Timeline: Chopin and Genius

Mar 11, 2019

We’re spending the next few episodes celebrating the life and music of J.S. Bach and Chopin. In this episode we’ll look at Chopin specifically and we’ll also have some help…

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Marjan: My name is Marjan Kiepura. I’m a pianist.

James: That’s a bit of an understatement. Marjan is a celebrated virtuoso and a noted Chopin scholar…

Marjan: I guess one could say accurately, that for the last good number of years I’ve dedicated my musical life to certain works of Frédéric Chopin. Not just Chopin of course. I also look to my own heritage. My parents were famous singers, Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura. My mother was Hungarian. My father was Polish. So, I also look at my Hungarian side and play some Bartok.

James: During our conversation, Marjan kept coming back the word “genius” when describing the music of Chopin. I asked him to tell us what he means by that word.

Marjan: How do you explain genius? How do you explain a Mark Twain or a Rembrandt? It is something that happens, that lightning strikes, you know?

James: Marjan pointed out that there were many other composers at the time of Chopin, Bach and Mozart that we don’t talk about very often…

Marjan: …with due respect. Because they didn’t rise to the level of the specialness of their flavor, composers who had a special character. And in the case of Chopin, when we talk about soul, we invariably talk about his homeland. I must return to that, because that cannot be over stated. It was his homeland, his language, his family, his people, his music, his roots that laid his emotions bare in his music. His music was absolute. It flowed. It flowed from the soul. Where was his soul? His soul was in Poland. His soul was with his people. His soul was in his mind and what he saw a youngster.

And there’s one thing about Chopin. You know, every note had an exact reason for being where it was. There was never a note wasted, never. If you analyze any work of Chopin you see exactly, of course, of course it couldn’t be any other way. Of course it’s that way.

The nature of these great composers who have survived all these years and will survive another thousand years, they will survive as long as this planet survives. We will hear the music of Chopin. As a matter of fact, as we are having this conversation, within a 30 mile radius of VPR studios or 30 minutes in any direction, there is someone either listening to Chopin, practicing Chopin, playing Chopin, performing Chopin…

James: The sun never sets on Chopin, is what you’re saying.

Marjan: The sun never sets.

James: We can listen to the music of Chopin right now on our website. In February, I had the pleasure to host a concert with celebrated Vermont pianist, Paul Orgel in VPR’s Stetson Studio One. Paul was presenting a concert of musical pairings, putting together selections of Chopin’s Nocturnes with preludes and fugues from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book II. You can find all of those recordings here.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music.