Chopin 200: Books by Lavinia Coman and Carmen Manea


book          On the occasion of celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of the great Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin, the entire world of musical institutions organised cultural activities, symposiums, scientific sessions, anniversary concerts or competitions. This important event also presented a good opportunity to issue new research, studies, analysis and monographs dedicated to the “Poet of the piano”, to complete or provide a deeper approach to certain aspects and details of this artist’s life.
           Included amongst others, are two volumes that were issued around march 1st, the composer’s birthday: Frédéric Chopin signed by Lavinia Coman (Bucharest, Didactic and Pedagogical Publishing House) and At the piano with Frédéric Chopin, by Carmen Manea, published by Bucharest National Music University.
            The first volume, Frédéric Chopin by Lavinia Coman, which is dedicated both to professionals as well as to common music lovers, looks over the composer’s life and creations.
           The author focuses on Chopin’s dramatic existence, stressing his feelings and the great love stories and ideals that inspired him. The volume continues with a commented index of Chopin’s musical work, listing the Concertos, the Rondos, the Polonaises, the Mazurkas, the Etudes, the Preludes, the Impromptus, the Waltzes, the Sonatas, the Ballads, the Scherzos, the Nocturnes and all other single works of this artist, works that have permanently and unarguably marked the piano Romantic style. The volume closes with several conclusions referring to the esthetic of Chopin’s works and the composer’s contribution to the development of musical art. “I wish that music lovers of any age, profession or education level should find, after having read this book, answers to their personal questions and doubts but also dare to ask new questions. That is because the art of loving is conditioned by the capacity of understanding things.”

book           The second volume, At the piano with Frédéric Chopin, signed by Carmen Manea, is an extremely serious research, dedicated mainly to professional musicians who will find here a thorough and very well organised biography of the composer, the author having gotten information right from the source, as she has travelled to Poland for research and documentation. The book continues with a profound analysis of some of this artist’s work, looking at each of the pieces in every detail. The sonatas, the concerts and some of Chopin’s most popular works: the Fantaisie-Impromptu în C sharp minor op. 66, the Prelude in C sharp minor op. 45, the Berceuse in D-flat major op. 57, the Fantaisie in F- minor op. 49 and the Barcarole in F sharp major op. 60 are dealt with each with their own separate chapter. At the end of this book, the author discusses the influence of Chopin’s music in the universal musical culture but also in Romanian musical culture, offering very well chosen examples. As a matter of fact, Carmen Manea closes a cycle with this book, a real trilogy, as she is the author of two other issues, The Aspiration to Plenitude in Chopin’s Musical Oeuvre and The Eternal Chopin, both published at U.N.M.B., where she reviews all the other masterpieces of the Polish composer. Carmen Manea has undertaken a complete research on the life and work of Frédéric Chopin, which has become the most important and complete source of documentation on Chopin in Romanian musicology.


Anamaria Călin



A Different Chopin in Carmen Manea’s View

          There are people who open up and change other minds. There are changes and minds that influence ages. There are people for whom the essence of truth is freedom and for whom happiness equals inner plenitude. There are people, or so it seems to us, who cannot die or who, by dying, leave us with a mark of their immortality. Such a man, unhampered by life’s tragedy and deeply marked by the myth of the perfection of creation, was the French composer Frédéric Chopin.” (p. 298 in Aspiraţia plenitudinii în creaţia chopiniană / The Aspiration to Plenitude in Chopin’s Musical Oeuvre, written by Carmen Manea and published by Editura Universităţii Naţionale de Muzică, Bucharest, in 2006). This quote of exquisite sensibility concisely portrays the Romantic composer. The author – a piano teacher and an expert in aesthetics and interpretive musical stylistics – is a keen admirer of Chopin’s personality, and the above-mentioned book is part of an exhaustive research.
           Aspiraţia plenitudinii în creaţia chopiniană (The Aspiration to Plenitude in Chopin’s Musical Oeuvre, 2006), Eternul Chopin (The Eternal Chopin, 2008) and La pian cu Frederic Chopin (At the Piano with Frederic Chopin, 2010), all issued by the same publishing house, are extensive, well-documented writings which testify their author’s openness towards interdisciplinarity in areas such as semantics, semiotics, aesthetics and music rhetoric. In the context of a comprehensive universal bibliography (Franz Liszt, Louis Aguettant, Emille Vuillermoz, Alfred Cortot, Michal Josef Chominski, Andrzej Tadeusz Zielinski) as well as a Romanian one (Theodor Bălan, Octavian Beu, Alexandru Leahu), Carmen Manea starts her scientific approach by reassessing previous research through the selection, the systematisation, the structuring and the renewing of information. Distancing herself from any expressions of lyrical effusion, her work is interspersed with anecdotes that catch, most of the times fictionally, biographical aspects, a fact which in the author’s opinion leads to the “erroneus perception of the oeuvre” (The Eternal Chopin, p. 243).
           What did Carmen Manea set out to do in her three books on Frédéric Chopin ?
           Enjoying comprehensive knowledge both of a general and cultural nature (by having perused some fundamental oeuvres of history, literature, aesthetics and philosophy), as well as exhibiting exceptional musical knowledge (represented by the double interpretive perspective of the phenomenon under study – as a pianist and a musicologist), the author highlights, by means of consistent informative means and an elegant, fluent, accessible style, the contemporariness and the importance of Chopin’s oeuvre in the development of modern art of the piano, and especially his contribution to the universal sonorous space by re-thinking or innovating certain issues. One must mention the deep integration of Frédéric Chopin’s personality in Romanticism, manifested on a universal level and exhibiting subtle reverberations in the Romanian milieu; the emphasis of Chopin’s being an artist who, although quite attached to the Polish spirituality, remains nonetheless a creator of the world, and the new perspective on the composer’s art, rendered by the connection to the birthplace of myths. Furthermore, starting from the professional and cultural relations that the composer had established with artists in various fields specific to Romanticism, Carmen Manea establishes on a general level certain particularities of some Chopinian works, having extramusical reverberations which determine a so-called notional syncretism of his personality.

book           The first book, The Aspiration to Plenitude in Chopin’s Musical Oeuvre, arouses the interest of the well-informed reader and music lover with its metaphorical title which allows for various interpretations. Professor Stefan Angi observes in the preface of the book, p.7: “This rhetorical approach appears entirely justified, if we consider the period and the character analysed in the pages of this extensive study.” Covering all three books though, one will discover that the Romantic syntagm is actually a leitmotiv of the research, therefore this concept will echo beyond the chronological aspects of the composer’s biography or the particulars of his oeuvre as encompassed by Romanticism. In the book The Eternal Chopin, the author states at p. 363: “Plenitude is often mistaken for the path taken to find the meaning of life – which for Chopin means, in certain circumstances, intense knowledge and inner burning.”

          The book, which consists of two large chapters – The Inner Genesis of Chopin’s Works and Stylistic and Aesthetic Landmarks in Some Piano Cycles – Scherzos, Ballads, Preludes, Studies – and in Chopinian Ornamentalism, contains multiple segmentations which aim in fact at a different interpretation of Chopin. Consequently, after having subtly sketched the portrait of the artist, Carmen Manea turns towards the themes and sources of inspiration in Chopin’s works: the folklore (a sub-chapter where she performs analyses in detail on works belonging to the genres mazurka and polonaise), the fantasy, the dream, the nature, the nocturnal (the author introduces here a few surprising comments on a possible connection, on an emotional and notional level, between Chopin and Eminescu).

Special attention is paid to the dialogue of arts in Romanticism, to the original combination of Romantic motifs and themes – its demonstration reaching the climax with the mythical vision in the cycles of piano studies. Through a deep discussion, Carmen Manea concludes at p. 229 that the vision of synthesis, having echoes in the Studies for piano, supposes the interrelation of the following idioms: pianistic, folkloric, narrative, lyrical, dramatic-heroic and reflexive. I have to mention the fact that these idioms designate, in Polish musicology, some expressive and semantic categories that we come across in Frederic Chopin’s works ever in his early opuses. Carmen Manea assimilates them and adds the reflexive idiom which she correlates with the Romantic composer’s force of creating myths (p. 300) and of adapting them to the sonorous language proper. I believe that her continual relating – in the course of the analyses – to the Myth of the Return to the Elements, the Myth of History, the Erotic Myth, the Myth of the Dream, the Myth of the Creator and the Myth of Perfection in Art (p. 300) represent one of the major contributions to the interpretation of Chopin’s works from a hermeneutical perspective.

book           In the second part of The Aspiration to Plenitude in Chopin’s Musical Oeuvre, after a detailed analysis of some scherzos and preludes, where the author cleverly draws out a brief history of the genres, we see her ingenuity when she graphically transposes the structure of the ballads (p. 165), “an idea meant to colourfully evoke the subtle metamorphoses of the themes, from lyrical to epic or dramatic, but also the detailed outlines of the sections.” Moreover, Carmen Manea has consulted a mathematician, Radu Jugureanu, with the help of whom she has established the existence of logarithmic functions in the architecture of this genre. Thus, another significant detail, through which the ambiguity of the relationship between fantasy and rigour appears to be smoothed out, is represented by “the mathematical component of his musical thought” (p. 16).
           Tackling Ornamentalism, one of the most difficult problems of Chopinian style, Carmen Manea goes beyond the widely-accepted views on the influence of the Italian opera or of the folklore in the elaboration of these ornamental motifs, fioriture or original sonorous arabesques, trying to discover and systematise the causes that have determined their presence in the composer's works as well as the role they play. To mention but a few: “the artist's talent to improvise, his predilection for small forms, his intuition of the multiple expressive possibilities of the piano and the achievement of original timbral intonations within his own pianistic bel canto which breaks down the barriers between vocal and instrumental music, his admiration for the old harpsichordists, his inclination to the variational device in the elaboration of his opuses, the creation of that original rubato tempo, and so on” (p. 250-251).

          Considering the issues debated in it’s six chapters, it is clear that Carmen Manea’s second book, The Eternal Chopin, is meant as a sequel. Having provided A General View Over Chopin's Musical Oeuvre, detailing older dilemmas about The Genesis of Creation, Themes and Sources of Inspiration in Chopin's Oeuvre and The Main Cycles for Piano, the author draws our attention to the second chapter, entitled Chopin – A Pianist and A Teacher, abundant in information and written in an expressive style. Here, she produces a synthesis of the reviews which bore on the composer's activity as a pianist. Thus, starting from an article in Wiener Theaterzeitung, an Austrian journal, Carmen Manea inserts an extremely important idea for the understanding of Chopin's performing career (p. 66):“The pianist will never try to impress an audience by theatrical gestures, by dynamic or agogic exaggerations, by shining or bravery effects; he will search to penetrate the depth of music, to unravel by his own means the poetry and the ineffable of the art of sounds.”
           If in chapters three and four we go through some detailed structural analyses of Chopin's mazurkas and polonaises, the next section – entitled Chopin From the Perspective of Musicologists and Pianists – is quite the surprise. Carmen Manea proves herself truly gifted in the art of the quill through her essay portraits, combined with the genre of review writing, of some outstanding names in the sonorous art: Franz Liszt, Tadeusz Zielinski (a musicologist, viewed as the ultimate authority in Chopin research), Alexandru Leahu (a researcher of tremendous knowledge who has influenced the author with respect to the elaboration of her mainly aesthetic-philosophic discourse), Dinu Lipatti, Valentin Gheorghiu and Dana Borşan (noted pianists having the most diverse visions as concerns the style and the difficulty, having produced unique interpretive instances of some Chopinian opuses).
           The last chapter debates The Cultural, Political and Social Context, The Musician's Personality, His Double Extraction – Polish and French, His Double Vocation as Composer / Pianist, His Predilection Towards Miniature Forms, His Stylistic Originality, His Aesthetic Perception, Chopinian Reverberations in the Works of Other Composers, culminating with The Aspiration to Plenitude. Briefly stopping at the sub-chapter Chopin's Stylistic Originality, we must say, on the one hand, that the author systematises certain known features (his particular ornaments; “the stylisation of traditional models” (p. 335); the invention of original ornamental figures; the melody which combines “the dancing type and the vocal type (p. 339); the rhythmic diversity which springs from the creative assimilation of the Polish folklore, the original and unmistakable rubato tempo” (p. 341); the innovations on a harmonic level, where dissonance is used to the purpose of creating tension and bringing colour to the sonorous discourse; the surprising modulations which represent the starting point in the thought of the next generations of musicians, such as Wagner, Debussy or Skriabin. On the other hand, Carmen Manea inserts the metaphor in the category of Chopinian particularities, which she interprets as “a world of permanencies, an artistic universe which surpasses its inner time” (p.3 47)
           In her third book, At the Piano with Frederic Chopin, issued in 2010 on the composer's bicentennary, Carmen Manea convinces us once more that she is not merely concerned with providing specialised information. The author's unusual cultural openness is the grounds for numerous correlations of a poetic, aesthetic, psychological or philosophical nature. From reading the five chapters – Frederic Chopin – A Life Given to Music; The Sonatas for Piano; The Concert Works of Fr. Chopin; Chopin's Piano Masterpieces and Epilogue, we grasp the importance given to the analytical aspect of his work. Yet, trying to approach the composer's fascinating personality from the perspective of contemporariness, we come across some conclusive features, in the author's opinion.
           Chopin's works, through their originality and modernity, have influenced the minds of various composers of the 19th and 20th centuries from stylistically different areas: National Schools, Post-Romanticism, Impressionism, Neoclassicism and so on. Moreover, it is a fact that certain personalities of the past century, such as Charles Baudelaire, André Gide, Marcel Proust were deeply affected after having listened to Chopin's music. Having resorted to many documentation sources, the author informs us at p. 295 that “Proust discovered in the musician's art certain similarities with his own vision, with his own creative destiny”.
           Starting from Chopin’s particular case in Romanticism as a supporter of pure music who enjoyed popularity in his lifetime without resorting to extramusical sources, Carmen Manea comments on the timelessness and validity of the opuses of this composer who, in her opinion, hold a top position among the preferences of contemporary pianists and audiences not just merely “because of a subjective affinity” (p. 297).
           Trying to find the echoes of Chopin's musical sheets in the works of other artists, the author inserts valuable annexes which presuppose the laborious selection and analysis of many opuses. I refer to Chopinian Reverberations in the Works of Other Composers; Romanian Musical Works That Evoke Chopin's Musical Genres and Romanian Works Inspired by Chopinian Themes.

                                        Toward the end of these notes, I shall mention again that the trilogy signed by Carmen Manea captures the audience's attention by means of the abundance and systematisation of the ideas expressed in a fluent, accessible style. The general-cultural as well as musical openness of the books spark the interest, on the one hand, of those readers willing to find arguments for the sketching of a literary, poetic and philosophical ambiance which is so typical of the dialogue of arts in Romanticism. On the other hand, the well-informed audience will, in their turn, fully enjoy the well-documented, consistent and yet moving comments on Frédéric Chopin's unmistakable figure. To conclude, here are a few words of the author who undertakes the responsibility of expressing some precious considerations: “The composer remains in the history of music as a path opener for whom time has worked in the favour of his oeuvre” (p. 229).

Loredana Iaţeşen