• Frederic Francois Chopin Play all


    "Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French émigré and a Polish mother, Chopin won early fame in the relatively limited circles of his native country, before seeking his fortune abroad, in Paris. His departure from Warsaw coincided with the unsuccessful national rising against Russian domination and Chopin found himself in Paris in the company of a number of other Polish exiles. He was able to establish himself as a pianist and as a teacher of the piano, primarily in fashionable society. For some ten years Chopin enjoyed a liaison with the writer George Sand, but broke with her during the last years of his life, brought to a close by the tuberculosis from which he had long suffered. His compositions, principally for the piano, make a remarkable use of the newly developed instrument, exploring its poetic possibilities while generally avoiding the more obvious ostentation of the Paris school of performers.

    Orchestral Music

    As a young musician embarking on a career as a pianist, Chopin provided himself with half a dozen works for piano and orchestra, a form for which he later found no necessity. These include two piano concertos, three works based on Polish themes, a Fantasia, a Krakowiak and a Grand polonaise, and a set of variations on a theme by Mozart.

    Chamber Music

    Chopin wrote an Introduction and Polonaise for cello and piano for an early patron and towards the end of his life a Cello Sonata. His G minor Piano Trio is a valuable addition to recital repertoire.

    Piano Music

    Chopin created or developed a number of new forms of piano music, vehicles for his own poetic use of the instrument, with its exploration of nuance, its original harmonies and its discreet but often considerable technical demands. He used the popular form of the Waltz in a score of such compositions, of which the so-called Minute Waltz is probably the best known of many of almost equal familiarity. The Polish dance, the Polonaise, elevated from village to ball-room, provided the basis of another characteristic form, in sixteen such works, written between 1817, when Chopin was seven, and 1846. The best known, among generally familiar works, are the Polonaise in A major, Opus 40 No. 1, the Polonaise in A flat, Opus 53, and the Polonaise- Fantaisie, Opus 61. Other Polish dances used by Chopin include the 62 Mazurkas. The four Ballades are supposedly based on patriotic poems by Chopin's friend Mickiewicz, evocative narrative works with no precise extra-musical association. The 21 Nocturnes continue an evocative form initiated by the Irish pianist John Field. Chopin wrote 26 Preludes, 24 of them completed during an ill-fated winter with George Sand in Mallorca and 27 Studies, of which the Revolutionary Study is perhaps the best known. Other compositions include four Scherzos, expansions of the earlier form into a more extended virtuoso piece, three Sonatas, a Berceuse, a Barcarolle, four Impromptus and a number of other works. The whole body of Chopin's music is of the greatest musical and technical importance, melodies often of operatic inspiration and harmonies and forms of considerable originality. "
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  • George Frederic Handel Play all


    "Born in Halle (50 miles from Eisenach, Bach's birthplace) in the same year as Bach, Handel studied with Zachau, and became a friend of Mattheson. In 1703 he was appointed violinist-composer for Hamburg's German opera. Handel sojourned in Italy in 1706 where he met Corelli, and both Scarlattis (Alessandro and Domenico). His return to Hanover, four years later, was to assume the post of Kapellmeister to the Elector (soon to become king George I of England). In 1712 Handel moved to London where, upon the accession of the house of Hanover, two years later, he gained immediate access to the royal circle of England. In 1717 Handel succeeded Pepusch as chapel master to the Duke of Chandos. Handel's London years were occupied primarily with the writing of Italian operas. After suffering a stroke and the failure of his operas (largely because of the success of the Beggar's Opera), Handel wrote oratorios, including "Messiah" (1741). Handel's eyesight failed him in later years and he eventually became completely blind. In addition to operas and oratorios, Handel wrote Psalms, motets, anthems, passions, cantatas, instrumental chamber works, and works for keyboard (primarily harpsichord).

    In 1719 Handel returned to his birthplace, Halle, for eight days. At that time Bach lived in Cöthen, twenty miles away. Bach's admiration for Handel is evident from his having copied, with the help of his wife, a passion and other works by Handel. Knowing that Bach wanted to meet Handel, Prince Leopold lent Johann Sebastian a horse. For reasons that remain a mystery, the meeting never took place. Spitta indicates that Bach's admiration for Handel was not reciprocated.

    In one of the curious ironies of music history, both men would be afflicted with cataracts in their old age and undergo surgery at the hand of the same oculist, John Taylor. By today's standards, this surgery was extremely crude, and any improvement to the visual impairment would have been minimal at best. It involved physically shoving the cataract-covered lens back into the eyeball in an attempt to allow a little more light to enter. (Bach would die from septicemia induced as a consequence of contaminated instruments). As this surgery was done without anesthesia, the courage and physical constitution of both men must have been amazing! Bach owned a copy of Handel's Brockes Passion, "Armida abbandonata" and the Concerto grosso in F minor. Thematic similarities in some of Bach's cantatas suggest that he may have been familiar with Handel's opera, "Almira". Handel is mentioned in a letter (1775) from Carl Philip Emanuel to Forkel as one whose works his father had especially valued in later years. "
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  • Aleksandr Nikolajevič Skr'abin Play all


    "Alexander Nikolayevich Skriabin, the noted Russian composer, was born on Christmas Day and died at Eastertide — according to Western-style calendrical reckoning, 7 January 1872 14 April, 1915. No one was more famous during his lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after his death. Although he was never absent from the mainstream of Russian music, the outside world neglected him until recently. Today, there is worldwide resurgence of interest in his music and ideas.

    Skriabin wrote five symphonies, including the Divine Poem (1903), the Poem of Ecstasy (1907), and the Poem of Fire or Prometheus (1909). His ten piano sonatas are staples of many pianists repertoire, with the Fifth being perhaps the most popular, while the Seventh (White Mass) and Ninth (Black Mass) follow close. Vladimir Horowitz in his late sixties began playing the Tenth, and it remains today in vogue among more daring virtuosi. Skriabins style, like Beethoven and Schönberg and unlike Mozart or Brahms, changed enormously as he progressed. The early pieces are romantic, fresh and easily accessible, while his later compositions explore harmonys further reaches. It is thought by scholars, that had Skriabin lived beyond his brief 43 years, he would have preceded the Austrian school of duodecaphony, and Moscow would have become the center of atonality.

    Immediately upon Skriabins sudden death, Sergei Rachmaninoff toured Russia in a series of all-Skriabin recitals. It was the first time he played music other than his own in public. In those days Skriabin was known as a pianist and Rachmaninoff was considered only as a composer. Skriabin, thus, was posthumously responsible for his friend and classmates later pianistic career in Europe and America.

    Skriabins thought processes were immensely complicated, even tinged with solipsism. "I am God," he once wrote in one of his secret philosophical journals. He embraced Helen Blavatskys Theosophy. In London he visited the room in which Mme. Blavatsky died. Skriabin considered his last music to be fragments of an immense piece to be called Mysterium. This seven-day-long megawork would be performed at the foothills of the Himalayas in India, after which the world would dissolve in bliss. Bells suspended from clouds would summon spectators. Sunrises would be preludes and sunsets codas. Flames would erupt in shafts of light and sheets of fire. Perfumes appropriate to the music would change and pervade the air. At the time of his death, Skriabin left 72 orchestral-size pages of sketches for a preliminary work Prefatory Action, intended to "prepare" the world for the apocalyptic ultimate masterpiece. Alexander Nemtin, the Russian composer, assembled those jottings and co-created the Prefatory Action. Its three vast movements have been performed with great acclaim under conductors Cyril Kondrashin in Moscow and Vladimir Ashkenazy in Berlin with Alexei Lubimov at the piano. "
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