By Chet Yarbrough
By: Paul Kildea
Narrated by : Mathew Waterson
Paul Kildea (Author, Austrailian conductor, Artistic Director of Musica Vivia Australia.)
Paul Kildea is a multifaceted talent who has written an interesting biography of Frederic Chopin and a lesser-known Polish musician, Wanda Landowska, who revivified Chopin’s music.
Frederic Francois Chopin (1810-1849, Composer and virtuoso pianist.)
Whether one knows anything of music or history, Kildea expertly entertains listener/readers with “Chopin’s Piano”.
Chopin is noted as a Romanticist composer considered among the most creative of all time. For that reason, the sound of Chopin’s work has changed with the times.
There are several ironies in Kildea’s history of Chopin. Chopin is shown to have been pleased by being considered French though he was Polish. Chopin is characterized as anti-Semitic though at times financially supported by Jews and resurrected by a world-renowned harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska, a proud and nationalist Pole who escaped Nazi persecution and extermination. Landowska, a woman of the Jewish faith, flees Paris when Germany invades France.
Wanda Landowska in front of the Bauza piano owned by Chopin.
One of her treasured pianos is the Bauza piano used by Chopin to create his greatest masterpieces, the Preludes.
George Sand (1804-1876, French novelist and 10 year companion of Chopin)
Kildea reflects on Chopin’s diminutive physique and self-effacing nature. Chopin never marries but has a ten-year relationship with George Sand, a divorced woman with a broadly libertine reputation.
One wonders what Sand’s influence is on Chopin’s creativity. What Kildea explains is that Sand admires Chopin’s dedication to music and supports Chopin through his frail health during the most productive period of his life. However, at the end of their ten year relationship, Sand leaves because the burden of their relationship is either too much or she just chooses to return to a life of independence.
The thread of Kildea’s history is the Bauza piano’s location in the 21st century. It’s whereabouts remains unknown.
This piano was used by Chopin between 1838-39 when living with George Sand in Majorca. A striking point in Kildea’s story is that the Bauza piano is a crudely formed instrument carved from local softwood. Its innards are made of felt, pig iron, and copper but its cultural importance is extraordinary and its provenance unquestioned. It disappeared when confiscated by Nazi Germany when they ransacked Landowska’s home in Paris.
Wanda Landowska in 1953.
The last half of Kildea’s story is about the trials and achievements of Wanda Landowska. In reflecting on Landowska’s rise to fame, the Bauza piano is a symbol of Chopin’s creative genius.
This flawed instrument is used to create compositions that are endlessly translated by pianoforte (soft and loud sound) from the use of harpsicords to modern Steinways. Landowska, and many pianists of the 19th through the 21st century are listed by Kildea, showing the brilliance and variety of Chopin’s compositions. Only a musical conductor turned author like Kildea could explain this to the public. “Chopin’s Piano” is a small opening to a big world.