Episode 17: Chopin's Cantabile

Cantabile in B-flat Major, KK 1230

rc-cantabile-200A footnote. Fourteen bars. Can a fifty-five second composition be a key to unlocking Chopin’s life-long aesthetic?

Cantabile. An Italian word first used around 1724. It means “singable,” “songlike,” or indicates “a style of playing designed to imitate the human voice.”

Twice in his life Chopin fell head-over-heels in love…with singers. A third became a close friend and collaborator. Days after his arrival in Paris, Chopin wrote home heady with the endless buffet of spectacular voices he was hearing night after night. Chopin was identifying something of himself in these great voices and in what they were singing - most notably in the “never-ending melody” Chopin reported hearing in Vincenzo Bellini’s operas.

For many music scholars, Chopin’s love of opera, and of singing, is the key to understanding his music; they call it Chopin’s “Cantabile Aesthetic.” Flowing, singable, lines, Bellini’s bel canto, translated to the black and white of the keys.

Cantabile is also the title of this briefest of Chopin miniatures. Chopin wrote it in Paris around 1834, but it didn’t get published until nearly a century later. Despite its brevity, it sums up the singing soul of Chopin. As Chopin’s biographer, James Hunecker wrote, "He may become old-fashioned, but, like Mozart, he will remain eternally beautiful.” - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 17: Chopin's Cantabile

Cantabile in B-flat Major, KK 1230