Chopin’s Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49: Elation and Sorrow

Frédéric Chopin wrote the following words in a letter from October, 1841: Today I finished the Fantaisie—and the sky is beautiful, my heart sad—but that doesn’t matter at all. If it were otherwise, my existence would perhaps be of no use to anyone. Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor for solo piano is music of persistent melancholy and soaring elation. As its title suggests, it is dreamlike, rhapsodic, and improvisatory. It was written …

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Chopin’s Four Ballades: Poetry in Music

The solo piano Ballade originated with Frédéric Chopin. In the early nineteenth century, the title carried literary connotations. In his Henle forward, the musicologist Norbert Müllemann defined the folk ballade as “a strophically-constructed poem that described a dramatic, often also a demonic or mystical scenario within a comparatively restricted frame.” Robert Schumann suggested that Chopin was influenced by the work of the Polish Romantic poet, Adam Mickiewicz. As with Chopin, Mickiewicz fled political upheaval in …

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“Là Ci Darem La Mano” from “Don Giovanni”: Mozart’s Most Seductive Duet

Don Giovanni (or Don Juan) is one of literature’s most infamous seducers. In Mozart’s two act 1787 opera—a sublime blend of comedy, melodrama, and supernatural elements— the character takes on a new and intriguing complexity. As the cultural historian, James H. Johnson writes in his essay, Sincerity and Seduction in Don Giovanni, Mozart and the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, “deliberately employ a tone of sincerity that keeps to the surface in conveying Giovanni’s …

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Remembering Leon Fleisher: Three Legendary Recordings

Leon Fleisher, the eminent American pianist, passed away last Sunday in Baltimore following a battle with cancer. He was 92. Born in San Francisco, Fleisher made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 16 with Pierre Monteux and the New York Philharmonic. He performed Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, a work which would later become a signature part of his repertoire. At 23, he became the first American to win the Queen Elisabeth …

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Chopin’s Berceuse and the Music of Bill Evans

Listen to Frédéric Chopin’s D-flat major Berceuse, Op. 57, completed in 1844, and you might get the uncanny feeling that you’re hearing a jazz improvisation. As its title suggests, on one level, Chopin’s masterwork is a dreamy, gently rocking lullaby. Until the final cadence, it’s built on a sublime harmonic oscillation made up of just two chords. It begins with a serene melody which seems to anticipate the Gymnopédies of Erik Satie, published …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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