Là ci darem la mano pianoforte

(About music rather than language.)

Woke briefly in the middle of the night to the glorious sound of Alexis Weissenberg playing the piano part (which is to say, the bulk) of Frédéric Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” for piano and orchestra, Op. 2 (yes, 2; Chopin was 17). It brought me great joy: I delight in the Mozart and I love variation pieces, especially for the piano (Mozart wrote piles of variations). It’s always seemed to me that Chopin got Mozart down perfectly here (including both the simple tuneful, even bubbly, side representing Zerlina and the darker side representing Don Giovanni, with his designs on Zerlina’s body), except that Chopin’s version is really really showy — like Mozart with all the stops out.

I don’t see a YouTube of the Weissenberg, but there’s a splendid performance by Idil Biret that you can listen to, here. (“İdil Biret (born 21 November 1941 in Ankara, Turkey) is a Turkish concert pianist, renowned for her interpretations of the Romantic repertoire.” (Wikipedia link) Yet another Nadia Boulanger protégé.)

From Wikipedia:

Frédéric Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” for piano and orchestra, Op. 2, was written in 1827, when he was aged only 17. “Là ci darem la mano” is a duet sung by Don Giovanni and Zerlina in Act I of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, and Chopin’s adaptation inspired Robert Schumann’s famous exclamation, Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!

… Chopin often played the variations without accompaniment, and he later abandoned the orchestra almost entirely in his compositions

There’s a substantial slow, contemplative, intro section from the orchestra (during which fragments of the Là ci darem theme are introduced, à la Beethoven), after which the piece breaks out into a plain statement of the  theme and the ensuing variations (during which the orchestra provides minimal accompaniment, plus bridge passages). That is, the piece can be seen as a set of variations for solo piano, with orchestral outbursts. Solo versions eliminate the orchestral accompaniment and transcribe the stand-alone orchestral for solo piano. You can watch a fine solo performance here (on a Pleyel grand piano, by a pianist I haven’t been able to identify).

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