160 Years Later…In Memoriam

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Learning only a few hours ago that the great Frederick Chopin passed away exactly 160 years ago today, the compulsion to create a memoriam in his honor was indeed compelling. Similar to the fate of far too many of our greatest musicians, his life ended early at thirty-nine years of age. Some of you may be very familiar with his work, and for some, perhaps you’ve never heard of him.  That said, there are few who haven’t heard his work at one time or another.  In the event that you might want to learn more about his life and his legacy, you can go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F…

As a child learning to play the piano, Frederick Chopin became my idol, and by junior high school, I was able to play some of his work, however, nothing more challenging than two polonaises (Military Polonaise in A Major, Opus 40 and the more difficult Heroic Polonaise in A Flat Major, Opus 53), and Fantasie Impromptu, Opus 66.  My piano teacher left town after ninth grade, so further formal training ended at that time.

Chopin’s music, perhaps more than any other composer (at least in my own estimation), conveys the entire range of human emotion and would likely touch the hearts of many who otherwise do not care for classical music.  Even now, his music, well over a century and a half later, conveys a freshness that suggests something much more contemporary.

Perhaps Artur Rubenstein conveyed it best when he said about Chopin:

Chopin was a genius of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences. When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall there is a happy sigh of recognition. All over the world men and women know his music. They love it. They are moved by it. Yet it is not “Romantic music” in the Byronic sense. It does not tell stories or paint pictures. It is expressive and personal, but still a pure art. Even in this abstract atomic age, where emotion is not fashionable, Chopin endures. His music is the universal language of human communication. When I play Chopin I know I speak directly to the hearts of people!

If you have seen any of the following movies, you have heard his music (this is only a small sampling):  Cries and Whispers, Le Divorce, Empire of the Sun, Fanny and Alexander, Five Easy Pieces, Moonraker, Paradise Road, The Peacemaker, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Shine, Thank You for Smoking, The Truman Show, and last, but by no means least, The Pianist .  

The Pianist (2002), which was possibly Roman Polanski’s best work, garnered the following Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing and Best Picture; and won the following Oscar categories: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Adrien Brody); Best Director (Roman Polanski) and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood).  The film is based upon the memoirs of the talented pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrian Brody), a Polish Jew, who miraculously survived World War II.  The film includes scenes that are not easy to watch and some that will remain with you forever.

Some of Chopin’s work is immediately familiar.  One of these pieces is Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor, Opus 35, 3rd movement, which Chopin requested to be played at his graveside. Many years later, this same piece was played at the funerals of John F. Kennedy (which I saw live on television) and later, Leonid Brezhnev.  Those who are interested can find much more of his work on youtube, including performances of his music by renowned composers (and in this case, performers) Ignace Paderewski and Sergei Rachmaninoff.  

The following includes excerpts from the film which feature Chopin’s music and are representative of his incredible genius…

Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (1830) – This beautiful, haunting and contemplative piece appears early and throughout the film. If you see The Pianist, you will long remember the scene associated with its initial appearance.  

Ballade in G Minor, Opus 23 (1835-6) – A much shortened version of this piece appears in the film (most likely for sake of brevity).  This excerpt represents one of the many memorable scenes during the film…

…and a full-length version of this incredible piece, a rendition by Artur Rubenstein (1959), which seems to capture Chopin’s spirit and soul, can be heard on the following link:

Andante Spiniato and Grand Valse Brilliante in E-Flat Major, Opus 22 (1830-1834) – Perhaps my very favorite piece by Chopin, which concludes the movie and this diary on a somewhat more upbeat, hopeful note…

Frederick Chopin

February 22 or March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849

Rest in Peace


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  1. May his music live on for many centuries yet to come!

  2. that Chopin’s work took on an extremely political color.  The great powers that partitioned Poland (Prussia, Russia, and Austria-Hungary) sought to “erase Poland from the pages of history” by annihilating Polish culture.  Instead Polish artists and intellectuals became the living repository of the faith that “Poland Has Not Yet Perished”, with Chopin and the writer Mickiewicz as the touchstones of Polish cultural survival in the century plus of Partition.

    • TMC on October 24, 2009 at 16:42

    to brighten a dreary Saturday morning in NYC. I must have been otherwise distracted last Sunday to have missed this. Thank you, curmudgeon.

    • sharon on October 24, 2009 at 18:07

    so thanks again, ek, for promoting it.

    i have an interesting chopin story to share.  my late bf traveled constantly for business and, as a curmudgeon, refused to consider an ipod.  included in the few cd’s he carried with him were the preludes.  his mother had been a master pianist and played chopin every morning.  she would most likely have played professionally had she not had six children to care for.  a year or so after tony died, his brother roy traveled to nyc from nz and visited with me.  like his mother and his other brother, dan, roy is a pianist. here is where the story gets interesting.  tragically, their father left their mum when roy and his younger brother kevin were two and younger.  the government did what it could to help her, but in the end she was forced to place roy and then kevin in an orphanage.  fortunately, they were adopted by a wonderful childless couple and grew up together.  when roy was a child he showed an interest in and talent for music so they bought him a piano.  he began to play chopin without having been taught.  the only explanation is that he remembered hearing his mother play it.  roy is one of the most loving people i have ever met and when he was about thirty he contacted his birth mother wanting to let her know that he was okay and had had a good life.  not long after he met five of his six other brothers and sisters (from his father’s first marriage and second) at a family dinner.  they were all musical, except my tony, and they sat around that night talking and singing and playing music.  dan, the classical pianist whose 2005 album won nz’s best classical album of the year award, was out of the country at that time.  when he returned, he and roy met and played piano to each other as a way of getting to know each other.  also a chopin lover, dan recommends ivo pogorelich’s interpretation of the preludes, a marked departure from rubinstein.  he desribes pogorelich’s interpretation as penetrating, electrifying, and overwhelmingly intense.  it is not easy listening, but i do agree with him.  it sounds as if there were many family discussions as their father preferred rubinstein.

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