Chopin and the Cello

What connected the piano virtuoso with the cello?

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Paweł Bień (Chopin Institute)

Grand piano Pleyel, c. 1854The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Chopin and piano

We associate Chopin's music primarily with the piano. There was a reason why it was said that there would be no Chopin without the piano and there would be no piano without Chopin. However, the composer's oeuvre also includes compositions for various instrumental ensembles.

Trio g-moll na fortepian, skrzypce i wiolonczelę op. 8The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

A trio and a duo

In addition to juvenile pieces for piano and orchestra, it is also worth mentioning chamber compositions such as the Trio in G minor, in which the piano is accompanied by a violin and a cello.

It is not only the juvenile polonaise that Fryderyk wrote for piano and cello, but also –shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1832– the Grand Duo Concertant.

Costumes Français, 1799 : Polonaise de Satin (...) (ca. 1799) by anoniemRijksmuseum

Sense of humor

We rehearsed it and it can get by...– noted Chopin in a letter to his friend. He wrote these words in 1829, after creating the Polonaise in C major, Op. 3 for piano and cello. 

He was only nineteen then, and he already showed an unusual sense of the spirit of the dance, the panache of invention and a brilliant sense of humor. However, he was critical of himself.

Fryderyk Chopin in the salon of prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1888) by Rudolf SchusterThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Grand Duo Concertant

In a letter, Chopin confided about the cello polonaise: Nothing but trinkets for the ladies' parlour. Today, it is difficult to agree with such harsh self-criticism. 

Fortunately, Fryderyk was not discouraged and, three years later, he presented the Grand Duo Concertant for piano and cello to the Paris audience.

Die Verwandten aus der Provinz (19th Century) by Albert Heinrich Wray, PayneThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Brillant style

The work is based on a theme taken from the then popular opera "Robert the Devil" by Meyerbeer and shows Chopin's fascination with the then fashionable brillant style, full of charm and refinement. A long time had to pass until another work intended for the cello and piano.

Sonata g-moll na fortepian i wiolonczelę op. 65 (1846 - 1847) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Cello Sonata, Op. 65

Today, there are no doubts it was worth it. The Cello Sonata, Op. 65 is the composer's last work published during his lifetime. The piece is full of tension, romantic impulses, subtle melodies and twists of musical action. Just like the story of its creation.

Portrait of Fryderyk Chopin View 1The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

I discard it, then I pick it up again

Sometimes I find my Sonata with cello satisfactory, at other times – not. I discard it, then I pick it up again– Fryderyk wrote in his letter. Work on the new piece begun in 1845 but was not yet at an advanced stage in the fall of the following year. 

It was not until the summer of 1847 that Chopin would announce: as far as my music is concerned, I am just about to have my Sonata with cello printed...

Note from Fryderyk Chopin to George Sand (between 1841 and 1847) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The time when the late masterpiece was created coincided with great changes in the composer's life. Subsequent versions of the work are created in the shadow of the breakup with George Sand and his deteriorating health. 

To this day, many critics emphasize that the cello sonata opens a new stage in Chopin's work. Unfortunately, we do not know what artistic results could that stylistic change have brought. After having written the sonata, Chopin most likely does not compose anymore.

Sonata g-moll na fortepian i wiolonczelę op. 65 (1846 - 1847) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

On February 16, 1848, the Paris audience was able to hear the Sonata in G minor for the first time. August Franchomme played the cello, and the composer himself sat at the piano. It was Chopin's last public concert.

Overloaded and not very clean

It's hard to believe today, but only three of the four parts were played during the first performance. The first one was omitted. One of Chopin's students later explained that the piece did not meet with favorable reviews by Fryderyk's friends, so he decided to omit a controversial fragment considered overloaded and not very clear.

Sketch for the painting Szopen [Chopin] (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Here and there some flower

Critics treated the sonata cruelly. It was written that it seemed as if Chopin knocked on all the keys to see if he would find a good sound somewhere, others again saw in it only an effort, a painful effort, or even compared it to a field of weeds where it only blooms here and there some flower.

Eine Matinée bei Liszt (1846) by Joseph KriehuberThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

It was not until the 20th century that these critical assessments changed. Contemporary scholars see the Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 precursor of works by Brahms or Tchaikovsky, musicians from around the world include her in  their repertoire, and the audience allows her to surprise, charm and captivate her. Listen for yourself!

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Chopin Forever
View theme
Google apps