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    Excerpts from the Diary of a Concert Pianist
by Michael Sellers

Part 2
Chopin & Poland
 
 
 

     Marie Wolfram, my first piano teacher, started it all! She gave me Chopin's “Militaire Polonaise” to play in one of my first piano recitals. It greatly stimulated my imagination and awakened my interest, not only in the piano and Chopin, but also in Poland. I listened to every Chopin recording I could get my hands on and started to read about Poland and its history, a habit I have continued to the present.
     I had always dreamed of going to Poland, and here I was, approaching the Polish frontier from Slovakia en route to my first concert tour of Poland on a blistering cold and snowy November night last year. In spite of the fact that traveling to Poland by train in the middle of the night has sinister connotations, I was nevertheless, eager and excited.
     It is one experience to read about Chopin, even read his letters (which I had recently done) and to study and perform his music over a lifetime (which I have done), but it is a totally different experience to visit Chopin's country of birth, trace his steps, breathe the air he breathed, see first hand what he saw and what had inspired him. Not only visiting Poland but also playing concerts there was for me, the fulfillment of a lifelong goal and ambition come true.
     To properly appreciate Chopin, one has to understand the symbiotic relationship between Chopin and Poland. Chopin's eternal love for his native country is reflected in all of his music, but particularly in his polonaises and mazurkas. When he left Poland as a young man, he brought with him an urn of Polish soil which he kept for the rest of his life. It was buried with him.
     My concerts in Poland coincided with the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death. At Skierniewice I played at the home of Constancia Gladkowska, who was a wonderful singer, one of Chopin's first loves and the inspiration for the sublimely beautiful and musically innovative Larghetto of his F Minor Concerto.

 

     Her wood framed home is an historical landmark, charming and quaint. It dates back to the early 19th century.  Constancia had dumped Chopin because she felt he would not make a suitable husband or father and would be too involved with his work. The sponsors of the concert had asked me to play some Gershwin as an encore and I couldn't resist playing “Our Love is Here To Stay”.
     The day after the Skierniewice recital, my sponsors took me to the home where Chopin was born in Zelazowa Wola. It was a cloudy, cold day. There are many different kinds of trees from all over the world on the large property which is 60 miles from Warsaw. The area is flat farmland and has the feel today of the early 19th century when Chopin lived there. His two-storied house, decorated and furnished in the style of the early 19th century, is large and spacious. My sponsors and I had the house to ourselves for 1 1/2 hours. They asked me to play and I gave them a private Chopin recital on a lovely Steinway just a few feet from the very spot where Chopin was born. I was transported through time and space to a special union with Chopin, Poland and the countryside which had inspired his mazurkas, particularly the type known as mazurek.
     Chopin is revered in Poland as one of its greatest heroes. To Poles, the music of Chopin IS Poland, and their Poland comes truly alive in his music. The last music heard on the radio before the Nazis bombed Warsaw in 1939 was by Chopin. It is a paradox that Chopin expresses the heart and soul of Poland at its greatest without ever losing its universal appeal.

This is the second in a three-part series about Michael Seller's experiences while on a recent European tour.

Reprinted with permission of Piano Forte, Vol. 3, no. 4

 
 
 

Part 1

 
 

 

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Copyright 2006-2008 by Michael Sellers