CHOPIN`S LIFE CHOPIN`S LIFE

Year Warsaw - youth

Józef Elsner (1760-1854)

Studies. In 1826, Chopin began the next stage in his education. He enrolled at the Main School of Music attached to Warsaw University, which was run by Józef Elsner. After his first year, Elsner noted: ‘special aptitude’. A year later, Chopin composed his first two serious works: the Variations in B flat major, Op. 2 on the theme of ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, dedicated to his close friend Tytus Woyciechowski, and the Sonata in C minor, Op. 4, dedicated to Elsner. The Variations, his first work published outside Poland, would open the doors to concert halls during the young artist’s debut tour in 1829. The Sonata paved the way for the three mature masterworks in the genre written many years later.

A year after the Variations, Chopin wrote the Fantasy on Polish Airs (Op. 13) and the Rondo à la Krakowiak (Op. 14). The Fantasy and Rondo have many features in common. Both works follow the specific character of virtuosic genres in the style brillant; on the other hand, they also presage the individual means of expression that Chopin would shortly be using in his most important compositions with orchestra: the two piano concertos. All three youthful works scored for piano and orchestra (Variations, Fantasy and Rondo) would secure a lasting place on concert programmes around the world.

 

Konstancja Gładkowska (1810-1889)

Independent output. In July 1829, Chopin graduated from the Main School of Music. Elsner gave him the highest assessment: ‘Szopen Friderik — special ability, musical genius’. That same month, he set off on his first trip to Vienna, taking the opportunity to visit the south of Poland and – on the way back – Bohemia and Germany. In Vienna, he gave two concerts. He performed the Variations, Op. 2 and Rondo, Op. 13 and improvised. Buoyed by his huge success, Chopin threw himself into the whirl of musical and social life, and also the whirl of compositional work. In October 1829, he mentioned to a close friend his ‘ideal’ woman, for whom he had written the Larghetto slow movement of his first concerto (the Concerto in F minor, completed in 1830, which was published as his second concerto, with the opus number 21, hence the numbering of the concertos does not correspond to the order in which they were written). That ideal, the dedicatee of the Concerto, was a student in the singing class at the Warsaw Conservatory, Konstancja Gładkowska. The sincere and remarkably profound youthful emotions behind that composition marked its distinctive emotional expression and personal character. The reception of this work – and of the Larghetto in particular – was so enthusiastic that the composer himself was rather surprised. Encouraged by that success, he almost immediately began work on another Concerto, this time in the key of E minor, which he also completed very quickly. The first rehearsals came in September, and the first public performance in October 1830.

Departure. On 11 October, the National Theatre (Teatr Narodowy) was the venue for Chopin’s farewell concert before his planned journey abroad. The success of his first trip to Vienna had encouraged the composer and those closest to him to organise a tour on a grander scale. The circumstances seemed ideal. Chopin had already been noticed in the musical capital of Europe as both a pianist and a composer. The Variations, published in Vienna, had garnered highly positive reviews. He had just finished his excellent second Concerto, the qualities of which – for all his modesty and self-criticism – he was well aware of. At the same time, he had received an invitation to Berlin, where Prince Antoni Radziwiłł would gladly have received him. All that remained was to pack, gather up his manuscripts and letters of recommendation, and set off. Yet Chopin put off his departure as much as he could. Racked by emotions and increasingly susceptible to bouts of inertia, he had visions of dying in exile, of leaving his loved ones forever and of unknown terrors awaiting him over the border. What were the reasons for those presentiments, which proved all too prophetic? Did the twenty-year-old virtuoso-composer realise that the happy, almost idyllic stage in his life was coming to an end? Was his sensitive nature forming signals of disturbances in various corners of Europe into a vision of an uncertain future? Was he experiencing natural anxiety over the need for change? It is difficult to say. Yet the mood of uncertainty must have affected those nearest to him, since his sweetheart, Konstancja, wrote the following words of farewell:

‘To render the laurels of glory immortal,
You abandon your bosom friends and dear family;
Yet while others may better appraise and reward you,
They certainly cannot love you more strongly than we’.

After months of vacillation and delays, Chopin finally took the plunge: on 2 November 1830, he left Warsaw and set off on his second journey to Vienna. His farewell was incredibly touching. Teachers, close friends and family came to the toll gate tavern in Wola, and Professor Elsner even composed a farewell cantata to words by Ludwik Adam Dmuszewski, beginning with the words ‘Born in the land of the Poles’.


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