In May 1833 Chopin heard Louis Joseph Ferdinand Herold’s (1791–1833) opera Ludovic
, finished by Hálevy. The Variations brillantes
“Je vends des Scapulaires” Op 12, based on the homonymous aria from the opera, are Chopin’s final variation set and a virtual farewell to the virtuoso style cherished in Paris. Written after the early nocturnes and etudes and in the year he wrote his first ballade, it almost represents a regression or a final concession to the bravura stile brillante, so much clichéd—in particular in variation form—that it entered dictionaries as such: 'First there are simple quavers and triplets, then arpeggios, syncopations and octaves, without forgetting the adagio in the relative mode and the tempo di polacca' (Castil-Blaze, Dictionnaire de Musique Moderne
, 1825). Although Arthur Loesser called it 'a masterpiece in its own way', already at the time Schumann called it 'writing à la mode' and thought that 'they belong altogether to the drawing-room or concert-hall, and … are far removed from any poetic sphere'. This piece, together with Bolero and Rondo, Op 16, represents Chopin’s last attempt at such conventional and fairly anonymous writing that perpetrated the tradition of contemporary concert-hall crowd pleasers. Nevertheless, Franz Liszt apparently referred to the set as Chopin’s favourite piece of his own, commenting after hearing Chopin play it for himself: 'Such a poetic temperament as Chopin’s never existed, nor have I ever heard such delicacy and refinement of playing. The tone, though small, was absolutely beyond criticism, and although his execution was not forcible, nor by any means fitted for the concert room, still it was perfect in the extreme.'
from notes by Robert Andres © 2005