Rudy Apffel, piano
Variations and Adaptations for
Polkas, Tangos, Marches, Czardas, Hora...
Chopin’s piano music is a staple of ballet class accompaniment given the unique beauty of his melodic and harmonic writing and, not incidentally for an accompanist, the dance topics and four-square structures. On a deeper historical level early 19th century European Music and Ballet were developing along a trajectory of mutual, related and reciprocal inspirations; but, more to the point: of Chopin's waltzes, mazurkas, nocturnes, rondos, polonaises, most are ready-made for class, and the only hesitation you might have about adding a particular piece to your repertory is on the grounds of its over-familiarity.
More than any other of Chopin’s piano music the mazurkas seem to me “character pieces” in the 19th century Romantic sense. Generally the 19th Century “charakterstuck” is a piano piece with a program: perhaps a story, or a place, or a person. The term also implies a type of treatment not applied to absolute music: stylization, “in the manner of.” That said, classical ballet, for me, provides the most exact analogy to describe Chopin’s mazurkas: “character dance.” The mazurkas are to the rest of Chopin’s music what character dance is to classical ballet.
As I noted in my introduction to “Czerny for Ballet Class” my regular practice assembling class repertory has been to make different versions of a piece by manipulating its meter, or rhythm, or tempo, or all three. When I began adding Chopin’s mazurkas to my repertory I routinely made duple-time versions of them, and I quickly discovered that there's a special personality to the melodies and harmonies of the mazurkas. I can’t name it with precision (I'm no musicologist), but that personality seems to me not just “folk,” but specifically Eastern European, and even, in some of the dances, Middle Eastern. Going beyond merely sculpting Chopin’s 3/4 bar into 2/4 or 4/4 I found I could nudge the melodies and rhythms into territory far removed from 1840’s Paris, and even from Poland. Over the years I treated 21 of Chopin’s mazurkas to this “nudging,” and I present them in this album, fully aware that all the rest of the 51 can be similarly treated, and fully aware that there are many more sorts of dances each of my 21 might be nudged into.
I’ve named some of my arrangements of Chopin’s mazurkas “folksongs” and “walking songs.” That comes from a very subjective take I have on those mazurkas: some of them have melodies and harmonies that seem folk-like to me, and the others have a relaxed amiability that suggests a cheerful walk.
I’ve included in this collection three czardases (tracks 17, 22, 26). With its contrasting lassan (slow) and friska (fast) the czardas is the quintessential character dance. But because of the tempo change the czardas is unsuitable for ballet class, where combinations are in only one tempo (sometimes repeated faster, but never with the abrupt and extreme change from moody lassan to manic friska). I include these tracks as examples of what you might do if a teacher/choreographer suddenly asks you, "Can you give me a czardas?" ("Why, yes I can.") And we can always un-couple the lassan and the friska and get separate pieces, which is what makes Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies such a rich mine of short pieces for ballet class. Tracks 24, 25, 26 illustrate such an approach to a czardas.
Organization and Index
As explained in my general introduction to these Variations and Adaptations it was after a few years of working as a full-time ballet accompanist and steadily adding to my class repertory that I found it most useful to organize my music into three sorts: Adagio, 3/4 and 2/4, and to subdivide those sorts into three sub-sorts: Short, Long and Extended.
All my Chopin Mazurka variations are in 2/4 and sub-sorting them into “Short” and “Long” isn’t very useful, but identifying some as “Extended” is. When I designate a 2/4 as “Extended” I mean that it's suitable for centre, being at least 16 sets of 8, a length which allows for multiple groups moving across the floor one after the other, and about two minutes or longer.
As to tempo, with my polka as the median (the quarter @ 120 or so): my polka schnell, krakowiak and hora are faster, and my tango, “walking song” and “folksong” are slower.
The playlist of this album is ordered by Chopin’s opus numbers, but I provide an index ordering the pieces from slow to fast and by dance type (“tango,” polka,” “folksong,” etc) with a note on their character and length and a link to the piano score in pdf. Concerning those piano scores: as mentioned in my introduction to this library I provide no tempo, dynamic or expression markings in them; my recorded performance is an ad hoc indication of tempo, dynamic and expression for each arrangement.
Index by Topic
(click on title for link to pdf score)
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