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Tradition / Reception / Reception of Chopin / Chopin and his music on stage



Chopin and his music on stage

As is known from various sources, especially his extensive correspondence, Chopin was keenly interested in the theater - he grew up surrounded by amateur theater (including theatrical entertainment with the Pruszak family in Sanniki near Żelazowa Wola), came to know the best musical theaters existing at that time in various places such as Warsaw, Dresden, Vienna and Paris. He became involved in musical-theatrical entertainment in Nohant (as the author of musical improvisations to plays and comic ballet interludes1) and was close to the theater for all his life, especially the musical theater - opera (he was enchanted with Mozart's Don Juan, the impressive scenography of Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable [Robert the Devil], especially the music of Bellini's Norma, and Rossini's operas). Suffice to say that shortly before his death he went to see Meyerbeer's Le prophète [The Prophet], whose premier took place on April 16, 1849, and writes to Solange Clésinger about this event. What is characteristic here, despite the fact he is now granted the title of "theatergoer"2, despite insistence and pressures from his contemporaries - his sister Ludwika, Józef Elsner and Stefan Witwicki - he never composed an opera3 ("Polish opera", "Slavic opera"4). Other than the doll theater in Nohant, he never composed for the music theater; he never departed from his own ideal of art - totally pure and non-program music.

Interpretation of this "pure" music of Chopin in theatrical realities (dramatic theater), opera or ballet (music theater), going beyond the Chopin concept of art, does not now give rise to certain controversy or allegations that weigh on any literary creativity. The reason is obvious - on the stage music sounds. Music does not require medial transformation or radical adaptation procedures, as in the case of literature, where one has to make do with various methods of mediatization (presence of allusion, description, fabularization, complex intertextual constructions). Though changes are introduced to theatrical ideas and performances (e.g. the orchestration of Polonaise in A major Op. 40 No. 1 in the first version of the ballet Chopiniana, in Michail Fokin's choreography, the peculiar transcription5 to a mixed choir of the middle part of the Nocturne in G minor Op. 37 No. 1 announced in Mateusz Gliński's Tajemnica Chopina [Chopin's secret]). These are still about the musical reception of Chopin, the various forms of using his music in the theatrical space. Theatrical performances convey the musical phenomenon in a particular manner, during which works are performed live, for example, numerous theatrical presentations of Iwaszkiewicz's Lato w Nohant [Summer at Nohant] (with excerpts of the Sonata in B minor Op. 58, played by Jerzy Broszkiewicz, Regina Smendzianka and Michał Drewnowski playing Chopin, or the ballet Fortepianissimo (choreography: Lorca Massine; National Theater - Opera in Warsaw, 1999), with Chopin's music interpreted by Krzysztof Jabłoński resounding through the theatre. At this point, it should be reiterated that renowned and outstanding pianists participate in the production of many stage ideas: Janusz Olejniczak can be heard in Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa [The lovers from the Valldemossa monastery] (directed by Andrzej Konic, Teatr Telewizji, 1995), Krzysztof Jabłoński - in Fortepianissimo, and Rafał Blechacz - in the ballet Trzy Kolory. Chopin w Nohant [Three Colours - Chopin in Nohant] (choreography: Marek Zajączkowski, Opera Nova in Bydgoszcz, 2005), created with the idea of a young performer's direct participation.

Ballet performances6 are - for well known reasons - a relatively frequent form of theatre interpretation to Chopin's music. The classic choreography of Michail Fokin's Сhopiniana (Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg 1908; original version from 1907: Rêverie romantique. Ballet sur la musique de Chopin) initially included five works of Chopin in the orchestral version elaborated by Alexander Glazunov (Polonaise in A major Op. 40 No. 1, Nocturne in F major Op. 15 No. 1, Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 50 No. 3, Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2 and the Tarantella in A flat major Op. 43). The later orchestral version, elaborated among others by Igor Stravinsky, is comprised of seven compositions (Prelude in A major Op. 28 No. 7, Nocturne in A flat major Op. 32 No. 2, Waltz in G flat major Op. 70 No. 1, Mazurka in D major Op. 33 No. 2, Mazurka in C major Op. 67 No. 3, Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2, Waltz in E flat major Op. 18), was known from elsewhere in Western Europe - as the work of Sergei Diaghilev and the production of his Russian Ballets in the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet in 1909 - under the name Les Sylphides. The ballet transposition of Chopin's music was later undertaken by many choreographers: Jerome Robbins proposed the ballet interpretation of eight Chopin mazurkas7 in Dances at a Gathering (New York City Ballet, New York State Theater, 1969); John Neumeier to the music of Piano concerto in F minor Op. 21, Sonata in B minor Op. 58 (Largo), four Preludes from opus 28 (A minor No. 2, D flat major No. 15, A flat major No. 17, D minor No. 24), Andante spianato and the Grande Polonaise in E flat major Op. 22, Ballade in G minor Op. 23 - created the ballet Die Kameliendame (Stuttgarter Ballett, 19788); and Maurice Béjart, employing the Variations in B flat major on "Là ci darem la mano" Op. 2, wrote the Variations Don Giovanni (Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, 1979). The ballet Muzy Chopina [Chopin's Muses] (choreography: Waldemar Wolk-Karaczewski; Teatr Wielki in Warsaw, 1991) came out of the music of two piano concerts of Fryderyk Chopin, based around the history of intimate relations with Konstancja, Delfina and George Sand. The ballet performance Concerto in F minor, in the choreography of Ewa Wycichowska (Teatr Wielki in Łódź, 1982) alludes to Warsaw realities, the place of its first performance, and the figure of Konstancja Gładkowska. In the ballet Trzy Kolory. Chopin w Nohant [Three Colours - Chopin in Nohant] staging is interpreted, among others, to Chopin compositions such as Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4, Waltz in C sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2, Etude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12, Funeral March from the Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35 and mazurkas. In the ballet arrangements Chopin fresh fruits (choreography by Andrzej Adamczak; Polski Teatr Tańca - Balet Poznański, 2009) uses A Young Girl's Wish Op. 74 No. 1, Waltz in D flat major Op. 64 No. 1, Prelude in D minor Op. 28 No. 24, Prelude in A flat major Op. 28 No. 17, Etude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12, Etude in A flat major Op. 25 No. 1, Ballade in G minor Op. 23, Polonaise in A flat major Op. 53. These works comprise a peculiar interpretation of the photo album Fresh fruits (2005) by Shoichi Aoki, which, devoted to young people from the Tokyo district of Harajuku, acknowledges the Japanese reception of the Polish artist.

Drama about Chopin provides slightly different stage potential for music presentation, whereby the composer's repertoire is clearly limited to several of his most known works. The Sonata in B minor Op. 58 resounds in Iwaszkiewicz's Lato w Nohant [Summer at Nohant], both in the first act ("the music lasts for nearly the entire act"9 - with the exception of the mid-part of the largo), as well as the second act - fragments of the Largo and Scherzo, as well as the subject of the finale. The first measures of this sonata also show up in the final of Janusz Krasiński's play Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa10 [The lovers from the Valldemossa monastery], during which Chopin - mostly plays preludes composed on Majorca11 "on a Pleyel piano"12 (Prelude in E flat minor No. 14 and Prelude in D minor No. 24). Piano concerto in E minor Op. 11 engages Mateusz Gliński in Tajemnica Chopina [Chopin's secret] (act I takes place in the composer's Warsaw salon) and Stanisława Fleszerowa-Muskat in the three-act play Ostatni koncert13 [The last concert of Chopin], dealing with the events of October 11, 1830 in the then National Theater at Plac Krasińskich and the last moments before leaving Warsaw. Marian Hemar interprets the tragic, Vienna circumstances that led to the Etude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12 - "Revolutionary" - in a theatrical miniature Kosmopolita [Cosmopolitan]14. The musical Fryderyk Chopin - Homo Artifex (directed by Dariusz Jakubowski, 2005) features two single-act plays by Hemar, Umowa15 [Contract] and Kosmopolita [Cosmopolitan], as well as excerpts of Goethe's Faust, that employ Chopin's piano music, and many of his songs (starting with Hulanka [Merrymaking], written in the earlier period of his works prior emigration, to the late Melodia [Melody], and to the words of Zygmunt Krasiński "Z gór gdzie dźwigali strasznych krzyżów brzemię..." [From the mountains, where they carried the terrible burden of crosses]).

The drama stage, while permitting the existence of a peripheral side to Chopin's musical reception16, nevertheless shifts the main accent to a theatrical figure. In first place, it creates and most strongly fixes a defined picture of the composer. This takes place not only due to the specifics of the drama stage (convention, types of theater, etc.), but especially due to the acting, predispositions of the actor playing Chopin, his physical traits, temperament. What is obvious, is that musical figure of the genius was interpreted one way in Iwaszkiewicz's Lato w Nohant [Summer at Nohant] in the first showing from 1936 by Zbigniew Ziembiński, a comedian actor with excellent diction, who was at his creative best in the 1930s (directed by Edmund Wierciński; Teatr Mały in Warsaw). Then another way in the first post-war showing of this play in 1945 by Alfred Łodziński, hailing from Vilnius with an accent particular to the border regions (directed by Wacław Ścibor; Teatr Kameralny TUR in Kraków), and in still another way in Gustaw Holoubek's theater for television productions (directed by Józef Słotwiński, 1963) and - after the passage of nearly four decades - "absent", remaining outside the acting plan of Piotr Skiba (directed by Agnieszka Glińska, 1999).

The various stage concepts of the composer's figure are attempts to grasp his individuality as an artist and a person in light of specific events. Some Chopin creations are worked out with great care for the historical realities and factual details. The inclination towards even exaggerated display of facts can best be seen in Mateusz Gliński's Tajemnica Chopina [Chopin's secret], in the play, which the author - nota bene a musicologist, music critic and composer - attached not only a calendar of the composer's life, commentary From the author, a series of portraits and drawings, also extensive set of footnotes reminiscent of academic discourse. Inevitably, the showing of fictionalized accounts can strengthen the stage illusion of actual events, for example Starucha's - "Hiszpańska dewotka"17 [Spanish devotee] - in Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa [The lovers from the Valldemossa monastery] (Krasiński had the original idea, who, which is characteristic, employs in his play, authentic statements of Chopin and George Sand drawn from their correspondence), but can also permit the creation of hypothetical perspectives, namely creating stories, remaining only in the realm of the imagination. Good examples of this are the one-act plays of Marian Hemar, two short pieces written in the 1960s for Radio Free Europe: Umowa [Contract], treating Norwid's Paris visit to Chopin in 1849, and Kosmopolita [Cosmopolitan] - about the political-artistic talks in Vienna of the musical publisher Tobias Haslinger with the Polish composer. The musical Chopin w Ameryce [Chopin in America] according to the idea of Stanisław Dygat and Andrzej Jarecki (directed by Andrzej Strzelecki; Teatr Rampa in Warsaw, 1993; Teatr Collegium Nobilium in Warsaw, 2009) undoubtedly comprise an extreme case in these terms, in which the vision of a trip by Chopin to America in 183218 is carried out in a humorous manner.

Two main themes are used in stage shows - mainly the history of the stormy relationship of Chopin with George Sand, and the history of a Polish-patriot (both themes were developed, among others, in the ballet Trzy kolory. Chopin w Nohant [Three Colours - Chopin in Nohant], in the opening and closing part, evokes events in Nohant, while the middle part - November events, is inseparably associated with longing for the homeland). Marian Hemar's short piece Kosmopolita [Cosmopolitan] brings the picture of a patriot composing the "Revolutionary" Etude, traumatized by virtue of the national uprising. The fates and intricacies of the composer's acquaintance with Aurora Dudevant is "stage" designed in many ways. Successive stages of the relationship are analysed - starting from the first Paris meeting at Marie D'Agoult's salon in October 1836 and later ones resulting therefrom (Zygmunt Sarnecki's play that was never staged, On i ona19 [He and She]), by the trip to Majorca, namely the stay at the villa "Son Vent" and the Valldemosa monastery in 1838 (Iwaszkiewicz's play Lato w Nohant [Summer at Nohant] takes place in the "summer of 184..."20 at George Sand's property and accents the moment of separation). Of course there is no shortage of plays dealing with the entire adult life of the composer (Mateusz Gliński's Tajemnica Chopina [Chopin's secret] is set in the Warsaw salon, in Nohant and in the Paris flat at Place Vendôme), as well as about particular episodes, starting with Chopin as a child (Zaczarowane noce21 [Enchanted Nights] by Mieczysław Lisiewicz; Michał Rusinek's Mały Chopin22 [Little Chopin] in the stage version of Antoni Barłowski and Jerzy Łazewski, Teatr Konsekwentny in Warsaw 2009), to Chopin's last moments in life (Marian Czuchnowski's Fiołki z Warszawy23 [Violets from Warsaw]).

The 200th anniversary celebrations of the composer's birth are bringing additional stage projects and impressive undertakings. The ballet Chopin, elaborated by choreography of the Paris Opera Patrice Bart, with libretto Antoni Libera, is heralded as the most important ballet event of the Chopin Year (premier May 9, 2010, Teatr Wielki in Warsaw). Even though years have passed since the writing of Giacomo Orefice's opera Chopin (Teatro Lirico in Milan, 1901), which the Wrocław Opera will perform this year directed by Laco Adamik, work has also begun on the opera Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa24 [The lovers from the Valldemossa monastery] by Marta Ptaszyńska, directed by Grzegorz Wiśniewski (libretto based on Janusz Krasiński's Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa25, compiled by Jakub Roszkowski). Its world premier is planned for June 12, 2010 at the Teatr Wielki in Łódź. Surely other stage products will arise in the Year of Chopin, inspired by the music and individuality of the composer, after all the "diverse fever" has already seen many productions in 2009: the theater performance Farinella & Chopin directed by Natalia Babińska, combining music, theatre and pantomime (Teatr Collegium Nobilium in Warsaw), the ballet Chopin ambiente (Teatr Tańca Zawirowania in Warsaw), the children's theater (Teatr Konsekwentny in Warsaw); the musical Chopin w Ameryce [Chopin in America] (directed by Andrzej Strzelecki; Teatr Collegium Nobilium in Warsaw) once performed at the Teatr Rampa (1993), the ballet Taneczny Świat Chopina [Dance World of Chopin] (choreography: Romana Agnel, Leszek Rembowski, Villa Decius in Kraków).

The listing and superficial overview of past performances shows absolutely, that the panoramic, exhaustive presentation of Chopin and his music in the theatre is extremely difficult26. Firstly, which is obvious due to the number of theatre, ballet and opera performances (prepared especially in the anniversary years as an "hommage à Chopin", also by virtue of the existence of paratheatrical forms (e.g. the poetic-musical montage of Rozmowy z Chopinem [Conversations with Chopin], performed in 1949 on the stage of the Teatr Stary in Kraków, with Chopin music interpreted by Regina Smendzianka), secondly - by virtue of the existence of many plays about Chopin, which never made it to the stage or even publication (although they comprise a document of the era and particular evidence of shaping the stage image of the composers figure27), thirdly - and most importantly - due to the use of Chopin's music both in the drama theatre and in the music theatre in order to illustrate defined parts and plot sequences or emphasizing the musical background28 for events not directly associated with the composer's personage. Without a doubt in the world at present, it wouldn't be right to evoke the formula "Chopin forbid ..."29. The tangle of various kinds of theatrical performances leads to one fundamental conclusion: also existing in contemporary audiovisual culture, the need for a stage reception of Chopin's music demonstrates the composer's geniousness - a steadfast adherent of pure and utterly non-program music.

Andrzej Hejmej

English translation: Philip Stoeckle

1 George Sand describes Chopin's theatrical initiatives in 1876: "crazy farce-skits, or comedies full of intrigue and affairs, ultimately dramas profuse with events and emotion. Everything started with pantomime and was Chopin's idea" (G. Sand, Le Théâtre des marionnettes de Nohant, [in:] eadem, Oeuvres autobiographiques, ed. G. Lubin, vol. 2, Paris 1971, 1249). See also P. Brunel, "Chopin i Sand. Wokół postaci Don Juana", translated by Z. Naliwajek, Przegląd Humanistyczny 2005, no. 3, 77.

2 A. Rembowska, "Nic nie robię, tylko łażę na teatr", Ruch Muzyczny 1995, no. 21, 16.

3 At the same time there is no doubt, that the opera for Chopin, as pointed out among others by Will Crutchfield, was a valuable source of musical ideas (see W. Crutchfield, "Chopin w operze", Ruch Muzyczny 2007, no. 18/19, 50-54). See also, A. Rembowska: "Nic nie robię, tylko łażę na teatr", Ruch Muzyczny 1995, no. 21, 16-18; no. 22, 12-15; "Chopin i opera", Teatr 1995, no. 10, 9-10; C. Colombati, Fryderyk Chopin i opera włoska, transl. A. Buchner, [in:] Pagine. Polsko-włoskie materiały muzyczne / Argomenti musicali polacco-italiani, ed. M. Bristiger, vol. 4: ed. B. Zwolska, Kraków - Warszawa 1980, 167-179.

4 Stefan Witwicki in a letter to Chopin dated July 6, 1831 (see Niewydane dotychczas pamiątki po Chopinie, compiled by M. Karłowicz, Warszawa 1904, 319). See also Lidwika's letter to Chopin dated November 27, 1831 (ibidem, 83).

5 The printed text contains an erroneous opus number: "One can hear the transcription for a mixed choir of the middle part coming from a distance Nocturne in G minor from Op. 35" (M. Gliński, Tajemnica Chopina. Sztuka w trzech aktach, Warszawa 1975, 123).

6 Descriptions of the most important ones are found in the seven volume encyclopedia: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters. Oper - Operette - Musical - Ballett (ed. C. Dahlhaus, Münich - Zürich 1986-1997). See also, P. Chynowski, "Chopin w choreografii", Taniec 1977, no. 4, 21-24.

7 They include: Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 63 No. 3, Mazurka in D major Op. 33 No. 3, Mazurka in E flat minor Op. 6 No. 4, Mazurka in C major Op. 7 No. 5, Mazurka in A flat major Op. 7 No. 4, Mazurka in C major Op. 24 No. 2, Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 6 No. 2, Mazurka in C major Op. 56 No. 2.

8 The ballet, in which Marcia Haydée played the lead role, was filmed Studio Hamburg in 1986.

9 J. Iwaszkiewicz, Lato w Nohant. Komedia w 3 aktach, Warsaw 1949, 7.

10 J. Krasiński, Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa. Romanca w stylu hiszpańskim w trzech aktach, Warsaw 1980 (also in: Dialog 1974, no. 6, 5-47).

11 Nb. Prelude in A major Op. 28 No. 7 shows up in Marian Gawalewicz's Preludium Szopena. See, idem, Komedye jednoaktowe i monologi, series I, Warsaw 1890, 259-288.

12 Ibidem, 87.

13 S. Fleszarowa-Muskat, Ostatni koncert, Warsaw 1965 (also in: S. Fleszarowa-Muskat, Kochankowie muszą się rozstać. Dialogi, Gdańsk 1975, 351-399).

14 M. Hemar, Kosmopolita. Kartka z pamiętnika Fryderyka Chopina w jednym akcie, wierszem, [in:] idem, "To, co najpiękniejsze", Dialog 1986, no. 9, 17-24 (also in: M. Hemar, To, co najpiękniejsze. Jednoaktówki, Kraków 1992).

15 M. Hemar, Umowa. Jeden akt wierszem, [w:] idem, "To, co najpiękniejsze", op. cit., 32-42 (also in: M. Hemar, To, co najpiękniejsze. Jednoaktówki, Kraków 1992).

16 It should be pointed out, for example, that Irena Poniatowska does not recognise this trend of reception at all (see I. Poniatowska, Historyczne przemiany recepcji Chopina, [in:] Chopin - w poszukiwaniu wspólnego języka, ed. A. Szklener, Warsaw 2001, 37-52). Nevertheless, the disproportions between the literary reception and stage reception were telling, demonstrated by the catalog prepared on the 100th anniversary of Chopin's death (see the listing of stage and film productions Chopin w literaturze: Poezja. Proza. Scena i film [bibliography], compiled by B. E. Sydow, [in:] Almanach chopinowski 1949: Kronika życia. Dzieło. Bibliografia. Literatura. Ikonografia. Varia, compiled by K. Stromenger, B. E. Sydow, ed. W. Rudziński, Warsaw 1949, 155-158).

17 J. Krasiński, Kochankowie z klasztoru Valldemossa. Romanca w stylu hiszpańskim w trzech aktach, op. cit., 5.

18 Otherwise, information conveyed by Ferdynand Hoesick became the impulse for this kind of speculation (Chopin. Życie i twórczość, vol. 2, Kraków 1967, 50-51).

19 Z. Sarnecki, "On i ona. Obrazek sceniczny w I-ym akcie", Echo Muzyczne, Teatralne i Artystyczne 1900 no. 46, 541-542; no. 47, 555-556; no. 48, 571-572; no. 51, 613; no. 52, 621-623.

20 J. Iwaszkiewicz, Lato w Nohant. Komedia w 3 aktach, op. cit., 6.

21 M. Lisiewicz, Zaczarowane noce, [in:] Syrena nad Tamizą, selection and compilation by R. Kowalewska, London 1990.

22 M. Rusinek, Mały Chopin, Kraków 2009.

23 M. Czuchnowski, Fiołki z Warszawy. Sztuka teatralna w trzech aktach, London 1954.

24 The original title - Zima na Majorce - was undoubtedly an intentional allusion to George Sand's book - Un hiver à Majorque (1839).

25 It should be remembered that Janusz Krasiński's play - besides the theatrical production - also has a radio version, performed by the Teatr Polskiego Radia (1973), directed by Andrzej Łapicki, with Andrzej Seweryn playing Chopin.

26 The small number of compilations devoted to this issue should be pointed out. One recent attempt is Małgorzata Komorska's paper Sceniczne wyobrażenia osoby i muzyki Fryderyka Chopina, given at the conference Chopin w kulturze polskiej (Wrocław, 13-14 September 2007). See Chopin w kulturze polskiej, ed. M. Gołąb, Wrocław 2009, 171-191.

27 An extreme example here would be Stanisława Fleszarowa-Muskat's tendency play Chopin i Zuska.

28 Patrice Pavies, among others, proposes typologies of possible cases for using music in the theatre (see Muzyka i teatr; Muzyka sceniczna, [in:] idem, Słownik terminów teatralnych, translated and compiled by S. Świontek, Wrocław - Warsaw - Kraków 1998, 313-315).

29 J. Miketta, "Chopin zabronił...", Ruch Muzyczny 1948, no. 19, 17.




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