Frederic Chopin died in Paris on Oct. 17, 1849, after a long, hopeless struggle with tuberculosis. This year has many musical anniversaries, including the birth centennials of Francis Poulenc and Carlos Chavez and the deaths of two musicians who were unrelated but had the same family name, Johann Strauss Jr. in 1899 and Richard Strauss in 1949. But none will inspire more widespread or deeper feelings than the sesquicentennial of Chopin's death. He brought to piano music a special kind of poetry that has been imitated but never equaled in the century and a half since his death.
There was a modest observance of the anniversary Friday at the Arts Club of Washington. Pianist Naoko Takao, of the Levine School faculty, gave a brief lecture and a sparkling performance of two of Chopin's late works, the "Barcarolle," Op. 60, and the "Polonaise Fantaisie," Op. 61.
A more elaborate celebration will be the Chopin Festival next month sponsored by the Polish Ministry of Culture and Arts with the patronage of the French and Polish ambassadors and the support of the Alliance Francaise. From Nov. 6 to Nov. 29, the festival will present 14 events--at the Polish and French embassies, the Kreeger Museum, the Levine School, International Finance Corp., the National Gallery, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Phillips Collection.
In addition to piano and song recitals and chamber and orchestral concerts, the festival will include movies, lectures and an unusual program of piano music and dramatic readings (letters of Chopin and George Sand). For further information, phone the Alliance Francaise, 202-234-7911, Ext. 18.
At the Arts Club, Takao gave a brief, informative introductory discussion of Chopin's life in 1849. He had stopped playing in public because of illness; his liaison with George Sand had ended, and he supported himself by giving lessons. Meanwhile, in his later works, such as the two on the program, the sense of structure in his music (considered a weakness by some observers) was growing stronger as were the signs of his admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach.
What she said in her introduction was illustrated in her performance: fluent and limpid, with a fine legato line and a freedom in phrasing that did not undermine the sense of structure.
The Arts Club, in Foggy Bottom, a few blocks from the White House, was one of the few buildings in its neighborhood not destroyed by the British in the War of 1812 and was used as a residence by James Monroe during the reconstruction of the White House. Its salon, where the recital was given, is a small room with intimate acoustics, elegant and furnished in early 19th-century style--the kind of room in which Chopin often performed and would have felt at home.
It is, as a member of the audience remarked, an oasis amid the busy, noisy traffic of its modern neighborhood.
Foggy Bottom, with its concentration of highly educated staff members from the World Bank and other international institutions, George Washington University, the State Department, Executive Office Building and other government offices, is one of Washington's--and the world's--leading centers of free lunch-hour chamber music concerts.
The Arts Club is an integral part of this scene. It presents free concerts of high quality at noon on Fridays in several series distributed through the year. Its fall series will continue through Nov. 5--ending, coincidentally, just when the Chopin Festival begins.
Upcoming noon concerts at the Arts Club--tomorrow: the Duo St. Cecilia (Christine Gustafson, flutist, and Elliot Frank, guitarist), playing music of Toru Takemitsum, Katherine Hoover and Astor Piazzola; Nov. 5: violinists Olivia Hajioff and Mark Ramirez in an unusual program of music for two unaccompanied violins.