The Music Column

Homeland, Homesick, Homework

In 1836, Robert Schumann told the composer who had dropped by that his favorite of Chopin’s compositions was the Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, and the composer agreed with his judgment.  Anton Rubinstein thought that everything to be revered in music died with Chopin in 1849, and for this declaration, he has been condemned as a “reactionary.”  Sergei Rachmaninoff declared that the Chopin Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, had everything in only 19 minutes, and his hair-raising performance of 1929 is an indispensable statement, rivaled perhaps by the recording of Alfred Cortot from the same period.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to live without either; and there are numerous recordings made in the last few decades worthy of a listen, beginning with that of Ivo Pogorelic.

But Percy Grainger thought that the B minor Sonata, Op. 58, was the greatest sonata ever written by anyone, and he recorded it in that spirit.  Claudio Arrau thought that Chopin’s greatest works were the nocturnes.  I daresay that other sets of Chopin’s devising could be claimed as his best works, the mazurkas most certainly, because of their charm, their mystery, their daring, their passion and proliferation—a lifelong or, should I say, life-short obsession of the composer.  Other sets we would dismiss, the waltzes being one, except when they are played as they were by Cortot or Dinu Lipatti.  The...

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