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Activists and Pioneers of Classical Piano

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." 

"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood." 

Marie Sklodowska-Curie


A programme that charts a creative thread of composers who were innovators and trail blazers in their creative and personal lives and who had the gift of free thinking, promoting the development of art in the visual, literary and music world.


From music of with Maria Szymanowska, the first female pianist and composer to the first lady Estonian music including works by Chopin, Debussy, Rozycki and Magi. Maria Szymanowska was not only ground breaking in her compostional techniques to plant the seeds of early romanticism, Szymanowska also transcended traditional gender roles and social class divisions. From an early working class background to being a lady with her own inspirational salon and musical centre in St. Petersburg with the title of “First pianist to the Russian court”, she rose to a position of pre-eminence. Connected with 19th century giants of literature Goethe, Pushkin and Mickiewic, a divorcee and sole breadwinner to raise 3 children, she was one of the first independent career woman in classical music history.

Szymanowska influenced Chopin who took the mazurka dance form on to another level. His use of modal harmony and folkloristic rhythmic elements gave a whole new expression and intimacy to the dance form in what is perhaps some of his most highly original and groundbreaking compositions.

I Debussy’s ‘Estampes’, inspired by Javanese Gamelan music follows the pursuit of “fantasy is the law”. Using timbral elements and a whole new approach to pedal, Estampes is evocative music of the east and explores impressionistic colours. Debussy’s importance in pioneering a new sound world can not be underestimated, taking over from where Chopin left off.

A year later in 1904 ‘Gra Fal ‘, the ‘play of the waves’ by Ludomir Rozycki combines neo- romanticism with Polish folk and impressionism, conjuring up the Baltic Sea.

An activitst taking part in underground concerts in the second world war he was also a journalist and a member of the Polish Young Music Group fighting for the reception of contemporary music. A free thinker and promoter of the arts he was also founder of the national ballet and did much to educate and influence a school of Polish modern music.


To conclude the programme another evocation of the Baltic Sea, in Ester Magi’s Sea Pictures. Known as the first woman of Estonian music this takes us full circle to celebrate another highly individual female composer whose interest in the natural world is an important part and vital part of her compostional output.

Bagatelles and Fairytales explores a playful alchemy of fantasy and imagination in a myriad of pianistic colours.

The enigmatic bagatelles of Beethoven’s Op 126 are contrasted with a virtuosic piano transcription of Prokofiev’s orchestral fairytale Peter and the Wolf by Tatiana Nikolayeva.  In between is one of the most poetic reveries of Chopin’s Nocturnes in Db major, Op 27 No 2.


Bagatelle or trifle was a title used by Beethoven to imply a sketch or character piece literally,“ Kleingeit”( little thing. )Akin to the spiritual mood of the Op 127 string quartets, they reveal an overwhelming beauty and inner reflection, interspersed with flashes of heroic drama. Designed to form a unified cycle, their keys form a descending chain of thirds. Beethoven, the master craftsmen, explicit in his understanding “trifles make perfection but perfection is no trifle” ( Michaelangelo)

Chopin’s nocturne in Db is an ideal example of the romance variety of nocturne. A magical delicacy prevails with a lyricism that has been described as “achingly beautiful”.

Tatiana Nikolayeva was a formidable pianist famous for her Bach playing to whom Shostakovich dedicated his 24 preludes and fugues.
A composer too, Nikolayeva followed the example of Prokofiev’s own piano transcriptions of his orchestral works. Peter and the Wolf, a symphonic tale, was originally conceived by Prokofiev at the piano in less than a week. Here Nikolayeva expands the work and enlarges episodes in the style of a piano concerto. The theme of Peter the hero, has 5 Variations followed by the Bird, Duck, Cat, Wolf and a concluding triumphant march.

The work conveys the variety of tonal colours and explores the wealth of the piano’s timbres. The suite is a wonderful reminder of the importance of the use of fantasy to reveal the deep truths of the world around us.

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