COMPOSITIONS compositions


In August 1824, Chopin wrote to his father: ‘...and I would ask Papa if Papa would be so good as to purchase at Brzezina’s Air Moore varié pour le pianoforte à quatre mains par Ries and bring it, as I wish to play it with Miss Dziewanowska’. This passage indicates that he had already eyed Ferdinand Ries’s variations in Brzezina’s shop. The Warsaw publisher ran a sheet music shop that was well stocked with new music from Vienna and Leipzig, and he circulated their titles in the press. We may presume that Mikołaj Chopin took those variations with him to Szafarnia and that Fryderyk had the chance to play them four-handed with Ludwika Dziewanowska. The theme was clearly to his liking, as he used it to compose his own variations, for four hands, though we do not know when or under what circumstances. In the invaluable list of works not published during Chopin’s lifetime that was compiled after the composer’s death by his sister Ludwika, the title and theme are given with the date 1826, but the manuscript was lost.

That list provided the only evidence of this work’s existence until 1964, when the autograph of the Variations in D major on a theme of Moore came to light. The history of the manuscript, and of the work itself, speaks volumes about Chopin. He considered the work too poor for publication. Then, in the winter of 1842, the jurist and statesman Kornel Krzeczunowicz came to Paris from Warsaw and appeared in the salon of Madame Marliani. The magnanimous Chopin presented him with the manuscript, which thereafter remained a treasured family souvenir. Subsequently, it came into the possession of Teofil Ostaszewski, then his son Adam, and finally his grandson Wojciech. Salvaged from war-time destruction and post-war turmoil, it ended up at the Jagiellonian Library in Cracow, in the hands of Władysław Hordyński, who was the first to publish the work in facsimile. It was saved, but not intact. The first and last sheets were missing, with the effect that the introduction and theme were lacking the secondo part and the finale the primo. We owe the possibility of performing this work to Jan Ekier, who reconstructed those lost fragments. As a result, Chopin’s youthful work has recently been restored to musical life.

Also unusual is the history of the theme, which Chopin found so pleasing that he wished to measure up to the master that Ferdinand Ries was considered to be. Ries found a melody that interested him in a songbook by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, published at the beginning of the century in London. That was a collection of melodies from various nations, which Moore put English words to. The melody in question appears there as a Venetian air, yet further research has led not to Venice, but to Naples. The song still functions today, as La Ricciolella – a song about a charming lass with wonderful curly locks. It belongs to a group of tunes – also including an Irish song about the last rose and a Ukrainian song about a Cossack who crossed the Danube – which spread throughout Europe as themes in works by Haydn, Beethoven, Hummel and dozens of others (that Irish theme became the best known melody in Flotow’s opera Martha).

The set of Variations on a theme of Moore is formed in a rather unelaborate way, in keeping with the models of the day. It comprises a short introduction, a sixteen-bar theme, five variations, which might be termed caractéristiques, and a finale. The improvisationally-conceived introduction features a few bars in which Chopin plays with the beauty of the sound.

The first variation shows the fluency of the fingers, transforming the theme into scales running up and down the keyboard. The second brings a moto perpetuo – continuous movement with the character of a scherzo or toccata. The third, with its change of mode (D major to D minor), brings a shift of mood and character, representing the minore, which was an obligatory component of variation sets in those days. The fourth is an etude, and the fifth is a march (also in a minor key). It is followed immediately by the finale, which brings light, tripping music in a quick waltz rhythm.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


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Tatiana Shebanova

Variations in D major on a theme of T. Moore for four hands [op. posth.]
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