Helen is a pianist based in the United Kingdom. Her talent can be gauged by the fact that she won her first piano competition at the age of six and has since been the winner of many international competitions including the Dudley International and Eisteddfod. She was granted a full scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music, Lancaster University and Sheffield University. Helen has performed as soloist at numerous prestigious venues including the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall.
Programme for 12 May 2023
Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Nocturne In Bb Minor op.9. No.1
Nocturne in Db Major Op.27.No.2
Ballade No 1 in G minor op.23
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Sonetto No.104 S161
Concert Etude S.144 No.3 ‘Un Sospiro’
Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Ballade No.3 in Ab Major op.47
Frédéric Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Andante Spianato Grande Polonaise Op.22
Nocturne in Eb Major op.9 No.2
Nocturne in C# Minor Op. Posth
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943)
Morceaux de Fantasie Op.3
Chopin grew up at a time when the piano was becoming the predominant solo instrument and, largely self-taught, he was soon in demand to perform in the salons of Warsaw’s upper classes. He gave his first public concert in 1818. At school he received composition lessons from Józef Elsner and later enrolled as his pupil at the Warsaw Conservatory. Public performances in Vienna in August 1829 and concert tours of Germany and Italy prefaced Chopin’s move to Paris in 1831.The young musician swiftly became a favourite with salon society, allowing him to survive on the income from giving piano lessons to wealthy pupils. He gradually withdrew from performing in public and became known principally as a composer, many of his works being published during his lifetime.
Nocturne Op.9 No.1 – Bb Minor
The Nocturne in B flat minor emerges from silence and to silence returns. It has the form of an ample song in which a graceful melody fills the outer sections. At first it rolls along quietly, enlivened by surging waves of ornaments. An inner tension leads to a climax, to a sudden rush of appassionato expression, enclosed within a handful of bars. The Nocturne’s middle section proceeds in the relative key of D flat major. This takes us into a strange other world: a melody without ornaments, almost ascetic and strong, led in octaves sotto voce, and so softened, repeating the same phrases over and over again. The whole thing flows along as if in a trance or in great meditation. But then a sudden change occurs: we hear sonorous music built from sequences of sixths and thirds, immediately followed by its distant echo. Next the graceful
melody from the beginning returns dolcissimo, before bursting into a final flourish and dying away in ppp, though not in the key of B flat minor, but in B flat major.
Nocturne Op.27 No.2 – Db Major
This is the second of a set of two nocturnes that Chopin composed in Paris in 1835. The Nocturne in D-flat Major is suffused with the dark and subdued atmosphere we associate with the nocturne. The left hand establishes a steady accompaniment that will continue throughout, while the right hand has the main theme, a flowing and endlessly lyrical idea that glides along smoothly (Chopin marks it Lento sostenuto). The music grows more complex and dramatic as it proceeds, and at the climax Chopin first asks that it be con anima, then con forza, and finally appassionato. At the end, the calm of the beginning returns, and the music closes quietly.
Ballade No.1 in G minor Op.23
The first Ballade for piano, in G minor, was composed in 1835, three years after he arrived in Paris as a political exile following the November Uprising. It begins with a majestic Neapolitan sixth rising steadily upward from the lower range of the piano and then giving way to hushed tones suggesting the tonality of G minor but leaving it unconfirmed until the cadence leading into the exposition. The first theme of the Ballade’s sonata form begins quietly with a steady pace and with the uneasy feeling of suppressed emotions. Before long, first with rumblings in the bass that swell to engulf the entire texture, the music becomes increasingly agitated. The lyrical second theme, in the key of E-flat major, arrives following this turbulent transition and provides an effective contrast and momentary repose from the emotional outcries that preceded it. The development section opens with a restatement of the first theme but quickly builds into a passionate declaration of the second subject.
A scherzando episodic section closes the section and leads into the recapitulation. Here, Chopin departs from the typical outline of sonata form by beginning with the reprise of the second theme instead of the first. Furthermore, this restatement also appears in the key in which it was heard in the exposition instead of being transposed into the tonic. Following the reprise of the first theme, Chopin concludes the piece with an agitated Presto coda. Rapid scales announce the end of the piece and thunderous and exhilarating octaves in both hands lead into the final chords.
Berceuse in Db Major Op.57
“Berceuse” is French for “lullaby” or “cradle song”, and like the other famous example, Faure’s 1864 Berceuse from the Dolly Suite (in the UK forever famous as the theme tune for the BBC children’s radio programme Listen with Mother), Chopin’s Berceuse in D flat major is characterized by a rocking motion between two chords (the tonic and dominant seventh), used throughout as a harmonic base. But on top of this basso ostinato Chopin weaves a set of 14 variations of melody and accompaniment, starting with the simplest theme and building up to a peak of complexity and speed in the ninth variation, before subsiding again for the return to simplicity at the end – a return to the innocence of sleep following unrest? Its musical fascination lies in the contrast between the unvarying structure in the left hand and the freedom of the right. This is unmistakably late Chopin, and can be grouped alongside the nine or so other works composed between 1843 and 1847 (the number marking a significant decline in his output compared to earlier years), showing an interest in new forms and increased emotional depth. These works include the third and final piano sonata in B minor, the Barcarolle in F sharp major and the two late Nocturnes, numbers 17 and 18. Although still only in his mid-30s when he composed the Berceuse, Chopin’s health was already failing – as was his relationship with George Sand – and he had only four more years to live.
Liszt - Concert Etude S.144 No.3 ‘Un Sospiro’
Liszt is highly regarded as one of the greatest musicians to have graced the planet. His flamboyant performances and brilliant technique dazzled audiences with their virtuosity.
However, alongside the fireworks Liszt was a master at writing music of a more sensitive nature. The Three Concert Etudes s.144 reflects a certain influence of Chopin.and No. 3, is affectionately referred to as ‘Un Sospiro’ (a sigh). On a technical level, this Concert Study No. 3 in D-flat Major, “Un Sospiro” is a skillfully delivered magic trick.
The score sprawls across three musical staves and it appears as if it requires, at minimum, three large, dexterous hands as the melody is ingeniously interwoven between within a cross-hand effect of ascending and descending arpeggiation. It is cleverly constructed so that there are hardly two notes in succession played by the
same hand with each note being projected by a clever sleight of hand. As the piece progresses the voicing becomes increasingly complex. Whilst maintaining a sense of ease the pianistic writing challenges the performer to the technical brink with mini cadenzas creating little explosions of fireworks, moments of passion that cleverly cascade back to the melody.
Sonetto 104 S1.144
The ‘Sonetto 104’ is perhaps the most passionate, agitated and dramatic of the three, based on the Sonnet Pace non trovo (‘I find no peace…..’ Canzone CXXXIV; sometimes erroneously noted as Sonnet 47). In it, the poet ponders the confused state love has put him in. Enthralled to his lady, he feels imprisoned yet free, he burns with love, yet feels he is made of ice: in modern psychological parlance, a true state of ‘limerence’ (a life-altering and passionate love or infatuation for someone, often unrequited).
Reading the original text, one has a sense of the protagonist caught in an emotional ‘trap’ of his own making: while wallowing in the contrasting and sometimes painful emotions, he is also enjoying them. Liszt achieves these rapid changes of mood – the ‘highs and lows’ of romantic (and possibly physical) love – with the use of contrasting sections, dramatic, often unexpected, harmonic shifts, declamations, ‘meaningful’ fermatas, and cadenza-like passages. There are moments of calm contemplation, shot through with soaring climaxes and intense agitation, the surprising harmonies emphasising the protagonist’s confused state of mind. The piece ends calmly, with a restatement of the recitative-like opening motif with a languorous coda and some uncertain harmonies before a prayer-like final cadence.
Chopin - Ballade No.3 in Ab Major Op.47
Chopin’s four ballades all share a tone of epic narration but the third of the set, the Ballade in A flat Op. 47, stands apart for its bright sonorities and healthy, optimistic mood. It lacks the vehemence of expression that characterizes the other three ballades, Opp. 23, 38 and 52, with their terrifying codas of whirlwind intensity.
The work is dominated by two principal themes of contrasting character but united by common elements of basic melodic structure. The first, announced at the outset, is a songful melody that begins by rising up six scale notes, echoed by antiphonal responses in the left hand. Its contrapuntal profile is that of two voices expanding out in opposite directions from a central point, a pattern that intensifies on the following page into celebratory cadences exploding out into ecstatic arpeggios to the low and high registers simultaneously.
The second theme changes the mood completely. It is a dancelike melody of instrumental character that descends six scale notes, outlined in a series of coquettish leaps made all the more coy by the constantly syncopated rhythm in which they are presented. While this second theme dips often into the minor mode, it rarely stays there long, often slipping back into the major when cadencing. The minor mode is thus constantly restrained from taking on the mask of tragedy.
While the first theme remains elegantly static throughout the work, the second undergoes considerable development in a texture of ornamental figuration that dances alternately above it and then resonantly rumbles below. This development is the dramatic heart of the piece, and immediately follows a third theme area of remarkable flamboyance, with extroverted multi-octave arpeggios issuing into joyously rambunctious passagework over large swaths of the keyboard
Chopin - Andante Spianato Grande Polonaise Op.22
The Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E flat major Op 22 exists in two versions, one for solo piano (the most popular version) and for piano and orchestra (the original version), the last work that Chopin wrote in this form. Composed in Vienna in 1830 the Polonaise was the first part to be composed and perhaps tired of the glittering stile brillante set it to one side until he had the inspiration of prefacing it with a work of a contrasting character in 1835.
The Andante Spianato (meaning smooth or even) is in essence a nocturne. (Indeed it appears that Chopin may have actually conceived the Op.27 nocturnes as a triptych to include this work in G major.) This opening work with its flowing melodic line tranquil character is divided unevenly into two sections. The first and longest section is a lyrical melody tinged with melancholy as it sings over a gently rolling accompaniment in the left hand. This is then followed by a change to triple metre. Marked ‘Semplice’ this homophonic, almost chorale like in character marks a change of mood to one that
is more austere. The descending runs which closed the previous section then return to draw the introduction to a conclusion, ending with a final restatement of the cadential figure found in the Semplice brings the introduction to a close back in the key of G major.
Pivoting upon the G, the Polonaise opens with a majestic fanfare as it grandly transitions from G major though to C minor, with the introductory measures coming to a halt upon a half cadence in the key of E-flat major. The middle episode adopts a more dramatic air beginning in E-flat major but quickly finds itself in the turbulent key of C minor. The prolonged coda is adorned with brilliant passagework, with cascading arpeggios glittering in virtuosity to the very end. Technically the piece is regarded as one of the most difficult of Chopin's piano works integrating many of the challenging technical elements that are to be found within his Etudes
Nocturne in Eb Op.9 No.2
Chopin’s “Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2” begins with a subtle, timid B-flat, leaps to the distinctive major sixth, and then launches into a beautiful, yearning melody. On the top left, Chopin writes express dolce or expressively sweet. With an andante tempo throughout the piece, the left hand keeps a steady beat, providing a backbone to the right hand’s dreamlike melody that seems to want to fly away. With growing intensity, sets of chromatic notes interweave the familiar motif, washing over the stable 3/4 rhythm with suspenseful resolve.
As one of Chopin’s most recognizable pieces, “Nocturne” has become synonymous with tranquility. Back when it was first published in the 1800’s, the piece quickly established itself as the most pleasing song to play for guests at evening salons.
Nocturne No.20 - Posthumous – C # Minor
Nocturne in C# Minor is a short work that Chopin chose not to publish, and in fact he never thought of this piece as a nocturne. In 1830, the 21-year-old Chopin wrote a piece for his sister. She was about to learn her brother’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, and to help her he wrote a preparatory piece. The piece was not published during Chopin’s lifetime and was not published until 1875, twenty-six years after Chopin’s death, and only then did it acquire the name nocturne.
Chopin simply marked this piece Lento con gran’ espressione. It falls into several sections: a four-measure introduction, stark and curiously reminiscent of Beethoven, leads to a statement of the haunting first theme. A second subject, a simple rising figure, gives way to a more rhythmic theme derived from the finale of the Second Piano Concerto. There is no development. Chopin repeats his opening theme, and a quiet coda built on some of those wonderful rhythmic sprays so typical of Chopin leads to a cadence that he marks triple piano.
One of the last great pianist–composers, Sergei Rachmaninoff pushed the values of the Romantic era deep into the 20th century. He earned most of his music a central place in
the standard repertoire that has never wavered, thanks to his clear sense of instrumental drama.
Morceaux De Fantaisie Op.3
Rachmaninov wrote this set of five “Fantasy Pieces” in 1892 and dedicated them to his
composition teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, Anton Arensky. Originally, Rachmaninov intended the first four, the Elegy, Prelude, Melody, and Polichinelle, to comprise the entire set. However, after he heard of an interview in which Tchaikovsky praised the young Rachmaninov’s compositional talent, he was inspired to write the fifth piece, Serenade. Before sending the set to publishers, Rachmaninov had Tchaikovsky look it over; he particularly liked the Prelude and Melody.3 The Morceaux de Fantasie was first published in 1893, however, Melody and Serenade were revised with second versions much later in 1940. Although all five were performed frequently by Rachmaninov, it was these two that he performed in many different versions. Rachmaninov recorded the Prelude three times (1919, 1921, and 1928), the Polichinelle twice (1922 and 1936), and the second version of the Melody one time in 1940.
Elégie – Op.3 No.1
‘Elegie does not win the listener with a catchy tune; rather, it captivates the heart with a combination of waterfall and airiness, which is masterfully translated into music by the virtuoso technique of the pianist and his genius as a composer.’This piece is far removed from the other, typical Rachmaninov creations in that it creates drama through clever lyricism in an almost ‘Chopinesque’ style.
Rachmaninov Early Works
Romance in F Sharp minor,
Melodie in E Major
Prelude in F Major
Melodie Op.3 No.3
The Melody is the only piece in a major key of the Op. 3 set. The original version marked
Adagio sostenuto, published in 1893, features the melody in the left hand, with accompanying blocked chords in the right hand. The revised version was published in 1940, with the major difference being that these chords were arpeggiated and marked at Andante con moto
The Polichinelle, or “punch” puppet character is full of comedic episodes, often alternating between minor and major keys and alternating dynamic contrasts. It is in ternary form, with the A sections full of fanfares and rising bravura passages, which creates a similar scene at a fair or circus, as the Op. 33, No. 5 étude. The B section, although marked Agitato has a very lyrical melody, surrounded by arpeggiated chords.