Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chopin for Cello

Who knew that Chopin could write for cello?

Over the last few days I've been listening obsessively to Chopin's Sonata for Piano in Violoncello in G minor op. 65, performed by Martha Argerich and Mstislav Rostropovich [1]. It's a gorgeous piece. The first movement (Allegro Moderato) opens on a characteristically Chopin-like note - a few soft raindrops of sound rippling rapidly into a deluge, the plunging, breathless momentum of that chromatic start broken not, as you expect, by silence, but by the sombre note of a cello that seems to insist, for a moment, on order. But then it too, trembles into passion, and what follows is fifteen minutes of music that is at once frenzied and lyrical, at once tender and ferocious. Heartpounding explosions of desire alternate with glimpses of pure song; time and time again the natural calm of the cello is betrayed by the piano's restlessness, and time and time again the piano itself is soothed, turns contemplative.

The second movement opens with a scherzo's natural staccato-ness, but hidden in its heart is a lovely melody, two minutes of lilting song for cello that hardly seems to need the piano's whispered encouragement. Then it's on to the third movement (Largo), a tiny gem that could have come straight out of Beethoven. Gone is the delicate intricacy one associates with Chopin - in its place we get a theme of simple yet stunning beauty, every note full and echoing, as if connected to some deeper, more fundamental sadness.

Finally, the fourth movement, Allegro, the piano sparkling, the cello humming like wings, the soaring energy of the finale rushing you breathlessly forward. One always knew that Chopin was a genius with the piano, but one never suspected he could write something so moving for cello as well.

[1] The latter, by the way, is apparently desperately ill in hospital.


Revealed said...

Actually I knew. But to be honest, I only knew cos I happened to catch it on the radio once. I wasn't all that overwhelmed. It was beautiful and all, but his Ballades are still my favourites.

Revealed said...

Also, not related, but I seem to remember you talking about doing a review on Mother's Milk a while back. I wonder, is it still on the agenda (only cos I just finished reading it and it'd be interesting to read your take on it)?

Falstaff said...

Revealed: See here

Tabula Rasa said...

this calls for a comment involving the phrase chop'n change but i can't quite put my finger on it.


km said...

GRRROAN :D (@TR, not your post)

A minor nitpick: a scherzo is usually "light" and brisk, but is not "naturally" staccato.

Szerelem said...

Chopin. Such beautiful music. But also brings back scary memories of my piano teacher :(

Falstaff said...

TR: Groan!

km: Fair enough. Staccato isn't really the word I was looking for. More like 'skippy'. Also, well, they often end up being relatively staccato, no?

szerelem: Ah, you had a piano teacher, did you? Good show.

Aaki said...

i've been floating in the same fishbowl as you have been. infact, even wrote about it a while back.
the martha argerich one has been constantly on repeat, and then the nocturnes and the etudes and the preludes work overtime when the concertos want a wee bit of a break.

chopin just makes me so, so happy.

Szerelem said...

Yup, I did have a Piano teacher. Many moons ago :) It's been so, so long since I practiced though that I doubt I could play anything much :(
But it's one of those things I'd like to take up again...

Anonymous said...

Ah Chopin! Raindrop Prelude!Revolutionary Etude! Funeral March!Nocturne in E flat Major!

Szerelem, what is it about piano teachers and their Chopin obsession? Granted the man wrote lovely stuff for the piano but getting a generation of students to actually play it would verge on the masochistic.


ggwfung said...

definitely an out of character piece. Chopin confined himself to solo-piano early on, and even the 2 piano concertos were written out of expendiancy (public show and dazzle)

someone who understood their strengths and weaknesses early on in life.


Falstaff said...

aaki: I don't know about Chopin making me happy. That's what Mozart's for. If anything, Chopin probably makes me melancholy and nostalgic. Eliot describes the feeling well:

"So intimate, this Chopin, that I think his soul
Should be resurrected only among friends
Some two or three, who will not touch the bloom
That is rubbed and questioned in the concert room."

n!: You forgot Tristesse. I always think calling them etudes is such a cruel joke.

Also, well, you flautists are just jealous.

ggwfung: Yes

Anonymous said...

falsie dearling:
much as my heart leaps up when I behold myself n! being termed a 'flautist" by one so discerning as you, I beg to set the record, heart-breakingly but true-to-scientific-trainingly straight. I am merely a student of the flute. In the way that I once was a student of the piano. I tried to play those bloody Chopin etudes and the single biggest unfinished thing on my life agenda is (no not to get that damn dissertation going) but to play Revolutionary Etude at the right goddamn tempo (yes FF does bring out the swearing in me - its all that rubato). Right now I am at 1/10th of the tempo and working toward it. If all else fails, there's always Joyce Hatto, no?


Aaki said...

talk about coincidences. as you can see, i quoted just the same. it is perspective, nothing else. for me, mozart doesn't do so much as chopin does. so well.