Episode 163: Fryderyk Posthumous Chopin

Polonaise in B-flat minor, 'Adieu à Guillaume Kolberg'

Chopin's last momentsIn his final hours Chopin requested, “Destroy…pieces not worthy of me.” He asked his sister to burn all his inferior compositions; “I owe it to the public”, he said, “and to myself to publish only good things: I kept to this my whole life, and I wish to keep to it now.”

Even on his deathbed, Chopin was a perfectionist; he wanted only three mazurkas out of his reams of unpublished manuscripts to be printed. Human nature, however, was less so: No fewer than thirty-five Chopin pieces emerged after his death.

The posthumous works serve as scenes from points in Chopin’s life. His student works paint a portrait of the artist as a young man. In particular, a set of polonaises demonstrates just how rapidly Chopin transformed from a gifted student into the Poet of the Piano.

Eight years stand between Chopin’s first Polonaise and his Polonaise in B-flat minor, composed when he was 16. In that short span, you can hear signature sounds of the mature Chopin emerge. The first Polonaise in the set is…okay, a bit dippy, but charming and full of promise. This fifth is smartly elegiac music…with a bonus backstory.

Chopin had just graduated, the story goes, and celebrated with his schoolmate Wilhelm Kolberg, by attending a performance of Rossini's opera, La Gazza Ladra. With their school days behind them, Chopin presented Wilhelm with this Polonaise in Bb, in which he inscribed "Adieu å Guillaume Kolberg,” and quoted an aria from Rossini’s opera.

An emotional, “Au revoir!” is written in Chopin’s hand across this manuscript - and discovered by the rest of the world only after the composer’s final farewell. - Jennifer Foster


Radio Chopin Episode 163: Fryderyk Posthumous Chopin

Polonaise in B-flat minor,  'Adieu à Guillaume Kolberg'