Chopin getting short shrift

Music: The anniversary of the composer's death has hardly been commemorated

perhaps it is because most of his music is written for a piano, not a full orchestra.

September 21, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

A few weeks ago I complained that the 150th anniversary of the 1849 death of Frederic Chopin was being relatively ignored. In recent years, similar anniversaries for Brahms, Mozart, Liszt, Schubert and others have been greeted with greater fanfare -- in the form of concerts, scholarly symposiums and lectures.

Why Chopin -- the greatest and most innovative of the first generation of Romantic composers -- is not receiving his due is too complicated an issue to explore in this space. But surely part of the answer is that institutions such as orchestras, opera companies and chamber music ensembles cannot celebrate Chopin's music by performing it.

With the exception of the two piano concertos he wrote as a teen-ager, Chopin composed nothing of significance for orchestra. He was an opera fanatic whose favorite activity was listening to great singers. But he completely ignored the lifelong petitions he heard from friends that he write the "great Polish national opera." And except for a superb (and underplayed) sonata for cello and piano, he eschewed chamber music.

His only focus until his death at 39 was the piano. He produced hundreds upon hundreds of masterpieces -- almost all of which are in the standard repertory. He is the greatest master of the smaller genres in the history of music. But he is also among the greatest masters of longer forms. Chopin's two mature pianos sonatas are the only works of their kind in the 19th century that can withstand comparison with those of Beethoven.

The paucity of all-Chopin recitals last season and in the season now beginning seems peculiar. One could say the reason is that we hear so much of his music, there seems no need to take special note of it. But that might also be said about the music of Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Liszt -- all of whom received much more attention during their anniversary seasons.

So let's celebrate those who will celebrate Chopin, whose greatness as a keyboard composer is equaled only by Beethoven and Bach.

Tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in New York's Carnegie Hall, the 78-year-old Abby Simon will perform a program, including the Twelve Etudes (opus 10) and the B Minor Sonata, that might intimidate a pianist half his age. Tickets, $25-$50, can be purchased by calling 212-247-7800.

Closer to home, in Washington, another distinguished Chopin player, Peabody Professor of Piano Ann Schein, will present an all-Chopin program Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Tickets, $20, can be purchased by calling 202-452-1321.

And back in the Big Apple in Carnegie Hall, at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 -- the exact anniversary of the composer's death -- Cyprien Katsaris will give an all-Chopin program. It will feature not only familiar masterpieces, but also off-the-beaten path juvenilia, such as a "Funeral March" by the 9-year-old composer, who grew up to write the most famous funeral march in the history of music. Tickets, $15-$35, can be purchased by calling 212-247-7800.

Pub Date: 9/21/99

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