Jeffrey Siegel spoke and performed at Kings Place, bringing Chopin’s music alive with his anecdotes, analysis and interpretation. The second of his three-part series of ‘Keyboard Conversations’ are wonderfully designed to enhance the listener’s experience of the music, making it more focused and accessible.

‘Cat’ Waltz, op. 34 no. 3

Siegel told the charming (and as he admitted, most likely wholly untrue story!) of how Chopin’s lover George Sand’s cat used to hop around on Chopin’s keyboard. Sand claimed that even her cat could compose music…the ‘Cat’ waltz below was Chopin’s answer to her challenge…

Polonaise Op. 44, F Sharp minor – ‘Tragic’

This ‘Tragic’ Polonaise has another side to the victory traditionally depicted in Chopin’s polonaises. Quiet military tropes can be heard with a pianistic snare-drum left hand at 3′ 06” and the bugle call in the right-hand at 3′ 14”. Whilst the work diminuendos and almost peters out into defeat at the end, this is a resilient, victorious defeat as Siegel commented, with the final, powerful and resolute tonic chord ending the work.

Berceuse op. 57, D flat major

In this Berceuse, Chopin sets himself the compositional task of only composing with two chords – the tonic and dominant 7th – and a single melodic line. The baseline rocks between the two chords in each bar and is almost identical throughout the whole piece, with only a few bars towards the end with extended tonic and dominant chords. The melody, turning in on itself, develops like a set of variations, unravelling from the original presentation, gliding on top on the rocking chordal base.

Fantastie Impromptu, C sharp minor

Whilst one of his best-known works, Chopin never wanted this piece published – he kept it in his portfolio of works that he never sent to his publishers. On his deathbed, he told his sister of this portfolio, and made her promise that she would burn its contents. When looking through the works and realising the quality of the composition, she was left with a dilemma which she only resolved ten years later when she decided she could not fully carry out Chopin’s request, and had the work published. For two theories of why Chopin did not want the work published, you will have to ask Siegel himself at his next performance at Kings Place on 1 June 2014!

The middle section with the famous lyrical, cantabile melody (1′ 03” in the video above) was turned into a song itself, famously sung by Judy Garland ‘I’m Away Chasing Rainbows’.

Polonaise op. 53, A flat major – ‘Heroic’ 

The main, heroic theme of this polonaise which comes in at 19” in the video below, is all the more powerful and striking as it rises from the chaos of the work’s opening.

Below is a preview of Jeffrey Siegel’s Mistresses and Masterpieces programme  at Kings Place June 1 2014, focusing on music inspired by ‘significant others’.