a tubercular chest to the sounds produced by Chopin's piano as well as to Chopin's singing writ large" (p. 103). His point is that "Chopin as the child orphan of Polish Mother, as Orpheus, as a nightingale--all of these renderings of him index singing and death, a convergence that, in Chopin, amounts to a swan song: Chopin's tubercular song" (p. 117).
Jeffrey Kallberg's "Chopin and Jews" treats that sensitive topic evenhandedly, exercising "caution when judging figures from the past by ethical and moral standards of our time" (p. 128). Kallberg conceptualizes Chopin's enigmatic Prelude in A Minor, op. 28, no. 2, as an evocation of Jewish music, "which was understood to embrace cacophony, dissonance, and incomprehensibility" (p. 130).
In "Middlebrow Becomes Transcendent: The Popular Roots of Chopin's Musical Language," Bellman claims that Chopin's popularity hinges on "gestures heard moment-to-moment on the musical surface" (p. 147). After discussing dance and song influences on Chopin's music, Bellman turns to story. He describes descriptive programmatic piano pieces, including Franz Kotzwara's Battle of Prague (ca. 1788) and identifies three approaches to musical expression: onomatopoetic mimetic musical gestures, musical topics, and literal musical quotation. Bellman cites Chopin's use of topics during improvisations and identifies two-note slurs (lament topic) in Daniel Steibelt's Britannia (1797); the Grande fantasie lugubre au souvenir des trois heros Prince Joseph Poniatowski, Kosciuszko et Dqbrowski by Chopin's teacher, Wilhelm Wiirfel; a Chopin nocturne; and his last ballade.
Goldberg introduces and annotates "Karol Kurpiriski on the Musical Expression of Polish National Sentiment," which Comber translates brilliantly. Kurpiriski's "O historycznych piesniach ludu Polskiego" ("On the Historical Songs of the Polish People") (Tygodnik muzyczny, 25 October 1820) describes fifteen compositions as "precious national keepsakes" (p. 174) and presents music examples from "The Kosciuszko Polonaise" (example la has a typo on the downbeat) and Kurpiriski's "Elegy on the Death of Tadeusz Kosciuszko." The 1820 article and "On Musical Expression and Mimesis" (Tygodnik muzyczny i dramatyczny 5 [9 May 1821]) provides invaluable insights into the (pre)compositional process and evoking emotions.
Eric McKee's "Dance and the Music of Chopin: The Polonaise" continues his enlightening approach of examining the social and kinesthetic aspects of Chopin's dance music. He contextualizes the polonaise within eighteenth-century Polish society before distinguishing between heroic and melancholy polonaises. McKee correctly traces melancholy polonaises to Michel Oginski. He deduces, however, musical characteristics of his proposed "Russian heroic polonaise" from just one polonaise from 1791 by opportunist Jozef Kozlowski, who fled to archenemy Russia. Such polonaises, McKee argues, lack "syncopated rhythms ... sudden changes in dynamics, articulation, phrase lengths, and expression ... expansive ranges and large leaps" (p. 209). Yet these musical characteristics also describe Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's polonaise (no. 4 of the Duets for Two Horns, K. 487 ). McKee's conflation of Russian/heroic /polonaise has no factual basis. I have examined over four dozen polonaise-related documents in English, French, German, and Polish from the 1720s to the 1880s, and not one associates the polonaise with Russia. Hence, the following sentence is bewildering: "Surely the purest expression of Polish majesty in all of Chopin's works, Op. 40, No. 1 nonetheless falls within the category of the Russian heroic polonaise" (p. 218). Alternatively, McKee quotes dancing master Giovanni-Andrea Gallini, who in 1772 wrote, "The Russians afford nothing remarkable in their dances, which they now chiefly take from other countries" (p. 229n72).
James Parakilas's "The Barcarolle and the Barcarolle'. Topic and Genre in Chopin" explores the relationship between genre and topic, asserting that genre-based titles "in fact cover an endless fluidity with topics" (p. 232). He identifies the barcarolle topic in nocturnes, ballades, and a piano sonata before analyzing Chopin's Barcarolle in Fjt Minor, op. 60. The article would benefit from music examples.
In "Chopin and Improvisation," John Rink writes that Chopin's performances, teaching style, and compositional approach "were profoundly influenced by improvisation" (p. 249). Rink clarifies the relationship between improvisation and composition, insightfully stating, "The overriding goal [of improvisation] is usually the [immediate] effect of the sounding music rather than the cohesion and durability of an underlying musical conception" (p. 250). After quoting two accounts of Chopin's improvisations, Rink concludes, "The defining structural feature of both ... seems to have been a succession of generic types which in turn evoked a series of moods and emotions" (p. 253). Chopin's British piano tuner testified that Chopin "never played his own compositions twice alike" (p. 254), improvising ornaments "especially when playing his nocturnes and mazurkas" (p. 255). Rink derives Chopin's ornamentations from improvisation and examines how it influenced Chopin's compositional process. He offers practical advice for performing with a more improvisational character, such as avoiding metronomic tempos, applying "principles of breathing learned through collaboration with singers or wind players" (p. 264), and seeking "balance between fidelity [to the score] and innovation" (p. 265). Illustrating his approach with the Waltz in F Minor, op. 70, no. 2, Rink reconciles printed variants by performing "Section A according to the Gavard manuscript; then, when repeating the opening section ... freely intermixing] variants drawn on the spot from the other four manuscripts, thereby achieving the spontaneous variety for which Chopin was noted" (p. 266).
Sandra P. Rosenblum's "Chopin among the Pianists in Paris" correctly acknowledges that Chopin's aesthetic and pianistic seeds "were sown in Warsaw" (p. 271) and accurately observes that Jozef Eisner's Aristotelian method of teaching composition led Chopin to discover musical principles intuitively. She documents Chopin's French performances before discussing contrametric, agogic, and Polish rubato. The article concludes by reviewing Chopin's "Projet de methode" and his playing.
Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger's "The Hand of Chopin: Documents and Commentary," translated by Virginia E. Whealton, examines drawings, sketches, and plasters by Maurice Sand, Jean-Baptiste Clesinger, and Albert Graefle. Eigeldinger uses such information to explain, for example, Stephen Heller's testimony, "It was a wonderful sight to see one of those small hands expand and cover a third of the keyboard ... like the opening of the mouth of a serpent which is going to swallow a rabbit whole" p. (309). He apparently structured the essay around Witold Lutoslawski's concluding quote: "No composer in the whole history of music has created such strength and indissoluble cohesion, a mysterious connection of ... hand, keyboard, and the sensation of the music through sound" (p. 311).
In the afterword, "Chopin and the Consequences of Exile," after properly mentioning Franz Liszt's role in identifying "a distinctly Polish 'melancholy,' zal ... at the heart of Chopin's music" (p. 319), Leon Botstein aptly compares Chopin to Juliusz Slowacki, as both "left Poland imbued, from childhood, with the same construct of patriotism specific to Poles of their generation" (p. 333). Chopin and Joseph Conrad (Jozef Korzeniowski) spread their artistic messages by transcending "cultural and national lines" (p. 336); Liszt saw a bond between Chopin and another exile, Heinrich Heine. The final portion of the article concerning twentieth-century matters connects tenuously to Chopin and Aw world.
Chopin and His World properly emphasizes Poland while also discussing France. In contextualizing Chopin's Polish world for non-Polish speakers, the book builds upon invaluable recent Chopin scholarship by Goldberg (Music in Chopin's Warsaw [New York: Oxford University Press, 2008] and various articles) and Bellman (Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010] and articles) and might inspire scholars to also translate nineteenth-century Polish texts, add cultural context to analyses, and inform performances according to historical source documents. Chopin and His World is a must-read for anyone who interacts with Chopin's music and belongs in the personal libraries of listeners, musicologists, pianists, and theorists alike.
WILLIAM M. HELMCKE
University of Massachusetts Amherst
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|Author:||Helmcke, William M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2019|
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