Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise
Composed: 1830; 1834
Length: c. 13 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trombone, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: August 22, 1963, José Iturbi conducting, with soloist Amparo Iturbi
After writing his two piano concertos, and before moving to Paris in 1831, Chopin composed a Grand Polonaise in E-flat for Piano and Orchestra, although why he added the orchestra part to a piano polonaise has often been asked, but never answered satisfactorily. (This is the only example of an accompanied polonaise in his catalog, which lists 16 polonaises for solo piano.) At any rate, deciding in 1834 that the piece needed an introduction, he composed the Andante spianato, and wisely refrained from supplying it with an orchestral accompaniment.
A nocturne-like piece gorgeously embroidered with Chopin’s inimitable filigree, the Andante has a dreamy, austerely beautiful lyricism. It is indicative of the mood Chopin had in mind for the Andante that he not only made spianato (smoothed out) a part of the title, but then added the direction tranquillo for good measure.
As for the Polonaise, it may not be Chopin’s most esteemed work in the stately Polish dance style with its roots in the 16th century, but it is eminently pianistic and engagingly brilliant. Chopin is known to have played it only once with orchestra, when he introduced it in 1835.