Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year 2017! (Vol. 7, No. 10)

May your year 2017 be full of Chopin's delicate touch of romantic sweetness!

Here are some waltzes to celebrate the holidays! 

Nineteen waltzes played by a Hungarian Pianist Zoltan Kocsis:

00:00 01-Grande Valse Brillante Op.18
04:51 02-Grande Valse Brillante Op.34 No.1
09:54 03-Grande Valse Brillante Op.34 No.2
15:26 04-Grande Valse Brillante Op.34 No.3
17:33 05-Grand Valse Op.42
20:59 06-Minute Waltz Op.64 No.1
22:35 07-Waltz Op.64 No.2
25:37 08-Waltz Op.64 No.3
28:14 09-Waltz L'adieu Op.69 No.1
31:46 10-Waltz Op.69 No.2
34:37 11-Waltz Op.posth.70 No.1
36:17 12-Waltz Op.posth.70 No.2
37:51 13-Waltz Op.posth.70 No.3
40:22 14-Waltz Op.posth. B.56
43:13 15-Waltz Op.posth. B.44
45:14 16-Waltz Op.posth. B.21
46:25 17-Waltz Op.posth. B.46
49:07 18-Waltz Op.posth. B.133
50:19 19-Waltz Op.posth. B.150

Or, with far more rubato, a more fluid tempo, and more delicate, less brilliant touch, here are the 19 waltzes interpreted by Vladimir Askenazy:

Published on Oct 31, 2013

Ashkenazy plays the Piano Works of Chopin (13 CDs).

01 - Waltz No.1 in E flat, Op.18 (Grande valse brillante)
02 - Waltz No.2 in A flat, Op.34 No.1 (Valse brillante)
03 - Waltz No.3 in A minor, Op.34 No.2
04 - Waltz No.4 in F, Op.34 No.3
05 - Waltz No.5 in A flat, Op.42 (Grande valse)
06 - Waltz No.6 in D flat, Op.64 No.1 (Minute)
07 - Waltz No.7 in C sharp minor, Op.64 No.2
08 - Waltz No.8 in A flat, Op.64 No.3
09 - Waltz No.9 in A flat, Op.posth.69 No.1 (BI 95) (L'adieu - farewell)
10 - Waltz No.10 in B minor, Op.posth.69 No.2 (BI 35)
11 - Waltz No.11 in G flat, Op.posth.70 No.1 (BI 92)
12 - Waltz No.12 in F minor-A flat, Op.posth.70 No.2 (BI 138)
13 - Waltz No.13 in D flat, Op.posth.70 No.3 (BI 40)
14 - Waltz No.14 in E minor, Op.posth.P1 No.15 (BI 56)
15 - Waltz No.15 in E, Op.posth.P1 No.12 (BI 44)
16 - Waltz No.19 in A minor, Op.posth.P2 No.11 (BI 150)
17 - Waltz No.16 in A flat, Op.posth.P1 No.13 (BI 21) (Emily Elsner)
18 - Waltz No.18 in E flat, Op.posth.P2 No.10 (BI 133) (Sostenuto)
19 - Waltz No.17 in E flat, Op.posth.P1 No.14 (BI 46) (Emily Elsner)

Finally, one more time, more reflective, slower, but expressive and nuanced interpretation by Claudio Arrau, copied by Neryong Ci ( YouTube with the following introduction: 

"Astoundingly beautiful, Claudio Arrau's late Chopin recordings are, along with his late Debussy recordings, the peak of his art. Recorded mostly in the '70s and early '80s, Arrau's Chopin recordings catch him past his prime as a technician -- although much of Chopin's solo piano music is here, the extremely difficult polonaises, the sonatas, and especially the etudes are conspicuous in their absence -- but at the height of his powers as a poet. There are his radiant waltzes, his luminous preludes, his ravishing impromptus, his atmospheric ballades, and his evocative concertos with Eliahu Inbal directing the London Philharmonic. But above all, there are Arrau's sublime nocturnes, some of the most emotional, most soulful, most sensual, and most spiritual recordings of any piano music ever recorded. The warmth of his tone, the clarity of his phrasing, the depth of his sonorities, the utter inevitability of his tempos makes Arrau's nocturnes mandatory listening for anyone who loves piano music. And the inclusion of Arrau's 1953 U.S. Decca recordings of the impromptus, the ballades, the scherzos, and the barcarolle makes this set mandatory listening for even those folks who already have Arrau's later Chopin recordings. Decca's monaural sound is distant but clean enough; Philips' stereo sound is so honest and true that it's better than reality."

1. Waltz No.1 in E flat, Op.18 -"Grande valse brillante"
2. Waltz No.2 in A flat, Op.34 No.1 - "Valse brillante"
3. Waltz No.3 in A minor, Op.34 No.2
4. Waltz No.4 in F, Op.34 No.3
5. Waltz No.5 in A flat, Op.42 - "Grande valse"
6. Waltz No.6 in D flat, Op.64 No.1 -"Minute"
7. Waltz No.7 in C sharp minor, Op.64 No.2
8. Waltz No.8 in A flat, Op.64 No.3
9. Waltz No.9 in A flat, Op.69 No.1 -"Farewell"
10. Waltz No.10 in B minor, Op.69 No.2
11. Waltz No.11 in G flat, Op.70 No.1
12. Waltz No.12 in F minor/A flat, Op.70 No.2
13. Waltz No.13 in D flat, Op.70 No.3
14. Waltz No.14 in E minor, Op.posth.
15. Waltz No.16 in A flat, Op.posth.
16. Waltz No.15 in E, Op.posth.
17. Waltz No.19 in A minor, Op.posth.
18. Waltz No.18 in E flat, Op.posth.
19. Waltz No.17 in E flat, Op.posth.

Enjoy the galaxy of beauty in Chopin's music and look to the stars for inspiration on those deep, dark winter nights! 

And while looking up, we can think of the cosmic scale of things and then listen to Chopin's waltzes, what a miracle is this music on our tiny planet Earth! 

Finally, as an encore, listen to the Minute Waltz, and read poems about the Minute Waltz from Chopin with Cherries, available online everywhere...

Here's Valentina Lisitsa (1 min 48 seconds):

And here's Lang Lang, a rehearsal recording with introduction:

.... so again, after hearing so much lovely Chopin, enjoy the whole year with Chopin!

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Art of the Night – On Engerer Playing the Nocturnes (vol. 7, no. 9)

Playing Chopin Nocturnes,  a vintage postcard

It is almost Halloween... America is full of pumpkins, goblins and monsters. And fake body parts. And fake blood. And fake blood and gore. And real blood and gore. Enough of that.Let's listen to some Chopin. He died on October 17, 1849 at the age of 39, yet his music is timeless.

 Everyone has or should have a couple of favorite Chopin recordings, to return to, back and back again. Mine are the Nocturnes – all of them recorded by Brigitte Engerer.  I used to listen to them at night, in the dark, while falling asleep. And while driving to a distant office, spending four hours daily in the traffic jams of Los Angeles freeways. There was nothing more relaxing and otherworldly than Engerer’s Nocturne. A perfect antidote to Road Rage (there is a radio program on KUSC that plays an anti-road-rage melody of incomparable sweetness around 5 p.m. every day). So these sweet and gentle nocturnes, filled with wistful nostalgia and the serenity of reconciliation are my anti-stress melodies.

I had to buy another set, my old one was played so much that it started to malfunction.  Then, I thought it would be easier to listen to them on the laptop, while writing a poem, or an article or reading my email. And here, on YouTube, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of comments. The recordings from “my” CD, posted in 2015, have reached over 13 million listeners in one year, 13,077,492 views to be exact, with  51,329 likes and 1,403 dislikes. One commentator said: “1000 people dislike it. WHY? Most be idiots.” (Dave Shen). Brigitte Engerer, a French pianist, born in Tunisia on 27 October 1952  died on 23 June of 2012 of cancer, according to her obituary in the New York Times.

According to Engerer's bio on Wikipedia,  she started to play the piano at four and gave her first public performances at six. She studied in the Paris Conservatoire with Lucette Descaves since she was 11 and at 15, she received the first prize in piano. At sixteen, she won the Concours International Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud. She then studied piano in Moscow, at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Stanislav Neuhaus. She stayed there for nine years. Her musical heritage is equally French and Russian.  Her repertoire included the great piano concerti of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Chopin, and lots of solo works including Chopin, and Schumann. She played with  Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and with other major orchestras: the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim.

Her prizes and honors included wins at the Competition Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud, Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Queen Elisabeth Competition of Belgium, Grand Prix du Disque for her recording with Philips of Carnival op. 9 and the Carnival of Vienna Robert Schumann. She was the corresponding member of the Institut de France, Academy of Fine Arts and won lifetime achievement award the Victoires de la musique 2011, as well medals from the French government: Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, Commander of the Order of Merit, and Commander of Arts and Letters.

What do her listeners say? What does the music mean to them? First of all, it brings calm and comfort:

"Nocturnes = night music. Music written to soothe and calm you down after the many troubles of the day, in preparation for a restful night's sleep.  Don't listen to it -- let it simply wash over you and work its gentle magic on your soul." (Jon Low)

"I listen to this when i read, its wonderful because there’s no words to distract you yet there is something filling in the silence" (Daisy Clarke)

"I used to do the same! I dont know why but i feel that our brains resonate better when we listen to this while studying. After a while you even forget that the music is there!" (George Georgiou)

"I cant listen to classical to music while studying cause I just end up listening to it seriously." (Mat)

"In times of great doubt or heartbreak, this is probably one of the most comforting pieces you can listen to.
It's easy to divert attention away from yourself, but this piece makes that nearly impossible." (Bill)

"Every night to be able to sleep i listen to this, it's so good i dont even remember when i sleep! Never able to listen to all of them consciously :)" (Ezgi Sozmen)

Then, they reflect on the talent of the performer:

"I am amazed by the vivacious, but somehow calm, interpretation of this pianist.  Unfortunately, I was never able to hear her in concert.   An astounding artist.  A blessing to hear her talent!!"   (Michael Linminn)

"How immortal, these nocturnes - how beautiful this performance!" (Jan Klassiek )

"It's not only the music, the sound or the chords. It's the Story and the feeling, it comes from. Chopin is a part of history..... of feeling the history...." (Jamel Abdouni Melki)

"In a time of such human ugliness and petty hatred, this is probably one of the most beautiful collections of sounds in the world right now; Peace to you all......*sighs*" (London Bridges)

Someone asks a question: "Which one is your favorite?"

Maga Lee Craveiro provided links to her favorite nocturnes recorded by Engerer:

1. 0:06 Op. 9, No. 1 in B flat minor. Larghetto 
2. 5:53 Op. 9, No. 2 in E flat major. Andante 
3. 10:29 Op. 9, No. 3 in B major. Allegretto 
4. 17:09 Op. 15, No. 1 in F major. Andante cantabile 

Patricia Salem said: "Op. 32 in B Major... I think. It sort of depends on the mood I'm in. I think Chopin's nocturnes truly capture the essence of "evening." Sometimes they're gentle and wistful, while others they're stormy and dramatic. Of all the different types of compositions Chopin wrote, the nocturnes as a group are my favorite--more than preludes, etudes, etc." (Patricia Salem)

Someone else found another favorite:  1:20:13 Op. 55, No. 1 in F minor. Andante

Other listeners focus on the pianist herself:

"Is that just me or does that lady look a lot like an older Catherine Zeta-Jones?!" (Andrew de Burgh)

"What an extraordinarily striking woman. As attractive as she is gifted." (Jose Guardiola)

"Mesmerizingly beautiful piano playing" (Kim Castle)

Some philosophically minded reflected on music in general:

"Art is how we decorate space, Music decorates time." (Vincente Yanez)

"Music is how we feed our soul." (Arlys Chapdelaine)

"Music reconfigures time, changes it, creates a beautiful panorama in the mind, soothes the aching heart." (Doug Johnson)

"Without music the world would be a dark and dampen place. Society wouldn't be society, earth wouldn't be earth, and space well it just keeps going." (David Fairbairn)

"Music: the universal language of mankind." (Julia Ski)

... And then, there are those who post in languages I do not speak:

"Muitos tocam Chopin, mas poucos pianistas conseguem extrair tanta beleza da sua música como Brigite Engerer.  Parabéns à essa mulher que hoje dorme profundamente; acredito que embalada pela música do artista que ela tanto reverenciou." (Marcelo Rodriguez)

"The fact that I am able to understand this comment written in Portuguese on account of speaking Spanish is rather bemusing." (Tony Uribe)

"Suave, delicado, divino" (Tarcisio Monteiro)

"Bence en güzel versiyonu paylaşana teşekkürler" ("I think the most beautiful version, share it, thanks"- in Turkish, by Gizemm Teke)

"Begiak ixtea eta hegan egiteko gai zarela sentitzea!" ("Close your eyes and feel that you are able to fly!" -  in Basque by Karmelo Belasko)

Chopin appeals to everyone. His intimate and touching tone speaks personally to each one of us, and makes our heart ache for what we lost, what we cannot have, what we long for - starlight, moonlight, dreamscape, peace...And we can remember the amazing pianists that left us too early, like Chopin himself, with a legacy of timeless music and the beauty of sound.

Fragment of a Chopin tapestry by Monique Lehman.

PHOTOS of chrysantemums, ponds, and leaves from Descanso Gardens by Maja Trochimczyk

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Finding More Chopin Sites in Warsaw (Vol. 7, No. 8)

Inspired by the "eye of an aspen tree" found in one of Warsaw's parks, I went on to seek more traces of Chopin in Warsaw, and found some places I did not see before. . . 

The Krasinski Palace, view from the Krasinski Park

A famous aristocratic family of Chopin's time that had a palace in Warsaw was the Krasinski family, today mostly remembered for its most famous son, Zygmunt Krasinski (), poet, philosopher, essayis, and drama writer.  Zygmunt Napoleon Stanisław Adam Ludwik Krasiński - was the son of General Wincenty Krasiński who served in Napoleon's army and was the Commandor of the Legion of honor, the count of Napoleonic empire, but laster also the general for Tsars Alexander I and Nicolas I. The Emperor Napoleon was the Godfather to the son of his favorite general.  Krasinski was raised in this palace and studied at the University of Warsaw.  Since 1929 contuned to study in Geneva and moved to Paris after the uprising (that he did not participate in  and was ostracized by his colleagues). A friend of fellow great romantic poets, Adam Mickiewicz, Cyprian Kamil Norwid and Juliusz Słowacki. In 1838-1846, he was in a romantic relationship with Countess Delfiną Potocką, one of Chopin's staunchest supporters. It is Delfina who provides the link between Chopin and the Krasinskis.

The National Theater where Chopin gave his public concert and attended opera performances in the late 1820s was located at Krasinski Square across the street from the Krasinski Palace. According to Chopin's Life on NIFC website,  Chopin's works performed there included "the Concerto in F minor, Op. 21 and Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13, performed with the accompaniment of an orchestra directed by Karol Kurpiński. A second performance, with a similar repertory, was held several days later, on 22 March, 1830 and Chopin's farewell concert, his last in Poland, took place on 11 October 1830."

The Concerto in F minor, composed in 1829-1830, was dedicated to Delfina Potocka, the beloved of Zygmunt Krasinski, mentioned above. More information can be found on NIFC website:
You might also want to listen to this work in one of the many renditions on YouTube:

The building of the National Theater has not survived and the Monument to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 is now located in this space.  To the left is the tall columnade of the Warsaw Courts,surrounded by tents of protesters these days...

Plac Krasinskich (Krasinski Square)

Please note that while Chopin's biographies point out that his family lived in the Krasinski Palace in 1827-1830, it was another palace in a different location, on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, across the street from the main gate to the University of Warsaw. A small museum of the Chopin Salon is now housed inside the building which serves as the Academy of Fine Arts.

From the Krasinski Square let's walk towards the Old Town along the Miodowa Street, lined with palaces of Polish aristocracy, some of them with links to Chopin, pointed out by signs. The Mlodziejowski Palace at Miodowa 10 (also called Morsztyn Palace), was the site of Chopin's first public concert in December 1829.

The only Mlodziejowski appearing in Chopin-related "persons" on the website of National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland was an artist active in the early 20th century, so there were no personal Mlodziejowski friends or connections worthy of being noted.

The Mlodziejowski Palace, at Miodowa 10, was built in 17th century and expanded in 1766-1771. Its 1804-11 reconstruction changed it into a classicist design that stands now. Interestingly, the design was by Fryderyk Albert Lessel (1767-1822) of the same name, but unrelated to Franciszek Lessel (1780-1838) a Polish composer and administrator of the Czartoryski family estates.

Right next to it, at Miodowa 6-8, is the Branicki Palace, now closed to the public and serving as a seat for Warsaw City government. It was built by the aristocratic Branicki family for Prince Jan K. Branicki in 18th century.  Burnt down during the bombing of Warsaw by Germans in 1939, it was rebuilt after the war (completed in 1967) on the basis of detailed paintings by Bernardo Belotto Canaletto, whose views of Warsaw helped rebuilt the destroyed city.

While Chopin has not performed in this palace while in Warsaw, his links to the Branickis is through Countess Katarzyna Branicka (1825-1907), to whom he dedicated his last published Waltz,, Op. 64, No. 3, in A flat major, composed in 1846-47. The Countess was just 21 at that time and lived in Paris. She later married Count Adam Jozef Potocki, in 1854, returned to Poland, and went on to become a notable art collector.

According to Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, this waltz "at first glance, is cheerful, high-spirited, boisterous even. The next moment, however, those first impressions are dispelled. What remains is music that seems to be seeking – relentlessly, but hopelessly – its proper tone, or perhaps a way out, repeating the same pattern on successive tonal planes: in F minor, in B flat major, then in G flat major. Yet the narration does eventually arrive at its goal, which is the music of the trio (in C major), filled with a simple, hushed song in cello timbres. In keeping with the laws of the form (the dance with trio), the music of the beginning, that path-seeking music, returns. Before that, however, transitional music is heard: sketched with a subtle line and endowed with the harmonic half-light of chromatic hues."

Here are various performances of this Waltz, posted on YouTube:

Plac Zamkowy near former location of Warsaw Conservatory.

Just a couple block further down Miodowa Street, if you turn left towards the Castle Square - Plac Zamkowy, you will stand where the Warsaw Conservatory used to be and Chopin's teacher, Jozef Elsner used to live. The street no longer exist, as it was demolished during the post-WWII reconstruction of the Old Town that partly changed the configuration of streets.

                                 Teatr Wielki Opery i Baletu - Grand Theater of Opera and Ballet

From Miodowa Street it is just a short walk to the Plac Teatralny, known in Chopin's time as Marywilski. The monumental building that now stands in the middle of it was rebuilt after its total destruction by Germans during WWII; it was bombed in 1939 during the siege of Warsaw.  In 1945-1965 performances took place in other location while the Grand Theater rose from ruins. It was not only rebuilt but modernized and expanded.

The original Teatr Wielki was erected in 1825-1833  based on a design by Antonio Corazzi. When Chopin lived in Warsaw, National Opera performed at another stage, on Plac Krasinskich, and only the walls of the Teatr Wielki were rising up in this place.  The building currently houses National Opera, Polish National Ballet, National Theater, and Opera Museum.

Once you walk through the Plac Teatralny to Senatorska and you reach the Plac Bankowy, you may miss a now neglected palace associated with two aristocratic families closely linked to Chopin, of the Princes Czartoryskis and Counts Zamoyskis. Prince Adam Czartoryski was the leader of post-1830 emigration in Paris and his Palace Lambert was the site of many Chopin's concerts and visits through his Parisian years.  The Czartoryski palace in Warsaw, called the Azure Palace (or Blue Palace), is located at the corner of Senatorska Street and the Plac Bankowy (Bank Square). First built in the 17th century, it was reconstructed and expanded in accordance with a design by Fryderyk A. Lessel in 1812-1819.  In 1808-1816 it was used by Princess Maria Czartoryska for her Azure Salons, frequented by poets and writers dedicated to the promotion of Polish language and culture. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz was one of the guests and his "Historical Chants" arose in this circle of patriotic aristocracy, with many countesses and noble ladies composing music or illustrations for the volume of Niemcewicz's poetry that was to determine the image of Polish history for the next hundred years. 

The Azure Palace on Senatorska Steet, left wing.

Chopin dedicated his Rondo a la Krakowiak in F major, Op. 14 from 1828 to Princess Anna Czartoryska, the wife of Prince Adam Czartoryski mentioned above.  She was especially close to Chopin in their years of Parisian exile. He enjoyed performing during their "musical evenings" and often "improvised delightful fantasies on Polish melodies."  Another, more famous Princess Czartoryska associated with Chopin, Marcelina, was actually a Princess due to her marriage to the son of Prince Adam Alexander, and grandson of Prince Adam, that is Prince Alexander Romuald. Princess Marcelina studied piano with Czerny in Vienna and with Chopin since 1844 or 47 in Paris. She performed as a pianist in solo recitals and charitable events, and traveled widely through Europe. Remembered for taking care of Chopin during his last illness, she later become one of the principal guardians of his oeuvre and tradition as a performer and composer, a Chopin institution in her own right. 

You may listen to various renditions of the Rondo a la Krakowiak on YouTube: 
And find out more about this work (its manuscript is in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow):

To return to Warsaw, the Azure Palace, since 1811 later served as the home to Countess Zofia Zamoyska, one of Czartoryski sisters, daughters of Princess Izabela Czartoryski Fleming. Chopin gave many performances in Zamoyska's salons prior to his departure from Warsaw in November 1830. According to NIFC, "Chopin, who is believed to have first played at the Zamoyski salon as a sixteen-year-old, was invited to the Blue Palace many times as a young man. One of these recitals took place in May 1826. Chopin recalled that evening in a letter to Jan Białobłocki: 'On Sunday, a week ago to the day, I was at the Zamoyskis', where Długosz's aeolopantalon was admired virtually the whole evening long.'." The building now seems abandoned as it waits for its reconstruction by new/old owner after it was returned to private hands. 

The Azure Palace, corner of Senatorska Street and Plac Bankowy.

In addition to spending evenings with the aristocracy, the young composer also frequented cafes in the area of Miodowa, Kozia, and Krakowskie Przedmiescie. According to his biography on NIFC Website: "he also occasionally dropped in to some famous Warsaw cafes: to ‘Kopciuszek’ [Cinderella] or to the ‘Dziurka’ [Hole], both on Miodowa street (in the Tepper Palace), to the ‘Honoratka’ opposite, and to Brzezińska’s cafe on Kozia Street. This last establishment was mentioned by Wójcicki: ‘During Podczaszyński’s stay in our city, this cafe began to be frequented by Maurycy Mochnacki, Konstanty Gaszyński, Leon Zienkowicz, the last two editors of the Pamiętnik dla Płci Pięknej, and Dominik Magnuszewski, together with his friend Fryderyk Szopen, who was setting off on a journey abroad’. The cafes were the focus for political and literary life, and the birth-place of the trend of ‘dynamic romanticism.’"

Mural with the history of Brzezinska Cafe, later known as Telimena 

Visiting Chopin in Brzezinska Cafe, where Chopin was "almost daily" - per the inscription.

While walking from palace to palace, I traversed two beautiful parks, Park Krasinskich and Ogrod Saski (Saxon Garden in English translations of Polish maps, but better stick to "Saski")  filled with majestic ancient chesnuts and maples. Some of them probably date back to Chopin's time, such as the chesnut with green lichen on its trunk below, found in the Saski Garden (Ogrod Saski). At the  end of this alley the Saski Palace once stood, now only the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier remains while the entire palace is gone.

This chesnut tree looks huge and ancient. Was it there when Chopin played in the Ogrod Saski?

Ogrod Saski, main alley towards the former Saski Palace.

Chopin spent first seven years of his life in the Saxon Palace (Palac Saski), that was destroyed during WWII and not rebuilt after the war. His father was a teacher in Warsaw Lyceum located in one of the Saxon Palace's wings and the family stayed there until 1817. According to NIFC Website, "Mrs Justyna Chopin will certainly have taken Ludwika and little Frycek to the nearby park. Given Fryderyk's fondness for walks around the city, we can assume that a dozen years or so later he visited this beautiful spot on many occasions in the company of friends. Some biographers have even held that he used to come here with Konstancja Gładkowska, although there is no information regarding such romantic walks in mentions of Fryderyk's contacts with his first love. The Saxon Garden was part of the 'Saxon Axis'-a complex of royal residences and gardens belonging to Augustus II the Strong, created in the years 1713-33 to the king's commission by Jan Krzysztof Naumann and Mateusz Daniel Pöppelmann. By 1727 the Garden had become the first public park in Warsaw. During Chopin's lifetime, it was redesigned by James Savage in the spirit of an English landscape garden."

After walking along Krolewska Street on the right side of the gardens, all the way back to Krakowskie Przedmiescie, you may see the Church of Visitation (Kosciol Wizytek) where the young Chopin played the organ.  The church is next to the statue of poet Adam Mickiewicz, another famous emigre who spent half of his life in Paris, from 1830 to 1855.

Wizytki Church next to Adam Mickiewicz Monument, Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

Turn right, walk towards Nowy Swiat,  and stop in front of the University of Warsaw (where Chopin lived with his family in the Kazimierzowski Palace). Across the street is the former Krasinski Palace, i..e. the Academy of Fine Arts, and a Chopin Piano Bench marks this spot. You can listen for a while to the Minute Waltz, in the middle of a busy street...

If you continue to walk along, soon you will stand in front of Church of the Holy Cross (Kosciol Sw. Krzyza) where Chopin's heart rests in one of the pillars in the main nave. 

Chopin's heart is in this pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross.

The location of these and other landmarks of Chopin's Warsaw may be found on the website: 


The last encounter with Chopin during my trip was at the Chopin Airport, when I noticed a piano and a pianist practicing his Chopin amidst all the commotion and crowds of passengers running to catch the planes, or resting between flights... 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chopin Events in Poland in September 2016 (Vol. 7, No. 7)

Lazienki Palace in Warsaw

The main Chopin festival of the season, "Chopin and his Europe," ends on August 30, 2016. The Festival in Duszniki has ended already, so what is one to do, if going to Poland and wishing to immerse oneself in Chopin's music?

The fall has other attractions. The regular events of Sunday Chopin recitals at Zelazowa Wola, his birthplace, continue through September, at noon and three o'clock.  The regular Sunday Chopin Recitals at Chopin Monument in the Lazienki Park in Warsaw are also in full swing.

For the academically inspired, and intellectually curious there are two conferences in nearby Radziejowice.


Radziejowice 2016 - September 17-18.
The lyric and the vocal element in instrumental music of the nineteenth century 

The influence of vocal techniques on the instrumental music of the nineteenth century is widely  accepted and emphasized. The aspects highlighted in discussions of this issue include similarities in the shaping of melodic lines, the adoption of modes of articulation (portamento) and thematic affinities between particular works. Terms such as ‘vocality', ‘songfulness' and ‘lyricism' (indicating the character of Romantic compositions, often strongly subjective and focussed on the expression of inner experiences, in accordance with the properties of the lyric poem as a literary genre) are often used in relation to nineteenth-century music in a descriptive way, not referring to any actual features of a work. It would appear, however, that all these categories are of real significance in instrumental music and that during the nineteenth century they became integral elements of a work, determining its form. The aim of this conference is to examine whether - and if so, to what extent - the lyric and the vocal element in nineteenth-century instrumental music help to create form.

 This conference is one in a series leading to the 2020 International Chopin Congress. The purpose of the congress is "thorough research into the styles of Romantic composers, with the emphasis on the central role and context of the oeuvre of Fryderyk Chopin, considered with regard to particular components of a work: melody, harmony, rhythm, etc."

Please send any inquiries to Ewa Bogula:

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Research and Publishing Department
ul. Tamka 43, 00-355 Warszawa, fax +48 22 44 16 113

Dom Pracy Twórczej w Radziejowicach , ul. Henryka Sienkiewicza 4, 96-325 Radziejowice


Mieczysław Tomaszewski, Narodziny liryki instrumentalnej z ducha pieśni
Kenneth Hamilton, Vocality and Structural Generation in Chopin, Liszt and Alkan
David Rowland, Piano Sonority and Melody c.1800-1835

Irena Poniatowska, „Śpiewaj, gdy grasz"
Kristen Strandberg, The ‘Singing' Violinist as Artistic Genius in Nineteenth-Century France
Agnieszka Chwiłek, „Der Melodie schenke ich jetzt grosse Sorgfalt". Ewolucja melodyki utworów I dekady twórczości Schumanna
Nikita Mamedov, Chopin's Études: An Analytical Look into Lyricism and Musical Characterization
Stephan Lewandowski, Fantasies or Caprices. Adolph Bernhard Marx' Influence on the Instrumental Style of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Zbigniew Granat, Chopin's Tones, Schubert's Words: The Secret Program of the A Minor Prelude
Charris Efthimiou, On the Instrumentation of the Lyric Theme of Gretchen of Franz Liszt's ‘Faust Symphony'

Wojciech Nowik, Chopinowska „Eroica" - Nokturn c-moll op. 48 nr 1
Lauri Suurpää, From Quiet Lament to Raging Frustration: Vocal Topics in Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1
Meghan Chamberlain, Operatic Homoeroticism in Chopin's Nocturne in F major
Bruno Moysan, Liszt et Chopin à l'Opéra et aux Italiens. Qu'en est-il du théâtre ?
Silvia del Zoppo, Chopin's echoes in Italian piano music 1850-1880
Magdalena Oliferko, Hexameron - instrumentalny śpiew di bravura, czyli muzyczne studium psychologii postaci

Michael Pecak, ‘dire un morceau du musique': The Language Behind Chopin's Music
Risa Matsuo, Wpływ poezji polskiej na formę ballad Chopina
Krzysztof Bilica, Melos polski nad Dunajem
Wojciech Marchwica, Pieśni z komedioopery „Siedem razy jeden" Ludwika Dmuszewskiego i Józefa Elsnera jako wzorcowy przykład popularyzacji komediooper w pierwszej połowie XIX wieku
Jeremy Coleman, Melodic Flowers and the Mode of Production


Second Meeting of the Organizers of Chopin Piano Competitions
Warsaw/Radziejowice 20‒22 September 2016

From the NIFC Website:

"We wish to invite individuals involved in the organising of Chopin competitions to collaborate with us. We invite you to help create our website: we would like it to be, to a considerable extent, a joint website for all of us organisers of Chopin competitions.We also want organisers of Chopin competitions to meet with each other, exchange their experiences and support one another. Our website will facilitate such contacts, but it will never replace personal, ‘real-life’ encounters. That is one of the aims of the conferences, initially held at Radziejowice, near Warsaw, and in future in different countries, co-organised by host competitions. Besides active contributions to the website, in the future we wish to turn participation in the conferences into a permanent platform of understanding and cooperation, in accordance with the ideas and the will of participants."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From Vivier's Kopernikus in Ojai to Stravinsky's Firebird at the Bowl - Music in the Light (Vol. 7 No. 6)

Blessed are the blue skies of California, not a cloud in sight, and not a chemtrail... Sometimes the sky is completely crisscrossed with these puzzling patterns; sometimes it is foggy, almost white, but in July there were many days of glorious azure above our heads in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. 

I do not know why I feel such joy at the wide expanse of pristine, spotless azure sky... Maybe because I'm from another planet, where the sky was always blue and everyone was always happy? Maybe because I found the key to my happiness that I will not give up?  These keys are lost and found and lost and found again, and endless story, and more and more often found, than lost. First were the Gnostics, Buddhists, all the Boddhisattvas, then Egypt, the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistos. Or maybe, the other way around. Like St. Germain, Manly P. Hall and Dolores Cannon, they felt enlightened, on a quest to possess keys to unknown human powers. The Templars found the Holy Grail. The Rosicrucians could walk through walls. The alchemists had their Philosopher's Stone and turned base metals into gold, but these were not metals and it was not gold, but a pure spirit and a spotless mind. 
Photo by Bonnie Wright. The Roomful of Teeth performs Vivier.

It is interesting to report that I found someone who found the keys to secret knowledge among modern composers, someone I should have known better, but his music is rarely played, so it is kind of hard. Claude Vivier (1948-1983), a Quebec composer, an abandoned baby, adopted at the age of three, died young, like Chopin. Or even younger, in tragic circumstances, murdered at 34. He was from Montreal where I lived for eight years, heard his music, and was completely oblivious to what it really meant: Awakening, the immortality of the soul. Love and Light. Amazing! 

Anemones and Asters in Ojai, photo by Maja Trochimczyk

His mysterious ritual opera, Kopernikus (1979, premiered in 1980), will not die. It will be heard on this Earth, if the Earth will still exist, a hundred years from now, two hundred, more. It will bring peace and revelation, through its discoveries and secret wisdom.  The ritual of death, it describes the passage of a divine Child, Agni, from one world to another, death being the door.  The spiritual dimensions of this profound and profoundly inspired work have so far evaded music historians and music critics, and rightly so. 

They have not spent years studying Tibetan Buddhism, the Emerald Tablets of Thoth, an Egyptian deity of unsurpassed wisdom, represented as a blue being with bird's head, a "Blue Avian" of sorts. His writings were transmitted through a much later mystic sage, Hermes Trismegistos, the writings of the medieval alchemists, or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Like great philosophers-magicians of the past, Vivier uses a secret language, that appears to the critics as a "babble of children" with abstract repeated syllables. To find out what it was, a trip to the library of the Philosophical Research Society founded by Manly P.  Hall is required, or another repository of esoteric, hermetic knowledge. 

However, I suppose, and hereby put forward the hypothesis that the unknown language in Claude Vivier's libretto is ancient Egyptian, and the text that of the Book of the Dead, with repeated syllables denoting the Oversoul or Higher Self - "ka" - and the incarnated soul in an individual sojourn on Earth - "ba."  Only after the "ba" rises up to reunite with the "ka" does the "entity" or Higher Self reach true immortality and reunites with the Divine, in eternal love, peace, and happiness. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it. So now... let's find the Book of the Dead in English or French transliteration and compare Vivier's libretto with the book.... A challenge for a doctorate in musicology. Sadly, if anyone picks up this idea from me and goes ahead with the study, I can be sure that they will unerringly fail to mention this blog or my source of inspiration. It has been the fate of many ideas of mine that they went out and were taken over by authors that failed to cite my brain power. As poet Alice Pero recently said to me, "Maja, your brain is a steel trap." Whatever that means...

Claude Vivier. Photo from Boosey & Hawkes

Back to Vivier, then.  His texts are glorious and inspiring. Galileo, Kopernikus and Kepler describe what they were seeking in the stars. We know that Kopernikus (Nicolai Copernicus, or Mikolaj Kopernik, 1473-1543) a Polish astronomer, was the first in the modern era to openly write about the Heliocentric system, with the Sun at heart, displacing the Ptolemaic Earth-centered world. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium is remembered for this monumental feat: "He stopped the Sun, he moved the Earth, he was born in Polish land." But it is much more than that, and certainly Vivier did not care whether Kopernikus was Polish or not. The esoteric and astrological content of Kopernikus's treatise has never been studies, neither has this issue been explored in depth in the treatises by Johannes Kepler or Isaak Newton. We should remember, looking at them from our "purely scientist" and heretical perspective denying any spiritual existence to anything, that they were all alchemists, in search of the Philosopher's Stone: the perfect refinement of one's Soul, their Spiritual Ascension. 

Mark Swed, in a Los Angeles Times review, writes; "Vivier’s libretto reads like a phantasmagoric dreamscape. A dying figure, Agni, is surrounded by the countenances of mythic beings, including Mozart, Lewis Carroll, a witch, the Queen of the Night, Copernicus, Tristan and Isolde. Seven singers become their voices on occasion, but mostly they sing Dadaesque nonsense syllables. Oboe, three clarinets, trombone, violin and a trumpet (as a voice calling from the beyond) make up the instrumental ensemble, which is enhanced by electronics. There are recognizable musical formulas, and there is unrecognizable musical chaos, just as there are recognizable words and unrecognizable ones, recognizable singing styles and all kinds of weird vocal sounds." 

Swed continues: "For Sellars this is simply the Balinese ceremony for the dead, so for his ritualistic staging, instrumentalists and singers dressed in white were placed on a high stage over the body of dancer Michael Schumacher. He remained immobile for an hour (devastatingly so during the moment of silence), then rose to the call of the trumpet from behind the audience and began his journey. Allusions in word and music to this world, past and present and future, appeared to enter into his being. The effect was utterly transfixing."  

Anemones and Asters in Ojai

The staging of Kopernikus by Peter Sellars highlighted the ritual and transformative aspects of this unique work and took the audience into a world of purity, sonic richness, expressive abundance, punctuated by percussions, bells, and silence.  I wish every opera house staged this ritual opera every year. As my Godmother - Nun used to say, there's nothing more important in life than prepare yourself for a good death. Whatever else we'll do here, for sure we'll die, and it is best to die well. 

Eyes of the Anemones

The tragic and premature departure of Claude Vivier prevented him from continuing to share his spritual discoveries of the highest importance for human civilization. His preferred venue was music - inspired by his trips to Bali and other Asian countries, his works resounded with echoes of gamelan, and his childhood as a boarder in Catholic schools, singing and listening to the flexible melodies and fluid richness of Gregorian Chant. This inspiring marriage of East and West in music resulted in the creation of a unique body of work, however limited in number. His website,, presents the following list:
  • Ojikawa for soprano, clarinet and percussion (1968)
  • Prolifération for ondes Martenot, piano and percussion (1969)
  • Musik für das Ende for twenty voices and percussion (1971)
  • Deva et Asura for chamber orchestra (1972)
  • Chants for seven female voices (1973)
  • O! Kosmos for soprano and choir (1973)
  • Désintégration for two pianos, four violins and two violas (1974)
  • Lettura di Dante for soprano and mixed septet (1974)
  • Liebesgedichte for voices and ensemble (1975)
  • Hymnen an die nacht for soprano and piano (1975)
  • Siddhartha for orchestra (1976)
  • Learning for four violins and percussion (1976)
  • Pulau Dewata for any combination of instruments (1977)
  • Shiraz for piano (1977)
  • Journal for voices and percussionist (1977)
  • Paramirabo for flute, violin, cello and piano (1978)
  • Greeting Music for flute, oboe, percussion, piano and violin (1978)
  • Kopernikus: Rituel de la Mort opera in two acts (1979)
  • Orion for orchestra (1979)
  • Lonely Child for soprano and orchestra (1980)
  • Zipangu for string orchestra (1980)
  • Cinq chansons pour percussion (1980)
  • Copernicus, opera which premiered in Montreal on 8 May 1980
  • Bouchara for soprano and chamber orchestra (1981)
  • Prologue pour un Marco Polo for thirteen instruments, four voices and narrator (1981)
  • Samarkand for wind quintet and piano (1981)
  • Wo bist du Licht! for mezzo-soprano, orchestra and tape (1981)
  • Et je reverrai cette ville étrange for ensemble (1981)
  • Trois Airs pour un opéra imaginaire for soprano and ensemble (1982)
  • Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele for voices and ensemble (unfinished) (1983)
Please note that the last, unfinished work by Vivier was "Believe in the Immortality of the Soul" for voices and ensemble.  I do hope to hear a recording of these fragments some day... Meanwhile, let's comfort our souls with flowers, found in the black-and-white arrangement at the Gathering Place in Ojai - set up for the audience and festival participants to gather and converse. 

White Diamond Star

At hoto by Maria Kubal

And what about Chopin, then? Does he make an appearance? I'm afraid he does not. Besides the parallel of a beautiful, young talent succumbing to death at an early age, and the tragic loss to humanity - what if they lived longer? What gems we would have been able to enjoy and share! There is the sheer, sonorous beauty of harmonies and sound. If Vivier took anything from Chopin, it was the magic of his Berceuse....and some Nocturnes, maybe.

After visiting such lofty heights of musical and spiritual inspiration as the Ojai Festival June 12, 2016 performance of Vivier's timeless masterpiece, it his hard to come down to earth and be crashed by crass and frankly ridiculous politics and reptilian propaganda on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. The staging of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird, with dancers, projections and puppets, may be politically correct, and may have cost a pretty penny, not to mention the wholly laudable efforts of the artisans and dancers. The all worked so hard! 

Nonetheless, I left the Bowl in a state of profound distaste, as if the creators of the spectacle were drinking Kool-Aid from a different cup than the inspired, Olympian composer. At the end of the majestic score, the gigantic egg above the stage opens to reveal an enormous dragon or a skeleton of a dinosaur with wings, on which a human puppet is promptly seated in a union of humans and the sol-called good dragons that seems to permeate popular culture at this strange time, from children's animation, to Sci-Fi. 

There is nothing there that's truly spiritual, or uplifting, or, indeed, great. Well, lots of people found lots to praise there, so let me be different. There are grandiose ambitions and an un-intelligible story of the reconciliation of opposites and merging of good with evil that's needed for the final victory, of what? Not the glorious transfiguration of the immortal Phoenix, the Fire Bird of Russian folklore and Stravinsky's piece. All the way through, I was closing my eyes and imagining colorful khorovods of Russian doll-like dancers, moving swiftly and smoothly in twists and turns, and preparing the stage for the appearance of magic. No magic there, yet again.

[Maybe the LA Phil really was taken over by Reptilians? First Andriessen's shameful caricature of the great Athanasius Kircher, thrown in his recently staged opera into the perennial flames of Hell. The aging composer is seeking a second youth and the enjoyment of earthly paradise of fame and power, so he subjects himself to the powers that were and will not be. Only he does not know it. Spending all this money for an elaborate depiction of the flames of hell, devils with and without heads, and other monstrosities seems so entirely pointless that even writing a critique of it was a waste of time.]

Two spiritual and aesthetic flops in a row, with missing the most important ingredients of any work of art: beauty, harmony, balance, sublime expression, and spiritual inspiration. At the end of a concert, your heart has to beat and you have to smile even though you have nothing to laugh about, because the music has taken you to a different universe, an altogether "unexcelled" realm of serenity and spiritual, enlightened existence. If it does not, it is not worth playing or listening to. Stravinsky's music is all that and more... But in this staging we experienced a flatline: a full-frontal attack on Stravinsky and everything that's beautiful and true.  And so it continues, the battle of Darkness and Light. But the victory is decided already, Victory of the Light. 

Distaste - that's what I feel at the excessive "modernisation" of classics. What is my escape? The garden, of course, with hibiscus and crape myrtle tree filled with busy, busy bees. Their music, heard way back when during the Polish summer in tall, majestic linden trees, was the soundscape of my childhood vacations. A time of respite and sweetness. The bees' buzzing music heard on my California patio, calms my heart. Like the beloved Berceuse. Listen and enjoy!

Good night, my bees in the trees. Make some honey, let's all make some honey.