Original v. Cover — #13 of a Series

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

A brief, somber prelude published 171 years ago, often performed at funeral and memorial services, less familiar than another widely known funeral march by the same composer, is resurrected in 1975, reaching #6 on the Billboard Top 40 charts, and then later in the decade a new arrangement, this time a lively disco version, topped out at #3 on the U. S. Dance chart and #40 on the U.K. singles chart.  The song has since been covered by many different artists.  

So why introduce a remodeled funeral march during this time of year, only a week after Valentine’s Day weekend? February 22nd represents a landmark birthday anniversary for a fairly well known historical figure.

You may immediately be thinking of George Washington, however, next Monday would be the 278th anniversary of his birthday, not exactly a number that is evenly divisible by 10, 25, 50 or 100. For a well known classical composer, however, that day would mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, providing ample reason to recognize his tremendous contributions to the body of classical music and, inadvertently, to our popular culture as well.

Frederic Chopin Pictures, Images and Photos

You’ve heard his music on numerous occasions, most likely not even realizing it at the time. The movie website, Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), catalogues films that include this composer’s work, and to date, the list stands at 344 and counting.  If you’d like to see for yourself, you can go here.

The original composer of the thirteenth installment of this series is the esteemed Polish composer, Frederic Chopin, who is critically regarded as one of the greatest composers for the piano of all time. Although his music is among the most technically demanding for the instrument, Chopin’s style emphasizes nuance and expressive depth rather than mere technical virtuosity.

The following video includes stunning images of artworks by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), set to the music of one of the first Chopin pieces this writer was able to play, The images of Chopin and his long-time, tragic love interest, the author Georges Sand, painted by Delacroix in 1838, appear at about the 0:45-0:50 mark and are set to the strains of “Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9 No.2.”  This simple, but hauntingly beautiful piece demonstrates Chopin’s ability to make the piano truly sing.

The piece that is the subject of this week’s diary was one of twenty-four short preludes that were published as a collection in 1839, each composed in a different key.  Although there are only twelve keys in an octave, the collection included preludes in C major, C minor, C# major, C# minor, etc.  This week’s selection was the best known of the collection.  

This piece has special meaning for this writer, in part, since it was also one of the very first works by Chopin that he was ever able to play.  At present, at least half of Chopin’s repertoire is likely beyond this amateur musician’s capabilities; however, all of his music conveys a depth of energy, beauty, and intensity of emotion that is rarely heard in any genre of music.  The original version of this week’s feature song is entitled “Prelude in C minor, Op. 28, No. 20.”

Before launching into a more detailed description of this week’s featured piece, this writer will take the liberty of a brief aside to provide you with a sampling of the piece that was more commonly used as a funeral march, the third movement from Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35.  

There is a fascinating story connected with this particular piece, as can be found here.  A brief excerpt is included in the following two paragraphs:

The “Funeral March” of Chopin, as played in the concert room, is an adaptation of the slow movement of Chopin’s second pianoforte sonata in B flat minor, op. 35. The work is so familiar as to need no description. The circumstances under which Chopin wrote it however, as told by M. Ziem, are of interest. Ziem, the artist, had been one evening to the studio of Polignac. There was a skeleton in the studio and among the Bohemian whimsicalities, Polignac placed it at the piano and guided its hands over the keys. In Ziem’s own words:

“Some time later Chopin came into my studio, just as George Sand depicts him — the imagination haunted by the legends of the land of frogs, besieged by nameless shapes. After frightful nightmares all night, in which he had struggled against specters who threatened to carry him off to hell, he came to rest in my studio. His nightmares reminded me of the skeleton scene and I told him of it. His eyes never left my piano, and he asked : ‘Have you a skeleton?’ I had none ; but i promised to have one that night, and so invited Polignac to dinner and asked him to bring his skeleton. What had previously been a mere farce became, owing to Chopin’s inspiration, something grand, terrible and painful. Pale, with staring eyes, and draped in a winding sheet, Chopin held the skeleton close to him, and suddenly the silence of the studio was broken by the broad, slow, deep, gloomy notes. The ‘Dead March’ was composed there and then from beginning to end.”

This piece has been played at numerous funerals of well known dignitaries, including William McKinley (1901), Joseph Stalin (1953), John F. Kennedy (1963), King Farouk of Egypt (1965), Leonid Breshnev (1982), and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (2002).  Although it seems that Chopin specified that Mozart’s “Requiem” be played at his funeral, this version was used as an introit at the time of his burial at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris in 1849.

You’ve no doubt heard Chopin’s most famous funeral march numerous times, as performed here by the Russian composer/pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff…

The version that follows, which represents the earliest incarnation of this week’s feature song, is not as well known as a funeral march, however, as mentioned ealier, and unlike its counterpart, it became a pop hit in the 1970s, and has been covered by numerous artists since that time.

The first version, as written by Chopin and performed by Artur Rubenstein, was released on January 1, 1991, with a run time of 1:34, which, in this writer’s humble opinion, seems like the correct tempo. I’ve found versions by pianists on the web ranging from 1:01 (in a 1952 concert in Moscow) to 2:20 on another rendition.

Barry Manilow introduced this song, now titled, “Could This Be Magic” as part of his 1973 debut album, “Barry Manilow — I.”  It was subsequently released as a single in 1975, and was quite successful, reaching #6 on the Billboard Top 40 charts.

Those of you who follow this series may recall that Jimi Hendrix transformed Dylan’s folkish “All Along the Watchtower” into something completely different and special. Even Dylan seemed to adopt much of Hendrix’ style in later performances of this song, as did almost everyone else.

If you listened to the various renditions of “Light My Fire” (another feature song in the Original v. Cover series), you may also have noted that, without exception, cover versions seemed to emulate Feliciano, not the Doors. This apparent avoidance with regard to emulating the Doors’ version could be perceived as an indication of profound respect, or, alternatively, an expression of preference for Jose Feliciano’s interpretation.  

Barry Manilow’s 1993 remake does not sound appreciably different than the original, that is, until the 1:44 mark. It would seem that a revolutionary version by a later performer may have had considerable influence on Barry, a version that appears later in this space. As you check out later versions, this connection should become eminently clear.

Ever wonder why Donna Summer was so popular during the late 1970s?  Her stellar performance on this live video (1976) should put all lingering doubts to rest. So, strap on your dancing shoes, plug in the flashing colored lights and turn on that multi-mirrored ball that is suspended from your ceiling, which, once rotating, will cast many different hues and shapes of light in a constantly moving circular pattern about the room.  Similar to Feliciano’s remake of “Light My Fire”, this song enjoyed broad appeal, reaching the following positions on these charts:  U. S. Dance – #3, Austrian singles – #14, U. S. Black Singles – #21, German Singles – #23, UK Singles -#40, and U. S. Billboard Pop Singles – #52.  

Lynda Carter sings “Could This Be Magic” on her second TV special “ENCORE”, from 1980. After her stint as “Wonder Woman” from 1975-1979, she showcased her musical talents during the early 1980s in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.  In this video, Lynda begins with an amusing story about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, introduces a very young pianist, and then properly identifies the song as composed by Chopin, turning in a very nice performance…

The remake by the British group Take That (1992) peaked at #3 on the UK Singles Chart, and also won Best British Single at the 1993 Brit Awards. The song also received a Silver sales status certification for selling more than 200,000 copies in the UK.  This version also did fairly well in several other countries, as represented by the following charts and highest rankings achieved:  Irish Singles – #3, Austrailian ARIA Singles – #30, French SNEP Singles – #42, German Singles – #37, and Swedish Singles – #30.  

This high-energy version includes some great harmonies and fancy footwork, reminiscent of the Broadway musicals “Rent” or “Urinetown.”  If tempted to dance along with the performers, well…don’t try this at home!

Leona Lewis ~ February 12, 2006 (Week 8) The 2006 X Factor

John Barrowman performed the song to open an episode of “Tonight’s the Night” for the BBC in 2009.

Here Joe McElderry’s performance from The X Factor 2009 – Live Show 8…

Valerio Scanu, the young Italian sensation, demonstrates his talents in this cover version. Upon first seeing his picture, I wasn’t sure if he was a pop star or a world-class half pipe athlete. The following video highlights some of his earlier work and then launches into his rendition of “Could It Be Magic” at about the 2:55 mark, from December 19, 2009.

Hope this has been a pleasurable learning experience for you.  As always, your questions and comments are much appreciated.  Have a wonderful weekend!

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  1. Since Chopin was the original composer of this week’s feature song and his 200th birthday arrives in just three days, I will take the liberty of including four pieces by Chopin that this writer was able to play in while in junior high school, maybe not with quite the same level of perfection, but well enough to be recognizable.  I will begin with the easiest first.  Most of these should be recognizable to even the most casual listener…

    Daniel Barenboim plays Chopin’s Waltz in D Flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 (aka “Minute Waltz”). Although the experience of listening to some of Chopin’s music is like riding a monster roller coaster, this, by comparison is like the roller coaster in the kiddie park, a relatively sedate ride.

    Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy plays Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40, No. 1 (aka “Military” Polonaise) by Chopin.  

    Rafal Blechacz performs Chopin’s Polonaise in A Flat Major, Op. 53 at the International Chopin Competition. Although this is referred to as a polonaise, apparently it is not a true polonaise, as is the Military Polonaise, which immediately precedes this piece.   If you go onto youtube and listen to interpretations by various artists, you’ll be amazed at the differences between their respective interpretations.  This writer finally settled upon this rendition, after listening to many different performers.

    After being dissatisfied with versions of Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66  (1835), as performed by Vladimir Horowitz and by Artur Rubenstein, happily this writer found this gem by Yundi Li, a young artist who turns in an amazing performance!  This writer spent nearly as much time trying to perfect the ascending, and particularly the descending run which first appears early in the piece as he did with the remainder of the work.  The slower, reflective interlude beginning at about the 1:15 mark again vividly demonstrates Chopin’s ability to make the piano to touch the heart in a manner that can perhaps be achieved by only one other instrument, the violin.

  2. This writer would be remiss if he didn’t include the disclaimer that there are conflicting accounts regarding Chopin’s date of birth.  According to the relevant wikipedia article regarding Chopin…

    In 1892 a parish church document was found [20] that cites his birthdate as 22 February 1810, but he usually gave 1 March as the date. [20]

    This is just a wild guess, however, might February 22nd be his actual date of birth, and March 1st a date of christening?  In 1810, February 22nd fell on a Thursday, as did March 1st, which arrived exactly one week later.

    If you would like to learn more about Chopin and/or would like to hear some of his more challenging music, you can find both at an earlier diary by this writer from last fall, which can be found here.  If you have limited time, this writer would highly recommend listening to “Andante Spiniato and Grand Valse Brilliante in E-Flat Major, Opus 22” at a minimum.  It is not to be missed!  

  3. take heart.  He was not overlooked during the 1970s, when a couple of his pieces were revived, both becoming huge hits.

    “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band was derived from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, made its initial appearance on the Billboard Top 40 chart on the auspicious date of July 4, 1976, where it remained for 22 weeks, topping out at #1. This was that group’s only Top 40 hit.

    Miguel Rios, originally from Granada, Spain, charted his only Top 40 hit “A Song of Joy”, which made its first appearance on the charts on June 20, 1970, where it remained for eight weeks, topping out at #16.  This song was based upon the last movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which was his last. Beethoven’s hearing impairment had progressed by then to the point that when he conducted the orchestra, he could not actually hear the music as it was being played.

     

    • RiaD on February 20, 2010 at 12:55 am

    very entertaining!

    ♥~

  4. Curmudgeon,

    You`ve given me enough music for the weekend.

    I love piano & spent over a dozen years in the home of a classical pianist.

    Although I rarely went into the music room, I listened for hours on any given day & often long into the night, to the music flowing & undulating from the fingers of a lady virtuoso.

    I love all the specifics you compliment your knowledge with, & thank you for the time you take in doing so.

    Now, can I go be thrilled!

  5. Yundi Li is the Chinese pianist who performed Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66, which was part of my first comment.  I’ve since learned more about the young man.

    This article, from 2004, provides additional detail regarding Mr. Li, which can be found here, and includes the following excerpt:

    Born in 1982 in Chongqing, China, Yundi Li first gained worldwide attention after winning first prize at the 2000 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. Li was the first person in 15 years to be awarded a first prize.

    In 2001, Li signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon (DG). The New York Times named Li’s second recording featuring Liszt “Best of the Year” for 2003 and also praised Li’s most recent recording of Chopin Scherzos and Impromptus exclaimed over Li’s “white-hot virtuosity” and “uncanny clarity.” DG plans to release a new recording featuring Li each year until 2009.

    Li made his United States debut at Carnegie Hall in June 2003 as part of Steinway’s 150th anniversary gala concert. Highlights of the 2003-04 season include appearances with the Cincinnati Symphony, Moscow Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Malaysian Philharmonic. In April 2004, he completed his North American Debut Recital Tour including sold-out performances in Boston, Vancouver, San Francisco, and New York. In August of 2004, Li was the only piano soloist to be invited to perform in a gala concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood.

    Yundi Li was only eighteen years at the time of the 2000 Chopin Competition, and would seem to have a long promising career awaiting him.  Although Rafal Blechacz, winner in 2005 is an incredibly talented young man, it seems that Li played far more challenging pieces during the Chopin competition.

    If you appreciate Chopin’s music, or alternatively, if you would like to witness the artistry of a tremendously talented young man, you can’t do better than the following extended video, which captures all of Li’s performance during the competition in 2000.  The program is as follows:

    2:06 – Scherzo No. 2 Op. 31, in B-flat minor

    11:56 – Andante Spianato preceding the..

    16:28 – Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22

    25:17 – (applause)

    Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11

    28:47 – I: Allegro maestoso

    49:15 – II: Romance, Larghetto

    59:07 – III: Rondo, Vivace

    1:08:41 (closing applause)

    This writer remains convinced that there is no more beautiful piece of music in existence than the combination of Andante Spianoto and Grand Polonaise Brilliante in E-flat Major, Op. 22, which begins at the 11:56 mark.  

    The Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 demonstrates that Chopin is capable of producing beautiful orchestral works as well, although Li’s performance remains a central feature.

    At present, this writer is playing this video on one window, and visiting other diaries and websites in the meantime.  Although it provides great background music, at times, the performance sounds so compelling that I’m driven to return, simply to watch this young man perform.

    Do yourself a favor, and if you do nothing else, please check out Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brilliante in E-flat Major, Op. 22.

  6. I`m listening to the last video you put up.

    I`m into it for 45 mins.

    I`m reading the latest Smithsonian, while having a little sandwich, with the music playing.

    I turn a page & there it is.

    A little piece on Chopin.

    Born near Warsaw March 1st, according to his family, (although church records say Feb. 22nd.)

    A strange coincidence, that I should be listening to his work & reading about his life at the same time, solely by circumstance directed by fate.

    The piece with the Delacroix paintings is really the best though not in the poll.

    I guess listening to classical music throughout the house on every Sunday while growing up, makes it easy to choose.

    I was listening to that one last night.

    I actually did so, twice.

  7. In the process of reviewing several wikipedia articles about Chopin’s life, it became readily apparent that war and its aftermath were a part of the circumstances surrounding his life, from the time of his birth

    Frédéric Chopin was born fifty kilometers west of Warsaw, at Zelazowa Wola in Sochaczew County, in what was then part of the Duchy of Warsaw. His father, Mikolaj (in French, Nicolas) Chopin, originally a Frenchman from Lorraine, had emigrated to Poland in 1787 at age sixteen and had served in Poland’s National Guard during the Kosciuszko Uprising. He subsequently tutored children of the aristocracy, including the Skarbeks-one of whose poorer relations, Justyna Krzyzanowska, he married.[17]

    Justyna’s brother would become the father of American Union General Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski.[18][19]

    This is but a small sampling of the fascinating detail surrounding the life of Chopin’s well-known first cousin, who was a major figure in nineteenth century U. S. history

    Wlodzimierz Bonawentura Krzyzanowski (Wladimir Krzyzanowski; July 8, 1824 – January 31, 1887) was a Polish military leader and a brigade commander in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He played a role in the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in helping push back an evening assault by the famed Louisiana Tigers on the Union defenses atop East Cemetery Hill.

    Keeping in mind that the term “defenestration” refers to ‘the act of throwing someone or something out of a window, historically used as an act of political dissent”, the Russians’ actions caused much grief for Chopin during his lifetime, and defiled in honor fourteen years after his death

    In 1827, the family moved to lodgings just across the street from Warsaw University, in the Krasinski Palace at Krakowskie Przedmiescie 5 (in what is now the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts). Chopin would live there until he left Warsaw in 1830. (In 1837-39, artist and poet Cyprian Norwid would study painting there; later he would pen the poem, “Chopin’s Piano,” about Russian troops’ 1863 defenestration of the instrument.[28])

    If the actions by the Russians weren’t bad enough, the Nazis seemed compelled to add insult to injury in 1940

    In 1926, a bronze statue of Chopin designed by sculptor Waclaw Szymanowski in 1907, was erected in the upper part of Warsaw’s Royal Baths (Lazienki) Park, adjacent to Ujazdow Avenue (Aleje Ujazdowskie). The statue was originally to have been erected in 1910, on the centenary of Chopin’s birth, but its execution was delayed by controversy about the design, then by the outbreak of World War I. On 31 May 1940, during the German occupation of Poland in World War II, the statue was destroyed by the Nazis. It was reconstructed after the war, in 1958. Since 1959, free piano recitals of Chopin’s compositions have been performed at the statue’s base on summer Sunday afternoons. The stylized willow over Chopin’s seated figure echoes a pianist’s hand and fingers. Until 2007, the statue was the world’s tallest monument erected to Chopin.

    Chopin’s piece Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1, the “Military Polonaise”, which you heard earlier was apparently associated with the reasoning behind the Nazi’s actions

    During the September 1939 German invasion of Poland at the outset of World War II, Polskie Radio broadcast this piece daily as nationalistic protest, and to rally the Polish people. The Nazis later banned public performances of Chopin and destroyed Warsaw’s main monument to the composer, a sculpture of a windswept Chopin seated under a tree, which was erected in 1926 at the entrance to Lazienki Park.

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