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Making Up a Chopin Program

By EMIL LIEBLING

THE proper making of any concert program is a matter of considerable difficulty, and involves much thought. Many vital factors are to be considered; the prospective audience and its probable characteristics, the locality of the musical function and its possible demands, one’s own preferences, and likewise the purpose and intent of the performance.
 
Almost all programs which are presented nowadays have a marked family resemblance. The recipe is very simple: When in doubt, commence with a Bach prelude and fugue, continue with the conventional Beethoven sonata, draw lots for a Chopin nocturne or valse or two: infuse a foreign air by a highly seasoned number by Sinding, and finish with a Liszt rhapsody; any of the fifteen will do. In this way you are classical, analytical, sentimental, dogmatical, and sensational by turns; money will flow into your coffers, and the scribe who sits in judgment over you will in the next morning’s Gazette heap choice encomiums upon you, lauding your versatility to the very skies.

If you were wise in the selection of your parents and first blinked your eyes on foreign soil you can tour America year after year with identically the same program, selling our people the same old goods every season and no one will cavil; but let a first class home artist indulge in the same indolent practice, and you can just watch for the indignation meetings which will be held by brother artists, the press, and the public at large. Verily, verily, the domestic talent does have some hard sledding to do right along.

And then there are the specialists of the pianoforte: the young man who, after a brief sojourn abroad, returns a devotee of Brahms, and inflicts his immature misconceptions of that composer’s sonatas or ballads upon us; or the octave fiend, whose loose wrist enables him to rush in and play octaves where others are satisfied to tread the original text; likewise some wizard, who disdains to play less than three or four Chopin etudes simultaneously, or the magician whose double thirds must be displayed to advantage. All these people have to tell their little story; it is all done, of course, “pro gloriam Dei,” and in the name of pure art!

There are also those who delight in placing rarely played compositions on their programs just for the looks of the thing, forgetting that a little player may attempt a big program, but that it takes a great master to play a selection of smaller works with effect and success. The scope, possibilities, and power of retention of the average listener are extremely limited. All those rare technical tricks which are at the fingers’ ends of the modern virtuoso are apt to be wasted upon him. He hears an indistinct roar in the lower region of the piano during the Chopin A-flat polonaise which ends in a rumble and jumble, whereas the student admires the crescendo and octave technic; many pieces only appeal to him on account of some pregnant or catchy rhythm, and a berceuse or nocturne simply produces a comfortable desire for slumber. After submitting to the more or less painful experience of a lengthy concert the little popular encore is gratefully remembered and long valued after the rest of the program has been consigned to total oblivion.

The plot thickens when we attempt to rub it in, as it were, and produce the works of one composer only. Few masters can stand this successfully and still fewer audiences, and it opens up an interesting speculative vista to conjecture as to the real motif which impels people to go to concerts.
 
Among Chopin’s many works only a comparatively limited number appeals to the general public. The following two programs may, if adequately performed and interpreted, score a success:—
 
PROGRAM No. 1.
Sonata, Op. 35.
Romance from Concerto op. 11. Transcribed by Reinecke.
Ballade, Op. 47.
Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 4.
Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2.
Scherzo, Op. 39.
Etudes, Op. 25, Nos. 1, 7, 9.
Impromptu, Op. 51.
Andante and Polonaise, op. 22.

PROGRAM No. 2.
Fantasie, Op. 49.
Impromptu, Op. 29.
Etudes, Op. 10, Nos. 3, 5, 12.
Ballade, Op. 23.
Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 2.
Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 3.
Scherzo, Op. 31.
Waltz, Op. 42.
Berceuse, Op. 2.
Polonaise, Op. 53.
 
The sonata which opens the first program is of moderate length and the incidental “Funeral March” serves to make up for the enigmatical Finale. Reinecke’s arrangement of the Romance is practical and effective. That usually correct “Vox populi,” which is as prone to shout “crucify him” as to represent the “Vox Dei,” has decreed that the third Ballade, Op. 47, is the most popular, hence it is “it.” We intersperse a characteristic Mazurka, and the following Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2, would have to be played very badly to miss connection. The Scherzo, op. 39, is very brilliant, and the three Etudes from op. 25 present sufficient contrast to make an interesting introduction for the Impromptu, Op. 51. This work may prove caviare for many palates, but is a charming morceau. The concluding Andante and Polonaise is always gratefully received and correspondingly appreciated.

Again we open rather pompously in the second program. The Fantasie, Op. 49, is a noble work, and laid out on large lines; it prepares an audience in an impressive manner for the evening’s experiences. Playful and delicate is the little Impromptu, Op. 29, and the Etudes from Op. 10 afford opportunity for technical display and digital fireworks. The rather somber Ballade, Op. 23, is relieved by that rarest of lovesongs, the G major Nocturne, and the some- what difficile Mazurka, Op. 33, supplies just the needed contrast. The Scherzo, Op. 31, enjoys well deserved popularity, and who has not heard and applauded that rhythmical puzzle, albeit Valse, Op. 42? The mystic Berceuse and glorious Polonaise, Op. 53, end this program most suitably.

There are, of course, many other choice morsels among the great French Pole’s or Polish-Frenchman’s delightful works; the great, but very long, sonata, Op. 58, can be endured when presented by a master; there is a bright little Mazurka, Op. 7, No. 3, in F minor; many other etudes, valses, and nocturnes may be utilized, and there are some choice preludes from Op. 28; we can also use the Fantasie Impromptu, some of the easier polonaises and possibly the Rondo for two pianos, Op. 73. But everything of Chopin’s demands a finished technic, poetic temperament, and highly developed artistic organization. The combination of these indispensable qualities makes the ideal Chopin player—a rara avis indeed.
 
 

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