Chopin Dreams

Programme

FREDERIC CHOPIN
Frédéric Chopin: Sonata in B flat minor (begun 1837, completed 1839), Op. 35
1. Grave – Doppio movimento
2. Scherzo
3. Marche funèbre: Lento
4. Finale: Presto

BRUCE ADOLPHE
“CHOPIN DREAMS” (2014) World Premiere

New York Nocturne
Jazzurka
Piano Popping
Brooklyn Ballad
Quaalude
Hora

———–Intermission———–

LEOPOLD GODOWSKY
12 ÉTUDES ON CHOPIN’S ÉTUDES, OP. 10
(from 53 Studies on the Études of Chopin)

1. (Op. 10 No. 1) in C major – Allegro maestoso
4. (Op. 10 No. 2) in A minor – Allegro “Ignis fatuus”
5. (Op. 10 No. 3) in D-flat major – Lento, ma non troppo – for the left hand alone
6. (Op. 10 No. 4) in C-sharp minor – Presto – for the left hand alone
8. (Op. 10 No. 5) in C major – Vivace
13. (Op. 10 No. 6) in E-flat minor – for the left hand alone
14. (Op. 10 No. 7) in C major – Vivace “Toccata”
16. (Op. 10 No. 8) in F major – Allegro risoluto
18. (Op. 10 No. 9) in F minor – Mesto “[With] Imitation of Op. 25 No. 2”
19. (Op. 10 No. 10) in D major – Allegro moderato
21. (Op. 10 No. 11) in A major – Allegro sostenuto
22. (Op. 10 No. 12) in C-sharp minor – Allegro con fuoco – for the left hand alone


Programme Notes

Bruce Adolphe’s Note on Chopin Dreams:

I spend a lot of time, nearly every day, at a piano and have done so for about 54 years now. I may be improvising to get into the composing zone, playing jazz, reading through Bach for inspiration, or looking for odd musical connections to use in my piano puzzlers. It is not uncommon for my hands to be playing something while my mind is completely elsewhere.

My relationship to the piano, which began when I was six years old, is one of exploration: exploring the inner workings of the great piano repertoire; exploring the infinity of sensuously resonant harmonies; discovering my own deepest thoughts through dreamlike improvisations that continue to evolve over the years, like a giant chronicle of my subconscious.

A few composers have defined the way the rest of us use the piano— the way fingers move, how the instrument resonates, what its textures are, what the pedal is for, and even the way we think about what music for the piano means. A very short list of such seminal piano composers would have to include Chopin, the master of nuance, of delicate filigree and beguiling harmonies — the creator of the unique musical mixture of nobility and vulnerability, available only in his precious, pedaled perfume.

As the American Public Radio’s piano puzzler on the series ‘Performance Today’, I have disguised over forty familiar melodies in the style of Chopin and also merged quite a few popular tunes with actual piano pieces by Chopin. But composing Chopin Dreams has nothing to do with piano puzzlers. This was not a matter of using Chopin’s works for crafty comedic combinatorial composition; this instead was the far more intense process of communing with Chopin’s art for the purpose of composing my own personal statements about this extraordinary music. Chopin Dreams is not a tribute to Chopin, but something more emotionally charged. To compose this work, I imagined Chopin alive today, living in New York, perhaps making some money at a jazz club rather than teaching so many students.

Chopin’s enchanting cascades of notes that fall in graceful rhythmic independence over a steady bass are very like an inspired jazz pianist’s fluid melodic ornaments hovering over a groove. Did Chopin ever play a blue note, as it is called in jazz?

To answer that question, I turn to a description of Chopin improvising at the piano, written in the diary of the painter Eugène Delacroix, one of Chopin’s closest friends:

“Little by little our eyes become filled with those soft colors corresponding to the sweet modulations taken in by our auditory senses. And then — the blue note resonates and there we are, in the azure of the transparent night.”
Whether that particular blue note was a jazzy flatted third hanging out over a dominant seventh chord we will never know, but it may well have been, because the exact same blue note of jazz music does in fact exist in Chopin’s music. It usually appears as an appoggiatura leaning on the minor 9th above a dominant seventh chord in a minor key. For a simple example, take a look at the very first bar of the G Minor Mazurka, Opus 67, No.2. That little F-natural is a blue note. And that sort of thing helped inspire my Chopin Dreams to go much further.

In composing Chopin Dreams, I used several approaches:

1. I used particular works of Chopin as models and source material for three of the movements: Brooklyn Ballad uses Chopin’s G Minor Ballade as raw material; Jazzurka is based on the A minor Mazurka Opus 17, No. 4; Quaalude is modeled on Chopin’s Prelude No 3.
2. I imagined Chopin as a jazz pianist playing a new kind of nocturne for New York Nocturne.
3. I picked two dance forms Chopin never heard of to create Piano Popping (based on some hip-hop rhythms) and Hora (I wondered what Chopin would play at a Bar-Mitzvah.)

Finally, it was inspiring to imagine Carlo Grante playing the music as I composed it, bringing his penetrating virtuosity and precise pianism to every phrase. It is my pleasure to dedicate Chopin Dreams to Carlo Grante.

 

Carlo Grante’s Note on the Godowsky Studies on Chopin’s Etudes:

Hearing Chopin’s Preludes next to 12 of the Studies on Chopin’s Études (1893–1914) by Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) provides a rare insight, suggesting how Chopin’s music might have developed, had he sought to combine, as Godowsky said of his own intentions, “Chopin’s sonority with Bach’s polyphony.” Just as Chopin’s music can hardly get denser, stylistically, than in the 24 Preludes, its hypothetical development can scarcely get any more complex or challenging pianistically than in the notorious Godowsky Studies, which have been selected in this program to provide a version by Godowsky for each of the 12 original Études, Op. 10 by Chopin.

Godowsky’s drastic elaborations are often dismissed as tampering of the worst sort. But it is precisely the archetypal nature of Chopin’s Études, familiar to the ears and fingers of every pianist and piano composer, that allows Godowsky to create a monument to their greatness without at the same time crushing them under its weight.

One always wonders if Chopin’s Op. 10, No. 1 has a “theme.” Some performers tend to bring out the bass line, but this is little more than a ground, not a theme. There is, however, a rudimentary melodic line (or “melos”) implicit in the voicing of the Étude’s arpeggiated chords. This is the very thing that Godowsky chooses to emphasize in Study 1, with cavernous two-handed chords in the lower register that drive arpeggios across the entire keyboard.

Study 4 re-works the chromatic scalar material of Op. 10, No. 2 into 4:3 polyrhythms. The Study’s subtitle (“Ignis fatuus”) underscores a connection with Liszt’s “Feux Follets” (will-o’-the-wisps), a work that projects its chromaticism in a similar, though more homophonic way.

Study 5, on Chopin’s Op. 10, No.3, justifies Godowsky’s view that the left hand is in every way equal and in some ways superior to the right hand. He judged that in its application to piano playing the left hand had many advantages over the right, and it would suffice to mention only a few of these to convince the student that it is a fallacy to deem the left hand less amenable to training than the right.

The left hand is favored by nature in having the stronger part of the hand for the upper voice of all double notes and chords, and also by generally having the strongest fingers for the stronger parts of a melody. In addition, … the left hand, commanding as it does the lower half of the keyboard, has the incontestable advantage of enabling the player to produce with less effort and more plasticity a fuller and mellower tone, superior in quantity and quality to that of the right hand.
—(Leopold Godowsky: Special remarks on the studies for left hand alone from the introduction to his Studies on Chopin’s Études).

Study 6 on Op. 10, No. 4 is a left-hand transcription; Godowsky aims to maintain the Étude’s toccata-like character but at the same time extrapolates several subsidiary melodic lines (which are added to the inner structure of the inherent polyphony). His methods are apparent in the very first measures: in the subtle treatment of the descending 16th-note incipit. Achieving textural completeness with a single hand demands highly complex writing, designed to expose and clarify each and every melodic and contrapuntal aspect of the piece. As with his left-hand transcription of the “Revolutionary” Étude, Godowsky adds new voices to the motoric passages. This gives the Study added weight and contrasts it with Op. 10, No. 4, which is traditionally performed as a brisk, light, forward-moving, two-part Toccata.

Study 13 on Op. 10, No. 6 is a true masterpiece that achieves several compositional and poetic goals. It elaborates the semi-tonal inflection of the Étude’s original accompaniment, developing a massive web of sonorities from this. The resulting polyphony from the texture of the accompaniment is scarcely conceivable for a single hand.

Godowsky adds new melodic lines that are ideal companions to Chopin’s primary thematic material. Some listeners will recognize Blumenfeld’s Etude for the Left Hand as the Study’s pianistic if not stylistic ancestor.

No. 14 is a Toccata, in a very faithful transcription which works 2-1 finger-repetitions.

In Study 16, on Op. 10, No. 8, Godowsky systematically transfers musical materials from one hand to the other, creating technical hurdles of the utmost difficulty. Study 16 features intertwined passagework for both hands. The upward- and downward-arpeggiated figurations over a horn-like melody are reminiscent of similar horn melodies in Chopin’s Concertos. The original passagework is articulated and accented in a way that forces the performer to abandon superficial fluency in favor of accurate metric and harmonic subdivisions. This fact, combined with the presence of subsidiary figurations and reiterated thematic material, creates textures of maximum richness.

Study 18 on Op. 10, No. 9 imports and adapts the right-hand figurations of Chopin’s Op. 25, No. 2, with staggering results.

Study 19 on Op. 10, No. 10 is a miraculous explosion of creativity. Its form is variational all the while suggested by the structure of the Étude, which moves its primary material through several keys, almost repeating itself. Godowsky elaborates on this aspect of the original text, magnifying each quasi-repetition into a full-fledged variation.

In Study 22 on Op. 10, No. 12 the famous thematic features of the well-known “Revolutionary” Étude are left unaffected, and are supplemented with polyphonic activity not present in the original. The result is a work that is a mix of transcription, lefthand arrangement, and elaboration. The accompanying passagework is infused with strands of melodic material (hidden or implicit in the original), thereby adding even more pathos to the already turbulent Étude.

 

Note on Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849): Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35:

Chopin’s sonata no. 2, with its famous funeral march, is a masterpiece that disproves Liszt’s notion that Chopin’s genius was not suited to larger musical forms. The sonata marks an important point in the evolution of the sonata during the Romantic period. Some contemporaries such as Robert Schumann did not think the 4 movements fit well together, Schumann going so far as to suggest that the Funeral March would have been better alone as a separate piece. Twentieth century critics have found much more coherence. Alfred Einstein thought that the sonata’s first movement’s ballade, the scherzo, the funeral march and the expressive étude in the Presto finale constituted a whole that was entirely logical and sensible, a product par excellence Romantic, an intentional reconciliation of opposites.

The B flat minor Sonata may be said to have ‘grown around the march’, which formed its point of departure and at the same time served as its fulcrum and climax. (Tomaszewski). The first two movements, the Allegro and Scherzo, head towards it. The Finale is an epilogue, where, as Chopin said, “the left hand unison is chattering with the right hand.”

There is no shortage of drama in the sonata: there are innovative harmonies and the work consistently impresses melodically and dramatically. The opening gesture – that exordium that stands at the head of the work – points to the tragic moment of catastrophe that constitutes the March: ineluctable, inevitable, announced by the opening Grave and foretold by the last bars of the Scherzo.

The first movement’s Allegro is pervaded by the spirit not of a sonata, but of a ballade. Restlessness, mystery, extreme contrasts of expression, subtle sonorities, sinister sounds, and a propulsion, unusual in a sonata, evocative of a horse’s galloping (Tomaszewski). Jagged and almost hysterical melodies are introduced one by one, interweaved with only a few bar-long moments of release that always lead to another culmination; the end is a huge and ponderous cadence. The subject of death is omnipresent in most of Chopin’s works and the first movement Allegro has been seen as a fight for life.


Performances


15 September 2015
New York, USA

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26 November 2015
Vienna, Austria

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