Chopin was such a complex man—an elusive personality with so many layers veiling his deep dark soul. Few knew the real man because he never revealed himself— never completely. Of course he could be charming, elegant, a man of fine taste and sophistication, extremely comfortable in Parisian society. Yet essentially Chopin remained a man in conflict within himself, and we hear this in his music.
We have just released two new recordings of Chopin’s music that show such different sides to his complex personality. Chopin! – with the B minor Sonata, the Berceuse and the 4 Scherzi reveals the man who would have liked to have been a virtuoso but never had the strength or the personal inclination to follow the Lisztian pathway. The other recording is much more intimate—much more exposed—much more autobiographical. In the complete Nocturnes, Chopin comes closest to writing his autobiography.
The Nocturnes are personal, honest, full of pain and melancholy; they are dramatic and passionate and also overflowing with nostalgia for the family and the home-land that he would never see again. With each nocturne, Chopin embarks on another spiritual journey. He bares his soul and allows us to listen to his heart.
I’ve played these pieces for most of my performing life. With these recordings, I felt encouraged by the spirit of the composer to take a closer look at the man himself. There has always existed a stereotype of the weak, frail and sickly composer, and somehow this has informed the way so many pianists approach his music— especially his Nocturnes. It is time to shatter this false image of the man.
Just because Chopin didn’t possess the strength or virtuosity of his good friend Liszt, does not imply that he did not understand virtuosity at the keyboard. And the four Scherzi are bold declamations of bravura mixed with tenderness and compassion. The B minor Sonata is Chopin working within a larger framework than usual and coming to grips with the structural problems of sonata form— it is Chopin venturing out of his comfort zone and doing it “his own way.” He makes us aware of the problems of holding this large structure together. Yet at the same time, his emotional range is extraordinary.
Perhaps this accounts for the real difficulty of interpreting his music. Chopin keeps surprising us with his emotional mood swings. He is definitely not a weakling— he possessed boldness and power. And he is definitely not only a virtuoso— his natural poetry and depth of humanity always shine through.
With his genius, Chopin manages to hit a nerve by pinpointing the emotions of everyman— the ups and downs, the highs and the lows that we all experience. We are blessed to be able to accompany him on his turbulent voyage.