Polish Nationalism in Frederic Chopin’s Compositions
Frederic Chopin was born in the year 1810, in Warsaw, Poland and died in 1849, at the young age of 39 (Thompson, 113). He was also known as “the Poet of the Piano” due to his nuance, his expressive depth and his ability to conjure up the melody of the human voice from the instrument’s keys (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/poland503/chopin.html). “Chopin epitomizes the figure of the “Romantic Artist”: withdrawn, temperamental, talented and doomed to a premature death from tuberculosis.”(Thompson, 112) As he had a small and frail physique, he used the beautiful tones, rhythmic flexibility, atmospheric uses of the pedal and poetic subtleties in dynamics of his compositions to fascinate his audiences instead of attempting to draw “bigger” sounds from the piano (Kamien, 323). Nationalism can be defined as patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts (Oxford Dictionary). The theme of nationalism can be seen in segments of Chopin’s compositions. Chopin expressed his love of Poland in most of his mazurkas and polonaises. In these, he captured the spirit of the Polish people (Kamien, 324). The most “well-known” nationalistic parts of Chopin’s compositions are Christmas carol, Lulajże Jezuniu (in the B minor Scherzo, Op. 20) and the hymn, Boże coś Polskę (in the E-flat major Largo). In a fragment of the composition (196 – 200), the solemn melody is almost exactly the same as the theme from the Lenten Polish, jak Ty klęczysz.
The only difference between both tunes is the slight change in melody. This religious Polish song, Ach mój Jezu, is a calm and moderately paced song, describing the many obstacles and pitfalls Jesus Christ had gone through to protect the people. A part of the translated text is as follows: Ah, my Jesus, as you kneel
in the Garden of Gethsemane bloody!
There Cie Angel in sorrow enjoyed,
Composition world was comforted.
Come, my Jesus, come, my Jesus,
Come, my Jesus, comfort me,
because I love you sincerely.
Ah, my Jesus, jakes severely
tied to a pole
for our sins so heavy
Come, my Jesus ...
Chopin, however, took a more serious and sincere take of this melody and incorporated it into his composition. A previous segment of the piece, there is another example of nationalism. During the section with the 4 rhythmic motifs, the low voice of that the right hand is playing is taken from another religious Polish song, Dobry Jezu, a nasz Panie, kaj im wieczne spoczywanie. For this example, the melody is not exactly the same, but the pitvhes of the notes are there. The rhythm in Chopin’s Bolero is slower campared to the religious folk song. Yet another example of Chopin’s nationalism is seen in his Etude in A minor, Op 25 No.4, which can be compared to the Marian song, Matko Najświętsza. The main melody from the religious piece can be found throughout the entire etude by Chopin. Like most religious songs from before the 20th century, Matko Najświętsza is quite sincere and slow, giving a calm and sacred feel. However, Chopin adapts this tune to give a slightly more virtuosic, quicker feel to accommodate the piece and his composition style.
In conclusion, I feel that Chopin’s nationality indeed affected the way he composed. From various written sources, Chopin was apparently extremely loyal to his country. Today, the Polish embassy even gifts various nations with sculptures of Frederic Chopin (for example, Singapore). Chopin’s sense of nationalism did not go unnoticed by fellow composer such as Franz Liszt. Liszt had said: "a Polish artist may be ranked first among musicians who have had an individual poetic sense of a particular nation. "Chopin did give Poland a voice in classical music, most obviously through the Maurkas and Polonaises, but also through the subtle use of Polish tunes woven into his other...
Bibliography: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/poland503/chopin.html: Agnew, Singeli. "Profile of Frederic Chopin: The Poet of the Piano." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2013.
http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/PMJ/issue/2.1.99/wecowski.html: Węcowski, Jan. "Wecowski: Examples for Religious Folklore and Chopin (1999)."Polish Music Journal 1-2.2. (1999). Wecowski: Examples for Religious Folklore and Chopin. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2013.
Music an Appreciation by Roger Kamien, 4th edition (Publisher: McGraw Hill): Kamien, Roger. Frederic Chopin. Music: An Appreciation. 4th ed. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, 1988. 321-27. Print.
The Great Composers by Wendy Thompson (Publisher: Hermes House): Thompson, Wendy. The Great Composers: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Lives and Works of the World 's Best-loved Composers. London: Hermes House, 2001. Print.
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