Chopin’s piano piece echoes Polish dances
F amed Italian pianist Fabio Bidini returns to Hawaii this weekend to perform Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1.
In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $15 to $65
Call: 792-2000 or visit honolulusymphony.com
Chopin's piece is a luminous work. Its rich simplicity liberates the piano from its boundaries. Composed during Chopin's young adulthood, it is original, uplifting, radiant and, like much of Chopin's oeuvre, has echoes of traditional Polish dances. His style is instantly recognizable: unlike any other music you'll ever hear.
Chopin is one of music's greatest composers for piano. Born Frederic Francois Chopin in 1810, he became a leading musician in the legendary Paris salons; a darling of the upper classes, constantly in poor health and at all times purely elegant. But there is more to the man than this rather unflattering description. Like his music, Chopin was deeper than first appearances reveal.
He was born in Poland, just outside Warsaw. His father was French and his mother Polish. At the age of 20, the prodigy left to seek fame and fortune in the great musical cities of Europe, taking a small container of Polish soil. He ended up in Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Chopin's career blossomed, but like many musicians he was often misunderstood. It took years for some of his works to be accepted. Historically, he's been painted as a bit of a social climber. Biographers write about his other side: fervent Polish nationalist, composer of patriotic music and faithful friend. He agonized over his compositions and shied away from performing for large crowds.
Understanding more about this great man can help us to better appreciate the struggles that he and other composers of the era overcame to create a good deal of the world's most beautiful music. Chopin suffered from tuberculosis most of his adult life. No cure existed -- no antibiotics, no X-rays, no therapies, not even aspirin. He also struggled to earn a good income throughout most of his career. Yet his music rarely reflected his physical pain or inner torment.
I'll close here with two anecdotes that endear Chopin to many and have made him a national hero in Poland. Following his death in 1849 in Paris, he was interred with the Polish soil that he had kept with him since leaving Warsaw. Almost 100 years later, in 1939, Radio Warsaw played his nationalistic "Military Polonaise" before Poland surrendered to the Nazis at the beginning of World War II.
Will this background help you better understand the music at our concert? Perhaps not -- sometimes it's dangerous territory to mull over a composer's past. But it's so enjoyable to have some "insider information." Movie buffs will remember that actor Hugh Grant portrayed Chopin in 1991's "Impromptu." Now, that gives us something to think about!
As a resource for this article, I am grateful to music expert Jan Swafford's "The Vintage Guide to Classical Music," an indispensable -- and enjoyable -- guide to classical music.
Ignace "Iggy" Jang
is the Honolulu Symphony's concertmaster. His column will appear on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail comments and questions to Jang at email@example.com