Chopin in Australia
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) never came to Australia however his fame and music reached Australia during his lifetime. Even the tyranny of distance could not prevent his influence & legacy.
Possibly the first mention of Chopin in an Australian newspaper occurs in 1842 (the Inquirer, 2 Feb 1842) in a reprinted article by noted English music critic Henry Chorley on Mendelssohn's pianoforte playing:
"Accordingly, his performance has none of the exquisite finesses of Moscheles, on the score of which it has been elsewhere said, that ' there is wit in his playing' — none of the delicate and plaintive spiritual seductions of Chopin, who sweeps the keys with so insinuating and gosamer a touch, that the crudest and most chromatic harmonies of his music float away under his hand, indistinct yet not unpleasing, like the wild and softened discords of the AeoIian harp ; none of the brilliant extravagances of Liszt, by which he illuminates every composition he undertakes with a living but lightening fire, and imparts to it a soul of passion or a dazzling vivacity, the interpretation never contradicting the author's intention, but more poignant, more intense, more glowing than ever the author dreamed of. And yet no one that has heard Mendelssohn's piauoforte playing can find it dry — can fail to be excited and fascinated by it, despite of its want of all the caprices and colourings of his contemporaries." - Chorley's Musical Tour
The first advertisement announcing the sale of Chopin’s music in Australia occurs in the Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 1843. A Mr Marsh, operating from Bligh Street notes:
"With the same arrival, he has a large quantity of the newest and most popular Music of every description, amongst is "Auber's new Grand Opera Les Diamantes de la Couronne" arranged in various ways, and all the new compositions of Mulberg, Dohler, Chopin, Herz, Czerny, &c., &c. A great variety of Overtures, Songs, Duets, Waltzs, Quadrilles, &c., &c. Amongst the latter, all the Court Quadrilles ofthe last season." Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 1843
It is also interesting to note in this article that Marsh is selling Erard grand pianos.
This same advertisement was noted in the Maitland Mercury, 2 September and the Courier (Hobart) 29 September of the same year. It is also interesting to note that in the Maitland Mercury Mulberg is changed to Thalberg. And we see versions of this advertisement reprinted in numerous newspapers over the next year, sometimes with Mulberg and sometimes with Thalberg. Similar ones appeared during the 1850’s advertising his music for sale at various establishments in Sydney.
Possibly the first publicly advertised concert including a performance of a work of Chopin's was by Madame Herwyn on 25 April 1854. The work was Chopin's Grand Valse Brillante Op.18 in E major. (The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1854)
French born Madame Celestine Herwyn and her violinist husband Henry arrived in Sydney by steamer on 3 Feb 1854 (via Melbourne and Portmouth) and their reputations as musicians of the highest order preceded them. Their first public concert, a Soiree Musicale, was held on Tuesday 28 February 1854 at the rooms on 8 Church-hill Street, opposite St Phillip's Old Church. This concert was the first of a series of four. They subsequently announced a second series of six concerts again on Tuesday's in their rooms beginning on 4 April. Chopin appeared in the fourth of those concerts.
Monsiur and Madame Herwyn performed outside of Sydney including Geelong and Hobart. TheHobart perforamnce was for the Mechanics' Institute, which was a significant driver of culture, including musical culture, in the early colony.
13 March 1854, Royal Victoria Theatre
The next significant Chopin event was the arrival of Mr Edouard Boulanger in January 1855, a self-styled pupil of Chopin, and whose programs regularly featured his works, and for which we have the first reviews of a Chopin performance in the country. His first concert, again bearing the title "Soiree Musicale" was held on 22 February 1855. One of the advertisements in the lead up to the concert described Mr Boulanger thus:
"Music.—To-morrow evening, a soirée musicale will be given by Monsieur E. Boulanger, a pianist of much reputation in Europe and America. He was a pupil of the distinguished and lamented Chopin, whose early death was deeply regretted and widely mourned in France, and wherever musical science of the highest character has been known and appreciated. The performances of M. Boulanger before Queen Victoria, and Her Majesty's flattering approval of them are recorded in the leading English journals. As a composer, M. Boulanger also stands high in Europe ; the Empress of the French has expressly given her permission that his " Meditations Harmoniques " may be dedicated to her. We have heard M. Boulanger at rehearsal, and are enabled to speak in high terms of his taste and masterly execution as a pianist. With the left hand, he may be said to produce effects which will, we have no doubt, surprise many of our youthful musical aspirants ; whilst they will remind older persons of the days when Hummell, Moschelles, Lizt, Cramer, and others illustrated the beauties of an instrument, whose notes evanescent as they have been often described by those who love to " linger on the notes of a cadenza," have yet secured for it the reputation of forming an orchestra in itself. M. Boulanger will be assisted by Mrs. Spence, who will make her first appearance in Sydney. This lady is a pupil of Garcia, and is very highly spoken of in musical circles. Mrs. St. John Adcock, so favourably received at late concerts ; Mr. J. Fairchild, and Mr. Henry Marsh will also perform. By permission of Colonel Bloomfield and the officers of H. M. 11th Regiment, their fine band will assist in the arrangements of the
evening." (The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 1855)
Mr Boulanger it seems was expected to give a performance of the highest order of the Scherzo in B flat minor at a Sydney Philharmonic Society concert that day advertised in the same Sydney paper on 3 July 1854. It was reported the work was “… one of the most brilliant, as it is perhaps the most elaborate and difficult of this great musician’s compositions for the pianoforte”. His performance was favourably reviewed on the 11th being “…executed with consummate skill and taste …”. Mr Boulanger went on to give several concerts for this Society in 1855 and was still performing in Sydney in 1863.
The popularity of Chopin’s works extended to amateur music playing. The Courier (Rockhampton, Qld.) 19 October 1863 reported Chopin on the program by the Wandering Minstrels – an amateur society of both sexes “belonging to the most fashionable classes of society”. Their concert was in aid of the House for Incurables.
Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century various artists would provide one or two Chopin piano pieces at these variety concerts but rarely more.
The Melbourne born Miss Florence Meyer was reported in the West Australian, 8 March 1887 to have given a concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris of the major works by Chopin, Liszt and Schumann. She went on to have a career as a pianist in Australia and overseas. The University of Melbourne’s School of Music today awards the Florence Menk-Meyer Prize to the most promising interpretation of works by the Romantic composers including Chopin.
A serious investigation of Chopin’s works featured in The Argus, 28 August 1890 under the title Chopin Concerts for “two concerts intended to illustrate the genius and methods of Frederick Chopin, both as a composer and as a pianist were given last evening in Glen’s music-hall by Herr and Madame Pabst”. The works included eight preludes, a ballade and three nocturnes.
With the centennial of Chopin’s birth in 1910 Mr William Silver announced in the Advertiser (Adelaide, S. Aust.) 3 March 1910 a pianoforte scholarship would be given to the best performer for any three Chopin compositions.
Chopin was performed in aid of the YMCA work for Australian soldiers wounded in Egypt. The Australian concert was reported in the Advertiser (Adelaide, S. Aust.) 2 July 1915.
One of the earliest radio broadcasts featuring Chopin was advertised in The Argus, 1 November 1924 with Miss Myrtle Liddy to perform Chopin’s E minor Valse on the 2 November. The appreciation of music extended to sound recordings. The journalist and Honorary Polish Consul Ladislaus Adam de Noskowski reviewed Moriz Rosenthal playing Chopin’s Concerto no.1 in E minor recorded by Parlophone. This was one of the earliest record reviews and appeared in his weekly column New Records in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 1932.
In 1913, just prior to the First World War, Australia was introduced to the ballet Les Sylphides by dancers of the Imperial Russian Ballet. This ballet blanc is danced to a collection of Chopin’s music arranged for orchestra. The prima ballerina Anna Pavlova in her first Australian tour in 1926 danced another version of Les Sylphides known as Chopiniana. On her second tour in 1929 she introduced her own choreographed ballet Autumn Leaves depicting the fate of a chrysanthemum bloom which too was set to Chopin’s various piano pieces.
Les Sylphides was so popular it was included on all three Australian tours of the Ballets Russes between 1936-1940. When members of the company remained behind to start their own ballet companies, the Polish Australian Ballet and later the Australian Ballet would feature it in their repertoires or opening seasons.
The great Polish pianists touring Australia all gave Chopin only recitals beginning with Ignace Jan Paderewski (1904, 1927), Arthur Rubinstein (1937, 1964), Ignaz Friedman (1927, 1940-1943). Witold Malcuzynski was in Australia for the 100th anniversary of Chopin’s death (incl. 1956) and also gave all Chopin recitals. Australia’s own Roger Woodward who studied six years in Poland performed the cycle of the complete works of Frederick Chopin at the Sydney Town Hall between January 1983 and February 1985 in four series over seventeen programmes.
Carinia Records was formed in 1952 by Mr. Mrs Kulakowski, Polish migrants, to provide music for migrants homesick for the music from their countries. They were one of the most successful private record companies in Australia and on their 25th anniversary in 1977 presented Australia with a bust of Fryderyk Chopin by the famous Polish sculptor Alfons Karny.
During the second half of the twentieth century saw the establishment of several Chopin societies in Victoria (estab. 1964), Sydney (estab. 1989) and more recently the Australian Chopin Society in Melbourne (estab. 1998)
Chopin’s popularity was evident in 2005 when ABC Classic FM radio surveyed the top one hundred piano pieces Australians couldn’t live without. Although Chopin came in 13th with the Fantaisie-Impromptu op.66 Australians included another nineteen works. No other composer had a total of twenty pieces in the survey. Chopin had one fifth of the hundred making him one of the most popular of the classical composers.
The tyranny of distance does not appear to have impacted on Chopin’s fame, influence or legacy during his lifetime and up to the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2010.
**Disclaimer: This page is currently being updated to correct erroneous and out of date material**