Monday, March 22, 2010

04/12/2010@ 6:16 p.m.: UNF String Ensemble

Students from the
University of North Florida Department of Music
performing under the direction of Dr. Simon Shiao

  • SHOSTAKOVICH Four Preludes
    Arranged by Lazar Gosman from 24 Piano Preludes, Op. 34
    [No. 10, C# minor] Moderato non troppo - [No. 15, D-flat Major] Allegretto - [No. 16, B-flat minor] Andantino - [No. 24, D minor] Allegretto

  • SAINT-SAËNS Carnival of the Animals
    Selections from among: Introduction - The Royal March of the Lion - The Cocks and Hens - The Wild Animals - The Turtle - The Elephant - The Kangaroo - The Aquarium - The Mule - The Cuckoo in the Wind - The Birds - The Pianists - The Fossils - The Swan - The Grand Finale

  • DVOŘÁK Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 22
    I. Moderato - II. Tempo di Valse - III. Scherzo: Vivace - IV. Larghetto - V. Finale

1st violin
Junko Eguchi
Jesse Bueno
Jordan Mixson
Sam Felber
Jeremy Davis
Danielle Greenwald
Rose Francis
Andrea Sheinkopf
2nd violin
Dargen Thompson
Dayna Osan
Christina Erhayel
Sara Boynton
Sukesha Crosdale
Bennett Smith
Brent Gregory
Briana Jung
Leah Kogut
Joshua Stone

Brittany Maroney
Ariadna Perez
Sarah Greenwald
Nate Edwards
Javier Arguello
Emily Whittaker

Saeko Fukami

Director Dr. Simon Shiao, a versatile performer who has appeared at Carnegie Hall as a recitalist and with both string quartet and orchestra, has played concerts around the world and on broadcasts of CNN's Science and Technology program and Public Radio's Live on WGBH. He has performed as soloist and co-concertmaster with Miami’s New World Symphony, and currently performs with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and with the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra in Wyoming. At UNF he teaches violin and viola and is Director of Orchestral Studies, and he is the chair of the solo competition for the Florida Chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Dr. Shiao holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music and Masters and Doctoral degrees from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Joining Prokofiev and Khachaturian, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is one of few composers of the former Soviet Union to sustain a large following in the West, but his career was far from “smooth sailing.” During his lifetime his music was periodically banned by Stalinist authorities, and he suffered two official denouncements, in 1936 and 1948. However, because of his worldwide popularity the Soviets liked to use Shostakovich as propaganda, so their censures always proved temporary—but he still withheld his more personal works until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Shostakovich likewise has had detractors among many of the West’s avant-garde, centering around composer-turned-conductor Pierre Boulez. Although the influence of the self-styled “cutting edge” has since dulled, from the 1950s into the 1980s the group and its followers wielded their own brand of artistic totalitarianism, insisting that composers abandon familiar musical forms in favor of mathematical or electronic compositional procedures, and dismissing works by those who used tonal idioms to communicate directly with listeners. Ignoring the ideological tyranny on both fronts, performers and listeners have always embraced Shostakovich’s music, and he remains among the most frequently performed and recorded of 20th-Century composers.

Originally for piano solo, four of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932-33), were arranged for strings by violinist and conductor Lazar Gosman (b.1926) for performance and recording by the Tchaikovsky Chamber Orchestra, a group originally called the Soviet Emigre Orchestra that Gosman founded. Previously a major figure in the musical life of Soviet Russia, Gosman immigrated to the United States in 1977, and the 1984 film, Musical Passage, documents the founding of his orchestra, and also his problems in exiting the USSR. Once here he became associate concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, served on the faculties of the St. Louis Conservatory and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and established and continues to conduct annual concerts by the Kammergild Chamber Orchestra of St. Louis.

By the age of three, the French composer and keyboard virtuoso Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) could read and write and had penned his first piano piece; by seven he had mastered Latin; and by ten he could perform from memory all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas upon request. An expert mathematician and a successful playwright, he published poetry, scholarly works in acoustics and philosophy, and popular travelogues. He was a confidant of Berlioz, Liszt, and Fauré (his most famous student), and a notorious enemy of Franck, Massenet, and especially of Debussy.

Although first performed in 1886, Saint-Saëns withheld from publication all but Le cygne (“The Swan”) from Le carnaval des animaux ("The Carnival of the Animals") until after his death because he felt that the overall comic tone of the suite would diminish his standing as a "serious" composer. Ironically, the imagination and wit on display in its 14 movements have kept The Carnival at the top of the dozen or so of his works (out of over 300!) that are still performed with any regularity.

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) is an immensely popular Czech composer who fused melodic and rhythmic elements of Bohemian folk music with classical symphonic forms. Fostered by his friend Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Dvořák gained international acclaim and was invited to New York City to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music from 1892 to 1895, during which time he wrote the famous New World Symphony.

The five movements of Dvořák's Serenade, Op. 22, were written in just a couple of weeks during May of 1875, and for its sunny disposition Brahms, as yet little more than a stranger to Dvořák, may perhaps be due a little credit: in January of the same year Dvořák had been awarded a stipend for composing from the Austrian government, and Brahms was one of the three jurors who unanimously recommended the Czech for the award. But if one were to discover any actual autobiographical impetus in the Serenade, Anna, Dvořák's bride of less than two years, would likely prove the happy inspiration. The couple had known each other for years (in fact, in 1865 Antonín had tried unsuccessfully to court Anna's sister, Josefina), only Anna's father, Jan Čermák, would not relinquish his daughter's hand to a nearly starving musician. But in March 1873, a month after the would-be father-in-law died, Dvořák enjoyed his first big successes as a composer, so Anna's mother, Klotilda, finally consented to the union and the adorable couple, penniless but hopeful, were married on November 17, 1873. Of course, Klotilda's in vivo grandson, Otakar Dvořák (who was born five months later) might also have helped convince his granny.

Monday, March 8, 2010

03/24/2010 @ 6:15pm:
Laura Nocchiero & Krzysztof Biernacki

Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, head of vocal studies at the University of North Florida, joins Italian concert pianist Laura Nocchiero for a special evening of music and song.

9 Préludes (1er livre)

Danseuse de Delphes (Dancers of Delphi)
        Voiles (Sails/Veils)
        Le vens dans la plaine (The Wind across the Plain)
        Les collines d'Anacapri (The Hills of Anacapari)
        La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair)
        Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Saw)
        La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral)
        La danse de Puck (Puck’s Dance)

Pour le piano


Four Mélodies
        Voyage à Paris--Mazurka--Hôtel--Rosemonde

Pianist Laura Nocchiero graduated from the A. Vivaldi State Music Conservatory in Novara, Italy, and has performed extensively both as a soloist and as guest artist with numerous international ensembles and orchestras. Touring throughout Europe, the Americas and Japan, Ms. Nocchiero has performed at the Valletta Manoel Theatre (Malta), St. Martin in the Fields (London), St. John Smith Square (London), St. Merry (Paris), Cité internationale universitaire (Paris), New York University, Klavierhaus (New York), Steinway Hall (New York), Cleveland State University, Library and Archives Canada Auditorium (Ottawa), Teatro Alfieri (Turin, Italy), Lilia Hall, Yokohama (Japan), Mainichi Culture Center in Osaka (Japan), Sala Baldini (Rome), George Enescu Museum (Bucharest), Linares Andrès Segovia Museum (Spain), Thessaloniki State Music Conservatory (Greece), Salon Dorado de la Prensa (Buenos Aires) and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Montevideo (Uruguay). Some of her concerts have been recorded by State Radio-TV and broadcast in Eurovision. Laura is a member of the Satie Duo, together with the actress Eva Palomares. Since its imception in 2003, the Duo has performed throughout Italy and abroad, winning accolades from audiences and press alike. Mrs. Nocchiero regularly appears as a guest artist and teacher in master classes and as a jurist in international music competitions.

Baritone Krzysztof Biernacki has established a strong reputation as a powerful performer, versatile stage director, and talented teacher. Born and raised in Poland, his professional credits include opera, oratorio, concert, and recital performances in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Dr. Biernacki has sung principal roles with Vancouver Opera, Manitoba Opera, Calgary Opera, Orchestra London Canada, Theater of Usti nad Labem (Czech Republic), as well as opera ensembles of University of British Columbia and University of Western Ontario. Dr. Biernacki’s commitment to contemporary music is highlighted by world premiere performances heard on CBC Radio and CBC Saturday Afternoon at the Opera including a highly acclaimed production of Filumena co-produced by the Calgary Opera and Banff Centre for Performing Arts. Dr. Biernacki frequently performs song recitals with repertoire ranging from Haydn to Szymanowski, Shostakovich, and Britten. Last summer Dr. Biernacki made his Carnegie Hall debut with th UNF Wind Ensemble performing works of Tchaikovsky and Tosti, and was reengaged for a recital of opera arias and duets at Carnegie Zankel Hall. His summer 2009 engagements included solo recitals in Italy and Poland, concerts with North Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and stage directing engagements at the European Music Academy in the Czech Republic. Dr. Biernacki holds degrees from the University of Manitoba (B. Mus.), University of Western Ontario (M. Mus.), and University of British Columbia (D.M.A). He is the head of Applied Voice and Director of UNF Opera Ensemble at the University of North in Jacksonville.

Achille-Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a quintessentially French composer, pianist and music critic whose own revolutionary music ushered in many of the stylistic changes of the 20th Century. He is usually identified as the chief proponent of musical “impressionism,” but he did not approve of that label himself. Debussy was a great fan of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) and he even edited a French edition of the Polish composer’s piano music for publication. Debussy proved himself to be a true successor of Chopin in writing for the piano, and his 24 Préludes, composed between 1909 and 1913 and grouped into two books of 12 each, may be regarded as a tribute to the Pole. Like Chopin, Debussy continued a Baroque tradition with his Préludes while expanding the harmonic language and piano technique of his contemporaries in ways previously unimagined. Pour le Piano (published 1901) likewise hearkens back to the formal traditions of the Baroque, with a Sarabande dance movement sandwiched between a toccata-like Prélude and the actual Toccata of the the final movement, a virtuoso tour de force. But the suite’s harmonic language, using whole-tone scales and parallel 7th and 9th chords, as well as its effervescent piano figurations, clearly identified it as something entirely new.
CLICK HERE to hear Prélude No. 1 (Book I) on YouTube. (Additional Preludes are linked from the resulting page)
CLICK HERE to hear Pour le piano (mvts. 1-2) on YouTube.
CLICK HERE to hear recording of Pour le piano (Toccata) on YouTube.

Before he had any formal training as a composer, Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) was already famous as one of Les six, six young Parisian composers and pals who were linked to Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, and who were regarded by their admirers as the antidote to the perceived excesses of both Germanic Romanticism and Gallic Impressionism. Of their group (the others being Honegger, Milhaud, and the virtually forgotten Auric, Durey, and Tailleferre), Poulenc’s music remains the most frequently performed. Although the musical influences of Stravinsky and the Parisian dance-hall are often present, Poulenc’s unpretentious style remains clearly his own, characterized by effortless melody, distinct rhythms, and novel yet gorgeous diatonic harmonies.

His affinity for the human voice makes him Fauré’s successor in the realm of the French art song, and beginning in 1935 Poulenc had a very successful performance career accompanying French baritone Pierre Bernac (1899-1979), for whom he wrote about 90 songs for their recitals. Among Poulenc’s favorite poets was Guillame Apollinaire (1880-1918), and both Voyage à Paris and Hôtel are from the five settings of Apollinaire’s verses included in Poulenc’s 1940 song cycle, Banalités. One might say that the first of these paints the French capital as the “City of Carnival Lights, ” while the seconds paints a languid picture of sun streaming in through partially opened shutters on a slow riser whose ambition is as yet as ill-defined as the smoke circles he blows. Another Apollinaire poem, Rosemonde in which the poet reminisces about, well, stalking a woman through the streets of Amsterdam for a couple of hours, was specifically chosen with the audience for a 1954 Dutch recital in mind.

The final song, Mazurka, is from Mouvements du Coeur (Stirrings of the Heart, 1949), seven songs by six different composers commissioned in commemoration of the 100th death anniversary of Chopin, especially appropriate as we celebrate Chopin’s 200th birth anniversary this year. In it French poet Louise Vilmorin (1902-1969) uses a refrain that recalls the children’s song, Ainsi font (This is How They Go), as she depicts the antics of flirtatious young dancers as if they were predictable movements of puppets.

Voyage à Paris (Guillaume Apollinaire)

Ah! la charmante chose
Quitter un pays morose
Pour Paris
Paris joli
Qu'un jour dût créer l'Amour.

A Trip to Paris (English translation c2010, E.Lein)

Ah! 'Tis such a charming thing
To head out from a dreary setting
For Paris!
Paris fairest
Which one day Love had to create.

CLICK HERE to hear Voyage à Paris on YouTube.

Hôtel (Guillaume Apollinaire)

Ma chambre a la forme d'une cage,
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre.
Mais moi qui veux fumer pour faire des mirages
J'allume au feu du jour ma cigarette.
Je ne veux pas travailler - je veux fumer.

Hotel (English version c2010, E.Lein)

My room has become like a cage is,
Through the window the sun casts his net.
But I just want to blow smoky mirages
So with the day's fire I light my cigarette.
To me work is so like a joke -- I'd rather smoke.

CLICK HERE to hear Hôtel on YouTube.

Rosemonde (Guillaume Apollinaire)

Longtemps au pied du perron de
La maison où entra la dame
Que j’avais suivie pendant deux
Bonnes heures à Amsterdam
Mes doigts jetèrent des baisers

Mais le canal était désert
Le quai aussi et nul ne vit
Comment mes baisers retrouvèrent
Celle à qui j’ai donné ma vie
Un jour pendant plus de deux heures

Je la surnommai Rosemonde
Voulant pouvoir me rappeler
Sa bouche fleurie en Hollande
Puis lentement je m’allai
Pour quêter la rose du monde

Rosamond (English translation c2010, E.Lein)

Lingering at the steps leading up to
The house wherein went the ma'am
Whom lately I'd followed for two
Happy hours though Amsterdam
While my fingers flung kisses

But since the canal was deserted
As were its banks no one could see
Just how my kisses overtook
Her to whom my life I'd bequeathed
That day for more than two hours

The nickname Rosamond for her I chose
With the hope of remembering
How in Holland her lips like flowers grow
Then slowly I departed
To seek out the world's own rose

Mazurka ("Les bijoux aux poitrines")
English version c2010, E. Lein, after a 1949 French poem by Louise de Vilmorin

The bejeweled décolletage
And ceilings with bright suns,
The opaline ball-frocks,
Mirrors and violins:
They go like so--go, go, go.

A brooch tumbles out of hands,
The brooch: just an excuse
Out of the hands of maidens
That vanish, and they go,
They go like so--go, go, go.

With a glance that might contain
In the wrinkle on a brow
Fine weather or maybe rain,
And with a roguish sigh
They go like so--go, go, go.

The ball's a whirling cyclone
Or demure and fancy-free,
Just listen to each fickle one
Saying yes, saying no:
They go like so--go, go, go.

In dances thus uncertain
The dance-steps hardly count.
Oh! The soft steps of discretion
Are silent mysteries to those
Who go like so--go, go, go.

A ball may be the first place
Where such burning fires unite.
When lovers thus embrace
The snow melts so,
The snow melts so, so, so.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

05/04/2010 @ 6:15 p.m.: Scott Watkins, piano

Renowned concert pianist Scott Watkin's repeats his 2010 Carnegie Hall recital with performances of
Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, and
Chopin's Waltzes.

Scott Watkins, Assistant Professor of Piano at Jacksonville University, is well known to First Coast audiences for his appearances with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, his numerous solo recitals, and his frequent collaborations with many of the areas finest singers and instrumentalists. His 1985 U.S. debut, an all-Bach recital given in Chicago, was broadcast live nationwide, and has been followed by a steady flow of solo and concerto performances in North and South America, Europe and the Caribbean. He has been heard often in the United States and Canada on National Public Radio and Television, and in South America and Europe on The Voice of America. Performances have included the world premieres of Elie Siegmeister’s From These Shores and Ned Rorem’s Song and Dance.

An active chamber musician, Watkins is a founding member of the Florida Arts Trio and has appeared with the LaSalle Quartet and violinist Eugene Fodor, and a recent performance with violinist Hillary Hahn was broadcast on NPR's Performance Today. Much in demand as an accompanist, he appeared with soprano Elizabeth Futral and baritone Steven White in a recital of Wolff's Italian Song Book in Chicago, and he has released a disc of late romantic lieder with White. Watkins has also released two solo discs, one featuring works from his New York debut at Carnegie Hall, and another, Christmas Cards, featuring music for the holiday season, with works by Bach, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Handel, Grainger, and others.

Professor Watkins is the recipient of numerous awards, including the John Philip Sousa Award for Outstanding American Musicians, Rotary Club of Florida's Annual Artistic Merit Award, and France's Jeunesse Musicales. In 1985, he became the youngest winner ever of The U.S. Department of State's Artistic Ambassador Award. His degrees include a Bachelor of Music from the University of Cincinnati, and Master of Music from University of South Carolina. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts at Florida State University.

©2010 by Edward Lein, Music Librarian

Beethoven: Sonata No. 28 in A Major, op. 101

1. Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung [Somewhat lively, and with innermost sensitivity]
2. Lebhaft. Marschmäßig [Lively. Moderate march]
3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll [Slow and yearning-full]
4. Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr und mit Entschlossenheit [Swiftly, but not too much and with determination]

The transcendent German-born composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) began his compositional career essentially imitating the styles and forms he inherited from Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and W.A Mozart (1756-1791), but during his "middle" period (ca. 1803-1815) Beethoven expanded and personalized this lnheritance, creating works that have come to represent the culmination of the Classical style in much the same way that the works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) represent the culmination of the Baroque. During Beethoven's "late" period (ca. 1815-1827), he discovered new paths toward still more personal, even intimate, musical expression, and, despite the gradual and eventually total degeneration of his hearing, he forged the way beyond the Classical tradition into the Romantic.

After the passing of his mentor Haydn, Beethoven found little inspiration in the works of his contemporaries, least especially from the batch of Italian operas then sweeping the Continent. Instead, for artistic renewal he seems to have drawn upon two main sources: first, his lifelong affection and admiration for the music of Bach and G.F. Handel (1685-1759), striving in his final years to achieve a satisfying synthesis of Baroque contrapuntal techniques with Classical archetypes; and second, the straightforward lyricism of the folksongs he collected and arranged for Scottish publisher George Thomson (1757-1851). Beethoven's Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, the first of his five late period piano sonatas, was written during the summer and fall of 1816, and it demonstrates most especially the contrapuntal challenges he set for himself during his final decade. Beethoven dedicated it to Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann (1781-1849), a close friend whom he regarded as a foremost interpreter of his piano music, and who, appropriately enough, was also an admirer of Bach.

Outwardly, Opus 101 manifests the four movements of a "typical" Beethoven sonata, but in its details it becomes anything but ordinary. The gently-flowing melody of the pastoral opening movement unfolds without any marked contrasts, and it is especially unusual that the clear establishment of the home key is delayed until near its end. Its reverie is interrupted by an exuberant march, used in place of the more usual scherzo. The brief, improvisatory third movement is an elegiac adagio that leads--very uncharacteristically--into a restatement of the first few measures of the first movement, which in turn is followed immediately by a boisterous sonata-form finale. Both the March, with its canonic trio, and the finale, with its fugato development, are dominated by complex contrapuntal textures, which, as Beethoven himself joked, might have justified nicknaming the work "The Difficult-to-Play Sonata." So--and especially because of the reprise of the first-movement tune leading into the finale--the overall effect is rather like a "Prelude and Fugue," but with a big interruption in the form of the march. And, granted, it is unlike anything Bach could have imagined on his puny harpsichord.

"But why," one might ask, "does Beethoven throw in a march?" Well ...

In addition to an unparalleled body of musical works, Beethoven left the world a mass of diaries, letters and notebooks that paint a vivid picture of one of the greatest musical minds that will ever walk the earth--despite his appalling penmanship. But, in retrospect, he rather foolishly failed to detail every aspect of his personal life and each source of inspiration, so it has proven irresistible to virtually every writer about the most-written-about composer to fill in the gaps with insights into the hidden meaning behind the musical notes. Like now.

At this point in his lonely life, Beethoven corresponded that he pretty much had given up on the idea of finding the ideal wife (including his "Immortal Beloved"--most likely Antonie Brentano, who was unhappily-married to one of Beethoven's friends). He was, however, hopeful that he'd find some sort of familial contentment rearing his 9-year-old nephew, Karl, the son of his recently-deceased brother, Caspar Carl (not yet knowing that both Karl and his widowed mother, Johanna, would prove to be a continuing source of consternation). In any case, Beethoven was now resolved to fully dedicate his life to his art (despite his hearing loss and persistent problems with his digestive health). Thus, the gentle opening, "with innermost sensitivity," might be seen as the composer's wistful paean and farewell to the idea of warm and quiet domesticity, leading into renewed vigor and commitment to artful pursuits, appropriately exemplified by the "determined," fugue-like finale. But as he was working on the Sonata, Beethoven received a commission to write a march for military band (i.e., WoO 24), and he was happy to set aside work on the Sonata to fulfill it. Thus, a march interrupted his work on the Sonata, much like a march interrupts the prelude-fugue aspects of the first and last movements, allowing one to wonder if perhaps this is a case of "art imitating life."

Or not.

Chopin's Waltzes

  • No. 5 in A flat major, Op. 42 (1840)
  • No. 6 in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1 (1847)
  • No. 9 in A flat major, Op. 69, No. 1 (1835)
  • No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2 (1847)
  • No. 11. in G flat major, Op 70, No. 1 (1832)
  • No. 10 in B minor, Op. 69, No. 2 (1829)
  • No. 14 in E minor, Op. Posth. (1829)
  • No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2 (1834)
  • No. 4 in F major, Op. 34, No. 3 (1838)
  • No. 12 in F minor, Op. 70, No. 2 (1842)
  • No. 13 in D flat major, Op. 70, No. 3 (1829)
  • No. 8 in A flat major, Op 64, No. 3 (1847)
  • No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 18 (1831-32)
  • No. 2 in A flat major, Op. 34, No. 1 (1835)

Before Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) settled in Paris in 1831, his permanent exile from his Polish homeland had begun unexpectedly in Vienna the year before. A twenty-year-old Chopin had returned to the Austrian capital in November of 1830 with the hope of recapturing the success as virtuoso pianist and composer he had briefly enjoyed there the summer of the previous year. But very soon after his second arrival in Vienna, back in Warsaw a group of cadets conspired to liberate Poland from the Russian Empire. Chopin wished to hurry home and join the nationalists' fight against tyranny, but his friends wisely convinced the frail youth that he would better serve his homeland through his music. When the November Uprising failed, Chopin, a known sympathizer with the rebels, found it too risky to ever return to Poland. So it was that Chopin spent his first of every remaining Christmas away from his familial home, all alone, and with the chilly weather heralding the proverbial cold shoulders he got from the generally pro-Russian populace and music publishers in the center of the Austrian Empire.

The waltz was by that time all the craze, and the rivalry between Joseph Renner (1801-1843) and Johann Strauss I (1804-1849) to establish preeminence as composer and conductor of the popular entertainment was already underway. At this point one might like to imagine, "... and so in Vienna began Chopin's lifelong love affair with the waltz," only that decidedly was not the case: Chopin complained that he couldn't believe waltz music was discussed as an art form, and suggested that he (ever the snob) would never be able to master the vulgarity demanded to perform such music properly. One suspects that Chopin might have protested a little too much, especially since he had already written piano waltzes in Poland and continued to write them throughout his brief life. Still, the Viennese waltz had not yet attained its pinnacle reached by Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), and Chopin perhaps was parroting the sentiments offered by denizens of propriety, e.g., the influential British musicologist Charles Burney (1726-1814), who pointedly observed (ca. 1805): "The verb walzen, whence this word is derived, implies to roll, wallow, welter, tumble down, or roll in the dirt or mire."

Chopin's own contributions to the genre are about as far removed from the waltz's roots in the provincial ländler--and apparently grimy lederhosen--as one can get, so much so that Robert Schumann (1810-1856) famously quipped that the Pole's aristocratic diversions should be danced only by countesses. Tiaras or no, Chopin never intended his waltzes as ballroom fare, but they were very much intended for the fashionable salons haunted by said countesses, who not only employed him as their piano master, but warmly welcomed the refined and well-educated commoner through the front door of Parisian High Society. Despite their native habitat, it would be a great mistake to characterize Chopin's richly varied waltzes merely as "salon pieces," or to apply Chopin's own disparaging remarks about the artistic shortcomings of the dance. Ranging from bravura showpieces and extroverted frivolity to the most intimate expressions of melancholy longing, it is a marvel that one composer could distill such breadth and depth from the common oom-pa-pa.

Rightly called the "Poet of the Piano," Chopin's influence is seen in much of all piano music by subsequent composers, and his revolutionary use of chromatic harmonies and unusual key relationships profoundly influenced composers of symphonic music and operas as well (e.g., Liszt and Wagner)--thus Chopin's importance in the development of the "Romantic" style in general cannot be overestimated. Many of his Waltzes remain among the most frequently performed piano pieces, and although as a group they are intentionally less daring both structurally and harmonically than many of Chopin's other works, they lend themselves to (and can withstand) a wealth of differing interpretations. In the recorded repertoire this has lead to surprisingly passionate debates about the virtues of one interpretation over another (usually boiling down to Russian vs. Romanian), which demonstrates the depth of feeling Chopin's Waltzes inspire, the common denominator of all great art.

At the top of the recorded heap is a performance by legendary Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950). Following the advice of incomparable record producer Walter Legge (1906-1979), Lipatti presented the Waltzes not by opus number or date of composition, but in an order suggested by the key relationships among the separate pieces. Scott Watkins likewise follows Legge's advice, and notes:
I'm playing them in the order Dinu Lipatti played them at his last recital, during which he was too weak from leukemia to play the final waltz. So, in my performance, in honor of Mr. Lipatti who was my teacher's (Bela Siki) teacher, I'll take a brief pause before playing the final waltz.