In his art at its finest, Chopin represents the marriage of public and private, areconciliation of extrovert and introspective. Often, in both solo compositions and concerted works, contemplative pages balance and bank the fires of virtuosity, and this potent amalgam helped make the composer into society’s darling and a favored pianist of the Parisian tout le monde. With a gift to not just create stylistic polarities but effortlessly to meld them – technical extravaganzas can have moments of pathos, and inward-looking works are rarely lacking in panache – he was not merely poet or showman, but both of these at once.
Chopin’s breakthrough work, his passport from the provinces to Paris, was the Piano Concerto No. 1, in E minor (1828). Its idyllic slow movement shines with lyrical ardor, with sentiments to be later explored in the Nocturnes and other miniatures, and its finale is a rousing krakowiak, but the first movement pushes boundaries. Opening with an assertive orchestral introduction of symphonic sweep, it forsakes conventional sonata form with its customary expectations for a more idiosyncratic scenario that reveals itself gradually, incrementally, over time.
If the movement’s plan was in some ways experimental (for more, see Chopin, Jim Samson, p. 49, Oxford University Press, 1996), Tovey, ever astute, called it “suicidal” (Donald Francis Tovey, Essays in Musical Criticism, vol. 3, p. 103, Oxford University Press, London, 1936), and though his observation has merit, we are struck less by the movement’s blemishes than by “the beauties of (its) individual moments… for particular felicities of melody, harmony, and texture which we identify retrospectively as Chopinesque…”