Chopin Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1, ‘Military’
Chopin (1810-1849) composed almost exclusively for piano. Chopin’s waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises were often composed for his students and dedicated to them when published. All are extremely idiomatic for piano in their figuration and fingerings. The waltzes and mazurkas, although only moderately difficult, show off an amateur’s ability through brilliant passage work and expression of a mood. Part of Chopin’s genius was finding ways to write music that even players of limited skill could perform with satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment. His waltzes evoke the ballrooms of Vienna, but his mazurkas and polonaises are suffused with the spirit of Poland. Polonaises are dances in ¾ meter often marked by a rhythmic figure of an eighth and two sixteenths on the first beat. Chopin’s go beyond the stylized polonaise of Bach’s time to assert a vigorous, at times militaristic, national identity. Polskie Radio broadcasted this piece daily as nationalistic protest, and to rally the Polish people during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Saint-Saens ‘The Carnival of the Animals’
Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was born in Paris. His father died three months after his birth and he was raised by his mother with the assistance of her aunt who found that Saint-Saens possess perfect pitch when he was only 2 years old and his first composition piece was published at the age 4. He composed The Carnival of the Animals while on holiday in a small village in Austria. The piece was written for a symphony orchestra and consists of 14 different movements that innovatively use sounds created by instruments to imitate the sounds of different animals. Saint-Saens actually forbade the release of the full score to perform in public because he feared that his reputation as a serious composer would be tarnished because the music was too frivolous. 30 years later after his death, it was performed in February 1922 and it has since become one of his most popular works.
Paolo Canonica Polka Concertata, Op. 190
Canonica was composer and music professor at the College Longoni in Milan, Italy. He was born in February 1846 and died in December 1902. He published many original pieces and transcriptions for piano with motive adapted from high quality theatrical works that were very much in fashion at that time. Polka Concertata is performed by 16 pianists on 2 pianos and it is often performed at the opening of a concert as a musical jest to creative an invigorating and comical atmosphere.
Beethoven Egmont Overture, Op. 84
Beethoven (1770-1827) was aware of Enlightenment ideals; absorbed the music of Haydn and Mozart; observed the French Revolution from a distance; idealized and then was disillusioned by Napoleon Bonaparte whom Beethoven admired until learning of his concealed imperialism; and lived his last dozen years under political repression. In his youth a promising piano virtuoso and composer, he was forced to cease performing because of deafness and became the first musician to make a living almost exclusively through composition. Between 1802 and 1812, it is commonly known as Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ period. Egmont Overture was composed towards the end of this time along with his famous 5th Symphony ‘Fate’ and 3rd Symphony ‘Eroica’. Egmont Overture evokes Beethoven’s hero ideal – gallant, fearless, honourable leader with uncompromising integrity and dignity, who upholds the value of utilitarianism and liberty. Thunderous timpani, unrelenting driving rhythms, and triumphantly shinning brass represent Egmont’s heroic glory and heroic martyrdom – the Flemish general Lamoral, Count of Egmont bravely fought for the freedom of Netherland and his death was not in vain.
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23
Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) took less than 7 weeks to compose his first piano concerto in 1874. He showed his work to Nikolai Rubinstein – an exceptionally gifted pianist by all accounts. However, Tchaikovsky was devastated by Rubinstein’s comments – only a few pages could be salvaged and the remainder should be discarded; primitive melodic invention; lack in piano virtuosity; piano textures are lost beneath the overpowering orchestration; and technically impossible to play. Tchaikovsky wrote a letter to his sponsor whom he never met, a wealthy and mysterious widow, Nadezhda von Meck – “The work will be published as it exactly stands” and he was true to his word. About a year later the dedicatee of the piano concerto, Hans von Bulow, performed Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto in Boston, Massachusetts, and received standing ovation from the crowd and endless curtain calls. Rubinstein soon recanted his position and became an ardent champion of the work. Perhaps the cause of Rubinstein’s impulsive comments was his tempestuous personality and jealousy but it was not repugnant enough to have the defiant young composer’s spirit compromised.