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Episode 43: Chopin's 'Hat-Doffing' Variations

Variations on 'La ci darem la mano' in B-flat, Op. 2

rc-hatsoff-200"Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!" Says who?

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni included the duet “La ci darem la mano” – inspiring a set of piano and orchestra variations by a 19-year-old Chopin. He performed the work at the Imperial Opera House of Vienna in August of 1829.

Two years later, in the December 7th, 1831 edition of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig’s music journal, Chopin’s Opus 2 prompted Robert Schumann’s famous line “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!”

But by the time the review appeared in print, Chopin had already written two piano concertos, many mazurkas, etudes and nocturnes, and was an up-and-coming composer. Schumann, on the other hand, was younger than Chopin, had published only 2 works for piano, and this review was his first piece of music criticism.

The review was so unorthodox – describing an imaginary conversation between Schumann and his two alter-egos, Florestan & Eusebius – that the Musikalische Zeitung saw fit to include a disclaimer before the review, and to follow it with a more traditional, old-school critique of the piece’s shortcomings.

Schumann did think Chopin was a genius, and continued to write rave reviews, helping to introduce him to a wider, German audience. But it was that first, odd review that stuck. So the hats… remain off. - Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr

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Radio Chopin Episode 43: Chopin's Hat-Doffing Variations

Variations on 'La ci darem la mano' in B-flat Major, Op. 2

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