From an interview that Rafał Blechacz gave to Tageblatt in Luxembourg on March 11, the day before he performed at Philharmonie Luxembour.
Interviewer: Alain Steffen
(Excerpt: the first two questions about CD Debussy Szymanowski are skipped as we are already familiar with it.)
I do not play more than 40 concerts a year
"Only when you love the work, you can give something to the audience". (Rafał Blechacz)
Tageblatt: When we talk about Polish music, we naturally fall into primarily Chopin’s line. But certainly there are other composers before Chopin?
RB: There were a lot of Polish composers before Chopin, but they never played an international big role. Chopin himself studied under Józef Elsner, who was an outstanding composer. But the recognition that Chopin had and still has, had previously never been achieved by any other Polish composer. I think Chopin hit the spirit of the times very well. On one hand he wrote a very expressive music that really carried away all and on the other hand he took over much of the Polish folk music. And especially the dances. Think of his Mazurkas and his Polonaises only. And this is where Chopin and Szymanowski meet, here perhaps Polish tradition begins. And it is built very strongly on the dance.
T: It seems to be typical of the countries of Eastern Europe for their music to be all built on the traditional folk music. In Hungary, we find the same thing in Kodaly and Bartok, in the Czech Republic in Dvorak, in Enescu in Romania.
RB: In Russia, we also find the same pattern. Yes, I think the Eastern European countries have gained much of their inspiration from the music tradition, the culture of the common people and folk music. But it is wrong to see this as a continuous principle.
The folk music has surfaced again, has given impetus, but was never implemented one-to-one, but rather artfully processed and stylized. For many composers, there were periods in which these influences are not felt well.
Szymanowski found only in his later years the way to the mazurkas, and his early work, such as the C minor sonata is actually free of it, although in the third movement he used a minuet.
T: Can you, for example, talk of a Polish school?
RB: School in the sense of Viennese school is perhaps a little too much to say, but it is certain that Chopin revolutionized the Polish music and introduced very innovative harmonies. These harmonies have changed the romantic music, as it was commonly understood, and even further brought it forward. Novelty which Chopin introduced here now went off the path of classical-romantic music and opened new doors.
If you want to talk about a Polish compositional style, then you have to consider Chopin as its inventor. It is above all the composers after Chopin, who further processed these innovative harmonies and developed them into an original style of music.
T: And what about a Polish pianist tradition? It cannot be denied that Polish pianist, I am thinking only of Ewa Kupiec or Krystian Zimerman, play Chopin in a very different way than their Western European counterparts.
RB: I think this is only partly true and much is subject to some sort of cliche.
What is true is the fact that Polish pianists understand better the music in its substance and they can perform in a natural balance. It is clear that Kupiec and Zimerman have Polish dances in their blood, since they are part of our culture. But it does not mean that a German or an American pianist cannot play well this music. I think in dealing with Chopin it is important to give serious thought to the profundity of his compositions.
T: Chopin's piano concertos distance themselves a bit from the usual romantic tradition. A dialogue does not seem to be the focus, but the piano seems mostly to be a part of the orchestra.
RB: Indeed, Chopin's two concertos are very individual compositions. While there are some very beautiful moments where piano and orchestra engage in a dialogue, but you're right, Chopin used the orchestra rather as an accompanist.
This is probably because Chopin’s element was the piano. And only the piano. With the orchestra he could do little, both on architectural and emotional level. Therefore, he probably wrote only two concertos.
T: Pianists such as Maria João Pires and Gerhard Oppitz have complained that musicians of the new generation are often burned very quickly, that everything must go very quickly and that the enormous stress of international concert business makes young talented musicians broken.
RB: You are certainly right. When I won the 2005 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, it went suddenly, very quickly. I was virtually overwhelmed by offers, everywhere I should play. But I'm fortunately someone who exactly listens to his own pursuits. I felt lost at the start of my career until I found the right agencies. It was first of all very relieving. I then worked out a strategy with which I am still very satisfied.
On one hand I'm only playing in important concert venues or international festivals, on the other hand I do not play more than 40 concerts a year. Namely I need a lot of time to learn the music. Only when you understand, you can really love the music. And only when you love the work, you can convey something to the audience.
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