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Category: Chopin

Polonaise in F# minor, opus 44 – Frédéric Chopin

"The Monument to Chopin in the Luxembourg Gardens" - Henri Rousseau

The Monument to Chopin in the Luxembourg Gardens (1909)

Henri Rousseau


a short while ago, my sister touted,
virtually of course, an up-and-coming
pianist, from around the corner,
relatively, from where she lives

Charles Richard-Hamelin was born in
Lanaudière, Quebec, whereas she’s
been living in Montreal forever, apart
from a stint in Timmins, Ontario, where
we were both born, at least a generation
before Shania Twain put it on the map

I left in a hurry, she followed
somewhat less urgently, a condition
of an intermediary marriage, which
engendered a miracle, my single,
but extraordinary, nephew, though
not much else

at his website, Charles Richard-Hamelin
delivers a few examples of his talent, I
listened to a couple of his Chopins, was
especially impressed by their structure,
the way Chopin imbues strict Classical
conditions with melting, Romantic,
sentiment, the very ideal, in my
estimation, of poetry

you’ll note in the Polonaise he plays
the adherence to tonality, never a
melodic line out of place, a strict
tempo, not ever indulgent, or maudlin,
despite evident emotional appeals,
and the recurrence of the original
theme after an however intoxicating
digression, giving subsistence to an
otherwise flight of aimless airs, out
of any context

music gives coherence, order, to an
otherwise inchoate, inscrutable world,
Classical music represents the original
rhythm of the heartbeat – time, regularity,
logic, the possibility of understanding,
the foundation of our present Western
culture, for better, of course, or for
worse, if not, indeed, of our very
species – defrayed of language’s inherent
ambiguities, its malleability, elasticity,
the indeed outright potential for
duplicity it accords the spoken, or
written, word

music is not just entertainment, it is
a philosophy, Apollo’s most transparent



Fantasie in C Major, D. 760 (“Wanderer”) – Franz Schubert‏

 "The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog" - Caspar David Friedrich

The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)

Caspar David Friedrich


a great way of learning to speak music,
approfondir, we say in French, to plumb
the intellectual depths of, is to count the
tenuti, as I quasi-humorously suggested
in my last piece one should, a tenuto, of
course, holds, caresses, one note, or one
chord, only, before proceeding any

music is a language, like French, English,
indeed I even include it as a language I
speak as professional qualification, people
find it amusing who don’t speak it

but you need to start somewhere, and
tenuti are as good a place as any, they’re
like an exclamation mark, denote intensified
intention, these give direction, and structure
to the statement, separating the units of
what’s being said

pauses between words, when you’re learning
a language, for learners is a godsend, and
thank goodness for them at least at the end
of sentences

tenuti do the same, count the tenuti, you’ll
discover an enchanted world of music,
right there between the lines

surprisingly you’ll find, rubati, tenuti,
rallentandi, accelerandi
don’t occur much
in Romantic music, where you’d expect
the grand passions to swoop and sway
and swoon, but gripped still by the
rigours of Classicism, and its own roots
in the harpsichord, its beats were rigid
still, mostly, right through to Schubert,
Chopin, whereupon more lachrymose
composers began to use these devices
nearly indiscriminately

count the tenuti in this wonderful
Fantasie in C Major, D. 760 of Schubert,
his Wanderer” Fantasy, you won’t find
that many, nor rubati, rallentandi,
for that matter, and that’s like
someone not crying on your shoulder,
Schubert gives it to you straight, whether
emphatic, earning empathy, or making



the Wanderer” Fantasy, incidentally,
is, again, programmatic music, it is
based on Schubert‘s own lied, song,
to Georg Philipp Schmidt von
‘s The Wanderer

“Death and the Maiden” – Franz Schubert‏

 "Ophelia" -  John William Waterhouse

Ophelia (1889)

John William Waterhouse


though death is not an especially
appealing topic for many, it was
nevertheless of fundamental
consideration during the
Romantic Period

Goethe, the German poet, had
already created a sensation
with his The Sorrows of Young
, a young man,
disappointed in love, takes his
own life, a potent seed for the
new era, secularism was
overtaking theocracy, the
autocracy of the Christian
Church was giving way to the
prevalence of human rights,
a private opinion, well disputed,
was holding sway against the
rigidities of religious orthodoxies,
science and reason had been
chipping away at the very idea
of God

but with human rights there was
the question of personal
responsibility, if not an imposed
authority, then each man, woman
was in charge of his, her own

the fundamental question,
therefore, was Shakespeare’s
To be or not to be, or, for that
matter, Burt Bacharach’s and
Hal David’s What’s it all about

this is not me, this is Albert Camus
talking, who formalized the situation
in the 1940s

“There is but one truly serious
philosophical problem, and that
is suicide. Judging whether life
is or is not worth living amounts
to answering the fundamental
question of philosophy. All the
rest — whether or not the world
has three dimensions, whether
the mind has nine or twelve
categories — comes afterwards.”

after Werther, Madame Bovary followed,
Anna Karenina, suicide had become an
option, the penalty was no longer
opprobrium, castigation, as it had been
under unforgiving religious constraints

death itself, fatefully rather than
personally determined, was, of course,
no less considered when the era of
heartfelt declarations dominated,
Mendelssohn had written his
Quartet no 6 in F minor, opus 80
for his deceased sister, Beethoven
and Chopin, each his Funeral March,
either, incidentally, still iconic, and
perhaps the most poignant work
of all in this manner, Schubert’s
Death and the Maiden, a precursor
of his own much too premature

this is music as if your life depended
on it

watch, listen



the Alban Berg Quartet, a group who
set the standard for several significant
string quartets in the ’80s, do no less
with this one

you’re not likely to see a better
performance of it ever, nor, for that
matter, of anything, pace even Glenn
Gould, a statement I think nearly
against my religion

you be the judge

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Shino Hidaka

  "The Musical Contest" -  Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Musical Contest (1754-5)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard


with only four contestants to go,
I already crown Shino Hidaka the
winner of the XVth Tchaikovsky
, this kind of affinity
only comes around once in a
lifetime, her Bach was not only
perfect but inspired, probing,
her ensuing Chopin,
mesmerizing, the Beethoven
that followed aptly, though ever
unexpectedly, transcendental,
transcendence not ever
happening without absolute
mystical concentration, her
Tchaikovsky, an evocation
rather than a mere description
of a Russian village, her
Rachmaninov, on utter fire

Dmitry Shishkin, before her,
neither was un-brilliant, a
consummate technician,
however, rather than an outright
revelation, his spirited Bach was
a turning point for me, finally
someone who got it, his Mozart,
as frivolous and delightful as
Mozart would’ve wanted it to be,
the rest appropriately everywhere
dazzling, second, therefore, ever
so illustrious, nevertheless,
prize, bravo

neither, incidentally, milked any
of their notes, just played what
was written


psst: compare Fragonard, above, to
Mozart, a synaesthetic match,
where sight and sound are
interwoven, giving you social
intimations of the mid-18th

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Daniel Kharitonov‏

Daniel Kharitonov

Daniel Kharitonov


Daniel Kharitonov will be 17 in
December, I think he could win

after the usual misconceived, to
my mind, Bach, which he ends,
however, with lengthened notes
that evoke the organ instead of
the more skittish, less ceremonial
harpsichord, giving credence to
some, at least, rubato in Bach,
for Bach wrote exceedingly for
the organ, he then not only
recaptures your confidence with
an unexpectedly sparkling
“Appassionata”, not easy after
so many, then polishes off his
laurels with virtuosic Liszt,
Chopin and Rachmaninov after
having played a lovely, aptly
contemplative, “Méditation” of

Daniel Kharitonov is going places,
indeed has gone, Carnegie Hall, for
instance, in 2013, he would’ve been



at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Bach‏

"J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)" -  Robert Strûbin

“J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)” (1957)

Robert Strûbin


if I’ve been getting on their backs
about their Bachs at the Tchaikovsky
, it’s that they’re playing
Bach as though he were mediocre
Beethoven, it’s like asking Duke
Ellington to be Pink Floyd, it’s just
a completely different generation,

Bach wrote for the harpsichord, a
precursor to the piano, it could not
control the volume, nor the length
of a note, the pianoforte came
along to resolve both issues

therefore before Beethoven, who
made full use of the new invention
and worked hard the pianissimos
and the fortissimos, to degrees that
often became either inappropriate
or too authoritative, indelicate or
obnoxious if you’re not in the mood
– I remember wanting to play his so
solemn 111 at my father’s funeral,
but realized late that the first
movement was not especially in
that situation warranted, nor even
parts of the transcendental, but not
always not obstreperous, adagio –
and thumbed thus his nose at the
aristocracy, who earlier, before
the citoyens had demanded their
rights and when the world had
been considered to be of a
rational, logical order, a clock,
and as regular, would never have
tolerated such impudence

Bach and Mozart do not sway
much from strict rhythm, neither
do they alter volume much at all

so that the constant display of
heartfelt Bach and passionate
Mozart becomes cloying, and
not at all what these Classical
and Baroque masters would
have approved of

nor Beethoven, nor Chopin, for
that matter, whose strict tempo
markings didn’t include much
rubato, ritardandos, which you
could think of as milking a note,
putting velvet on your canvas,
it doesn’t work, the composition
itself unaided by bathos, pathos,
delivers, check out, of course,
Glenn Gould

Andrei Korobeinikov sat me right
down the other night with his
arresting BWV868, thrilling,
followed by more dazzling
pyrotechnics, though he fizzled,
and fractured his Beethoven, the
very 111 I care so much for, I
couldn’t even finish, you don’t
need a velvet canvas behind the
111, neither cloying ritardandos,
just skill, nor tangles of notes,
for that matter


at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – the program‏‏

"Beethoven, 1987" -  Andy Warhol

Beethoven, 1987 (1987)

Andy Warhol


you’ll probably have noted, if you’ve
been following the Tchaikovsky
, that, unlike the
Rubinstein, the selection of works
is much more constrained, though
the mighties nevertheless

after the third day and into the
fourth, only one contestant has
started with anything other than
Bach, a Tchaikovsky

but unfortunately none of them but
one had given us a Bach worthy of
his name, then followed through
with, not surprisingly, a quite
competent Mozart, the cultural
conditions being not yet all that
different, aristocrats were looking
for their own music instead of the
church’s, secular instead of
ecclesiastical, therefore a tune
rather than an oratorio, Beethoven
and the Revolution would change
all that

afterwards a sonata of Mozart,
Haydn or Beethoven, the Classical
triumvirate, after which Tchaikovsky,
appropriately at this competition,
then études, either “-tableaux”,
“transcendentales”, or plain and
simple, by Rachmaninov, Liszt, or
Chopin, that’s it, you get to hear
the “Appassionata” or the “Grandes
études de Paganini”
several times
that way, sharpening discernibly
your musical ear

one was riveting, Andrey Dubov‘s

another, Lukas Geniušas transfixed
me with his opus 2, no 3, of
Beethoven, a work I usually only
ever tolerate, sending it soaring
into the bard’s later mature, and
revelatory, period

others have been competent, even
admirable, several, however, not
ready for this trial, they’ve come
without adequate preparation for
the ball

though I’ve been watching it in
my pajamas, I should talk


at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition‏ – Jeung Beum Sohn‏

 Jeung Beum Sohn

Jeung Beum Sohn


in the second slot, on the second day,
Jeung Beum Sohn knocks the
competition to date right out of the
ballpark, his every interpretation is
not only flawless, but a revelation

his ostinatos, his agitatos, his
diminuendos, accelerandos, his
every stirring tremolando, are
precise, nuanced, utterly convincing,
his essential spirit more oracular than
merely ever only entertaining

can anyone win after such a

I am impetuous, in my enthusiasm
I’ve promoted it seems already
undeserving contestants, all of
which have nevertheless excited
my undiluted appreciation, though,
apparently, ultimately unwarranted

it appears this competition is
holding out for utter stars,
wondrous elucidators of our
still profoundly influential cultural
heritage, in a manner I deem, and I
use the words advisedly,
determinedly transcendental

check it out


at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition‏ – Yuri Favorin

Yuri Favorin

Yuri Favorin


if it doesn’t make you shiver, quiver,
throb even, after the first two numbers,
as far as I’m concerned, forget it, and
that’s being generous

Yuri Favorin flubs his introductory
Bach, losing too often the strict
Baroque tempo markings, notably
in the overlapping fugal* play of
both hands, required of Bach, for
consistency, world view, the clock
being the image of a fundamental
and prophetic order

but once the Romantic Era takes off,
he is transcendent, he made me
hear the Beethoven opus 22 all over
again, Beethoven’s 11th Sonata, and
that’s something, Beethoven can be
pleasant early on, decidedly
entertaining, even inspiring, but not
as profound as he later became, I
like profundity

his Tchaikovsky, his Chopin, are
melting, revelatory, who knew about
Tchaikovsky and “Nocturne’s, or ‘d
even thunk about it, or ‘d heard so
wrenchingly recently the dramatic
change of dynamics from
tempestuous to nearly stopped,
vulnerable and innocent, then
back again, in Chopin, as a device
in his music, in stark and
representative contrast, incidentally,
to Bach’s rigid Baroque framework

Liszt dots the “i” of transcendentalism,
something I refer to often, but which is
formally even expressed in his title,
“Études transcendentales”, an age in
which music aspired to be formally
much more than just music, attempted
to touch beyond the stars, define, even,

so when I say things are transcendent,
I’m not kidding, some things let you in
on the voice of deities, divinities, the
ineffable, the wonder, the miraculous

this guy, Yuri Favorin, is transcendent,
and he hasn’t even won yet


* fugal is the superimposition of
the same musical line alongside
the original one, but at a different
place along that line, we used to
call it singing in canon when it
applied to song

Paganini’s First Violin Concerto – Akiko Suwanai‏

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - "Niccolo Paganini" (c.1819)

Niccolo Paganini (c.1819)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres


for Apollo, who alerted me to my error

having egregiously misspelled “Akiko”
in my recent commentaries about Ms
Suwanai, since, however, corrected, I
can only heap upon her greater praise
now for again an immaculate
performance of, this time, Paganini’s
First Violin Concerto
, itself an event,
as atonement

not only does she play this thrilling
with precision and
consummate artistry, this is the
performance with which she wins
the Tchaikovsky Competition, the
one Van Cliburn had secured so
illustriously back in the late Fifties,
at the height of Soviet Communism,
she in 1990, moments only after its
fall, a full, now, 25 years ago

it astounds me that such a talent
would’ve taken so long to reach my
ears, which have been attuned to
Classical music and its
peregrinations for as long as I can

then again there was no ticker tape
parade for Ms Suwanai when she
, the world has changed,
it seems such excellence is no longer
so universally paraded, not even
much advertised

the Paganini Violin Concerto was
composed around 1818, late
Beethoven, early Chopin, Paganini
defines for the violin the Romantic
Period, what Chopin did for the piano,
Beethoven had given them the push

if you can get past your astonishment
you’ll note that the foundation of the
is Classical, tight tempi, tonality,
no discordant notes, and repetition
always of the themes, still the triple
pillars of our understanding of music,
its Trinity, despite some strong forays
into their deconstructions, see, for
instance, the haunting George Crumb

what Paganini adds to Classicism is
personality, Romanticism, same as
Beethoven did, and at about the
same time

aristocratic formality was giving way
to the voices of the crowd, some highly
articulate, representative, formidable,
as the shackles of servitude fell with
the French Revolution and human
rights became central, and