Chopin's Andante spianato and grande polonaise


performed on August 19, 2014 at Staunton Music Festival

Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, Virginia

Regier piano (after Graf 1830) kindly loaned by Mr. Vernon McCart


Andrew Willis (fortepiano)

Kyu-Young Kim (violin)

Martin Davids (violin)

Vladimir Mendelssohn (viola)

James Wilson (cello)

Anthony Manzo (double bass)


Video by Stewart Searle






About the Music


The enormous output of Frédéric Chopin (1810-49) contributed to the development of both piano literature and pianos themselves. His Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise, Op. 22, demonstrates the piano’s singing tone as well as its percussive, rhythmic excitement. The work came together in two stages, beginning with the Grand Polonaise in E-flat. Chopin produced about two dozen polonaises, ranging from his first composition written as a seven-year-old to his last example, completed just three years before his death. The genre was a traditional dance enjoyed by Polish peasantry at carnivals and coming-of-age celebrations, but it was then adopted by the aristocracy and became more cosmopolitan and broadly European in appeal. In general, its virile quality contrasts with the more tender strains of the mazurka; the polonaise definitely contains an element of soldierly bravado.


In the E-flat Grand Polonaise, strident chord progressions evoke the spirit of military procession, while Chopin brilliantly carves out space to add glittering ornaments and decorations. It was originally conceived as a work for piano and orchestra in 1830. About two years later, in preparation for a long-awaited chance to perform at a prestigious Parisian concert series, Chopin wrote an extended nocturne-like introduction for solo piano. He called it the Andante spianato in reference to the smooth (spianato) and ebullient arpeggios that support a disarmingly simple melody. With and without the Grand Polonaise, the Andante spianato has become a favorite encore piece. When placed together, the works embrace both the lyric and heroic sides of Chopin’s genius.


© Jason Stell, 2014




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