The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College

Bard Music Festival

Bard Music Festival 2017

Chopin and His World

August 11–13: Chopin, the Piano, and Musical Culture of the 19th Century
August 18–20: Originality and Virtuosity

By the end of the 19th century, Fryderyk Chopin’s compositions had come to represent music as an expressive medium. Already recognized in his lifetime as a unique phenomenon, Chopin became known as the supreme “poet” of the piano, the medium for which he composed almost exclusively. To this day, listeners and performers find in his music an emotional depth and intensity that mirror our subjective response to the human experience. The richness of Chopin’s melodic invention and harmonic usage, and the dense but transparent economy of the genres in which he wrote, all help explain his broad popularity and influence. The most refined and subtle analytic categories, however, never seem to adequately explain his work.
The 2017 Bard Music Festival explores Chopin’s complex and enigmatic sides. He rose to international fame as the voice of an oppressed Poland, a once powerful nation that had been dismembered decades before his birth in 1810. A child prodigy who grew up in Warsaw, Chopin spent the second half of his life in Paris, where he was lionized as a pianist, composer, and teacher. He was not only a leading figure in the distinguished Polish émigré community of Paris, but also interacted with the aristocracy and with cultural luminaries such as Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Pauline Viardot, Heinrich Heine, Honoré de Balzac, Adam Mickiewicz, and Eugène Delacroix. His personal life, notably his relationship with George Sand, became the stuff of gossip, intrigue, and legend.  
Chopin left a powerful legacy that helped shape the future of music, beginning with Liszt and Richard Wagner. On the Festival’s programs, echoes of this legacy will be heard in works by Johannes Brahms, Alexander Scriabin, Serge Rachmaninoff, Claude Debussy, and Gabriel Fauré, and in Polish music from Stanislaw Moniuszko to Karol Szymanowski and Grażyna Bacewicz. The music by teachers and contemporaries in Warsaw—Józef Elsner, Wilhelm Würfel, and Maria Szymanowska—and by predecessors such as Ferdinand Ries, John Field, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ignaz Moscheles, Carl Maria von Weber, and Johann Nepomuk Hummel help reconstruct the context of his career. Also featured is the work of contemporaries including Robert Schumann, George Onslow, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Henri Herz, Sigismond Thalberg, Vincenzo Bellini, Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Ferdinand Hiller.
Chopin lived in the years between the Congress of Vienna of 1814–15 and the watershed revolutions of 1848. It was both an era in which Romanticism in literature and painting flourished and of intense philosophical ferment and striking political and social change. Music was at the center of Chopin’s cultural world, not only in the concert halls and opera houses, but also in the burgeoning world of journalism and the semipublic world of the salon. Chopin’s music transformed the genre of dance—including waltzes, polonaises, and mazurkas. The voice of the piano—the decisive and rapidly evolving instrument of 19th-century musical culture—was largely defined, both technologically and aesthetically, by music written by Chopin. He transformed its aesthetic potential.
The festival ventures beyond Chopin’s chronological career, and through concerts, panels, and lectures, addresses how attitudes to the composer have changed since his death in 1849, how we hear Chopin today, and, most importantly, why he still matters.