Genres Genres

Works for piano and orchestra (excl. concertos)

Hats off, gentlemen, we have a genius!
(Schumann, 1831, review of the Variations in B flat major, Op. 2)

Chopin composed works for piano and orchestra during just one period in his life: in his youth in Warsaw. This was the period of his composition studies under Józef Elsner at the High School of Music (1826-1829), and shortly afterwards his final year in Poland before he left his homeland for good in November 1830. Thus all his works for piano and orchestra (with the exception of the Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22) were written in the years 1827-1830, when the composer's individual style was taking shape and maturing. The crowning of this strand in his oeuvre are undoubtedly the two Piano concertos: the F minor and the E minor. Before these were finished (1830), the young Fryderyk had also composed the following:

The Grande Polonaise brillante, in E flat major, Op. 22, preceded by the Andante spianato, was completed somewhat later (1830-1831); the Andante spianato for solo piano (the introduction to the Grande Polonaise) was probably not composed until 1835, in Paris (published together 1836).

All these works are examples of compositions in the then fashionable virtuosic style brillant, marked by the sparkle and bravura of the piano part against the lesser significance of the orchestra. Chopin wrote them with himself in mind as the soloist. They are works of quite considerable dimensions (albeit shorter than the concertos), representing a variety of genres. Works not so artistically mature as the concertos, but delightful in their freshness, youthful delicacy, marvellous virtuosity and poetic tone. They are filled with flashes of the genius that was preparing for the supreme heights that he would soon be attaining. In the purely pianistic layer, they show Chopin as a great virtuoso, capable of dazzling an audience. In all these works the composer accentuated the national, Polish element, making use of "Polish airs", and also drawing on features of national dances: the polonaise, krakowiak and mazur.

In the Variations on "Là ci darem la mano", Op. 2, which drew the word "genius" from Schumann, Chopin offered several brilliant pianistic variations on a well-known theme from Don Giovanni, by Mozart, whom Chopin adored. He preceded the work with a wonderful slow-moving introduction, and rounded it off with a version of the theme in polonaise convention. Particularly striking is Variation V (Adagio), which abandons the purely virtuosic brillant tone in favour of a startling and gloomy dramaturgy. Schumann's admiration for Chopin's Opus 2 is wholly understandable, in spite of the modest, almost schematic role of the orchestra.

The Fantasy on Polish Airs belongs to the fashionable potpourri genre, and brings us a bouquet of national melodies of various provenance. We hear in turn the following three themes, first quoted and then effectively and subtly elaborated by Chopin: the anonymous song "Już miesiąc zeszedł" (to the text of Franciszek Karpiński's idyll "Laura i Filon"), a melody by Karol Kurpiński displaying the features of a dumka, and an authentic "mazur" - style folk melody from Kujawy, "Jedzie Jasio od Torunia" (Kujawiak).

The Rondo à la Krakowiak is a virtuosic apotheosis of the krakowiak-a lively, energetic dance from Kraków masterfully stylised by Chopin. Exceptionally beautiful in this work is the introduction, with an interesting sound to both the piano and the orchestra, which is deployed with great ingenuity.

Today, the Polonaise in E flat major, Op. 22, preceded by the Andante spianato (the so-called Grande Polonaise brillante) is often performed in a solo version, without orchestra, as it loses none of its wonderful pianistic brilliance in this form. The brilliant style was shown here in exemplary manner, and at the same time the individuality of Chopin resounds in every bar. The composer preceded the Polonaise with the atmospheric, tuneful Andante spianato, for solo piano.

Artur Bielecki