Thursday 24 May 2018

He may sound French but Chopin's heart lies in Poland

Back in the 16th Century, Poland was the largest country in Europe. Russia has that title now, but Poland's influence remains considerable. Polish is the most spoken foreign language in Ireland.

The world of music owes a considerable debt of gratitude to Poland. The greatest of pianists was a Pole. Despite the French surname, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was Polish through and through. His father was a schoolteacher from near Nancy in eastern France, who had moved to Warsaw and married a local lady.

The younger Chopin was exiled to Paris when the Russians took over back home. He was a top performer and he wrote some of the finest music for the instrument. But you've only to consider that to realise how close Poland remained to his heart.

Polish dance music is central to much of what he composed. And when he died, though his body was buried in Paris, his heart was taken to Warsaw where it's kept in the Church of the Holy Cross.

Henryk Wieniawski was a virtuoso violinist of the later 1800s. He loved composing but it had to take a back seat to touring with his brother Joseph, who was a pianist and his accompanist.

What he did come up with has stayed in the repertoire. There are his two concertos, and the Scherzo-tarantelle. His charming and much less flamboyant Légende, a Romantic masterpiece, was the tune that convinced his future upper class in-laws to let their daughter marry him!

Poland also boasts a musician who's surely one of a kind. I can't think of any other country that's had a classical composer as its prime minister.

Ignacy Paderewski, also renowned as a pianist, took up the reins of government at the end of World War One. In the new Polish republic, it was his status as a concert star that earned him the call to lead a cabinet.

Paderewski's political career didn't last. Music was his first love. His legacy there is not insubstantial, though he's mostly remembered for a witty little 'Minuet in G'.

The violinist Nigel Kennedy, with a Polish wife and a home in the country, has among his albums Polish Spirit, celebrating two lesser-known champions of the Romantic movement, Emil Mlynarski and Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, whose contributions are full of dynamism and energy.

Henryk Górecki died just 18 months ago. His Third Symphony -- also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs -- has become one of the great classics, its three slow movements featuring haunting soprano over melancholic strings creating a powerful piece that could be perfectly described as mood music.

RTÉ lyric fm features The Hamilton Scores from 9.30 each Saturday morning, and George Hamilton's Full Score on Sundays at 3.00pm.

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