Eric Himy

A Rainy Afternoon with Chopin

by H and L Polgar • September 13, 2015


Pianist Eric Himy Launches WIPAC’s Fall Concert Season


Those who were in attendance at the Kosciusko Foundation for the Washington International Piano Arts Council’s (WIPAC’s) Fall concert on Saturday, September 12, were feted to a very special recital by the acclaimed concert pianist, Eric Himy, in his performance of the four Frederick Chopin Ballades.

The Kosciusko Foundation is a leading Washington, DC, organization that seeks to promote cultural exchange by sharing the richness of Polish culture with the American public. Indeed, Eric Himy’s concert did showcase the best of Polish musical traditions.

The Chopin Ballades are amongst the most well-known and difficult in the Chopin repertoire. In fact, because of their technical challenges, it is unusual to hear a pianist perform all four Ballades in the same program. So to hear Eric Himy’s performance was indeed a rare occasion for devoted music listeners.

A fiery interpreter well known for his pianistic technical prowess, Himy also has a remarkable ability as a melodist, conveying the musical architecture of the Ballades. Unlike many pianists who perform each of the Ballades as if they were divided into movements, Himy’s interpretive skills are such that he performs the works  with a melodic continuity creating a one movement piece as they were intended by the composer. Few pianists are able to discover this musical secret of the works, which Himy has found.

Providing a visual imagery in his introductory remarks, Mr. Himy took the audience on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the salon of the Kosciusko Foundation on O St NW to an overcast rainy afternoon in Paris in the 1830s where Chopin perhaps on a similar day performed his Ballades. Mr. Himy explained that Chopin had only performed before a large audience about 20 times during his career, preferring instead the intimacy of the salon setting. .

The historical relationship between Tadeuz Kosciusko, a Polish military hero who fought in the American Revolution; Chopin, a leading exponent for Polish freedom during the time that General Kosciusko defended Polish sovereignty against Russia, and the great poet Adam Mickiewicz, who is said to have inspired Chopin to write the Ballades, is indeed an inspiring story. That relationship came together in the musical salon of the Kosciusko Foundation which was established in the 1920’s to provide scholarship assistance to Polish immigrants in the USA. 

The four Chopin Ballades are invariably described as having been inspired specifically by the poetry of the great Polish patriotic poet Adam Mickiewicz. Although there is no documented reference by Chopin that this was the case, Mickiewicz was a great hero of Polish freedom and his poetry has always been a great inspiration for freedom-loving Polish people. There is a reference by Chopin that he visited Mickiewicz in 1849 in Paris shortly before Chopin died, as they were compatriots living in the exiled Polish community in France. However, the Ballades were written before there was any record of these two great artists having met. It was composer Robert Schumann, who was also a renowned writer about music, who wrote that Chopin conveyed to him in person that his Ballades were inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s poetry.

The Ballades were written during a very difficult period in Chopin’s life. At the outbreak of the Polish revolution, when Russia attacked the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, Chopin was in Vienna. Wanting to return to join the fight against Russia, his father ordered him not to return. Austria was at the time allied with Russia, so a well-known Polish musician was not looked upon with much favor in Vienna, and Chopin went to France. Chopin writes about his regrets in leaving his family and Poland, and is filled with patriotic fervor that he expresses in his Ballades, and no doubt was probably inspired as were so many Polish patriots by their poet laureate, Adam Mickiewicz.

Eric Himy is a pianist with a rich palette in his music dynamics and colorations. He took his audience beyond a realm in time, where at least this listener was transported by the artist’s wonderful talent as a virtuoso. The great Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski, whose portrait looked over Eric Himy’s shoulder as he performed, would have also have applauded him for a beautiful performance on this Saturday afternoon in Washington D.C.