Gergely Bogányi Gergely Bogányi: Chopin piano works
In his selection and interpretation lasting little more than an hour on one CD, Gergely Bogányi paints a faithful and worthy portrait of the most original figure in Romantic piano music. Listening to him, we sense why a three minute mazurka can be considered as a masterpiece equal in importance with a four-hour Wagner music drama or a one-and-a-half-hour Berlioz symphonic work.
Gergely Bogányi - piano
About the album
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest 1-3/04/2003
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus; Sound editing: Veronika Vincze
Cover art and design by Meral Yasar based on photo by Judit Kurtág
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Currently out of stock.
Chopin: 4 Mazurkas, Op. 24
Chopin: 4 Mazurkas, Op. 30
Chopin: 3 Mazurkas, Op. 63
Chopin: Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 "Funeral March"
“Chopin” – pronouncing this name, one is filled with the same feelings and associations as if one had said “orchid grove” or “peacock feather”. Certain moods are aroused, certain colours, tastes and scents stirred up. One becomes a little dazed, a little nostalgic, melancholy, and yet ready to act. For although Chopin’s music does engender a dreamlike state, it never transports one into self-centred ecstasy. It is a medicine, not a narcotic. Even those who are otherwise oblivious to the classical concert repertoire have some idea of the unmistakable music of Chopin. Chopin, the Johann Strauss of the piano, creator of the noblest salon music... How far are these clichés true? It is futile to deny it: they are all true. A whole string of other clichés also have some basis in fact, from the feminine lines of Chopin’s music to the proud Polish patriot, or from his discriminating French taste to the imitation of bel canto on the piano. But these tags were each coined on the basis of one fragment. Chopin’s music as a whole is far richer and more important.
In his selection and interpretation lasting little more than an hour on one CD, Gergely Bogányi paints a faithful and worthy portrait of the most original figure in Romantic piano music. Listening to him, we sense why a three minute mazurka can be considered as a masterpiece equal in importance with a four-hour Wagner music drama or a one-and-a-half-hour Berlioz symphonic work. Take the four mazurkas Op. 24, with which the disc opens. On the surface, they are completely independent pieces, as if they had been grouped at random into the same opus number; they are in unrelated keys, and display different characters and moods. But it is precisely their differences which relate them, as if they were a series of variations on the mazurka rhythm. The most fascinating thing is that in all four the basic rhythm of the dance appears in a different guise. While the rhythm of the first work is typical, the characteristic mazurka rhythm does not occur at all in the second. In the third it can be recognised, but it undergoes transformation, and in the fourth it is enriched with elements which come into the foreground and again lend a different rhythmic profile to the music.
Other typical features can also be detected. The first and the second mazurka close on a full tonic chord, but the third and the fourth thin out to one voice at the last minute and are left floating on the fifth rather than the first degree of the tonic scale. And while on the subject of keys (which a great composer chooses with extreme care for each piece), we should note that in the repeated part of the first mazurka colouring (chromatic) notes can be found. In the second Chopin eschews such chromaticism, while in the third (ternary) mazurka, he uses them to colour the central section. The closing piece is the polar opposite to the second, being highly chromatic.
Not wishing to test the listener’s musical knowledge, I shall not continue this line of thought, which is somewhat analytical. The highlighting of these few characteristic features already shows that within one opus Chopin creates unity through variety with a finely developed sense of proportion. There is always something else to listen out for, whether it be a surprising turn in the melody, the unexpected sounding of a chord, or the independent life of an inner part. And here we stand at the gateway to Chopin’s art. What happens beyond this is difficult to describe with words, and can better be felt in the richly shaded playing of Gergely Bogányi, which throws light on the music behind the written notes. The message of this interpretation is that Chopin, the virtuoso who improvised so dreamily, was one of the most consciously creative composers in the history of music. He did nothing perfunctorily, and composed with incredible care. Consider what a constriction he took on: his life’s work, little more than one hundred opuses, consists completely of piano-centred works, mostly written for the solo piano, and he wrote nothing in which the piano did not feature: works for voice and piano, string instrument and piano, orchestra and piano, as if the presence of the keyboard was the guarantee for Chopin’s confidence as a composer.
Chopin wrote over fifty mazurkas, that is, at least fifty times three, four or five minutes of dance music, generally in a simple, ternary form, and – naturally – keeping the original triple time lilt of the dance. It is impossible to find in the mazurkas two works in which the composer repeated himself. Chopin strove for perfection. The quality of the works does not show which are earlier and which are later. Quite on the contrary, there are no stylistic features to provide a clue to mature or less mature compositions. For Chopin, the mazurka was a loose indication of genre, like the minuet for classical composers. One sometimes has the impression that Chopin steps out of the mazurka genre, and wanders into a waltz or a ländler. An error? Is it not rather that throughout his whole life, he was composing an encyclopaedia of the era of triple time dances, in the form of piano pieces? The waltz and the polonaise, another two of Chopin’s favourites, also belong to this category.
Is it possible to dance to a Chopin mazurka? Probably not, and if one did, their special romantic features would be lost. If these dances were played perfectly evenly rather than as the musical declamation calls for, terrible damage would be wrought on the very essence of them. Although it can hardly be proved, one has the feeling that each mazurka is like a verse, that each piece has something to say. Something of a lyrical rather than a discursive nature, and communicating not logical thought, but intangible feeling. Just like some of Verlaine’s poems, which inspired Debussy to compose, the same Debussy who studied with one of Chopin’s students... The fin du siecle and the turn of the century in France would have been unthinkable without Chopin, who died in 1849.
17th October 1849 – almost simultaneously with Chopin’s death, the freedom movements in Europe were crushed. Ferenc Liszt, whose artistic personality was so different from Chopin’s, and yet loved his fellow composer so much, erected a monument both to him and the martyrs of the revolution in the form of his piano piece Funérailles. The Chopin tradition of Hungarian pianists can be traced back to Ferenc Liszt, who taught Chopin’s works to the end of his life, and passed them on to those who studied with him at the Budapest Music Academy, and then became the teachers to later generations. Gergely Bogányi is an heir to this tradition. Behind him there is a line of giants such as Ernő Dohnányi, Géza Anda, Annie Fischer, György Cziffra, and Cziffra’s teacher, less well known on the international scene: György Ferenczi. It would be rash and over patriotic to assert that there is a particularly Hungarian style of Chopin playing. What can be said however, is that the proud bearing of peoples who have for so long been oppressed can be noted in Hungarians just as in the Poles – in the playing of the piano.
The second half of Gergely Bogányi’s disc features two longer works. These are rarer in Chopin’s oeuvre, and are almost obscured behind the cycles of smaller pieces. The B flat minor sonata (the second of Chopin’s three piano sonatas, from 1839), shows the struggle the post-Beethoven generation had with large forms. It is precisely this struggle which makes such works original. The two strikingly contrasting themes of the first movement, the breathless, excited main theme and the slow, hymn-like subsidiary theme, spark off against one another a tension that unifies the movement not in the spirit of the earlier sonata form, but surrendering to a new, dramatic conception. Following this, the sonata melts into a cycle of independent piano pieces, consisting of a scherzo, a funeral march and a study.
Far more solid is the unifying force in the work which Chopin unusually gave the title Fantasie, which suggests a more relaxed form (and apart from a relatively early piece composed for piano and orchestra and the Fantasie-Impromptu this is the only time he used the term). One interesting point is that it does not end in the opening key, and thus invalidates the “F minor” key signature, although this is how it has come to be known. The first part is a march that could appear in the operas of Chopin’s one-time friend Bellini: sombre melodic music that speaks to the heart. The measured steps are followed by passages of free flight that introduce a theatrically passionate piano aria, and at once open the way for one of Chopin’s most daring musical adventures. It is difficult to imagine there is no literary experience – a poem or a novel – behind the Fantasie, just as with the Ballades. But just like that of the form, Chopin leaves this question open, although the answer would probably justify the unusual form of the fantasy. A final answer cannot be given for everything, and nor should it be demanded, else what would become of the fragile magic of Chopin’s music, which is so moving in Gergely Bogányi’s playing?
translated by Richard Robinson
Gergely Bogányi comes from a musical family, and started playing the piano at the age of four. He studied with Zsuzsa Esztó, László Baranyay and Ferenc Rados at the Budapest Music Academy, with Matti Raekallio at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and with György Sebők at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Among the many competitions he has won, particularly noteworthy is the 1996 International Liszt Competition.
In 2000 he became the youngest person to be made an honorary citizen of Vác.
Also in 2000, he was awarded the Liszt Prize by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
In 2001 his series of “Chopin’s complete piano works” was named “best concert series of the year” by Gramofon magazine. In 2002 he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Order of the White Rose of Finland by the President of the Finnish Republic.
Gergely Bogányi is a constant guest in the best concert halls in Europe and worldwide, and is invited to perform as a soloist by the best orchestras in the world. He regularly makes radio, TV and CD recordings. The double album he made with violinist Barnabás Kelemen was awarded the “Grand Prix du disque” by the International Liszt Society.