Sure, March 1 marks the birthday of Fryderyk Chopin, known universally as the “Poet of the Piano.”
But perhaps we should also called him the “Voice of the Violin.” Chopin’s first teacher was actually a violinist: Adalbert Zywny, who imparted to the boy both a lifelong love of Bach – and, in the word of biographer Derek Melville, “was able to encourage Fryderyk’s phenomenal technical ability…much more successfully than a hidebound stereotyped piano teacher.”
A visit by Niccolo Paganini to Warsaw when Chopin was a teenager triggered both this early work, the Souvenir de Paganini, as well as Chopin’s estimation that “Paganini is Perfection” – the gold standard against which virtuoso pianists should be measured.”
In the early twentieth-century, the favor started being returned by first-rank fiddlers, many of whom started arranging Chopin’s music – particularly his Nocturnes – for violin and piano. Leopold Auer, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Ruggerio Ricci, even Pablo de Sarasate made ‘em – and played ‘em. In her book The Great Violinists, author Margaret Campbell writes, “Milstein and Ricci once took the same train together on a long journey and entertained each other by playing all the Chopin Etudes, which they both knew from memory.”
“Indeed,” says one violin scholar, “The violin, with its intrinsic, melodic legato-qualities, matches Chopin’s lyricisms so perfectly that one is tempted to say the Nocturnes are even more wonderful on the violin.” And even in our time, no less a virtuoso than Joshua Bell has brought an entire orchestra along to play a Chopin nocturne as Fryderyk never heard it…but perhaps imagined all along.”
So we’ll say “Happy Birthday” to Chopin the violinist’s way – with this spine-chilling performance by Ji-Won Song, and Hui-Chuan Chen, onstage in Francis Auditorium!