This album is licensed for download from Fonè Records. To order the CD and for further information about the artist please contact Fonè Records.
Recorded at Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona, Italy in February 1998.
Conceived, recorded and produced by Giulio Cesare Ricci
Recording assistant: Paola Maria Ricci
FRYDERYK CHOPIN 1810-1849
Fryderyk Chopin was without doubt virtually unique in the history of romantic music, and indeed in the entire panorama of music: throughout his brief life, the Polish composer wrote only music for the piano. Every single piece in Chopin's musical legacy is dominated by the piano, the overwhelming majority for piano solo, while a negligible number of pieces unite the piano with the orchestra, the human voice or other instruments.
There are two Concertos and four brief pieces for piano and orchestra, fewer than twenty melodies for piano and voice, and five chamber pieces all with piano. Apart from the Variations in E Major on a theme from Rossini's Cenerentola for flute and piano (on whose date and even authenticity scholars cannot reach agreement), Chopin's chamber compositions feature the cello as absolute protagonist. The Trio in G minor is for piano, violin and cello Op. 8, and the other three exclusively for
the cello: Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C Major Op. 3, Gran duo concertante on the theme of Robert le Diable by Meyerbeer, and Sonata in G minor Op. 65. This predilection for the cello was influenced by Chopin's close friendship with two cellists in different periods of his life: Prince Antoni Henryk Radziwill in Warsaw and Auguste Franchomme in Paris. Radziwill's family was one of the oldest and most influential of Polish nobility, originally from Lithuania and related to the Jagelloni royal dynasty. Prince Antoni Henryk Radziwill (1775-1833) was an excellent amateur singer, cellist and composer, and with his marriage to Louisa Frederica of Prussia he was related to the Hohenzollern dynasty.
He lived for many years in Berlin, knew Goethe and was the first musician to realise the music for a theatrical production of Faust. He began work on it in 1808, but did not finish it until 1831, when it was acclaimed by Schumann, Liszt and Chopin. Prince Radziwill had been an enthusiastic advocate of Chopin's musical talent since he saw Chopin as a child in his frequent performances in the salon of the Radziwill palace in Warsaw.
In the autumn of 1829, shortly after returning home from his first, brief, but successful stay in Vienna, the 19 year old Chopin paid a visit to Prince Radziwill at his summer residence in Antonin. He and the Prince certainly had the opportunity to play together, and Chopin gave piano lessons to Radziwill's young daughter, Princess Wanda. Chopin composed a short, charming piece as a gift for the Radziwill family duo, and in a letter written during those days to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, he wrote: "While here, I have composed a Polonaise with a cello accompaniment. It's just a bright little trifle for the drawing room, for the ladies. I wanted to teach it to Princess Wanda, the cellist Prince's daughter. She's still very young - about seventeen, I'd say - and it's sheer delight helping her place her soft little fingers."
A few months later, probably in April, 1830, Chopin added to the Polonaise an Introduction for the cellist Józef Kaczynski. In the autumn of 1831, the work was published in its new form in Vienna by Pietro Mechetti, and met with immediate success, as shown by its subsequent publication in Berlin, Paris and London. The piece should have been dedicated to Prince Radziwill, but the publisher Mechetti presumably thought that a virtually unknown young composer would be better presented to the public with the well-wishes of a renowned local personality, and published it with a dedication to the Viennese Joseph Merk (1795-1852), a famous cello virtuoso. Prince Radziwill was soon compensated by Chopin with the dedication of the Trio in G minor for piano, violin and cello, published the following year by Kistner in Leipzig as Op. 8. This thus joined those already received by Beethoven (Overture in C Major Namensfeier Op. 115, completed in 1815) and by Mendelssohn (Quartet in C minor with piano Op. 1, composed in 1822 and published in Berlin in 1823).
The Introduction (Lento) opens with its own brief introduction, almost like a rapid curtains-up: a light ascendant arabesque on the piano introduces and then interrupts a sedate cello melody which soars into an intensely lyrical and expressive tune, clearly influenced by opera, sustained by piano arpeggios. After a brief episode in minor key which is rather conventionally dramatic, a brief cadenza introduces the true polonaise: Alla polacca (Allegro con spirito), a fairly lengthy episode in which the two instruments alternate with the main theme, in tone serene and sunny, responding in the central part with a sweeter and more expressive melody on the cello.
In this composition, the piano, always present and rich in imaginative inventiveness, dominates the cello part; it is not surprising that Chopin wrote a version of this piece for piano solo, discovered many years later by the Polish musicologist Jan Weber. Not less surprising is the fact that a number of cellists have attempted to establish a greater balance between the two instruments by giving more depth and complexity to the cello part. The most successful change was probably made by the great Austrian cellist of Polish origin, Emanuel Feuermann (1902-1942), whose version is generally played by all performers of the work.
Although Chopin's two other compositions for cello and piano were separated by more than ten years, they were both linked to the name of Auguste Franchomme (1808-1884), the outstanding French cellist with whom the 21 year old Chopin formed a friendship after his arrival in Paris in September, 1831. Almost the same age as Chopin (he was born in Lille in 1808), Franchomme entered the Paris Conservatory in 1825; two years later, not yet 20, he was already cellist in the orchestra of the Paris Opéra, but he left this position to become cello soloist at the Théatre Italien. At the same time he took part in the foundation of the Orchestra of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and was appointed cello soloist at the
Chapelle Royale. This rapid professional success was confirmed by the words of François-Joseph Fétis, the most authoritative Parisian music critic of the time who wrote in an article published in the "Revue musicale" in December 1831 (at the time of Franchomme's first meeting with Chopin): "M. Franchomme's talented cello playing increases daily in class, elegance and perfection. With his beauty of tone, confidence of expression, agile and varied bow work and a purity of soul, this young musician is sure to become one of the most distinguished performers in his field. [...] His compositions, too, deserve acclaim. They exemplify good taste, charming ideas and a correct use of harmony."
At the time of the meeting between Chopin and Franchomme, and the publication of Fétis' article, Parisian musical life was rocked by a sensation: on November 21, 1831, the Opéra presented the first performance of Robert le Diable by the German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. It was preceded by tremendous publicity and obtained immediate triumphal success which lasted unchanged for an amazing length of time: in France alone, the opera was performed over four hundreds times in the following thirty years.
Despite its astounding success in France, Meyerbeer's music was bitterly criticised by his German contemporaries, who perhaps could not forgive their fellow countryman his betrayal of German opera. Wagner saw Meyerbeer's music as "effect without cause"; Schumann felt "disgust" for Meyerbeer's next opera Les Huguenots, and reviewed another (Le Prophète) using simply the design of a cross; Mendelssohn left a no less ferocious judgement on Robert le Diable: "It's like comparing a decorative
illustration with a true work of art: the decoration may be more immediately striking, but when you look closely you can see it's painted with the feet".
But, as we have seen, things in France were quite different, and the 21 year old Chopin, who had been in Paris only a few weeks, was dazzled by Robert le Diable which seemed to him, as he wrote to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski on December 12, 1831, "A masterpiece of the new school. [...] Meyerbeer has immortalised himself". Needless to say, publishers took immediate advantage of successes of this level, and commissioned the great piano virtuosos to write fantasies, paraphrases, variations and other similarly light pieces based on the most popular opera motives. These were eagerly acquired by an ever-increasing number of amateur musicians. Consequently, the greatest virtuosos living in Paris at the time -Liszt, Thalberg, Herz, Kalkbrenner -wrote pieces on themes from Robert le Diable . The publisher Moritz Schlesinger, who had acquired the rights to the opera for 24,000 francs, asked Chopin immediately for "something on the themes from Robert le Diable " but Chopin kept him waiting for almost two years before he agreed. Probably begun in 1832, the Gran duo concertante on themes from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable for cello and piano was very likely finished during the summer of 1833, which Chopin spent as a guest of his friend Franchomme's family at Côteau in Touraine, and at Azay-sur-Cher, near Tours, as a guest of the Forests, friends of Franchomme, whom Chopin had met in Paris. It was to Mademoiselle Adèle Forest that Chopin dedicated the piece when it was published the same year, first by Moritz Schlesinger in Paris, then by Adolf Martin Schlesinger in Berlin and by Wessel in London.
Franchomme certainly encouraged Chopin to begin the composition, but we do not know to what extent he helped him. There is an autograph copy written by both composers, the piano by Chopin and the cello part by Franchomme, but we should not suppose that there was a definite and clear division of duties; it is more likely that Franchomme's contribution was limited to assistance with the graphic aspect and suggestions for technical improvements in some of the cello passages. Franchomme
provided a kind of supervision, like that which Joseph Joachim gave Brahms for his violin works, and Chopin probably had similar help in the composition of the Sonata, where the cello part is impeccably written.
The Gran duo is based on some of the most popular motifs of Meyerbeer's opera, such as the aria and chorus "Non v'è pietà" from the first act and the terzetto from the fifth act "Le mie cure ancor dal cielo". It is an elegant, charming drawing room piece which flows freely and imaginatively alternating sequences in varying measures and keys; although it is not technically difficult to perform, and meets the needs of amateurs too, it is rich in highly atmospheric passages, many of which clearly reveal
In fact public acclaim came immediately and Schumann, an authoritative and serious critic and great admirer of Chopin since the early stages of his career, in an article of 1836 in "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik", hailed the Gran duo as a work of outstanding quality. He took the opportunity to sneer at the detested Meyerbeer: "A composition for a drawing-room where the head of a famous artist occasionally emerges from behind the pretty shoulders of the countesses; therefore not suitable for those society
gatherings where the music serves only to stimulate the conversation, but a work for more cultured groups where the artist is given the attention and respect he deserves. It seems to me that the work is entirely of Chopin's conception, and the Franchomme has simply given it his approval. Everything that Chopin touches gains in form and spirit, and even in this rather modest Salon genre he expresses himself with so much grace and elegance that the refinements of other composers seem to vanish in the air. If the entire Robert le Diable were full of musical ideas like those chosen by Chopin for the duo, it would need to be rechristened. [...] Must we add that we recommend this duo as warmly as possible?"
Apart from his friendship with the painter Eugène Delacroix, the only true friend Chopin had during his years in Paris was Franchomme. In fact, from 1842, Franchomme took over as Chopin's business advisor from Julian Fontana, who left for America. He looked after his business, dealt with publishers and acted as his copyist and proof-reader.
The friendship between Chopin and Franchomme reached its peak with the composition of the Sonata in G minor for cello and piano (1845-47). The cellist played in what would be Chopin's last Parisian concert, on February 16, 1848, for the public debut of the Sonata (only the first movement had been heard), and a performance of a Mozart Trio with the violinist Jean-Delphin Alard. The last existing letter written by Chopin is addressed to Franchomme and dated September 17, 1849: "I'm feeling worse and not better. [...] I love you and that's all I can say because I'm dropping from fatigue and weakness. My sister is delighted at the idea of seeing Madame Franchomme again and I must sincerely say that I am too. God's will be done. [...] I'd love to spend a few days with you! [...] Hug the little ones for me and write me a few lines." Exactly a month later, on October 17, 1849, Chopin died at only thirty nine in his Parisian apartment at number 12 Place Vendôme.
The friendship with Franchomme continued even after death: on October 30, 1850, during the memorial service held for Chopin in the Madeleine Church where his funeral had been held the year before, Franchomme played some of his friends'compositions transcribed for the cello, including the Prelude No. 20 in C minor and the Nocturne Op. 15 No. 1. In 1853 when the Chopin family employed Julian Fontana, on his return from America, to deal with the revision and posthumous edition of the manuscript music left by Chopin, Fontana was extremely jealous of Franchomme and spoke harshly and unjustly against him. However
Franchomme always remained faithful to the memory of his friend, and was available with expert advice to resolve any disputes. Later, nearing the end of his life, he was involved with other musicians, including Franz Liszt, in the edition in 14 volumes of the works of Chopin published between 1878 and 1880 by Breitkopf & Härtel under the direction of Johannes Brahms.
The composition of the Sonata in G minor for cello and piano was particularly troublesome and took Chopin over two years: he probably began it in the summer of 1845 and in December of the same year he wrote in a letter to his family that the composition was proceeding well: "I'd like to finish a Sonata with piano, a Barcarole and something else which I don't know what to call" (the last piece mentioned was the Polonaise-Fantasy); in the same letter the composer said he had already played it with Franchomme and was planning its publication. Less than a year later, at the end of 1846, he wrote: "Sometimes I'm satisfied with my Sonata for cello, sometimes not. I throw it in a corner then pick it up again later". But this exhausting and lengthy work produced an absolute masterpiece, a real pearl in his strangely small romantic repertoire for cello and piano. It is characterised by an enviable balance between the two instruments, perhaps partly thanks to Franchomme's expert advice.
Finally, in June, 1847, having played the piece with Franchomme several times in his home in front of a few trusted friends, Chopin decided to sell the Sonata to the publishers. In October, 1847, it was published by Brandus in Paris and in January, 1948, by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig as Op. 65 with a dedication to Auguste Franchomme. It was the last time Chopin himself edited his own work: during his brief life he would never see the publication of Op. 66. According to Madame Camille Dubois
O'Meara, a pupil Chopin esteemed highly, during those first domestic performances, not even his most faithful friends managed to understand the splendid first movement (Allegro moderato), a lengthy, intense movement full of noble melancholy, almost a rhapsody which opens up to sudden bursts of heat, in which the sonata form is treated with great freedom; this could explain the decision to omit it from the first public performance of the sonata during Chopin's last Parisian concert at the Salle Pleyel on February 16, 1848. As in all three of Chopin's piano sonatas, the first movement is followed immediately by the Scherzo (Allegro con Brio), a vigorous, impassioned piece in D minor which encloses a gentle, lyrical Trio in D Major played by the cello over piano arpeggios. The Largo, brief and concise, but with an almost unbearable poetic intensity, takes the atmosphere to dizzy heights before it explodes in an impetuous Finale (Allegro), a kind of passionate tarantella full of thematic allusions, the first taken from a Canon in F minor which Chopin had started some years before. This is evidence of Chopin's great interest in counterpoint during his final years, also demonstrated by the density of his script and the frequent occurrence of imitative episodes in this and in other works of the same period.
We are reminded of the words which Eugène Delacroix wrote in his diary after a visit to his friend six months before his death: "He talked to me about music and his face lit up. I asked him what factors established logic in music. He helped me understand the nature of counterpoint and harmony, how one can affirm that the Fugue is pure logic in music, and that to be expert in the Fugue means to understand all the fundamental elements of proportion and sequence in music".
English translation: Jane Elizabeth Read