On a recent to Singapore I met Chopin in the botanical gardens. A gift from the Polish government, he was busily putting the finishing touches to, or maybe just playing, the F sharp minor polonaise.
My immediate association with Chopin is the power of his music to get under my skin. There is no rationale. It is not that I love his music more than the music of others. The music of J.S. Bach inspires awe and wonder, the music of Mozart lights up the world around me and the music of Schubert lights me up inside. But Chopin’s music affects me in ways the others don’t. The type, intensity and depth of the emotions, associations, images and recollections are unique. The music takes me to places the others don’t. Chopin’s music is special not because it is the best but because it has a special character. I know it does that to others too. Chopin has a worldwide following of kindred souls who, I dare say, react in the same way to his music. I met many of them in spirit at Chopin’s grave in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His was the only grave adorned with fresh flowers. I will try to find words to explain what his music means to me. Here goes!
Chopin somehow manages to express the agony of human struggle in sublime beauty. It is the struggle of the individual, and therefore deeply personal. The beautiful music carries with it darkness and turbulence and struggle and despair. The music rarely exudes unabashed happiness. Even the lighter waltzes and mazurkas are weighed down by underlying shadows. The music expresses the turbulence, the agony, the complexity of the composer. For me the associations are not happy, but nonetheless they are compelling. it takes me to times of deep unhappiness and sorrow. I sometimes need the music of Schubert and Bach and Beethoven and others to bring me back to the present.
Every professional pianist aspires to play the music of Chopin at some point in their careers. For amateur pianists like me Chopin is bread and butter. One cannot successfully play his music without complete technical mastery. You have to play it easily or you will fail. It is a hard ask.
Chopin is special. His historical significance lies in his revolutionising of piano technique and use of harmonies that were ahead of his time. Chopin’s music goes back to my childhood. My father loved it, my mother played it and my brother Seymour just wallowed in it. Without the music of Chopin, I know my life would be greatly diminished.
Thank you for reading. Here’s a treat of some glorious music.