Music in Chopin's Warsaw

Music in Chopin's Warsaw

Music in Chopin's Warsaw

Music in Chopin's Warsaw

Synopsis

Music in Chopin's Warsaw examines the rich musical environment of Fryderyk Chopin's youth--largely unknown to the English-speaking world--and places Chopin's early works in the context of this milieu. Halina Goldberg provides a historiographic perspective that allows a new and better understanding of Poland's cultural and musical circumstances. Chopin's Warsaw emerges as a vibrant European city that was home to an opera house, various smaller theaters, one of the earliest modern conservatories in Europe, several societies which organized concerts, musically active churches, spirited salon life, music publishers and bookstores, instrument builders, and for a short time even a weekly paper devoted to music. Warsaw was aware of and in tune with the most recent European styles and fashions in music, but it was also the cradle of a vernacular musical language that was initiated by the generation of Polish composers before Chopin and which found its full realization in his work. Significantly, this period of cultural revival in the Polish capital coincided with the duration of Chopin's stay there--from his infancy in 1810 to his final departure from his homeland in 1830. An uncanny convergence of political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances generated the dynamic musical, artistic, and intellectual environment that nurtured the developing genius. Had Chopin been born a decade earlier or a decade later, Goldberg argues, the capital--devastated by warfare and stripped of all cultural institutions--could not have provided support for his talent. The young composer would have been compelled to seek musical education abroad and thus would have been deprived of the specifically Polish experience so central to his musical style. A rigorously-researched and fascinating look at the Warsaw in which Chopin grew up, this book will appeal to students and scholars of nineteenth century music, as well as music lovers and performers.

Excerpt

Among the many works devoted to Fryderyk Chopin, none fully addresses the musical environment in which the composer spent his formative years. In his 1997 biography of Chopin, Jim Samson calls attention to this lacuna: “The weakest sections of most existing biographies (at least by non-Polish authors) concern the Warsaw years. Even where Polish sources have been carefully researched, the tendency has been to give inadequate measure to the shaping influence of Warsaw’s social and cultural world.” To rectify the situation, Samson included an informative chapter on Chopin’s early years, followed by insightful examination of the early musical style. Several of Samson’s observations coincide with the points I make in this book; since the musical environment of Chopin’s Warsaw is not the focus of his book, however, he treats the subject in a general manner. Samson excepted, the topic has not received much consideration in English. Frederick Niecks’s monumental, two-volume 1888 study of Chopin gives some attention to the cultural circumstances of his childhood, but the information is neither

Jim Samson, Chopin (New York: Schirmer Books, 1997), vi.

Having to rely on flawed published information, he also introduces several inaccuracies into the chapter. Some needed corrections are: General Mokronowski was no longer alive during the 1820s, and his widow’s salon was not famed for patriotic promotion of Polish values (10); Walerian Krasiński was not a writer, though he participated in salon gatherings; the writer who rightfully belongs in the company of these great names is his younger relative Zygmunt Krasiński, whose father’s name was Wincenty (10); the famous musical soirées took place in the home of the Cichockis, not Cichowskis, who were also Chopin’s acquaintances (28); Kozmian’s name was Kajetan, not Kalenty (10); Izabela Grabowska was the minister’s sister, not wife (18); and Eugeniusz Skrodzki was not a boarder with the Chopins but their neighbor (7).

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