Shakespeare Club learns about the music of Chopin

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club held its 11th regular meeting of the 2013-2014 year, hosted by Mrs. Lucille Richardson at her home. President Mrs. Robert Woodbury presided.

Keeping with the theme for the year “Creativity and the Spark of Genius,” Mrs. Richardson presented her paper entitled “Frederic Chopin,” which she summarized as follows:

Frederic Chopin was a major composer among the many who were born during the beginning of the Romantic era: Mendelssohn (1809- 1847); Chopin (1810-1849); Schumann 1810-1856); Liszt (1811-1886); Verdi (1813-1901); and Wagner (1813-1883).

However, Chopin stands alone because he was the only one who composed almost exclusively for the piano. His work led to two historic developments in music. One: his composition led to an unparalleled exploration and discovery of a myriad of tonal colors and expressive possibilities for this instrument. Two: his work initiated a new and truly radical physiological approach to “the Art of Piano Playing”, to the technical development and command of the piano itself.

As a result of Chopin’s innovations, a host of future composers, such as Liszt, Scriabin, Debussy, MacDowell and Rachmaninoff, were inspired to express their individuality in their writing for the piano.

Chopin’s creativity in writing for the piano was greatly enhanced by the extremely rapid technological improvements in his instrument – in power, scope, expressive capabilities, and in its mechanical efficiencies (largely at the instigation or insistence of composers). They proved to be critical and indispensable factors in his every creative thought. The ultimate refinement with which he capitalized on them defined his writing style.

The sheer brilliance of his writing can be defined by: an extremely adventuresome treatment of harmony, engaging a world of extreme chromaticism (Brahms and especially Wagner bear his unmistakable influence); a mastery of melodic invention, drawing inspiration from Italian opera, while avoiding virtuoso display for its own sake; a very striking emotional range and sense of drama coming not only from opera, but also from the traumatic emotional experiences of his youth associated with the suffering of his Polish brethren during their long-term domination by foreign countries (Austria, Prussia and Russia), a natural concept of rhythm, its inherent flexibility derived from one’s emotional response to the music; and finally, his meticulous search for perfection and his profound attention to detail.

A comprehensive list of Chopin’s complete body of work covers a wide range of genres and features many formal innovations. His mazurkas and polonaises bear the stylistic stamps of their roots in the Polish national culture; his nocturnes create a mood and form significantly beyond those of their predecessors; his 24 preludes demonstrate Chopin’s reverence for Bach in their sequence of key centers and, in addition to being highly varied in mood, serve as treasured materials for teaching purposes. His larger scaled works such as scherzos, ballades, sonatas and concertos are significant for both their innovations in form and their lyrical and dramatic contexts. Chopin’s 24 Etudes are in a category by themselves, showing his ground-breaking innovations in the expansion of piano technique. Composed to demonstrate his teaching concepts, they elevated the practice exercises to an unprecedented level, becoming works of both enormous pianistic imagination and esthetic substance. As “concert” Etudes, they provided the groundwork for its adaptation by many subsequent major composers. The latter’s concepts were of no less significance in contributing to his rich historical legacy than his authorship of a new school of composition.

Mrs. Richardson played a selection of works on her piano to provide a cross-section of Chopin’s contributions to piano literature.

After the presentation, Mrs. Richardson called the group to Tea. Mrs. Richardson was assisted by Dr. Minda Rae Amiran and Mrs. Homer Garretson. At the next meeting of the club, to be hosted by Club President, Mrs. Robert Woodbury at her home, Ms. Priscilla Bernatz will present her paper entitled “Creativity in Fashion History: Bathing Suits.”