A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Mar 10, 2010
03:00 PM

Celebrating Chopin

Celebrating Chopin

As a child learning to play the piano, Christopher Taylor developed an early appreciation for the music of Frédéric Chopin. Once, he even snuck out of bed in the middle of the night to go listen to Chopin’s mazurkas.

“I was very taken with them,” Taylor says of the lively Polish dance songs. “I would spend hours listening to them.”

Now, as an associate professor of piano in the UW School of Music, Taylor knows better than ever the importance of the nineteenth-century composer best known for his Romantic works. Chopin contributed to the evolution of piano technique and creative use of the instrument, he says. “As a pianist, you can’t exactly avoid Chopin,” he adds.

Taylor focuses on the Polish composer in a Faculty Concert Series performance this Friday to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth. “It seemed natural,” Taylor says of the concert’s theme. “You have to pay some sort of homage to Chopin this year,” he says.

Key works in the concert are “Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor” and “Sonata No. 3 in B minor,” two of three sonatas Chopin wrote. Taylor’s been playing the second sonata since he was in high school, and he recently learned the third.

Taylor considered limiting the concert to works only by Chopin but decided to offer contrast. He’s featuring pieces that came before and after: Beethoven’s “Variations, Op. 34” and “Van Gogh Nocturnes” by Laura Schwendinger, an associate professor of composition at UW.

Beethoven helped expand opportunities for artistic freedom that Chopin enjoyed, says Taylor. “I thought a 'Variations' set would provide a side of Beethoven that foreshadowed Chopin,” he says. Meanwhile, Schwendinger’s “Van Gogh Nocturnes” is a rich, lyrical piece that provides a modern, slightly distorted take on Chopin, Taylor says.

Taylor looks forward to showing the lyrical side of Chopin’s style, as well as revealing his own approach to his music. The composer’s work is open to artistic interpretation, partly because he was inconsistent with his notation.

“It’s impossible with Chopin to be a complete slave to what’s on the page,” he says. “He leaves open so much for the interpreter in terms of timing and pedaling and the ups and downs of volume.”

What’s more, playing the composer’s music serves as a tribute to this important figure in music history, particularly that of the piano.

As Taylor says, “You can’t play this instrument if you can’t play Chopin.”

Taylor’s Faculty Concert Series performance is March 12 at 8 p.m. at Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Admission is free. For more information, call 263.9485 or visit music.wisc.edu.

Photo courtesy of the UW School of Music.

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As managing editor at Madison Magazine, I'm also an unabashed arts enthusiast. Paintings, plays, music, movies—I'm intrigued by all forms of creative expression. I enjoy talking with artists and sharing their insights, challenges, inspirations and latest endeavors. Check in regularly for details on events, previews and reviews, artist interviews and more! 

– Katie Vaughn
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