Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chopin - Waltzes Opus 69

The Waltz as a form of dance had its origins in the Austrian/German Ländler, a folk dance that includes stomping, leaping and twirling about, although mention of gliding and twirling dances where dancers were described as walzen (German for turning or spinning) are mentioned as early as the 16th century in some texts.

Composers such as Beethoven and Schubert wrote waltzes, but these pieces were the equivalent of modern dance music. They were functional and meant to be danced to.  Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation To The Dance written for piano was the first instance of a waltz written to be listened to instead of danced to. Chopin helped refine the concert waltz and his first attempts in the form used Weber's as a model.

Chopin wrote at least 36 waltzes, but only 18 verified waltzes still exist. The others are either destroyed, held by private owners while the fate of others is unknown. Chopin had only eight waltzes published during his lifetime, and on his death bed he instructed his publisher to destroy all of his unpublished works, but this was not done.  Five waltzes were published shortly after his death and another five later.  The two waltzes of Opus 69 were published in 1854, 5 years after his death.

Chopin painted by Maria Wodzińska
No. 1 In A-flat Major, Valse de l'adieu or Farewell Waltz - This waltz was written in 1835 during Chopin's early years in Paris and was given to Maria Wodzińska as a gift. Chopin had proposed to Maria (a talented artist and musician that studied with John Field) in 1835, and while her mother consented her father considered Chopin too sickly and their engagement ended in 1837.  Chopin's waltzes have been considered to be lesser compositions by some, and there are a few of the waltzes that can be considered trifles compared to other works. but taken as a whole, the waltzes reflect a wide range of moods from the giddy and extroverted to the melancholy and introverted. The A-flat Waltz of opus 69 is one of the introverted works of the set.  Despite being written in A major, a feeling of nostalgia (perhaps for his native Poland and the native Polish mazurka) can be heard in the main theme, no doubt because the minor mode is interwoven with the major to creates an ambiguity of sound that equates to the reverie of a mind dwelling on things past. The waltz ends gently with the main theme.

No. 2 In B Minor -  This waltz was written in 1829 before Chopin left Poland.  The main theme is in B minor that is more melancholy and restless than the previous waltz, partially on account of the chromaticism of the main theme. Once again Chopin mixes major and minor (or in this instance minor with major) as the first episode after the statement of the theme changes to B major, but the overall feeling doesn't change.  This piece is one of the least technically demanding waltzes, but that's no reason to dismiss it. Chopin was above everything else, a master of the piano miniature, with this waltz being a good example of his skill and artistry.

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