Official Release: 17 September 2021
This Da Vinci Classics album could easily be subtitled as “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. It comprises four works written within the space of less than a decade, between Chopin’s fifteenth and his twenty-third year of age. They represent not only an impressive photograph of the young musician’s talent and skill, but also a narrative tracking the stages of his development, of his stylistic maturation and of his relationship with audiences, publishers, students and teachers.
A composer’s “op. 1” is always a significant moment for him or her, and should be observed with attention as it may reveal important aspects of its composer’s personality. If we observe Chopin’s Rondo in C minor op. 1, some of the characteristic features of the mature composer are already found, even though many more are still latent, or can be guessed only by hindsight. Chopin was only fifteen when he wrote and published it. He had premiered it himself on June 10th, 1825, at the Great Hall of the Conservatory in Warsaw. At that time, he was still a student at the Lyceum: interestingly, the published piece would be dedicated to the headmaster’s wife, Madame de Linde. The piece and its performance by the young composers did not fail to attract the attention of both the audience and the critics: the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the Leipzig-based magazine where everything musical was noted and reported, published a review in which Chopin’s piece was mentioned in praising terms, and the “wealth” of its “musical ideas” was admired. It should be added, however, that the flattering tone may sound slightly less extraordinary if, as it has been surmised, the review’s author was Chopin’s teacher.
In spite of its opus number, moreover, this work was neither Chopin’s first composition, nor his first published piece. His first compositions date back to 1817, when he was barely seven, and his earliest Polonaise (in G minor, KK IIa 1) was published in the same year. As a child prodigy, Chopin had already demonstrated his enormous potential, and therefore, in his early teens, he was entrusted to the professional care of Józef Elsner, a great pedagogue whose influence would be fundamental for his student’s education.
Elsner taught Chopin at first privately, and later at the Conservatoire. He was evidently proud of his pupil, as is possibly shown by the critic on the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, and clearly aimed at promoting him as much as possible. The Rondo op. 1 was seen, probably by both teacher and student, as the young musician’s first major achievement, worth performing in public, publishing and promoting on the newspapers. It is a relatively large-scale work, whose main traits are brilliancy, virtuosity and a fashionable style, influenced by vocal bravura and by the dazzling technical display it offers.
However, there is more, to it, than a mere showpiece. In particular, the young musician’s originality is demonstrated by his skillful and unconventional handling of the tonal relationships. Different from most rondo brillantes of the time, Chopin’s early work eschews the trite formulae of rondos built on a handful of closely-related keys: here Chopin moves swiftly and competently among distant keys, whilst managing to maintain a substantial compositional unity in the overall impression of fluency.
Both the work’s undeniable merits and its comparative lack of profundity were summarized very aptly by Robert Schumann, who read it through some years later, in 1832, and who discussed it with his teacher Friedrich Wieck – the father of Schumann’s future wife, Clara. Schumann synthesized his impression as follows: “Chopin’s first work (I believe firmly that it is his 10th) is in my hands: a lady would say that it was very pretty, very piquant, almost Moschelesque. But I believe you will make Clara study it; for there is plenty of spirit in it and few difficulties. But I humbly venture to assert that there are between this composition and Op. 2 two years and twenty works”.
These “two years and twenty [unpublished] works” separating Chopin’s op. 1 from his op. 2 did not prevent the early work from being published almost immediately by the Warsaw music printer Brzezina (without opus number); much later, when Chopin was beginning to gain fame in Paris, it would be republished by printers eager to exploit the young musician’s success.
This would not happen, however, for still some time. In the following years, Chopin continued his education in Warsaw, and, as he progressed in his studies of composition, he was required to move from the relatively simpler form of the Rondo to a more complex structure, i.e. the Sonata form.
Thus, in 1827 or 1828 he wrote the first of his three Piano Sonatas, later to be published as his op. 4. In comparison with the other two, this suffers a rather unjust neglect by pianists and audiences: it certainly displays traits markedly different from its younger siblings, but it contains a great abundance of musically fascinating moments. The piece was dedicated by Chopin to his teacher Elsner, who graciously acknowledged the gift with a handwritten note on his student’s manuscript.
Evidently, Elsner believed in the piece and in its composer, and so it was probably on Elsner’s recommendation that Chopin proposed the work, along with two Variation cycles, to a Leipzig publisher. Unfortunately, the pieces were rejected; Chopin, however, tried another path – always with his teacher’s support – offering them to Tobias Haslinger, a major Viennese publisher. In that case, the Variations op. 2 were accepted, whilst the other works had to wait for a rather long time.
Only in 1841, when Chopin was already a successful composer, did Haslinger revive the project. He had already engraved the piece and sent it to the musician for proofreading. By then, however, tastes had changed. Chopin did not send the proofs back: it is uncertain whether he did intend to thoroughly revise the piece for publication or simply wished to let the matter drop – as it did. Ten more years had to elapse before the Sonata was published, with opus number 4, as a posthumous work.
On the compositional plane, Chopin’s mastery of the intricacies of the Sonata form seems still slightly unripe; however, his knowledge of contrapuntal writing is impressive, and clearly reveals the influence of Bach’s music, which the young musician had studied thoroughly and for a long time. Another unusual trait is the presence of a Minuet with Trio as the second movement: this represents a unique instance in Chopin’s entire known output. No less impressive is the tempo indication of the Larghetto con molta espressione, with bars in 5/4, a time signature which was very seldom found at the time. The concluding Presto is a stunning showcase for the young virtuoso’s mastery of the keyboard, and anticipates many of his later works. It should be pointed out, however, that this Sonata is a real gem of its own, and should be evaluated and appreciated for its own worth, rather than comparing it continuously with the more famous Sonatas in B-flat minor and B minor.
Another of Chopin’s Rondos, his op. 16 in E-flat major, dates from a few years later. At the time, Chopin was already in Paris, although it is possible that he wrote it during a summer stay in Côteau. It is dedicated to Caroline Hartmann, one of Chopin’s pupils, and a great pianist herself who died prematurely at the age of 26. Shorter than op. 1, this Rondo is preceded by a slow cantabile introduction with an improvisational character, and consists of a springy thematic material developed in very virtuosic terms. Reminiscences from Polish dances, such as the Krakowiak, are found side by side with more lyrical moments; the young composer is clearly struggling to find his own voice, and balancing the requests of the sparkling Parisian salons with those of a deeper artistic inspiration (which is displayed, for example, in the coeval Scherzo op. 20).
The brioso style of this Rondo, however, is found also in the last piece recorded here, i.e. the Variations op. 12, written in 1833 and dedicated to Emma Horsford. These Variations fully belong in the tradition of the virtuoso variations, preferably written on a fashionable theme. In this case, the theme is excerpted from the opera Ludovic, written by Ferdinand Hérold. Chopin had attended its premiere, in which a cavatina had evidently shown the features of a potentially very successful piece. It was Je vends des scapulaires (“I sell scapulars”), with an immediate, pleasing and cantabile tune in 6/8. On this theme, Chopin wrote four variations preceded by an introduction and seamlessly followed by a coda; they are characterized by dance-rhythms (such as those of the mazurka or Krakowiak), or by more lyrical, Nocturne-like moments.
Together, these four youthful works reveal, as has been said above, many typical traits of Chopin’s style, along with others more characteristic for his youthful years. His absolute mastery of the keyboard would accompany him throughout his oeuvre, and his ability to create brilliant pieces would constantly resurface, even in the darkest moments of his life. On the other hand, Chopin’s capability to evoke entire worlds of sounds and to permeate every tune with nostalgia is only partially expressed by these pieces, whose charm lies precisely in their comparative good humour and flickering enjoyment of technical prowess. In spite of this, these pieces never fail to delight today’s listeners for their grace, ease, elegance and their youthful beauty.
Liner Notes © Chiara Bertoglio 2021
Sofia Andreoli: Sofiaa Andreoli is a soloist, chamber musician, repetiteur and coach-pianist based in Padova, Italy. She approached classical music at the age of 14 and graduated summa cum laude from the Padova Conservatory of Music in 2016. She took part in important festivals, such as Festival Pianistico "Bartolomeo Cristofori" of Padova and appeared in recitals in several venues around Italy -
Padova (Auditorium Pollini, Villa Contarini), Velletri, Milano, Sacile (Fazioli Concert Hall).
In 2019 she formed the Trio Gordeaux with Elisabetta Levorato, violin, and Veronica Andrea Nava Puerto, cello. they are studying at the Sacile Academy of Music with Stefania Redaelli. During the last years Soa also started focusing on the vocal chamber music repertoire. As a collaborative pianist she has worked with Henrike Legner, a german Soprano and together they took part in the URIM – Udo Reinemann International Masterclass – organized by Christianne Stotijn at the éâtre de la Monnaie in Bruxelles, with guest teachers such as Malcolm
Martineau and Urszula Kryger. Furthermore she studied with Konstantin Bogino at the Academy of “Santa Cecilia” in Bergamo, as well as Jan Michiels at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and she continues her studies under the guidance of Mattia Ometto. During her academic career she attended several
masterclasses and had the chance to deepen Chopin compositions with pianists such as Lilya Zilberstein, Pietro De Maria, Alberto Nosè, Marian Mika. Intrigued by the opera world, Sofia got her master degree in Repetiteurship with Anna Brandolini in 2019 and had the opportunity to further explore the operatic
music with Vincenzo Scalera and Lucia Rizzi. She works as a répetitéur, collaborating with singers in the preparation and study of opera repertoire.
Sofia is also a passionate teacher and trains her students sharing enthusiasm and creativity since the initial contact to music.
Frédéric Chopin: (b Żelazowa Wola, nr Warsaw, 1 March 1810; d Paris, 17 Oct 1849). Polish composer and pianist. He combined a gift for melody, an adventurous harmonic sense, an intuitive and inventive understanding of formal design and a brilliant piano technique in composing a major corpus of piano music. One of the leading 19th-century composers who began a career as a pianist, he abandoned concert life early; but his music represents the quintessence of the Romantic piano tradition and embodies more fully than any other composer’s the expressive and technical characteristics of the instrument.