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Chopin began working on his Polonaise in E-flat Major in Warsaw in September 1830, and finished it in Vienna in the following year. The solo introduction – Andante spianato – was composed in Paris, most probably at the end of 1834 and the beginning of 1835. It was Chopin’s final composition for piano and orchestra, with the latter playing a secondary role to such an extent that the piece is often performed in a solo version. The nocturnal prelude (the Italian spianato means evenly, smoothly and calmly) contrasts greatly with the daring and triumphant polonaise.
Debussy penned his First (and only) Rhapsody for clarinet and piano at the end of 1909 and beginning of 1910 as an entry in a clarinet competition held at the Paris Conservatoire. Later, in the summer of 1911, he wrote an orchestral version of the piece. A very brief work – around eight minutes long – the Rhapsody soon gained popularity among clarinetists. The piece, technically quite demanding, attracts attention mainly with its sonic aura and diverse timbral and dynamic shades.
Stravinsky composed his music and ballet piece – The Soldier’s Tale – in 1918. The libretto, loosely based on Russian folk legends, recounts the story of a young soldier, who gives his violin to the devil in exchange for a book that will bring him endless fortune. Soon after its world premiere, Stravinsky arranged the ballet into a five-piece suite for clarinet, violin and piano, where the influences of jazz and popular music can be heard alongside humorous or even grotesque elements.
Debussy’s last completed piece, the three-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano, was written in 1916–1917. Although nuances of colour – a core theme of Impressionism – still come to the fore in this work, the composer also pays attention to non-timbral elements to a much greater extent than in his earlier works. Béla Bartók wrote his Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano in 1938. It was commissioned by the famous jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, who in turn was persuaded to order the piece by his friend, the composer and outstanding Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti. Influences of folk music – Hungarian, but also Romanian and Bulgarian – can clearly be heard in Contrasts, although it does not feature any direct quotes from folklore. The subsequent movements are Verbunkos (a folk Hungarian dance), a nocturnal interlude Pihenö (Rest) and the fast dance Sebes.