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Frédéric François Chopin

Frédéric François Chopin Composer

Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op.22

Performances: 83
Tracks: 108
  • Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op.22
    Key: Eb
    Year: 1830-35
    Genre: Concerto
    Pr. Instrument: Piano
    • 1.Andante spianato
    • 2.Grande Polonaise
The headnote and dating of this work may seem a bit confusing until one understands the background of this piece. In the winter of 1830-1831, while in Vienna, Chopin wrote the Grand Polonaise for piano and orchestra, affixing to it the opus number of 22. Later he composed the Andante spianato and grafted it onto the Grand Polonaise to serve as an introduction, thereby forging a new, expanded work, also designated Op. 22. In the process he fashioned versions of the work for both piano solo and for piano and orchestra. This effort, incidentally, marked the last time that Chopin composed anything for orchestra.

The solo version begins with a lovely theme in the upper register, clearly of a Romantic bent. Like many of the composer's creations, there is something sad in its beauty, which to some will always represent the exiled Chopin's homesickness for his country and family. A consoling, mellow theme is next heard and after recalling some of the main material, this section ends quietly. The unusual (for music) word "spianato" means "level" or "smoothed," and these concepts give an idea of the music's tone.

The Grand Polonaise begins with a fanfare and then launches into one of the composer's more attractive dance themes. It is light and delicate, joyful and aristocratic, and full of the color and subtlety one associates with so many of Chopin's polonaises. Upon restatement, the theme is given more ornamentation and glitter. In its middle section the mood turns playful at the outset, but then becomes more intimate and subdued while retaining its dance-like character. Some passages here resemble parts of the first movement of the composer's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1830). The main theme returns and the piece concludes with a brilliant coda, parts of which, once again, look back to the First Concerto, this time to its magical last-movement coda.

In the piano-orchestral version the piece begins the same way; the introduction, in fact, remains strictly for piano solo. The differences are noticed when the polonaise section starts, for here the orchestra delivers the introductory music, after which the piano takes up the dance theme. There is minimal accompaniment from the orchestra here and throughout, but some may prefer this version precisely because of Chopin's sparing use of the various instrumental sections.

The ending in the orchestral version is more brilliant and dramatic, but many will favor the piano solo rendition for its greater fluidity and less extroverted nature. One might observe that in the orchestral version the pianist is freed up to impart a greater sense of keyboard color; and indeed, its mood is a bit more playful. Essentially, however, one hears much the same music, since the piano is so utterly dominant throughout the orchestral version.

Both renditions are the same in duration, about 15 minutes each in a typical performance, with the Andante spianato section comprising about one third of the overall length.

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