Canadian pianist André Laplante is a firmly established virtuoso of the great romantic repertoire. He garnered international attention after winning prizes at the Geneva and Sydney International Piano [...]
They spoke about it
A great piano wizard, André Laplante is using all of his artistry in those renewed versions of Chopin’s staples of the romantic repertoire; among them, the Sonata in B Flat minor Op. 35 and the Fantaisie in F minor Op.49.
Chopin, pianist and poet
For Chopin, music was simply a language, one that could express anything from thoughts to feelings to sensations. “Man’s undefined (undetermined) speech is sound,” he explained in an unpublished piano method. “Chopin’s genius was the most profound and the most full of feeling and emotions that has ever existed. He made a single instrument speak the language of infinity. He could often condense in ten lines what a child could play, poems of immense elevation, dramas of unequalled energy. He did not need massive means to express his genius,” wrote George Sand, the composer’s greatest love, in her autobiography, Story of My Life.
Bard of the piano
Chopin had the ability to link together phrases, periods, breaths, accents and articulations into gestures of apparent simplicity but that were nevertheless astonishing in the depth of feeling they aroused. “He is not just a virtuoso, he is also a poet, he can give us a glimpse of the poetry residing in his soul; he is a composer, and there is nothing like the joy he gives us when he sits at the piano and improvises. He is neither Polish, nor French, nor German. He is descended from the land of Mozart, of Raphaël, of Goethe, but his true homeland is the enchanted realm of poetry,” wrote the poet Heinrich Heine. “He pours his soul into his compositions like others pour theirs into prayer, spilling into them all those outpourings of the heart, the unexpressed sadness, those unutterable regrets that pious souls spill into their communion with God. He says in his works what they only say on their knees: those mysteries of passion and pain that Man was given to understand without words, because it was not given unto him to express them in words,” wrote Franz Liszt in a work about his friend.
So natural a part of Chopin‘s playing was this poetry that the piano lost its status as a percussion instrument and instead became the embodiment of cantilena. “Under his fingers, every musical phrase sounded like a song, one with such clarity that every note took on the meaning of a syllable, each measure that of a word, and each phrase that of a thought. It was a declamation exempt of all pathos, but rather simple and noble,” noted his students Mikuli and Koczalski.
Nocturnes, Mazurkas: Nostalgia for the homeland
“I have a premonition that if I leave Warsaw, I will never see my house again. I think to myself that I am leaving to die. Ah! What sadness it must be not to die where one has always lived […] Man is rarely happy. If he is destined only to have short hours of bliss, why would he abandon his illusions, which are themselves so fleeting?” These words, taken from a letter written by Chopin to his friend Titus Woyciechowski on September 4, 1830, less than two months before his exile, express the very essence of the nostalgia that would haunt him throughout his creative life. Like the silver chalice filled with earth from his native land that was buried with him, this hidden suffering is at the heart of many of his works, such as the Nocturne Op. 15 no. 1, the posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor, or his mazurkas, which are in many ways like a diary. On several occasions in these works, Chopin includes the instruction Con anima—with soul (or feeling)—and they do show us his innermost feelings. In just a few measures, we are seized by emotion, from the most exuberant joy to the most impenetrable sadness, from the dream of yesterday to the ache of today.
Composed in 1846, Opus 63 contains the last three mazurkas published before Chopin’s death. He seems to be thumbing his nose at his health, which was starting to fail, and he infuses them with an almost youthful vitality and freshness. Perhaps he had realized that he was taking one last look back into the past. It is not an unreasonable assumption, given that the last piece of the series is considered the epitome of his creative life. Alfred Cortot offers this wonderful description: “The shadow of memory dances here with the shadow of regret, to the sound of a far off melody. And the happy rhythm of past dances, the veil of indistinct melancholy, become an intangible symbol, an emanation, smoke. And the light touch of the mellow tones seems to convey, fleetingly and mysteriously, the frail image of evaporated happiness.”
Accepting death’s finality
Emotional and passionate—the very essence of the Romantic artist— Chopin had to love to be able to understand, to feel to be able to act. His latent vulnerability constantly pushed him to question and grasp the brevity of life on earth. And transcending this quest, he broadened the frontiers of the musical genres in which he worked.
Fantaisie in F minor Op. 49
The Fantaisie in F minor Op. 49, composed in 1841, is on several levels an extension of the mood of the Sonata in B-flat minor. In this magnificent and solemn work, Chopin experiments both with keys and moods, which move from the solemn opening motif to the exultation of the agitato passage, with its refined theme that seems like a fragment of an operatic duet, to the almost mystical central episode in B major.
Sonata No. 2 in B Flat minor Op. 35
The Sonata No. 2 in B Flat minor Op. 35, finished in 1839, disconcerted his contemporaries in several respects. Schumann saw it as a collection of four of Chopin’s “most unruly children,” while Mendelssohn disapproved of the frenzied presto. But when one considers the work at length, its musical ideas unfold with an implacable logic, all four movements cut out of the same expressive cloth. The last is a direct extension of the preceding march, while the raw energy of the heavily chromatic scherzo, on a mazurka rhythm, stems from the fury of the first movement. The anguish, torment and pain are only just erased by a middle section that is almost Bellini-like in its ethereal lightness. The cornerstone of the sonata, the famous “Funeral March” (which was played for the first time in public at Chopin‘s own funeral in 1849) merits being heard again as if for the first time. “Though funereal and gloomy, this lament is nevertheless so heartbreakingly sweet that it almost seems not of this earth,” noted Liszt. “These notes, seemingly muted by distance, instill a supreme reverence, as if they were sung by the angels themselves and were already floating in heaven around the divine throne.”
© Lucie Renaud
Translation : Peter Christensen