By Jacob Stockinger
A conservative musician who admired and valued the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above that of Ludwig van Beethoven and his own contemporaries, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one of the most popular and most played of all Romantic composers.
He remains a perennial favorite of audiences, students and concert artists. Witness the recent sold-out concerts featuring Chopin’s music by Trevor Stephenson at his home and by Adam Neiman at Farley’s House of Pianos. An amazingly high percentage of Chopin’s works remains in the active repertoire.
His was no belated posthumous fame, either. Chopin, the famous Polish pianist-composer who was exiled in Paris, was well-known and widely respected in his own lifetime by the public and by other famous composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.
Yet despite many drawings and paintings of Chopin – often at odds in their depictions — until recently only one known photograph of Chopin existed: The familiar one taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in Paris towards the end of Chopin’s life, just months before he died of tuberculosis at age 39 in 1849.
Now a second photograph — or daguerreotype, to be exact — has been discovered. It probably dates from 1847 or so.
Here is the new photographic portrait of Chopin:
Want to know some background?
Here is the story from Poland via The Washington Post and the Associated Press:
Here are the two known photographs side by side for comparison:
And here is a terrific blog analysis of the two photographs that also discusses his late music and what the photographs tell us about Chopin:
The Ear wonders how long it will be before we start seeing the new photograph of Chopin on CD jackets and liner notes.
By Jacob Stockinger
What makes for great Chopin playing?
It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.
Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:
Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.
Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:
Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:
There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?
Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.
For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)
To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.
In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.
A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.
This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.
Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?
The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)
Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.
These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.
In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.
Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.
You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?
If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.
The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.
As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.
His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.
As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.
All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.
They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.
I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.
In there anything else you would like to say?
I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!
By Jacob Stockinger
This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.
The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,
The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.
In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.
Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.
Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:
Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?
I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.
Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.
I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.
I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!
Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:
You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?
The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.
Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.
As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.
From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.
The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.
As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.
Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.
What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?
Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.
Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.
There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?
What else would you like to say?
I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!
For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com