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Faculty Recital: Craig Sheppard, piano, Complete Chopin Nocturnes

$20 General; $15 UW Affiliate (UW faculty, staff, UW retiree, UWAA member); $10 students/seniors.
Craig Sheppard, piano

Chopin’s Nocturnes often belie their title of ‘Night Pieces.’ Each one is a small tone poem with moments of torment and grandeur, as faculty pianist Craig Sheppard demonstrates in his performance of the complete set of Nocturnes.  


FRYDERYK CHOPIN (1810-1849) 

Three Nocturnes, Opus 9 (dedicated to Mme. Camille Pleyel) (1820-30) 
#1 in B flat minor 
#2 in E flat Major 
#3 in B Major 

Three Nocturnes, Opus 15 (dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller) (1831) 
#1 in F Major 
#2 in F sharp Major 
#3 in G minor 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 27 (dedicated to Madame la Comtesse d’Appony) (1834-35) 
#1 in C sharp minor 
#2 in D flat Major 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 32 (dedicated to Madame la Baronne de Billing, née de Courbonne) (1836-37) 
#1 in B Major 
#2 in A flat Major 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 37 (no dedicatee!) (1839) 
#1 in G minor 
#2 in G Major 

Brief Intermission 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 48 (dedicated to Mademoiselle Laure Duperré) (1841) 
#1 in C minor 
#2 in F sharp minor 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 55 (dedicated to Jane Stirling) (1843) 
#1 in F minor 
#2 in E flat Major 

Two Nocturnes, Opus 62 (dedicated to Mademoiselle R. de Könneritz) (1846) 
#1 in B Major 
#2 in E Major 

Nocturne in E minor, Opus 72 #1 (Opus Posthumous) (1827?) 

Nocturne in C minor, Opus Posthumous (before 1825) 

Nocturne in C sharp minor, Opus Posthumous (1830) 

Program Notes

Chopin and the Nocturne style

Three events in Chopin’s life were seminal to his development as a composer.  Firstly, as an already accomplished piano prodigy by the age of 9, he witnessed the advent in Warsaw in 1819 of the great Italian bel canto soprano, Angelica Catalani , whom he heard on several occasions and for whom he played.  In 1826, he became a student at the Warsaw High School for music, studying composition with Józef Elsner who, having studied previously with Joseph Haydn in Vienna, introduced Chopin to the classical style (Elsner was to remain Chopin’s only composition teacher).  Then, several years later in Paris, Chopin attended a production of Bellini’s Il Pirata, a performance that knocked him sideways and reinforced his deep love of the bel canto repertoire.   And, it was precisely these ideas, Italian bel canto and Viennese classicism, that would have attracted Chopin to the form of the Nocturne, works that combined bel cantomelodies over a florid homophonic harmonic structure.  Many, if not most, of his subsequent compositions would be based on these elements, including those in dance form (Mazurkas, Waltzes, Krakowiaks, etc.).

As a student in Warsaw, Chopin would have been familiar with the works of the great Irish pianist, John Field, and particularly his popular Nocturnes, a relatively recent addition to the pianist’s repertoire that Field had invented, works which, when played as a whole (to quote something a friend said to me just the other day) ‘put one in a meditative and altered state of mind’.   Chopin was already composing works in this genre in the late 1820s, and when he finally came face to face with Field in Paris in the early months of 1833, the latter dismissed him as a lightweight.  How harshly history judges such comments in hindsight!!

One of the interesting things for the performer is the dedication of each of the opuses published during Chopin’s lifetime.  While the dedicatees were normally his students, the one exception is Ferdinand Hiller, the great German pianist who was a part of Chopin’s inner circle in Paris (a circle, by the way, that included Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz and Felix Mendelssohn!).  Opus 15 is dedicated to Hiller.  Striking to many pianists is the lack of dedication of Opus 37 and, furthermore, the complete absence of any dedication to Chopin’s muse of eight years, George Sand, aka the writer Aurore Dudevant (it has been pointed out that Mme. Sand did not dedicate anything to Chopin, either!).   We know that the second of the Opus 37 Nocturnes, a bright and happy barcarolle in G, was composed during Chopin’s first summer at Nohant, Sand’s estate in the center of France.  I would postulate that the first – a much darker, pleading, semi-religious work – might well have been written during the two and a half turbulent months that Chopin spent with Sand on Mallorca the previous winter.  This is something we’ll never know!

There is controversy over the provenance of the posthumous Nocturne, Opus 72/1, as well as the little C minor Nocturne that follows on the program.  My students have insisted that I explain some of this, and more, to the audience on May 8th, so these program notes will now finish in anticipation of such.  Before that, however, I would like to add a paragraph about my relationship to the human voice and the singers who informed my understanding of bel canto

During eight of my London years, roughly 1976 to 1984, my manager was primarily a singer’s agent.  Knowing my love of the vocal repertoire, he arranged for me to accompany a number of the leading operatic stars of the era.  The great Russian mezzo, Irina Arkhipova, was the first.  Starting in 1978, I played for Mme. Arkhipova when she came to the UK on a yearly basis.  She possessed an enormous voice, comparable in volume on the operatic stage to that of Birgit Nilsson, yet she could also pare her voice back to a haunting beauty that would leave one speechless.  I owe much to Irina who, in addition, became a bit of a mother figure, as her son was the same age as I!  In 1982, I had the enormous privilege of playing four concerts in Scotland with the great soprano Victoria de Los Angeles.  I could wax lyric for hours over the incredible timbre in her voice and how moved I was when she sang.  Beginning in 1980 up through 1985, I played virtually every solo recital with the reigning Verdi baritone in Europe, Renato Bruson.  You name it, we did it – London’s Wigmore Hall, Covert Garden Opera House, La Scala in Milan, the Musikverein in Vienna, Avignon in France, and many more.   In fact, the greatest ovation I ever had, and am likely to ever have, was when Renato pushed me out on stage to take a solo bow in Vienna in 1984.  It was overwhelming, to be honest!  And there were others – Sylvia Sass, Luigi Alva, Yuri Mazurok – names largely forgotten today.  It is my hope that I will be able to convey much of what I learned about the bel canto from these great artists when I perform the Chopin Nocturnes this evening.
—Copyright Craig Sheppard, May 1, 2023


Piano Professor Craig Sheppard

Craig Sheppard is Professor of Piano and Head of Keyboard at the School of Music of the University of Washington in Seattle.  He is also Professor of the Advanced Innovation Center at the China Conservatory in Beijing, and his former students hold positions in conservatories and universities throughout the world. 

A veteran of over fifty years on the international stage, in the past few seasons he has performed both Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues and Bach’s The Art of Fugue in venues throughout the United States, as well as London, Manchester (UK), Jerusalem, Shanghai and Beijing’s Forbidden City Concert Hall, in addition to giving masterclasses at all of the above. 

As recording artist, his LPs and CDs have appeared on the Sony, Chandos, Philips, EMI and AT-Berlin labels.  He has published 26 CDs with Romeo Records (NY) since 2005, including the complete Beethoven sonatas (Beethoven: A Journey), the Six Bach Partitas, the Inventions and Sinfornias, both books of The Well Tempered Clavier, the last three Schubert sonatas, Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage I and II, Debussy’s 24 Preludes and 12 Études (including both books of Images and Estampes), the 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich, Late Piano Works, Opus 116-19,  of Johannes Brahms, and Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue).   

Within the past two decades, he has traveled many times to the Far East for performances and masterclasses, including Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  He has performed at the Nehru Memorial Library in New Delhi, held a residency at the Melba Conservatory in Melbourne, Australia, and performed three times in New Zealand, including the first ever public performances of both books of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Most recently, he performed the Complete Chopin Nocturnes at the Museu do Oriente in Lisbon.

Born in Philadelphia in November, 1947, Craig Sheppard graduated from both the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, studying with Eleanor Sokoloff and Sasha Gorodnitzki respectively.  He also worked with Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals at the Marlboro Festival, and later with Ilona Kabos, Peter Feuchtwanger and Sir Clifford Curzon in London.  During his early years, in addition to a successful début at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he won top prizes in the Busoni, Ciani, and Rubinstein competitions.  However, it was his Silver Medal at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1972 that brought him to international attention.  Moving to London in 1973 and living there for the next twenty years, Sheppard taught at Lancaster University, the Yehudi Menuhin School, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  He also performed on multiple occasions with all the major British orchestras and with many on the European continent, under such conductors as Sir George Solti, Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Sanderling, James Levine, Michael Tilson Thomas, Aaron Copland, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir John Pritchard, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Zinman, and Leonard Slatkin. In the United States, he has performed with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, Rochester and Seattle, and many others. 

Craig Sheppard’s solo repertoire is eclectic, comprising nearly fifty solo recital programs and more than sixty concerti covering a wide spectrum within the Western canon.  He also has a great love of chamber music and has collaborated with many great instrumentalists and singers, including Wynton Marsalis, José Carreras, Victoria de los Angeles, Irina Arkhipova, Ida Handel, Sylvia Rosenberg, Mayumi Fujikawa, the Cleveland, Emerson and Miró string quartets, and many musicians of the younger generation, including James Ehnes, Stefan Jackiw, Richard O’Neill, Edward Arron and Johannes Moser.

Sheppard is invited frequently to serve on the juries of distinguished international competitions, including most recently the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv in May of 2021 and the National Society of Arts and Letters in Chicago in 2022.  He also returns regularly to the Jerusalem Music Center to perform and teach, as well as the Chetham’s Summer School in Manchester, UK.  With colleague Dr. Robin McCabe, Sheppard is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Seattle Piano Institute, a boot camp for aspiring young pianists  held every July at the University of Washington, this summer celebrating its 14th anniversary.

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