Chopin: Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3

performed by Martha Argerich and Gautier Capuçon

What was one of the happiest times in your life, a time when you really genuinely wished everything would freeze and your life would stagnate in that perfect period in time and never change?
I assume that many people have a moment or few like that in their lives that they look back on, a combination of simplicity, happiness, often youth, good company, and sometimes entirely unexpected, that just seem… perfect, a period of time or an event that will never ever be repeated, but the memory of which continues to provide joy. 
Even some vacations, by the time they near their end, are ready to be done, and we feel ready to be home. There’s something unidentifiably magical about these perfect moments, and Chopin seems to have had one in his early days. I found an excellent article about this piece with much more detail about it than the rather short Wikipedia article. On this site, Chopin is quoted about the piece. He says: 

I received your last letter […] at Radziwiłł‘s residence in Antonin. I was there for a week, and you’ll not believe how well I felt there. I returned by the last mail-coach and barely excused myself from extending my stay. As for my own person and passing amusement, I would have stayed there until I was chased away, but my affairs, and my Concerto in particular [the first, in F minor], not yet finished, and impatiently awaiting the completion of its finale, compelled me to leave that paradise.

The words above make me think of a few of those special times in my life where time seemed to stand still. At this point, Chopin was quite young, only 19 years old, and I think it’s at this kind of impressionable age that many of us have these fondest of memories. Perhaps somewhere deep down inside we know they won’t last… because life isn’t ever that carefree for that long or whatever, but they’re little milestones in the lives of many of us, perhaps chronicling time as “before [event]” or “after [event].” And it also stands in contrast with his later life, one that would be known for ill health and a lack of longevity.
Anyway, this was what I thought of when listening to this piece. It’s so completely, wholly optimistic and joyful.
The Polonaise was written within about a week in October of 1829, as mentioned above, on a week-long vacation, and I must say, writing a piece like this on vacation in only one week means
that must have been quite a productive vacation. It may not be the first (or tenth or twentieth) Chopin piece people think of when they think of Chopin, but it’s delightful all around. The composer himself (again quoted from the above article, said:

I wrote there an alla polacca with cello. Nothing to it but dazzle, for the salon, for the ladies.

That’s not entirely true; the piece isn’t void of emotion or anything, but it certainly isn’t a serious, large scale work of any kind. That isn’t any criticism, for the magic of the work is hard to ignore.
I followed along in the score with a piano friend the other day and there’s a lot of piano stuff going on here, and it seems… that even at this young age, he had his style already pretty much… ready to blossom. Not fully developed, per se, but his voice certainly already existed, it seems.
The introduction was written about six months later, the following April, and was published some time later. The introduction itself is just that; I think of it less as a separate movement and almost a warm-up, an introduction, not necessarily to the content of the Polonaise, but almost for the piano and cello to get to know each other. It is, after all, one of the only non-piano-only works Chopin would write, and one of the very few chamber works (his concertante aside, there’s only the piano trio, cello sonata, the grand duo, and some songs, aside from this work), but that’s just how I think of it. The introduction and what comes after it are, perhaps like episodes that precede the happiest times in our life, maybe not directly related, the preceding not so indicative of what is to come. It’s one long, kind of wandering beautiful line of music that leads us to the real meat of this work.
The real charm in this piece is in the Polonaise itself. While the introduction is pleasant, and very lush, almost nocturne-like at times, the real focus is this bold, bordering on triumphant march-ish Polonaise that begins, with the piano laying out a red carpet for the main theme to appear in the cello. It’s almost too good, too captivating and dolce to last for an entire movement, perhaps much like those perfectly memorable moments in life. The cello starts, then passes this melody off to the piano, and the cello goes pizzicato. While this Polonaise is not meant to be danced to, the dance that takes place is more between the two instruments, as they each have their time to be quite virtuosic. Looking at the piano score while listening to the piece (or even not looking), I don’t think this piano writing could be mistaken for being anyone else, and it works. I’m almost surprised he didn’t do this more, as it’s quite a wonderful combination. The only thing about this piece, I feel, is that if it were to go on any longer, we’d need some contrast of some kind. It’s a wonderful piece, and there’s not a split-second of remorse or sadness or melancholy to be found, but such sweet music and such a catchy, captivating theme can only go on for so long, and it ends tastefully, before anyone starts to get sick of anything, like very expected guest who knows not to outwear his welcome. The piece knows when to end, and end it does, with the listeners (at least me personally) wanting just a little bit more.
The piece is very tasteful, delightful, and for a perhaps not so serious work, very enjoyable. It’s Polish, virtuosic, succinct, and very Chopin-esque. What the composer hasn’t yet done is chosen a more ‘serious’ form for his music. The op. 1 is a rondo, the second a set of variations, and now a Polonaise. What we will see tomorrow is the young composer’s first stab at a serious form, the sonata.


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