“It was the fashion of the time to always wear white gloves with evening dress, and his manner of taking them off, after seating himself at the piano, was often a very amusing spectacle. His deliberation, his perfect indifference to the waiting audience was thoroughly manifest, as he slowly drew them off one finger at a time, bowing and smiling meanwhile to the familiar faces in the front rows. Finally disposing of them, he would manipulate his hands until they were quite limber, then preludize until his mood prompted him to begin his selection on the programme.”
I left my white gloves home yesterday, which is just as well, as we were running behind on time and I needn't have wasted five minutes with those silly gloves. It might have been amusing, though...
Yesterday was the first of five lecture recitals in the series I'm giving for OLLI/UPITT. The subject is composers of various times and places making music in difficult conditions. Chopin was on the first half, and Gottschalk on the second. Chopin left his native Poland at 20, not realizing he would never return. A political uprising which was crushed by Russia, resulting in the basic non-existence of an independent Poland for yet another episode in their sad history, made it difficult for him to return, so he made a life in Paris among the Polish community there, living in exile, and writing music in a pianistic style all his own. He redefined national Polish dances, recreated old genres, and fostered some new ones, such as the Ballade, of which he wrote four.
There really were no rules for the Ballade: even the world, which suggests both "ballata" (a dance) and the Medieval Ballad (or narrative romance) hadn't been used as the title of a piano composition before, to say nothing of the rules of the form. In Chopin's hands, each is an adventure, the end a mystery until it unfolds before us. Four fascinating musical journeys, which pianists treat as the gold standard of their repertoire. These I played on the first half of our session.
After the intermission it was time to meet Mr. Gottschalk, of whom I have written several blogs, and recorded some of his music. Gottschalk had an interesting life, which I wanted to explore at least as much as the music. Touring on three continents before the age of air travel, assembling mass concerts with up to a thousand performers, a Southerner touring the northern United States during the Civil War, a pioneer in so many respects, introducing America to its own music and to the relatively newfangled idea of the piano recital, all while entertaining the troops, wearing out the rail lines, and trying not to get him and his pianos shot, or captured (by his own people). What a life! And he only lived to be 40.
Next week we'll be in 20th century Russia, meeting Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
There's more about Chopin and Gottschalk on the homepage this week at pianonoise.com. Also, the final days to listen to music for the concert at Trinity Cathedral before I post some Scary Organ Music for Halloween!