Chopin’s one and only Contredanse; two Bourrées, dances from the Berry region in central France; a two-minute song about spring reduced by half and arranged for solo piano. Add these up and you get just over four minutes of music. Curiosities. “Bonus tracks.” What do these bits and pieces really add up to?
If, say, Chopin’s Ballades are windows to his soul, these odds and ends are photographs rich with the details of his daily life.
Take the two Bourrées. They sound so fresh, so simple. It’s surprising they were composed in 1846 — the year of the Opus 64 Waltzes, the Opus 62 Nocturnes, the Barcarolle...quintessential Chopin. But these cheery Bourrées? They were found in an album owned by George Sand who noted, “Bourrée, written out by Chopin.” Jotted down more than composed—enhanced, certainly—but captured by Chopin, who heard them in the French countryside. They’re snapshots of Chopin escaping the Parisian heat one summer day.
An old English dance places two faces in the next photo: friends Fryderyk Chopin and Tytus Woyciechowski. Chopin dedicated his one and only Contredanse to Woyciechowski, his oldest and dearest friend, in 1827. The music even sounds friendly. “Your presence would be much more valuable than all the medicines,” wrote a dying Fryderyk to Tytus twenty-two years later.
Now, the art song, “Spring.” It’s not your usual vernal celebration; it’s a elegy. In the original version, the singer describes being pained to the point of weeping by nature’s beauty, as if missing something, or someone. Chopin wrote five versions of this song for piano alone. You get the feeling the singer who’s not in the photograph may be the reason for the weeping.
So what do these four minutes of music amount to? A scrapbook no one kept, a precious home movie we’ll never see. - Jennifer Foster