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Haydn/Ravel/Chopin

The F Minor Variations (1793) by Haydn is one of his last piano works and is not typical of variation cycles of the time. Firstly, the character of the opening theme has a great emotional depth which excludes any type of virtuosity. “The melancholy Andante in F Minor, with variations so masterful that the piece almost sounds like a free fantasy” – wrote Leipzig's Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1799, referring to the first edition in Vienna. I think this phrase perfectly describes the idea of this piece. Secondly, its form is not just “theme and variations”, but “hybrid variations”, which Haydn developed in his piano sonatas, symphonies and string quartets. There are two themes – the first is in F Minor and the second one in F Major, which Haydn varies alternately. This sense of hovering between Minor and Major gives the piece an absolutely unique character and makes it so loved by many musicians.

The E Flat Major Sonata Hob XVI/49 was composed in 1790. The first theme of the opening movement evokes a “question and answer” dialogue. It is both humorous and serious at the same time, which makes the contrast within the movement even more perceptible. The second movement in B Flat Major is a great vocal aria. I personally find the middle part of the movement very significant – it suddenly moves into B Flat Minor and the mood becomes very dark. For me it is already a door into the world of Beethoven, Schubert and even Brahms. It is also very interesting to follow the return to B Flat Major. The final movement is a Minuet, a very elegant dance.

Ravel wrote Gaspard de la nuit in 1908, using the poems of Aloysius Bertrand as his inspiration. He published the poems as an epigram to each of the three pieces. “Ondine” is a beautiful water girl singing to seduce the hero to join her in her kingdom at the bottom of a lake. “Le Gibet” creates an atmosphere of death. The bells are ringing from far away (the B Flat octave which comes through the whole piece as an ostinato) and we observe the hanged person on the gibbet. “Scarbo” is a movement about the little evil fiend which scurries around throughout the night. This piece is built around great contrasts in dynamics and articulation. For me it is the greatest pleasure to play this fantastic work!

The Chopin pieces that I have chosen for this programme were selected deliberately to show the versatility of his genius. For me it is interesting that all four forms (Nocturne, Ballade, Mazurka and Scherzo) were developed by him to an independent form. The Nocturnes, Op. 15 are for me an observation of nature. Ballade G Minor was inspired by a poem of Chopin's countryman, Adam Mickiewicz, and is an epic story shared by the protagonist with his listeners. Mazurka is an absolutely unique form in Chopin's work. He composed more than sixty Mazurkas; they all are very different in mood and character, and the dancing element is not always obvious (like in the opening of the C Sharp Minor Mazurka Op. 50). This richness of colours, moods and deep feelings even in small phrases makes Mazurkas so special for me – and so deeply loved. The Scherzo in B Flat Minor was described by Robert Schumann as “overflowing with tenderness, boldness, love and contempt”. I follow his words and am happy to share this great music with you!

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