A Winter’s Journey III: The Schubert – Chopin Connection

Revisiting a startling discovery from the Radio Chopin series

Take a listen to Chopin’s A Stranger Here Himself…

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“A stranger I came, A stranger I depart…” These opening lines of “Good Night”, the first song in Franz Schubert’s cycle, Winterreise, or Winter Journey resonated with Chopin. So much so that they spilled over into the manuscript for his Sonata for Cello and Piano.

A dead ringer, so to speak! In Schubert’s song cycle the anti-hero is a dying poet. Themes of banishment, lost love and icy despair pervade. Just as they did in Chopin’s life at the time he composed his Cello Sonata. It was winter. His health was in rapid decline. He was twice exiled: he’d left his native Poland for good, and George Sand had just evicted him from their nest with the publication of an exposé thinly-veiled as a work of fiction.

Which brings us back to the first movement of Chopin’s Cello Sonata. It’s problematic. It puzzled even his closest allies. Was it too intimate? Wasting in his deathbed, Chopin asked to hear it, only to find he could bear no more than the first few measures. He omitted the movement from the sonata’s 1848 premiere. Clearly, it had profound personal significance. Most likely because he turned to—and quoted—Schubert’s song at the time of his separation from George Sand, which she had publicly portrayed as entirely his fault. Was it regret? Or, as in the final stanzas in Schubert’s song, did the ailing Chopin recognize his fate was sealed?

These are the last words spoken
Soon I’ll be out of sight
A simple farewell message
Goodnight, my love, good night.

Jennifer Foster

Three-Quarter Pole: Radio Chopin Episode 150….

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Hard to believe we’re three-quarters of the way through Radio Chopin.   Here’s episode 150.  Listen to it here, or read below:

Episode 150: Saved by the Choir

Charles Gounod’s opera, Faust. Act One, Scene One: Faust sits alone, bitter, despondent, reflecting on a life spent in a futile attempt to find the meaning of existence. He resolves to take his own life and is raising a vial of poison to his lips when …outside a joyous peasant chorus stops him.

When you listen to a moment right in the middle of one of Chopin’s most evocative Mazurkas, you hear unisons. Chopin used to fuss at his students over those brief bars. Wilhelm von Lenz writes:

“Nobody ever managed to satisfy him with these unisons, which have to be played very lightly; the chords were an easier matter: but these unisons! ‘They’re women’s voices in the choir,’ [Chopin] would say, and they were never played delicately enough, never simply enough. One was barely allowed to breathe over the keyboard, let alone touch it.”

This has to be a childhood memory. The Mazurka in B-flat minor is redolent with nostalgia from start to finish, and how it ends! If biographer James Huneker hears correctly, Faust’s impulse returns, only this time it’s the whole earth and the scene is set in a sorrowful heaven:

“Sweet melancholy driving before it joy and being routed itself, until the annunciation of the first theme and the dying away of the dance, dancers and the solid globe itself,” he writes, “…as if earth had committed suicide for loss of the sun. The last two bars could have been written only by Chopin. They are ineffable sighs.” – Jennifer Foster

The Mozdzer Motor

Fascinating visit with the remarkable Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer on the Spoleto Festival, as we recorded an interview between him and Jennifer Foster in the Cato Center.  Here’s the link to the program:
Spoleto Today 2010 June 1

Great dissection of how he channels Chopin into “the Mozdzer Motor” – and his John Cage-like habit of putting drinking glasses, combs, and even his own CDs on the piano strings to combat boredom.  Oh, and along the way we revealed to Mozdzer his unwitting hand in creating the Spoleto Today theme song!

We even had the chance to shoot a little video:

And here are more “Chopin Impressions” from Mozdzer:

Celebrating the Great Pole at the Quarter Pole: Episode 50 of Radio Chopin

Image  Episode 50 of Radio Chopin considers the saga of the wonderful Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter…“My parents met through Chopin’s music. It was during a party. Fifty years ago. My father was playing — as an amateur pianist — some Chopin waltzes in a party and my mother was there and that took her attention! That’s why she got in love with him. And that’s…that’s the reason why I say that if it wouldn’t be for Chopin music I wouldn’t be here!”   Check out the story…and why many consider her part of the new generation of Great Chopinists…here.

Episode 50: A Chopinist is Born

Chopinomics in the Marketplace

Image“How much would you pay for a piano lesson with Chopin? His fee in 1832 was 20 francs. Highway robbery if you’re an ordinary piano teacher – but the instructor in question was The Genius in Vogue, and the price was considered a bargain…..”  Our Radio Chopin series has caught the ear of the public radio business show Marketplace, which today aired around the nation Jennifer Foster’s piece on “Chopinomics.”   Hear the piece for yourself!

Episode 4: Chopinomics

Radio Chopin: The Journey Begins

Image We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin’s birth this year at WDAV with an ambitious new series:  Radio Chopin.  No fewer than 200 two-minute stories about the music, the people, the events, and the stories surrounding the “poet of the piano.”  Our midday host Jennifer Foster is at the helm, and I imagine you’ll be hearing from all of the WDAV voices between now and Dec. 31.  Heck, we’re even building an entire website for the project.  What an adventure!   Stay tuned, and enjoy Episode 1 by our multimedia producer Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr, concerning a famous, if mispronounced, little Waltz…
Episode 1: The Minute Waltz: A Mispronunciation and a Dog Named Marquis