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“This is virtuosity both young and timeless.” —

92Y proudly present one of today’s most celebrated younger pianists — Rafał Blechacz, current winner of the quadrennial Gilmore Artist Award (chosen in secret by a jury), and a first prize winner of the Chopin International Competition. Praised by the great pianist Martha Argerich as “a very honest, extraordinary and sensitive artist,” he’s only the second Polish artist — after Krystian Zimerman — ever to be signed by Deutsche Grammophon. He has already released five albums on the label, including three on his compatriot Chopin. He brings that renowned interpretation to 92Y along with works by Bach and Beethoven.

Rafał Blechacz, piano
92Y debut

BACH: Four Duets, BWV 802-805
BEETHOVEN: Rondo in G major, Op. 51, No. 2
BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3  piano
CHOPIN: Nocturne in F-sharp minor,  Op. 48, No. 2 
CHOPIN: Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor,  Op. 35, “Funeral March”
CHOPIN: Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49


This event is supported by the Polish Cultural Institute.

►Rafał Blehacz plays Beethoven: Scherzo from Piano Sonata in A major, Op. 2, No. 2

► Video Preview of Rafał Blehacz’s Chopin: Polonaises album for Deutsche Grammophon

The New York Times reports on Rafał Blehacz receiving the 2014 Gilmore Award

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

BACH: Four Duets, BWV 802-805

Born in Eisenach, March 21, 1685; died in Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Four Duets, BWV 802-805
Composed c. 1739; 14 minutes

The vast majority of Bach’s compositions remained unpublished during his lifetime. Of the small handful that did appear in print, the most significant by far were the four volumes of the Clavier-Übung (or “Keyboard Practice”) published during the 1730s.

Appended to the end of the third volume were four somewhat independent keyboard “duets.” Scholars have tried to fit these shorter works into the quasi-liturgical structure of the rest of the volume (which is conceived explicitly for organ), but without conclusive success. They appear to have been added late in the publishing process, are not obviously composed for the organ, and do not appear to carry any religious significance beyond Bach’s overarching belief that all his music was written “to the glory of God.”

The “duets” are actually two-part fugues that demonstrate in a transparent texture Bach’s contrapuntal clarity and genius. The first duet, in E minor, presents a double fugue of invertible counterpoint, all of the constituent themes rife with pungent chromaticism. The second duet, in F minor, follows a da capo form, with an A section of bright and untroubled enthusiasm. But the contrasting B section reverts to the angular dissonance of the opening duet, including a direct reference to one of its themes.

The G-major duet begins by returning to a lighter, simpler approach, the left hand switching roles between accompaniment and more active participation. The lively final duet, in A-minor, opens with a subject that lays out all the chromaticisms, unexpected changes of direction, and shifting accents that will flavor the vigorous episodes and unusual modulations that follow

© 2016, Luke Howard

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BEETHOVEN: Rondo in G major, Op. 51, No. 2

Born in Bonn, baptized on December 17, 1770; died in Vienna, March 26, 1827
Rondo in G major, Op. 51, No. 2

Composed c. 1797; 10 minutes

After Beethoven moved from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, he began to challenge the traditional forms and styles of the late Classical era, taking the heritage of Haydn and Mozart as his starting point but reshaping the musical language. And it was in the keyboard works — the piano sonatas and shorter solo compositions — that he first began experimenting.

Sometime around 1797, Beethoven composed two Rondos for piano, the first published almost immediately but then republished in 1802 along with the second Rondo as the composer’s Op. 51. The first, in C major, exhibits the lightness of 18th-century classicism, but it is the more expansive G-major Rondo, dedicated to the Countess Lichnowsky, that contains hints of Beethoven’s future direction. Though he would later include rondos as movements in his larger works, this was the last stand-alone rondo he would write.

The ingratiating main theme presents an ornamented melody against a rocking left-hand accompaniment, but almost immediately Beethoven switches the roles. That interplay develops seamlessly into a contrasting triplet-driven passage. A brief reference to the opening theme then steals in, initiating a retransition back to tonic for a full reprise. Then, a sudden shift in meter (6/8), tempo (Allegretto), and tonality (E major) for the central section introduces a simple folk-dance idea that is immediately developed. Both earlier themes return, all in tonic harmony but with additional embellishments and alterations..

© 2016, Luke Howard

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BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3

Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3
Composed in 1796; 26 minutes

During Beethoven’s early career, the piano sonata genre was essentially a private form, intended for amateur music-making and not for public recital. In his first set of three sonatas, Opus 2, published in 1796, the privacy of the genre allowed Beethoven to try out new ideas before incorporating them into other, more public genres such as a symphony or concerto. But the influence could work the other way, as well. In the sonata in C major, Op. 2 No. 3, for example, Beethoven writes a piano work with four movements rather than the more traditional three, and near the end of the first movement incorporates a cadenza-like passage, as if drawn from a concerto.

Many of these early sonatas—and Op. 2 No. 3 is an especially apt example—also employ the textures of a string quartet. Beethoven actually transcribed some of his other early piano works for string quartet, and he wrote an early minuet for string quartet that he later transcribed for piano. At this point in his development as a musician, he clearly thought of the sonata and quartet as related, parallel forms.

The first movement (Allegro con brio) of this sonata recycles some themes borrowed from the composer’s early Piano Quartet in C, WoO 36, No. 3. The delicacy of the opening melody is deceiving, the movement increasing in energy and seriousness as it progresses. For the second movement Adagio, Carl Czerny hinted at an almost programmatic interpretation, claiming that here Beethoven had raised instrumental writing “to such a pitch of refinement that it resembled even poetry and painting.” But the Scherzo that follows mitigates the seriousness with some witty fugato writing. Perhaps the imitative passages were meant to send an ironic message to Haydn, Beethoven’s teacher, letting him know that his “pupil” wasn’t neglecting his counterpoint exercises while Haydn was visiting London. The Finale returns to the sparkling and energetic style of the first movement

© 2016, Luke Howard

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CHOPIN: Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48, No. 2

Born in Zelazowa Wola, Poland, March 1, 1810; died in Paris, October 17, 1849
Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48, No. 2
Composed in 1841; 7 minutes

Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the solo piano. The only significant exceptions are some works for piano with orchestra and several collections of Polish songs, but in every work he wrote the solo piano is not only present, it leads. Even more remarkably, nearly all of Chopin’s works remain in the current performing repertory.

Chopin composed two Nocturnes in 1841, published soon after as his Op. 48. More varied than earlier works to which he had given this title, these Nocturnes show significant development, change and variation within their ternary form.

The Nocturne in F-sharp minor opens on dominant harmony before settling into a plaintive melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment — one of the hallmarks of Chopin’s “nocturne” style. The constant two-against-three cross rhythms are unsettling, but are couched in a relaxed Andantino tempo, and the unease dissipates at the end of the first paragraph as the harmonies shift subtly to G-sharp major. The middle section presents a conversation between block chords and speech-like melodic fragments that Chopin described as somewhat like a recitative: “a tyrant commands, and the other asks for mercy.” But just as suddenly as it appeared, this dramatic interlude melds into a repeat of the main theme in the home key. A shimmering coda in tonic major lifts the harmony, and bestows calm on the whole..

© 2016, Luke Howard

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CHOPIN: Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, “Funeral March”

Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, “Funeral March”
Composed in 1837, 1839; 23 minutes

Robert Schumann once said of Chopin’s 1839 Piano Sonata:

He calls it a “sonata.” One might see this as capricious if not downright presumptuous, for he has simply tied together four of his most unruly children — perhaps to smuggle them under his name into places they otherwise could never have reached.

There is indeed a marked difference of character among the four movements, from the agitated opening to the demonic scherzo, the famous “funeral march,” and the “wind-over-the-grave” whisperings (to paraphrase Anton Rubinstein) of the virtuosic finale. Some scholars have theorized about a carefully fashioned and unified structure, though the experience of actually listening to the work seems to accentuate the miscellany of the “unruly” movements, each of which also manifest stark internal contrasts.

The first movement opens with dissonant leaps, crashing chords, abrupt changes in dynamics, and irregular accents. But the palpable dynamism is dispelled almost immediately by a gentle, chorale-like second theme. After the development section, the chorale is brought back more clearly in the recapitulation, while the first theme lurks menacingly as an accompaniment figure.

The vigor of the first movement continues into the brilliant Scherzo that follows. This movement also includes a contrasting lyrical Trio, written in the style of some of the composer’s waltzes and preludes, though the asymmetrical phrase lengths settle uneasily on the ear.

The third movement—arguably the most famous funeral march in Western music — was composed in 1837, two years earlier than the rest of the sonata. As the march develops, it becomes less elegiac and more heroic, leading into yet another contrasting lyrical section. This nocturne-like interlude is one of the most transparent and delicate passages Chopin ever penned. Linked to the march by tempo and meter, it is neither a lament nor a song of condolence as it expresses genuine and unforced tranquility.

The final “movement,” unique in style and form, is best considered as a coda to the funeral march, as its chilling breeze blows over the grave of the newly-buried hero. The halting and dramatic last measures allude to the opening of Chopin’s earlier B-flat minor Scherzo, Op. 31. .

© 2016, Luke Howard

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CHOPIN: Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49

Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49
Composed in 1841; 13 minutes

When Chopin composed his Fantaisie in F minor in 1841, he returned to a genre he had explored only a couple of times earlier in his career (notably in the well-known Fantaisie-Impromptu). This work’s spontaneous exploration of disparate moods in a freeform style and its extended proportions — one of the longest single-movement works Chopin ever produced — have helped foster the Fantaisie’s reputation as a formidable masterpiece, an expression of Chopin’s genius that calls for the highest levels of artistry in performance.

It is also, like so much of Chopin’s music, subtly nationalist. Hidden within the musical fabric are indirect allusions to a Polish insurrection song, “Litwinka,” that was widely known in Chopin’s day. When he finished composing the Fantaisie, Chopin wrote that there was “a sadness in my heart,” but also indicated that this sadness — perhaps compelled by longing for home and country—gave some purpose to his life and music.

The Fantaisie opens with two march phrases, funereal and proud in turn, followed by a stylized improvisatory passages in triplets, like a recitative. The triplets then become an accompanimental figure supporting a passionate melody. Here the music has the feel of a narrative, like one of the composer’s Ballades but with an enhanced sense of moment and urgency. Another confident, militaristic theme over a walking bass contributes additional purpose. These themes dissipate, though, gradually losing impetus until only octave G-flats remain. Then a new theme, Lento, provides a solemn interlude, which is interrupted suddenly by the earlier impassioned themes. At the conclusion a brief moment of lonely recitative resolves heavenward into an angelic haze before a plagal cadence pronounces a benediction on the work’s drama.

© 2016, Luke Howard

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Artist Bio

Rafał Blechacz, piano

Rafał Blechacz is the winner of the 2014 Gilmore Artist Award, one of the most prestigious music awards in the world, and presented every four years to a distinguished, extraordinary concert pianist, regardless of age or nationality. The young Polish pianist established himself firmly on the international concert scene in 2005 when he won the renowned 15th Frédéric Chopin International Piano Competition.

Mr. Blechacz has performed with such orchestras as the London and Rotterdam philharmonics, Vienna Radio Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestra dell 'Accademia di Santa Cecilia and Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. He has given recitals in the world’s major concert halls including Berlin’s Philharmonie, London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, La Scala Milan, the Vienna Konzerthaus, Brussel’s Palais des Beaux-Arts, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and New York's Avery Fisher Hall. In 2014 he made his Carnegie Hall recital debut performing in Zankel Hall in 2014.

Mr. Blechacz is an exclusive recording artist of Deutsche Grammophon, becoming only the second Polish artist, after Kyrstian Zimerman, to be signed by the prestigious label. He has made five albums to date, with an all Bach-disc expected for early 2017. His DG debut CD of Chopin Preludes was release in 2008; it won German Echo Klassik and French Diapason D’or prizes and was soon followed by a disc of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. His 2010 album of Chopin’s two piano concertos with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra was awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and his disc of works by Debussy and Szymanowski was named Gramophone’s Recording of the Month for September 2013. His latest recording, featuring Chopin Polonaises, was released in 2013, and his sixth album, an all-Bach recording, will be released in early 2017.

Born in Naklo, Poland, 1985, Rafał Blechacz began his musical studies at age five and attended the Artur Rubinstein State School of Music in Bydgoszcz. Among his honors, in 2010 he received the Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana (Italy), awarded annually by an international jury of music critics to young musicians for their outstanding artistic achievements. In 2016 Mr. Blechacz embarked upon a sabbatical period to complete his Ph.D. dissertation in Philosophy of Music. His website is

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