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‘I received your last letter […] at Radziwiłł's residence in Antonin. I was there for a week, and you’ll not believe how well I felt there. I returned by the last mail-coach and barely excused myself from extending my stay. As for my own person and passing amusement, I would have stayed there until I was chased away, but my affairs, and my Concerto in particular [the first, in F minor], not yet finished, and impatiently awaiting the completion of its finale, compelled me to leave that paradise.’

In Antonin, Chopin hunted in the morning, gave lessons to Lady Wanda and posed for Lady Eliza in the afternoon, then listened to excerpts from the music that his host, Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, had composed to Faust, and in the evening showed off his skills as a pianist and duetted with the cellist prince. But above all, he composed. We know that he was working on the Trio in G minor, Op. 8, which would be dedicated to Antoni Radziwiłł, and also the Polonaise in C major, Op. 3: ‘I wrote there an alla polacca with cello’, wrote Chopin further into the same letter to his friend, before dismissing the piece with a much-quoted self-ironic description: ‘Nothing to it but dazzle, for the salon, for the ladies’.

In Warsaw, the following year, Chopin would write an Introduction to the Polonaise, with the Warsaw cellist Józef Kaczyński in mind (‘We tried it, and it’ll do…’). A year later, the work would be published by Mechetti of Vienna, with a dedication to the outstanding cellist Joseph Merk. It may have been Chopin, or perhaps the publisher, who came up with the designation brillante, which ideally conveys the style of this work, entirely subordinated to the rules of the style brillant.

In writing ‘nothing but dazzle’, Chopin exaggerated, of course. There is dazzle, and plenty of it. After all, brillant means sparkling. But there is also bravura, verve and a Slavic, typically polonaise vigour, as well as an undeniable feel for the spirit of the dance. That is just how it was danced at grand balls in Poland. But this is obviously a work to listen to, not for dancing to. It has the form of a rondo. The principal theme, that is, the refrain, is distinctive to a fault. It falls lightly on the ear – almost too lightly. Each of its returns (and it returns twice) brings a strong anchorage. On each occasion, it appears twice: first it is presented with dash and with spirit (con spirito) by the cello, and immediately afterwards it issues forth from the piano in a different guise, in a style that Chopin defined as elegantemente. The piano’s pearly playing is accompanied by the cello’s pizzicato.

There are a number of episodes, some more distinctive, others less so. Each return of the refrain must be seen as the manifestation of what was anticipated.
The first episode links the dolce of the cello with the piano’s brillante. The next should be played particularly distinctly and ‘singingly’ (cantabile). In these episodes, the piano accompanies the cello. In the next, it takes the lead. The last episode is quite curious: one would like to say that the cello and the piano go their own separate ways. The cello leads a simple, even banal little tune, whilst the piano unfurls the full frenzy of its figuration. If, as the composer declared, the piano part was written with Lady Wanda in mind, then she must have held quite some mastery over the keyboard. Clearly thinking of a purely pianistic, or even impressionistic, effect, Chopin wrote into the text of the C major Polonaise a couple of exquisite solo cadenzas for the piano.

Chopin preceded the music of the dance with an Introduction, composed later, which forges an atmosphere of expectancy. In it, we have a foretaste of the music of Chopin’s nocturnes and adagios. The melody, given to the cello, wends its way along as if it were never to end.

When writing ‘I wrote there an alla polacca with cello’, Chopin makes no mention of whether he at least tried the work out with Prince Radziwiłł on the cello.

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


The Real Chopin »

Andrzej Bauer, Jakub Jakowicz, Jan Krzysztof Broja

Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major for piano and cello, Op. 3 Op. 3
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