Rediscovering Chopin in Albuquerque

By Lopinski, Janet | American Music Teacher, June-July 2010 | Go to article overview
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Rediscovering Chopin in Albuquerque

Lopinski, Janet, American Music Teacher

Frederic Chopin is universally recognized a highly significant and influential composer, original approach to r the piano combines poetic lyricism with seemingly effortless virtuosity, giving his music a distinct flavor. Two hundred years after his birth, Chopin's harmonies, textures and figurations still seem vital and fresh, captivating audiences and challenging performers today as they did in his lifetime. Unlike most composers of his time, Chopin's creative work was focused almost exclusively on the piano. He composed neither symphonies nor operas, yet his music has had a profound influence on generations of future composers. His musical legacy is revealed in the elegance of the waltzes, lyricism of the nocturnes, poetry of the ballades, grandeur of the polonaises, subtlety of the mazurkas and brilliance of the etudes. Although he spent only the first 20 years of his short life in Poland during troubled times in his nation's history, he was profoundly influenced by the country of his birth in the development of both his personality and his music. For his countrymen in Poland and abroad, the music of Chopin remains a symbol of national pride and patriotism.

This year, MTNA, along with hundreds of organizations and millions of music lovers all over the world, is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Chopin. At the National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, March 20--Pedagogy Saturday--was devoted exclusively to celebrating his musical accomplishments and honoring his legacy. Although as teachers and performers we are all familiar with his compositions, Pedagogy Saturday presented us with the opportunity to rediscover the Chopin we know and love through a series of sessions exploring the man and his music.

Discovering The Dances

The day began with "Discovering the Dances" a plenary session on the Polish dances--Polonaises and Mazurkas--wherein Chopin's patriotic pride and musical nationalism are most clearly revealed. Having studied in Poland with Andrzej Jasinski while researching the Polish folk elements in Chopin's Mazurkas and Polonaises, the presenter Kent McWilliams completed a D.M.A. degree under Marc Durand at the University of Montreal and earned an artist diploma under Oleg Maisenberg at the Stuttgart Musikhochschule in Germany. He is currently on the faculty of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

McWilliams's presentation highlighted the influence of the Polish folk dances on Chopin's Mazurkas and Polonaises. His lecture explored the unique characteristics of four different dances: the melancholy, lyrical kujawiak; the energetic, rhythmic mazur, the relentless, driving oberek and the proud, dignified polanaise. To support the discussion, he presented video demonstrations including performances by the Polish dance ensemble Slask and the Polish National Opera performing the Mazur from Moniuszko's opera Straszny Dwor (The Haunted Manor). In addition, excerpts from a Polish film made in 1952 entitled Mlodosc Chopina (Chopin's Youth) were shown, depicting the young Chopin attending a village wedding and observing the festivities that included singing and dancing. McWilliams's inspiring presentation also included live demonstration of dance steps, among them the characteristic "przytup" (stomp, or stamp) often featured in the rnazur.

Next, McWilliams performed examples of Chopin's compositions that mirror these dances, and finally he asked the audience to identify each of the dance types as they appear in selected Mazurkas. This interactive exercise demonstrated how the Mazurkas by Chopin are often a subtle synthesis of many dances, combining Polish folk music with the shadings and nuances characteristic of his music.


To conclude his presentation, a video showing a complete choreographed Polonaise performance was shown, featuring the Polish Canadian dance ensemble Lechowia in a recent performance at the Canadian Chopin Festival in Mississauga, Ontario.

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