Genres Genres

Chamber music

Chamber music lies clearly outside the core of Fryderyk Chopin's oeuvre; as we know, the composer concentrated mainly on music for solo piano. Yet that does not mean that Chopin's forays into chamber music did not leave us with some beautiful and significant works.

Interestingly, whilst faithful to the piano, Chopin was not immune to the charms of the cello, which insistently returns at different periods in Chopin's life. He was closely acquainted with a number of cellists, two of whom are particularly worth mentioning as figures important to the composer: Duke Antoni Radziwiłł, governor of the Grand Duchy of Posen, an accomplished cellist and gifted composer and a sympathetic protector of the young Fryderyk, and Auguste Franchomme, an outstanding French cellist, composer and close friend of Chopin's. Both made their mark in Chopin's life and work.

The list of Chopin's chamber compositions opens with the Trio in G minor, Op. 8, for piano, violin and cello, completed in 1829 and published in the years 1832-33. In spite of the composer's young age, this is not merely a "school piece", but an exceptionally well-crafted youthful work, perfectly attuned to the climate of early Romantic chamber repertory. Chopin dedicated it to Duke Radziwiłł. This valuable Trio, the only one in the composer's output, comprises four movements. The first movement (Allegro con fuoco) is based on just a single theme, yet one that is internally differentiated, passing from a tempestuous beginning to a tuneful melody further into the piece. This monothematicity, allied to the surprising changes of key in the reprise of the first movement, clearly prove that the young composer was far from clinging rigidly to the rules of classical composition. The second movement is a bright, at times dance-like, Scherzo - "light and elegant, bringing a smile to the lips of the listener with its charm and finesse" (Zieliński). The third movement, an atmospheric Adagio sostenuto, is marked by a melodic and harmonic richness. The finale (Allegretto) is a rondo with features of the krakowiak. Opinions on the Trio among commentators are varied: from delight to scepticism. But for aficionados of Chopin's music, this work will always be a pleasurable encounter with Chopin the chamber musician.

Of incomparably lesser importance is the Introduction and Polonaise brillante, in C major, Op. 3, for piano and cello. The Polonaise was written in October 1829 at Duke Radziwiłł's hunting lodge, his summer residence, as an occasional piece-a sort of friendly gesture towards his cellist host. Chopin aptly characterised this work himself: "Nothing to it but dazzle, for the salon, for the ladies". The "brilliant" style Polonaise opens with a theme full of energy and verve. Chopin wrote an Introduction to the Polonaise at a later date.

Shortly after Chopin settled in Paris, the Grand Duo concertant for piano and cello (1832) was composed-a kind of potpourri on themes from Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable. This work was written in collaboration with the cellist Auguste Franchomme, whom we might even call its co-composer (he was chiefly involved, of course, in the cello part). Chopin composed the introduction and elaborated the three melodies quoted from Meyerbeer's opera: the romance from Act I, one of the choruses and the finale trio. In an effective coda, both instruments give a display of virtuosity. Like the C major Polonaise, the Grand Duo concertant is an example of the style brillant, in this case filled with occasional and quite superficial music.

A masterpiece of chamber music is the G minor Sonata, Op. 65, Op. 65 [see Sonatas].

Artur Bielecki