Ivan Moravec Plays Chopin

Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (1930-2015)
Czech pianist Ivan Moravec (1930-2015)

 

The legendary Czech pianist Ivan Moravec passed away on Monday at the age of 84. He was widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of the music of Chopin. Mozart and Debussy were also high points of his repertoire. Born in Prague, and initially limited by the constraints of the Iron Curtain, Moravec first became known in the West through his recordings.

Listening to Moravec’s extensive discography, it’s easy to get a sense of the stunning, expressive beauty of his sound. His musicianship transcended flashy showmanship, transporting listeners to a deeper and more primal dimension. In a 1980 New York Times review, Harold C. Schonberg described Moravec’s playing this way:

Using an exceptionally warm sound, he played with a perpetually singing line. There was an architecture to the playing. This was an absorbing recital, played by a pianist who is very much his own man, with a degree of intensity, poetry and tonal subtlety very rare in these days of machine gun piano playing.

Here is Ivan Moravec’s recording of Chopin’s haunting Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52:

Now let’s hear two excerpts from Chopin’s Op. 25 Études. Robert Schumann referred to the Étude No. 1 in A-Flat Major as the “Aeolian Harp,” describing it as “a poem rather than a study.” It’s impossible to sustain a note on the piano. Once the hammer strikes the string, the sound begins to decay. But somehow the colorful splashes of sound in the arpeggiated accompaniment in this piece almost seems to defy this reality:

Étude No. 7 in C-Sharp Minor takes us into dark, melancholy territory. At the same time, it’s filled with moments of restless transcendence…tremendous drama packed into a small space where every note and chord counts. The main melodic line lies in a deep, sombre register of the piano, suggesting the cello.

The music is harmonically adventurous, with surprises around every corner. It must have sounded even more shocking to audiences in 1834 when it was written. There are hints of the late nineteenth century chromaticism of Richard Wagner.

Additional Listening

Europe’s Age-Old Bells

The Christmas season presents an excellent opportunity to sample the awe-inspiring sounds of church bells throughout Europe. This age-old tradition dates back as far as 400 AD. Each cathedral and city seems to have its own unique bell sound. Learn about the history of bell ringing here and for further listening, go to this episode of Karl Haas’s Adventures in Good Music.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Cologne[/typography]

Let’s start with eight of the eleven mighty bells of Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Four of the bells were cast and installed in the 1400s. The 24 ton St. Petersglocke is the largest free swinging bell in the world. Listen to the deep, rich sound which is slowly built up as new bells begin to ring. Around 1:56 you can hear what I’m guessing is the enormous St. Petersglocke:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Fulda[/typography]

Now we’ll go to the German city of Fulda. This clip begins with a single bell ringing and ends with the sound of all ten bells of the Fulda Cathedral:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Antwerp[/typography]

Here are the bells of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium. This Gothic cathedral was consecrated in 1521:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Prague[/typography]

…and here are the deep tones of the bells of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Listen to the amazing sound of the larger, lower bells which gradually begin to ring:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Florence[/typography]

Now, let’s go to Italy to hear the seven bells of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, which dominates the city skyline, was completed in 1461. Exceeding the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, it was a great engineering feat as well as a powerful architectural statement:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]England’s Unique Sound[/typography]

Come back tomorrow and hear a completely different style of bell ringing from England, known as change ringing.