Episode 89: Great Chopinists: Alfred Cortot

Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat, Op. 29

rc-cortot-200Even the short list of pianist Alfred Cortot’s accomplishments is impressive: He’s the man who introduced Wagner to the French, formed the original “power trio” with cellist Pablo Casals and violinist Jacques Thibaud, and taught a generation of great pianists at the Paris Conservatory.

But all that pales in comparison to Alfred Cortot’s enduring legacy: As the original Great Chopinist.

Alfred Cortot was born in Switzerland in 1877 and studied piano with Emile Descombes, a former student of Chopin himself. Which made Cortot a performer, scholar, and advocate of Fryderyk Chopin right up until his death in 1962. Cortot edited and published new versions of Chopin’s scores, and authored a demystifing book called In Search of Chopin.

Cortot’s gift was to combine pianistic technique with unabashed poetic interpretation. His Chopin editions of the Preludes, for example, contain such evocative titles as "Homesickness" for No. 6 and "Blood, Passion and Death." for 24.

Cortot believed in such imagery, he said, for "the possibility of grasping more surely . . . the eloquent or sensitive expression of emotion, the understanding of picturesque details, the creation of the real atmosphere proper to the works."

Thanks to digital remastering, Alfred Cortot’s recordings of Chopin – even as far back as the 1920s and 30s - are still revelatory..both for the insight – AND for their occasional wrong notes. Despite the inaccuracies, Gramophone magazine said, in Alfred Cortot’s hands, “Chopin's elusive essence emerges unscathed.” - Frank Dominguez

Radio Chopin Episode 89: Great Chopinists: Alfred Cortot

Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat, Op. 29