domingo, 13 de noviembre de 2022

Chopin, 24 Preludes Op 28 / Yuja Wang

Chopin finished the 24 Preludes Opus 28 in Majorca during the winter he spent there in the company of George Sand and her children, in 1838-39. It was no easy task. On the island, Chopin fell ill, got better, and then fell ill again. He first worked on a dilapidated rented piano until he got the pianino sent to him by Camille Pleyel, his publisher friend, pianist, and piano maker. He had promised him, five hundred francs in advance, to finish the preludes there on the island and send them to Paris as soon as they were finished.

Via Julian Fontana, a mutual friend, Pleyel was informed of progress and setbacks over two months. On November 15, Chopin wrote: "You will soon receive the preludes"; on December 3: "I cannot send you the manuscripts because they are not yet ready"; on the 14th of the same month: "I hope to send the texts very soon"; on the 28th: "I cannot send you the preludes. They are not finished. But now I am better and will work". Finally, on January 12, 1839, he writes to Fontana: "I am sending you the preludes [...] It seems to me that there are no mistakes. Give a copy to Probst [the Leipzig publisher] and the manuscript to Pleyel...".
For the 24 little jewels, Chopin charged two thousand francs. Rather, this is what Pleyel promised for the complete series after seeing in Paris the preludes that were already finished; hence, the " advance " of five hundred francs.

Published in Paris in September 1839 (with a dedication to Pleyel), also in Berlin and soon after in London, the Preludes were very well received, marveling the musical circles of the time.
Liszt asserted of them:

"--Chopin's Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart... they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams..."

Schuman, somewhat more cautiously, noted:

"I must mark them as very remarkable. I confess that I expected something very different, with a lot of style, like his Etudes. It is almost the opposite, sketches, beginnings of studies, perhaps ruins.... But in each piece we find his refined, pearly writing: it is Fréderic Chopin's, we recognize it even in the pauses and in his ardent breathing. He is the most daring and haughty soul of today...".

The genesis
Although it is not at all evident in his music, Chopin worshipped Bach; already as a child, he was one of his gods (the other being Mozart). It is not surprising then that he decided to build a series of short pieces systematically ordered, in tribute to the German master, or in tribute to the Well-Tempered Clavier but without fugues: the days are different. In addition, the Polish genius had a recent model: Hummel's Preludes in all keys, fifteen years earlier. Chopin will continue the path.

Arrangement of the series
Apart from the matter of the absent fugue, unlike Bach, Chopin will arrange his 24 preludes in the major and relative minor keys by advancing through the "circle of fifths". That is, starting in the key of C major, the next prelude goes in the relative minor key of C, say, A minor. Now comes the leap of fifth: the next prelude is in G major... the next one in E minor, relative of G. Leap of fifth: D major; relative minor: B minor. Etc.

Unitary work vs. independent pieces
The particular arrangement described above has led some scholars to believe that Chopin's intention was to construct a unitary work whose parts were to be performed in succession, one after the other. But the truth is that Chopin himself rarely played more than three or four preludes in the Parisian salons, and never the complete series. In our days something similar happens: perhaps not discographically, but it is undeniable in public performances. Today's pianists may include one or two preludes as part of the program, but more often than not they give us the short pieces as an encore at the end of a concert.

The unitary work
Let us note, in passing, that there are two other pieces (some speak of three) by Chopin that fit perfectly into the style: a Prelude from opus 45, from 1841, and another in A minor without opus number, from 1843. But when it comes to performing "all" of Chopin's Preludes, even on record, the performers stick strictly to the work reviewed here: the 24 Preludes from Opus 28, whose duration in a recital does not reach 40 minutes, as happens with any sonata of the period intended to nourish the first part of a performance.

The brilliant China-born pianist Yuja Wang, treats us to the complete work in this recording at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, from a few years ago, during the 2016 - 17 chamber music season. A gem in every sense of the term.

The 24 Preludes Opus 28
Taken individually, there are Preludes to suit all tastes. Their length varies from a scant thirty seconds to five minutes and a little more of that one that could be considered long. In terms of tempo, there are long, or slow, or andantino, or molto agitato or vivace... as shown below.

00:00  No. 1 in C major, agitato
01:21  No. 2 in A minor, lento
03:14  No. 3 in G major, vivace
04:24  No. 4 in E minor, largo
06:12  No. 5 in D major, allegro molto
06:44  No. 6 in B minor, lento assai
08:36  No. 7 in A major, andantino
09:25  No. 8 in F-sharp minor, molto agitato
11:17  No. 9 in E major, largo
12:34  No. 10 in C-sharp minor, allegro molto
13:03  No. 11 in B major, vivace
13:42  No. 12 in  G-sharp minor, presto
15:05  No. 13 in  F-sharp major, lento
18:08  No. 14 in E-flat minor, allegro
18:57  No. 15 in D-flat  major, sostenuto
24:04  No. 16 in B-flat minor, presto con fuoco
25:09  No. 17 in A-flat major, allegreto
28:12  No. 18 in F minor, allegro molto agitato
29:09  No. 19 in E-flat major, vivace
30:41  No. 20 in C minor, largo
32:13  No. 21 in B-flat major, cantabile
34:01  No. 22 in G minor, molto agitato
34:47  No. 23 in F major, moderato
35:36  No. 24 in D minor, allegro appassionato

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