Monday, July 26, 2021

Chopin's Nocturnes in Poetry: Stillness, Nostalgia and Moonlight (Vol. 12, No. 4)

After a day trip to see the ocean, I drove back home in the metallic daze of the full moon.  I remembered the Nocturnes, and the many poets that wrote about the moon and Chopin's Nocturnes.  I listened to my double CD by Elizabeth Leonskaya. Lovely, except for harshness of notes in some "sublime" flights of fancy.  

The Chopin with Cherries anthology I edited in 2010 has a whole section on this topic.  Here is a sample of poems about Chopin's Nocturnes. My own poem, just written yesterday, is at the end of the set.  While reaching out to understand and convey the marvel of Chopin's music and his brief life, each poet hears in Chopin's music the melody of their own soul. 

Listen to Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 played by Artur Rubinstein:

Mazovian Willows
Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9

Linda Nemec Foster


                        What has happened to my heart? I can

               hardly remember how they sing at home.

                                                     ~ Chopin

Did the strain of a mazurka

split you in two? Don’t

tell me lightning, wind,

harsh betrayal of nature –

anything that has logic. 

As much logic as a Polish

composer with a French name

who wrote scores of music

for a single instrument;

who was in love with a strong

woman who adopted a man’s 

name because she liked

simplicity. No logic there,

old tree, stark willow.

You probably gave Frédéric

his inspiration: one

note at a time drowning out

the sky, changing your life

from a single vision

to a double one. A split

trunk resembling a pair

of hands in prayer, bruised

fingers of the émigré. Your

country not even listed

on the map. Perhaps it wasn’t

a mazurka that cut your 

heart in two: one side

listing to the West, the other

firmly planted in Mazovia,

despite itself. 

Perhaps it was a simple

nocturne, the last fading

light before night comes

and eyes close. Music

of good-bye, farewell;

the knowledge of never

going home again. Music

of exile that almost forgets

the language of the earth.

Nocturne: Chopin in Vienna

Elisabeth Murawski

Drawn to the cathedral’s 

darkest corner, its mournful 

harmony of stone, young Chopin 

stands beside a Gothic pillar, 

tombs behind him and beneath.

I’m only lacking one above. Soon 

the nave will blaze with lights 

for midnight Mass, the first 

worshipers drift in. Their joy 

will only fuel his melancholy.

Turning up the collar of his cloak, 

he steals from the cathedral

for music at the palace. To be 

distracted. To stop hearing

in his head sierota, the Polish word 

for orphan. Afterwards, he paces 

in his room without a view.

I’ve never felt so clearly 

my loneliness. What to do? 

Stay here in Vienna? Paris 

tempts him. Warsaw’s home. Broods 

in his dressing gown. Yesterday 

he stumbled on the funeral

of a stranger, coffin bobbing 

through a crowd of mourners. 

He tried not to stare

at their faces slack with grief. 

The gleam of the highly polished 

wood courted his eyes 

like an impossible lover.

Listen: Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 in B-flat, played by Artur Rubinstein:


William Pillin


Gautier wrote: “His soul weeps and hovers.”

I prefer Nietzsche’s “in him joy is ascendant.”

It is easy to spit clichés at him:

effeminate, tearful, sylph-like . . .


“Sick-room poet” hissed envious Field,

ignoring the tough musical sinews,

the brooding rebellious rages

and the political passions.


True, his wit was exquisite and birdlike

but he knew how to summon the Furies

and spoke for his ravaged nation

in accents as daring as any.


He was elegant and consumptive.

He was successful in the world

and rejoiced over his triumphs.

He loved pretty women — and was loved by them.




White and wasting he dotted

with splashes of blood his lunar pages,

carrying death like a singing bird

in his chest, his tissue held together


by dreams and bacilli.  “I used to find him,”

wrote George Sand, “late at night at his piano,

pale, with haggard eyes, his hair almost standing,

and it was some minutes before he knew me.”

In Majorca, the doctors 
shuddered at his blood-flecked mouth,
burned his belongings, compelled him
to take refuge in a former monastery. 

“My stone cell is shaped like a coffin.

You can roar — but always in silence.”

When it stormed he wrote the ‘raindrop’ prelude

and from the thunder he fashioned an étude.




“I work a lot,” he wrote to his sister,

“I cross out all the time, I cough without measure.”

With death’s hand on his slender shoulder

he created ballades, études, nocturnes.


                                    Who wrested

so much from torment?  Fading swiftly

he continued to color his silences,

a condemned man refusing a blindfold.


If he sometimes wept — it was from love, not weakness.

He felt all his life the wing of death’s angel

brushing in their sleep the embracing lovers.

Can one truly sing without this terrible knowledge?




Of the many men who were haunted

by the night, its gardens and fountains,

who fathomed it as truly as this Ariel of preludes?

The piano shakes like a leaf in the darkness.


The night breathes and triumphs.

Stars and sea-winds

drift through the open window.  

The ineffable nocturnes

float away like farewell whispers.

Listen: Chopin's Nocturne op. 27 no. 2 by Artur Rubinstein.

The Scarlet Hour

Kerri Buckley

                        —Chopin plays. 

In red, beaded dress I

wander beaches of garnet sands

Beneath a golden sunset-drizzled 

sky of painted scarlet watercolor streaks.

Holding red shoes and 

Cabernet, pulling swirls of skirt to my knees


Bare feet crushing ruby grapes into rich 

blood of the vine — it becomes my blood

If you were here I’d explore the

softness of your mouth, ravage its

Sweetness like a gypsy pirate alone 

with her captive, your absence a sharp

Thorn piercing your tender mouth where 

keening rivers run crimson

Restless seas scanned for sails on the horizon,

stretch of rubato in the Nocturnes arcs 

Above the crashing surf and rushing spray.

Gulls grieve with me, overhead cries spiraling.

We wait, the foamy sea and I, for your return

Eternal Nocturne

Russell Salamon

For Frédéric Chopin


He sees the eternal nocturne. 

All day he has been feeling 

the cool of it in willow trees 

on the road past golden 

wheat fields. Now at the piano 

light scuttles under his fingers. 


He wants tones that leak life—

harvested wheat, fresh bread, 

to the woman who said no. And 

black butterflies whose shadowy 

rhythms weep for a form that finds 

fragments of perfect being—night 

music where lost lovers find light.

Listen to all Chopin's Nocturnes without ads, played by Francois Chaplin
1. 0:00 Op. 9, No. 1 in B flat minor. Larghetto
2. 6:23 Op. 9, No. 2 in E flat major. Andante
3. 10:38 Op. 9, No. 3 in B major. Allegretto
4. 17:16 Op. 15, No. 1 in F major. Andante cantabile
5. 21:48 Op. 15, No. 2 in F sharp major. Larghetto
6. 25:08 Op. 15, No. 3 in G minor. Lento
7. 29:54 Op. 27, No. 1 in C sharp minor. Larghetto
8. 35:07 Op. 27, No. 2 in D flat major. Lento sostenuto
9. 41:15 Op. 32, No. 1 in B major. Andante sostenuto
10. 46:12 Op. 32, No. 2 in A flat major. Lento
11. 52:03 Op. 37, No. 1 in G minor. Lento
12. 57:47 Op. 37, No. 2 in G major. Andante
13. 1:03:15 Op. 48, No. 1 in C minor. Lento
14. 1:09:28 Op. 48, No. 2 in F sharp minor. Andantino
15. 1:16:00 Op. 55, No. 1 in F minor. Andante
16. 1:20:42 Op. 55, No. 2 in E flat major. Lento sostenuto
17. 1:25:40 Op. 62, No. 1 in B major. Andante
18. 1:33:17 Op. 62, No. 2 in E major. Lento
19. 1:39:16 Op. 72, No. 1 in E minor. Andante
20. 1:43:55 Op. posth in C sharp minor. Lento con gran espressione
21. 1:48:04 Op. posth in C minor. Andante sostenuto

The 23rd of July

is the day of clearing karma

untying knots on the thread of fate,

breaking enchantments, reversing curses.

Look at the moon, blood-red and broken

above the hilltop, huge like ancient pain

passed on through generations.

It follows you, as you drive home 

after resting in the silver mist of the ocean,

its waves - turquoise and jade - always

moving, yet always the same - 

Look, the moon hides behind the black ridge

of despair, only a soft spot remains, shimmering 

on alien indigo sky. The road turns, you fly along 

80 miles per hour, singing a Chopin's Nocturne    -    

its lustrous cascade of notes split apart 

by a sudden apparition   -   a majestic, white 

platinum orb, suspended in darkness. 

You remember that rust-red, once-in-the-lifetime 

moon of prophecy, the fox moon that foretold 

disaster as it led you back from Paso Robles, Solvang, 

Santa Rosa, on the way into disillusionment and regret. 

It was hard to understand. Harder to believe

in the existence of such twisted, demonic 

selfishness masquerading as affection. Pitiful. 

Yet the healing was real. 

The lesson's learned.

The karma's cleared.

It is done. 

The moon now floats high above the valley

in its bright halo, distant and indifferent. 

You've discovered the virtue of detachment.

You've seen how desires of the heart 

led you astray. Your life - an illumination.

Like a moonbeam, glowing on cobalt waters 

of the Pacific, your path ahead is straight - clear 

-  dazzling  -  brilliant  - 

A Starchild, born to shine, you are blessed

by the moon's radiance on this magical 

summer evening of July 23rd. You are home. 

The New Age has just begun. 

(c) 2021 by Maja Trochimczyk 

And listen again, Chopin's Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1 in B major, played by Janusz Olejniczak

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chopin in the Snow and Celebrating his Birthday (Vol. 12, No. 3)

Photo from the article posted by

 The 2020 Sapporo Snow Festival included a replica of the Palace on the Isle, from Warsaw's Lazienki park, and, as a bonus, a snow version of the famous Chopin Monument by Waclaw Szymanowski, which was designed in 1907, unveiled in 1926, destroyed by Germans in 1940, and rebuilt by 1958 in Warsaw's nearby Ujazdowski Park. I wrote about this monument in the first installment of the Chopin Monuments series on this blog.

The rebuilt monument is in Ujazdowski Park, and not right by the Palace as placed in Sapporo... There is a large reflective pool right in front of the bronze sculpture of a weeping willow, with branches tangled by wind, and a composer "inspired" sitting in its shade. 

After looking at the composer's photographs, I noticed that the monument shows the suffering, inspired pianist in reverse, with the lock of hair above the frown flowing dramatically to the left, from hair parted on the right.  The historical accuracy has to give in to the artistic vision... For a detailed story of the concept and genesis of the monument read the article by Waldemar Okon, "The Monument of Fryderyk Chopin by Waclaw Szymanowski: Concepts and Reality" in The Age of Chopin, edited by Halina Goldberg, 2004. 

The Sapporo Snow Festivals are held every winter since 1950, when six snow sculptures were placed in Odori Park; and various winter games were played. Over 50,000 visitors showed up and a tradition was born.  In recent years, one huge replica of a well-known building was constructed each year. So far, the Sapporo Snow Festival featured 

In 2020, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Poland and Japan, Polish landmark was chosen, the classicist palace, a favorite estate of King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The snow building, constructed by over 100 soldiers of Japanese Self-Defense Forces, is 14-meter-tall, 26-meter-broad and 20-meter-long.  The Chopin Monument placed on the side, is considerably smaller. 

Photo of the Lazienki Palace and the Chopin Monument to the right in Sapporo from:

According to the "Royal Baths" website (Lazienki Krolewskie), in Warsaw, the history of this site reached back to the 17th century: "The origins of today’s Palace on the Isle date back to the late seventeenth century. The Bathhouse was built at the behest of Prince Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, one of the most important politicians, writers and philosophers of the time. The Baroque garden pavilion, designed by the Dutch architect, Tylman van Gameren, was intended as a place for resting, leisure and contemplation. The interiors of the Bathhouse were stylized on a grotto with a spring which symbolized the Hippocrene, a fountain on Mount Helicon in ancient Greece, which was the source of poetic inspiration for the Muses."

"In 1764, when looking for a place in which to build his summer residence, King Stanisław August purchased the Bathhouse together with the Ujazdowski estate. Thanks to two architects – the Italian born Domenico Merlini and Johann Christian Kammsetzer, who was born in Dresden – the King transformed the Baroque Bathhouse pavilion into the neoclassical Palace on the Isle. Modelled on Italian architectural solutions, such as the Villa Borghese, Villa Albani, Villa Medici and Villa Ludovisi, it was intended to symbolize the dream of an ideal, modern and sovereign state."

There are no mentions of the "Royal Baths" Lazienki Palace in Chopin's letters - during his time, it was still a Royal Palace, not open to the public, but rather used by the Russian rulers of Poland.  His letters have some mentions of beautiful parks with ancient huge trees. Mentions of such parks are found in his correspondence to family and friends, sent from Scotland in 1848, for instance, describing the charms of the Calder House estate, with a beautiful park. . . 

Calder House in Scotland, where Chopin visited in 1848, photo from:

March 1, 1810 is Chopin's birthday celebrated today as the accurate date - it was celebrated by his family during his lifetime. There is another, earlier date, celebrated on February 22, as written on Chopin's baptismal certificate. Scholars still have not come to terms as to which date is correct, but the majority is inclined to follow Chopin's family tradition of March 1. 

The commemorative plaque in The Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmiescie in Warsaw, where Chopin's heart is held in one of the columns, bears the date 22 February 1810, instead of March.

This "confusion" is actually a bonus for Chopin Festival organizers as they schedule events for the whole week from Feb. 22 to March 1, and bring lots of Chopin's music to the public. For instance, in Chicago, jazz vocalist Grazyna Auguscik is one of the organizers of the week-long Chopin in the City Festival, held from February 22 to March 1, with an eclectic range of concerts, not just Chopin's piano works being featured.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Chopin Heard on YouTube with Listeners Comments, and a New Portrait (Vol. 12, No. 2)

After a long walk along the Rim of the Valley Trail, I did not want to get off the sofa and instead of getting a Chopin CD, I turned on YouTube,, The Best of Chopin by Halidon Music. Three hours by pianists I never heard of - Giovanni Umberto Battel, Rogerio Tutti, and Vadim Chaimovich. I'm not that well versed in the younger generations of pianists. But I can say that these three are all wonderful. The music was as soothing as Chopin always is after a long day: when you listen to a Berceuse or Andante Spianato you enter a different world of affection, nostalgia, and brilliance. 

While listening, I scrolled down to see what other listeners say, and as always, they love the music, and express their admiration in unique style. This is what keeps the music alive - its direct emotional impact on the audiences, generation after generation, year after year. 

Youssef Slimi: "Chopin may be the founder of modern music. His music sounds like it has just been made. He is really a genius."

Genia Sherwood: "My dad played this and I remember lying under the Steinway feeling the vibration and allowing the music to fill my ears and my soul. I will always love this piece. It was also used in the movie, The Turning Point as Leslie Brown bourree'd across the stage."

Graanvlok: "My favourite composer. He captured the human condition so perfectly - the beauty and the anguish."

Eschelar: "Nocturne in C Sharp Minor... in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, you can explore the Victorian era Buckingham Palace. You might find the White Drawing Room, which has a piano and a pianist playing a shortened version of this piece. It is one of the most memorable things I've encountered in a video game and sadly, just about the only memorable thing in that entire game."

Soul Boken: "Chopin was not human, this soul was a gift from the universe <3"

Karin Anna Maria: "such a genius. his music is pure bliss"

Stefano Rossi: "How i wish i could play piano... being able to play any instrument would be the first wish i'd ask a genie...and then being able to speak any language would be the second wish."

Gabriella Salvador: "Just learned I can't listen to Chopin while studying because I become too emotional but also in the best way possible."

Maude Gonne: "I was looking at a portrait of Chopin and saw such sensitivity and suffering etched on his face. I thought the nature of genius is the ability to turn suffering into art which touches our hearts. Did he realize that  he would still be reaching out and helping other struggling souls nearly 200 years after his death?"

Beautiful Classical: "Pianos, unlike people, sing when you give them your every growl. They know how to dive into the pit of your stomach and harmonize with your roars when you’ve split yourself open. And when they see you, guts shining, brain pulsing, heart right there exposed in a rhythm that beats need need, need need, need need, pianos do not run. And so she plays."

Myau: "I've never listened to classical music in my life, what is this sorcery. Why is it so moving, what are these emotions, why am I crying AAAAAAAAAAAAAA"

Rat Girl (about the Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2): "I genuinely feel this song. you can listen to it, sure, but if you dont feel the emotions this work of art is trying to send you, listening to it is pretty much useless. this song, for me, personally, makes me forget about everything and everyone. it takes care of all the anxiety that's been building up for the past couple of weeks and just empties me completely. I'm hollow inside when it comes to listening to this, but there's also something there, in my heart, it's not completely hollow. theres still some emotion, emotion awakened by this piece. the slight spark of joy that's still left after holding all my emotions trapped inside and not letting them go. and that slight spark of joy being too powerful and overwhelming that I just break down completely. I crumble to pieces. this piece has a big impact on me for some reason and honestly I'm not mad at it. anyway, what I'm trying to say is that music/a work of art isnt created to just be admired, its created to be felt. thank you for reading this."-a random 13 year old.

A computer artist, named Hadi Karim decided to use the existing photos of Chopin and some portraits to recreate his "photograph" with modern technology. He managed to capture the sensitivity, elegance, and suffering of this genius whose music continues to touch and inspire, or even ambush unexpectedly with a torrent of emotions.  It speak directly from the heart to the heart. That's true magic. Now we try to analyze it, describe every aspect of his life, illness, relationships, tastes - the flowers he enjoyed in his rooms (violets), the food he ate (gingerbread from Torun), the clothes he wore (fancy white kid gloves and the most elegant evening attire). Yet, the mystery remains. 

One of only two daguerreotypes of Chopin made during his lifetime, this one is blurry and does not show much, except the evening attire. This photograph was taken in 1845 or 1847, the original was lost in WWII, it was discovered in 1936:

The better known photograph by Bisson, from 1949, was taken just a few months before Chopin's death at 39. It is so full of suffering, it hurts to just look at it.

There was also a death mask made by Auguste Clesinger after Chopin's death: 

Here's another set of fictional photographs of Chopin reinvented in the 20th century by Hadi Karim. 

I think these portraits are remarkable and much closer to what Chopin looked like, as shown in the historical daguerreotypes than so many 19th century portraits, painted from imagination and re-creating the sickly and vulnerable genius as an all-power young Master of music, a country gentleman in a fur coat from his estate. 

Instead of continuing with the Best of Chopin and listening to the Etudes, I went back to the Nocturnes, recorded years ago by Claudio Arrau.

This music is sublime. Just read what the listeners say:

Oudtshoornify: "Am 77, and have not ever before heard the Nocturnes played like this.   Makes my heart  turn over, giddy from the beauty.   Thank you for this gift."

Gary Lotilla: "What a soulful rendition. No tricks, no bravura playing. Sheer beauty. Touches the soul. Transports you to the divine and the infinite."

Marsha Carlson: "Play music through my computer. CD's long gone. LP's of course too.;-) My daughter came over for dinner,  this recording was playing. I told her I could not listen to anyone else play Chopin. We had this playing every evening for many years in our home when she was a child. She said, "Mom, I know every note'. Good wishes to all who love good music like this. :-)"

Nicholas Bianchi: "Arrau's slow and laconic lyricism is the perfect temperament for these pieces. To truly play Chopin's Nocturnes one must understand the poetry of dusk and darkness."

teddy toto: "Arrau’s interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturnes strikes me as one of the most naturally beautiful interpretations. So direct, simple and beautiful."

MichaL H:  "Chopin touches the deepest , most private and personal feelings and emotions humankind is capable of experiencing . A poet , and a Titan of the piano ."

Georg Vrabetz: "When diving into this beautiful world, created by the ingenious compositions of chopin and the marvellous rendition by grand seigneur Claudio Arrau, all of the daily problems seem so far and meaningless."

R: "Chopin has an ocean in his soul. I have no choice but to sigh in front of his ocean."

ccmik123: "This is the most beautiful thing that i have heard."

roobear 53: "his piano is a magic loom spinning dreams of sound"

Just Jeanne: "Ahhhhhh.....Chopin.... is there anything more beautiful or transcendent?"