Józef Elsner and the Polish National Airs 2nd Festival of Romantic Works Warsaw, 13–15 October 2020
Pupils of Chopin
Thursday 15th October 2020 19.30
Hubert Rutkowski - piano
Broadwood historical piano (1846) on a loan from the collection of Andrzej Włodarczyk.
Blüthner Modern Concert Grand
This was a particularly interesting recital of charming pieces composed by unknown or forgotten but brilliant pupils of Chopin, played partly on an instrument favoured by him when visiting England. Chopin played a Broadwood, similar to this one, at his final concert at the Guildhall, London, in 1848. John Broadwood, the manufacturer, greatly respected, appreciated and befriended Chopin, even on one occasion reserving two seats on a train for the composer, one to accommodate his feet as he felt poorly that travel day.
Gutmann, pianist and composer was born in Heidelberg in 1819. He moved to Paris in 1834 to take lessons for many years with Chopin. He became one of the composer's favourite pupils, performing with him on occasion. In March 1838 Chopin, Alkan, Zimmerman and Gutmann performed the Alkan arrangement of the Allegretto and Finale of Beethoven's 7th Symphony for eight hands and two pianos. This closeness to the Polish genius was much to the dismay of the acolytes. Gutmann being a rather strapping young man, he approached performance in rather a muscular manner. Next to Julian Fontana he was also the composer's main copyist. He was supportive during the increasing illness and was present at Chopin's affecting death. Gutmann was a pall bearer at the funeral. We are privileged to have many contemporary descriptions of Chopin and his activities from Gutmann.
This piece makes the influence of Chopin on his compositions obvious with its unashamedly cantabile right hand and Chopinesque harmonies and fiorituras. Rutkowski presented it as a pleasant, mellifluous, affectingly melodic piece.
This composer and pianist left Norway in 1842 to study music in Paris. He took regular lessons with Chopin from November 1844 until May 1847. He achieved considerable fame as a teacher, virtuoso pianist and composer and took on many of Chopin's former pupils after his death.
These mazurkas obviously show an allegiance to those of Chopin but Tellefsen has distinct individuality of voice. However, just as the Polish composer incorporated the spirit and rhythms of the Polish mazur, oberek and krakowiak so Tellefsen transformed the Norwegian folk-music dance such as the springar.
Mazurkas Op. 3
Quite a bucolic and rural piece that fluctuates strong rhythms with passages of lyricism - something Rutkowski understood well.
I felt this was 'healthy' music with a Scandinavian feel to the harmonies - perhaps it could have been presented with more yearning to leaven the outdoor robustness.
Here I felt the hovering ghost of Grieg wandering the shores of the fiords, Rutkowski highlighting the Norwegian folk dancing rhythms.
A pleasant, graceful mazurka betraying many Chopinesque nostalgic tonal and harmonic features. For me the most attractive, extensive and melodious of the set.
|Morning at the Bath Spa Assembly Rooms John Sanders (1750-1825)|
This complex figure, a Pole of Moldavian origin, at first studied medicine in Vienna and like many medical doctors, possessed a talent for music. In 1844 he moved to Paris where he studied with Chopin for some four years. He befriended the composer and became one of his favourite pupils and copyists. From his writing we learn at first hand how Chopin composed and performed. Mikuli described other aspects of his character and preserved many observations pertinent to our appreciation and performance practice.
Mikuli was also a fine pianist and performed Chopin's music, often for the first time, in many European concert halls. Retiring from the stage, he achieved a considerable reputation at the Conservatoire of the Galician Music Society of L'viv (now in Ukraine). Among his immortal pupils were Moriz Rosenthal and Raul Koczalski.
A lovely improvisatory feel opened the work which developed into an undemanding feeling of agitated emotional life.
Rutkowski produced an exciting, virtuosic style brillant in this marvellously melodic and glittering Etude. Such elegant embellishments were present in the reflective poetry of the brief conclusion.
This certainly sang with charm and grace under Rutkowski's fingers on the Broadwood. Such an emotionally affecting piece.
Impromptu in G minor, No. 10
Again a delightful, virtuosic piece intended to entertain. However, the central section expresses the poetic heart of nineteenth century sensibility - an evocation of past European civilization. A glittering conclusion.
Hubert Rutkowski then changed from the Broadwood to a superb, modern Blüthner concert grand instrument. In the 19th century, Leipzig in Germany had over 200 piano manufacturers – yet Liszt, Wagner, Mahler and Debussy all chose to play and compose on Blüthner pianos. I have always loved their sound and lament we do not hear a greater variety of pianos in concert halls today.
Blüthner pianos are famous for their clarity and their warm, rich sound.
Christian Blüthner comments:
'They create a dark, chocolate sound with a sparkling treble, without being sharp and metallic. They have a singing element to them. A piano needs to be well-balanced like a choir that has been put together from so many different voices, then brought together in one big piece. Blüthner pianos also have an additional string in the treble which resonates in harmony with the main notes, adding overtones and colours which modulate on the soundboard. The board is shaped into a cylindrical crown – not a spherical crown. This design concept is unique in the piano industry, and it makes Blüthner pianos very stable in tuning.'
Carl Filtsch (1830-1845)
A tragic loss to Western music. This young genius, the most brilliant pupil of Chopin, was thought by some English critics to surpass his teacher. In France he was compared to the young Mozart. Le Monde Musical commented '...thus we remember Liszt twenty years ago.' This genius of the keyboard became ill as he was about to perform his Konzertstück for piano and orchestra in Vienna. Convalescing in Venice he died from peritonitis before the age of 15. Hauntingly, his last work was entitled Lebewohl von Venedig (Adieu!).
A piece of deceptive simplicity that truly moves the heart. Yes, a truly beautiful 'Song Without Words' with Rutkowski caressing the cantabile melody in an aesthetically pleasing, improvisatory manner.
Such an accomplished piece with genuinely moving emotional episodes and seductive harmonic transitions. Composed under Chopin's direction as we can hear from the cross-rhythms.
Listening to this extraordinarily precocious keyboard work composed and performed by a boy of 10, is it any wonder Franz Liszt commented: 'When this little one begins to tour, I will have to close up shop.' The only other comparable example is the miraculously precocious Felix Mendelssohn. A delightful, innocently joyful work with more than hints of Chopinesque melancholy and the virtuosity of the études. Rutkowski gave us a highly accomplished and polished styl brilliant account of the work.
A straightforward polonaise with a winning nationalist spirit and reflective cantabile central episode. The fierce angst, intensity, anger, anguish and żal present in the Chopin Polonaise in F-sharp minor (the spirit of its inspiration) was rather absent in this composition but Rutkowski rendered it impressive and stirring nevertheless.
(For this brief and rare biographical note, I am indebted to the beautifully produced and originally researched book Fontana and Chopin in Letters by Magdalena Oliferko pp 13-28 National Fryderyk Chopin Institute 2013)
Julian Fontana is known mainly today for being an almost slavishly loyal companion to Chopin, an indefatigable copyist of his work and the somewhat reluctant acolyte who prepared his posthumous works for publication. However, he possessed an almost Renaissance array of personal accomplishments: pianist, composer, lawyer, translator, journalist, linguist, astronomer and soldier.
Fontana was descended from an Italian aristocratic family of architects. His grandfather, Antoni Fontana, owned a luxury colonial goods shop in Warsaw. Julian attended the same Lyceum as Fryderyk and they were friends from youthful days. He often played duos with Chopin on the Polish Bucholtz instrument (a fine copy of which has been commissioned from Paul McNulty by the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute). He studied piano and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. In November 1830 he fought for freedom in the Uprising, was decorated with the Military Cross for valour and awarded the rank of second-lieutenant in the artillery. Chopin had already left Warsaw some weeks before.
After the rising was suppressed Fontana travelled to Hamburg for some months and then on to Paris where his friendship with Chopin was rekindled. He lived with the composer and took lessons from him as his pupil. Ever mercurial in mood, at the end of 1832 he left for London where he taught and gave concerts together with some of the greatest instrumentalists of the day. He was also was active in Polish nationalist movements in the capital. In 1835 he returned to France and lived with Chopin, becoming indispensible as a copyist and also general factotum (clothes, furnishings, carriages) when Chopin headed off to spend the summers in Nohant with George Sand and also the ill-fated Majorca experiment. Living in the shadow of this genius became increasingly difficult psychologically, one is tempted to call it the 'Salieri Effect'. Although both were Polish exiles, Fontana remained poor with serious financial and mental difficulties whilst Chopin shone like a chandelier in a palace.
At the end of 1841 this difference led to a rift with Chopin and Fontana turned more seriously to the piano, composing, and successfully publishing his own work. His restless and exploratory character led him in 1844 to leave Europe altogether for, of all destinations, Cuba.
|After Frédéric Mialhe (1810-1881), Album pintoresco de la isla de Cuba |
([Havana]: B. May y Ca., 1850-1853?)
|The Holy Kings Day, 6 January (1854) Frédéric Mialhe (1810-1861)|
Here he had significant musical success, being appointed Director of the Havana Philharmonic Society. He introduced for the first time previously unknown European music, especially Chopin, to the island and fell deeply in love with a married Cuban woman named Camila Dalcour. In May 1845 an illegitimate daughter Fernanda was born. He wrote to a friend 'My dear, I have lived here for half a year amidst the most powerful emotions that a man of the heart can experience [...]I tell you now "Everything has passed! Why should my tears not pass as well!" Whilst in Cuba, Fontana enthusiastically encountered Caribbean folklore, the songs of black slaves and Spanish colonial music which creatively influenced his compositions - the first European composer to do so. He was also the sales representative of Erard pianos on the island.
In late 1845 Fontana left for New York where he performed and taught, also becoming the representative for Pleyel pianos. The year 1848 saw revolution in Europe and he ended up in London, then New York (where he married Camila after the death of her husband) and finally in Paris again in 1851. In the French capital he edited and published posthumous manuscript works by Chopin and reconstructions (all of which the composer wanted burnt after his death).
Fontana was asked to write a biography of his friend but wrote in reply: 'Write about Chopin? Either volumes or nothing at all. How could one describe in just a few lines such an extraordinary character, such extraordinary works, of such an inexhaustible wealth of innovations and ideas?' In 1855 his tragic life reached an apotheosis when the pregnant Camila caught a chill and both mother and unborn child died. She died intestate and her deceitful brothers neatly removed Fontana's stepchildren and his daughter. Fontana declined into severe depression, abject poverty and a mystery illness that destroyed his hearing. 'I bid farewell to my piano.'
Despite these reversals and perhaps as compensation, he used his excellent Spanish orthography to produce the first perfect translation of Don Quixote into Polish. It was never published (he wished to keep his orthography secret) and tragically all 1,200 pages of it were destroyed during the Second World War. He even produced the first popular science book in Polish on astronomy and the heavenly bodies. Then, at the end of his tether, fallen into deepest melancholy, he calmly and carefully calculated his suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on the night before Christmas Eve 1869.
In this unaccountably neglected but striking, exciting Fantasy for piano, Fontana introduced the motif of the Aragonese jota eighteen years before Liszt used it in his Rhapsodie espagnole.
Rutkowski gave an impressive account of this virtuosic introduction with its infectious Caribbean rhythms and melodies.
This was a particularly attractive Caribbean influenced movement or song with shadows of the Chopin etudes cast over it like sunlight.
Rutkowski performed this in a stylish manner with great panache. The warmth of the Blüthner was seductive. The treble on these instruments is not penetrating and brittle as on some other ubiquitous brands I could mention.
The infectious rhythms Rutkowski gave to the piece were stylish, making one want to dance! So tuneful and harmonically modern and enlivening. I could not help reflecting on the possibility of the inspiration of Chopin's Bolero and Tarantella.
This familiar tune (from Liszt's Rhapsodie espagnole and Glinka's Spanish Overture No 2) was given due energy, fireworks and lyrical reflection by Rutkowski. Highly delightful and fun - no dark night of the soul here!
2. Mikuli Etude A sparkling confection
3. Adolph Gutmann (1819-1882) Nocturne in A flat major, Op. 8 No. 1 but performed rather in the style of Chopin
4. Schumann Kinderszenen Op.15 Von Fremden Ländern Und Menschen (Of Foreign Lands and People) Played with refinement and grace
This was a most charming and intimate recital that did not make excessive demands on the ear through overwhelming virtuosity or on the heart by the dark night of the soul. What a pleasant change! I could have listened to Rutkowski with pleasure all evening....
You can listen and watch the entire recital here:
'Pupils of Chopin' CD recording by Hubert Rutkowski: