Episode 112: Chopin for Cello

Grand Duo Concertante on Themes from Meyerbeer's 'Robert Le Diable'

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Every note that Chopin wrote has a piano part in it. But what was Chopin’s SECOND-favorite instrument?

The cello.

That’s right, the cello. Chopin wrote a Trio for violin, piano, and cello, and his career is bookended by pieces for cello and piano: his Opus 3 Grand Polonaise Brillante, written as a teenager in Warsaw, and his Opus 65 Sonata for cello and piano, Chopin’s last published work. And in the middle: the unusual Grand Duo Concertante, based on themes for the opera that was all the rage when the 21-year old Chopin arrived in Paris: Robert Le Diable by Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Now, why the cello? New York Philharmonic cellist Carter Brey says Chopin was inspired both by the arias onstage…and the players in the opera pit:

"I don’t know if he had any particular affection for the instrument, but what appears more likely…at times of his life he happened to have buddies who played cello really well…case in point is August Franchomme who was one of the leading cellists of the day in Paris, and it was he who inspired the cello writing."

So how does Chopin fare on the fingerboard?

"I have to say he had good feel for the instrument’s capabilities and even though he didn’t approach it as a player, he understood what it was good for and good at, so the writing, I’d have to say, is pretty idiomatic."

Pianist Christopher O’Riley, Carter Brey’s recital partner, also likes the sound of Chopin for Cello:

"I do like to think of the cello as the closest instrument to the human voice itself and again, that calls up Chopin’s passion for opera and for the human voice," O'Riley says. "And so I think, yeah, it’s idiomatic, but it’s also idiomatic in terms of absolute pure, vocal, lyric expression." - Benjamin K. Roe

Radio Chopin Episode 112: Chopin for Cello



Grand Duo Concertante on Themes from Meyerbeer's 'Robert Le Diable'