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Chopin’s music and ballet go together like peas and carrots

Chopin’s music and ballet go together like peas and carrots featured image

Choreographer Jerome Robbins rehearsing “Other Dances”, featuring Chopin’s music, with ballet legends Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov

Friday, March 1, 2019

Today marks the birthday of Frederic Chopin. Chopin is not my favourite composer by a long stretch, but I am grateful I studied his music – both as a piano student (so many nocturnes and preludes) and later on, when studying music theory in university. Chopin’s music conjures up images of the candelabra on top of the piano (a big no-no – in fact, do not EVER put cups, mugs, vases, or dripping candles on top of your piano). Liszt’s music conjures up those images too (the two composers were close buds and were mutually admiring, if not equally envious, of each other’s gifts). Chopin also makes me think of that odd cliché of the red rose draped across the piano keys (again – no pianist in their right mind would ever do this).

A proud Polish nationalist, Chopin identified much more strongly with his native land and mother’s ancestry than his father’s French side, and many of his piano works incorporated traditional Polish themes, including Polonaises, obviously, but also mazurkas and many other works. He wrote big works (crazy-hard piano sonatas, two piano concertos with questionable orchestrations), but his main talent was for solo piano, including waltzes, etudes, impromptus, and scherzos.

I associate his music so much with solo piano with all my attention focussed on the pianist, that I remembered how different it was to hear his music as an accompaniment to ballet. This is a grainy video and the sound quality is not great, but it’s worth it to see legendary ballet dancers Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, this piece, called “Other Dances”, features four mazurkas and one waltz by Chopin. Pianist Jerry Zimmerman is there on stage with them.

Frederic Francois Chopin was born March 1, 1810, in Zelazowa Wola, Poland, and died October 17, 1840, in Paris, France.


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