Wait a minute…everyone knows that Chopin was the Poet of the Piano, not the Voice of the Violin. True. But... Chopin’s first teacher was actually a violinist - Adalbert Zywny, who imparted to the boy both a lifelong love of Bach – and, in the word of biographer Derek Melville, “was able to encourage Fryderyk’s phenomenal technical ability…much more successfully than a hidebound stereotyped piano teacher.” A visit by Niccolo Paganini to Warsaw when Chopin was a teenager triggered both this early work, the Souvenir de Paganini, AND Chopin’s estimation that “Paganini is Perfection” – the gold standard against which virtuoso pianists should be measured.
In the early twentieth-century, the favor started being returned by first-rank fiddlers, many of whom started arranging Chopin’s music – particularly his Nocturnes – for violin and piano. Leopold Auer, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Ruggerio Ricci, even Pablo de Sarasate made ‘em – and played ‘em. In her book The Great Violinists, author Margaret Campbell writes, “Milstein and Ricci once took the same train together on a long journey and entertained each other by playing all the Chopin Etudes, which they both knew from memory.”
“Indeed,” says one violin scholar, “The violin, with its intrinsic, melodic legato-qualities, matches Chopin’s lyricisms so perfectly that one is tempted to say the Nocturnes are even more wonderful on the violin.” And even in our time, no less a virtuoso than Joshua Bell has brought an entire orchestra along to play a Chopin nocturne as Fryderyk never heard it…but perhaps imagined all along. - Benjamin K. Roe