Brian Ganz

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Musical Gardening: Listening to the Growth of Genius

Frédéric Chopin reached creative maturity before the age of twenty; hardly anything he composed after that age was less than masterful. In fact, his level of consistency was unusually high even among composers whose genius equaled his own. Imagine a major league baseball player with a batting average of about .850, towering over other all-stars. That was Chopin among composers, writing masterpiece after masterpiece after the age of twenty. 

However, Chopin did of course undergo a period of maturation and development as a composer before he reached twenty. In my journey through Chopin's complete works, I will play every single note he composed, and this includes all the works he composed along the way to artistic maturity. I like to present these works in a paradigm I call "musical gardening," the musical equivalent of time lapse photography. 

Chopin's early works contain the seeds of his genius, and as he grew and matured, the flashes of genius that sprouted from those seeds increased with every work. This development of his compositional mastery is easiest to track when heard within works of the same genre. So in each episode of "musical gardening," I take one genre, say the waltz or the mazurka, and play one or more examples from Chopin's earliest years, perhaps one or two more from subsequent years as he grew in compositional skill, and finally, I play one example that demonstrates his genius in the fullest bloom of artistic maturity. 

Sometimes I point out a few of those seeds of genius in the early works--perhaps an example of a precocious chord progression, or some other example of harmonic or rhythmic sophistication. Or, I might demonstrate the young Chopin's embrace of beautiful dissonance, or growing mastery of chromatic techniques. In any case, I try to show how each successive work takes him closer to his true voice. 

With the title "Chopin: A Young Genius," my February 18 recital at the Music Center at Strathmore offers an excellent opportunity for musical gardening, and indeed I will offer two episodes, one for each of the two Polish dances Chopin composed--the polonaise and the mazurka. I'll begin with a polonaise Chopin composed at the age of 11, continue with one composed a few years later, and finish with the first polonaise he chose to publish, the C-sharp minor, Op. 26, No. 1. I'll do something similar with mazurkas, and will also finish with the first mazurka he chose to publish, the F-sharp minor, Op. 6, No. 1. 

In musical gardening, we go beyond merely enjoying the charm, energy and loveliness of Chopin's early works; we also follow with fascination as they chart a path in Chopin's development from high promise to full artistic genius. I hope you will join me on February 18 for a program featuring musical gardening and more, including such masterpieces as the 3 Nocturnes, Op. 9 and the 12 Etudes, Op. 10. A garden of resplendent beauty, indeed!