Most books about Chopin relegate this little charmer to footnotes, maybe because these Variations on ‘Non più mesta’—the happy ending aria from Rossini’s opera Cinderella—comprise the only piece Chopin wrote that cuts the pianist any slack:
“There’s really nothing to speak of in the piano part. It’s really is all about the flute. It’s really a worthwhile piece, I think, given the paucity of great composers’ material for the flute. A small set of variations by Chopin is sort of a nice apéritif.”
Pianist Christopher O’Riley is perfectly happy to leave the hard part to the flutist. When fourteen-year-old Chopin composed the piece, the flutist in question was probably his father; if not his father, someone in his father’s circle of flute-playing friends.
You don’t hear Chopin’s fingerprints in the piano part but you can’t miss the opera-loving Chopin in his choice of themes or in how he demands fluid singing from the flute. Rossini certainly had high expectations for Cinderella, and by the time Chopin gets to his fourth variation, he’s asking for the same sort of breathless, almost perpetual motion from his flutist.
The aria, ‘Non più mesta’ brings the curtain down on Rossini’s telling of Cinderella’s tale: “No longer sad beside the fire shall I sit alone, singing; my long years of heartache were but a streak of lightning, a dream, a game,” she sings. Tough to think about how, as the ink dried on this sunny manuscript, young Chopin’s years of heartache were just beginning. - Jennifer Foster