Child prodigy, composer, and musical genius Frederic Chopin is often described as the poet of the piano, for expressing his sparkling artistic spirit through his impassioned creations. His short life and perhaps unfulfilled artistic aspirations fit 19th-century notions of sometimes tragic Romanticism. His tones rapturously, gently, and fervently remind us of what Beethoven described as “the distant, unknown heart to which you have given all.” It is foreseeable to discover his admiration of gifted singers of his day as afflatus to his musical art.
Chopin composed his second piano concerto when 19 years old. He described the Larghetto’s inspiration to his friend Titus Wojciechowski in 1829: “While my thoughts were with her I composed the Adagio of my concerto,” also noting that he worshipped her “faithfully and sincerely” while characterizing her as “of whom I dream every night.” He acclaimed Constantia Gladkowska‘s singing, noting her “pure intonation and genuine warmth of feeling.”
The Larghetto of this three-movement work is performed masterfully in this recording by an august Arthur Rubinstein. He delicately unfolds its sublime poetic theme, expressing Chopin’s thoughts in a vibrant, exquisite musical embroidery. Rubinstein’s poignant, ethereal musings of the composer’s intent emanate from an intellect imbued with the refined sense from advancing years and life-long commitment to artistic verity–we bask in his imaginative power, sighing as the mind and soul are comforted, newly mindful of precious peace, beauty, and universal truths.
Ultimately, the work was dedicated to another subject of Chopin’s admiration, wealthy sophisticate, and chanteuse Countess Delphine Potocka. Upon hearing of Chopin’s fatal illness at just age 39, she traveled from Nice to Paris to his bedside, where the dying man urged her to sing. When she appeared, he said, “Now I know why God has delayed so long in calling me to Him. He wanted me to have the pleasure of seeing you once more.”
It is thought that she sang Alessandro Stradella‘s Pieta, Signore, performed here by the marvelous Angela Gheorghiu. Here’s a sampling of the text:
Have mercy, Lord, on me in my remorse.
If my prayer rises to you, do not chastise me.
Do not chastise me in your severity.
Always mercifully turn your eyes on top of me.
Stradella’s consecration offered expiation to a penitent Chopin as his mortal spirit faded.
Readers may also enjoy Art for the Sake of Art, The Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, and Shakespeare at the Harvard Club.
Alessandro Stradella’s Pieta, Signore, performed here by Angela Gheorghiu. (on behalf of Universal Music; Uniao Brasileira de Editoras de Musica – UBEM, LatinAutorPerf, Public Domain Compositions, Songtrust, Polaris Hub AB, LatinAutor – UMPG, and 5 Music Rights Societies).
Arthur Rubenstin performs the Larghetto from Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. Conducted by Eugene Normandy,