REVIEW: Chopin's Last Tour

Actor-author Phillip Aughey uses his play to reflect on influences on Chopin. Picture: Marina Neil
Actor-author Phillip Aughey uses his play to reflect on influences on Chopin. Picture: Marina Neil


Presented by: Anvil Creek Theatre

Venue: The Royal Exchange, Newcastle

Season: Ended Saturday 

FREDERICK Chopin, while now a much-appreciated composer, had a mixed reception in his lifetime, and preferred to perform in salons rather than in large music venues.

His irritation at the demands made on him by patrons comes through in the opening moments of Phillip Aughey’s look at the factors that moulded Chopin’s life and the music he wrote.

He’s railing bitterly when he comes on stage alongside a piano about the way two Scottish sisters have taken control of his movements by organising a performance tour throughout Britain.

It subsequently becomes clear from his raving that Chopin needed to get away from his long-time home in Paris after the break-up of his relationship with female novelist George Sand, and that the Scottish sisters, one of whom was attracted to him, saw Britain as offering him the needed change.

Branxton-based  Aughey  both wrote and performs in  Chopin’s Last Tour and makes the composer a  down-to-earth figure, and shows how the people and events of his life influenced his music.

The 50-minute work, which had its first performances last week at Newcastle’s Royal Exchange, a salon-style venue that would have pleased Chopin, is bound for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which begins next week.

Audiences there, like those in Newcastle, will be fascinated when hearing the familiar music pieces played by Aughey to learn the factors that led to their writing.

The Etude No. 12, Opus 10, ‘‘Revolutionary’’, for example, was his response to a Russian invasion of Warsaw in November, 1831, a year after he left Poland,  aged 20, to move to Paris.  

His love for his homeland is very evident in the majestic piece.

Likewise, when the composer talks about his life with George Sand, the Prelude in E Minor, written on the warm Mediterranean island, Majorca, when he escorted the woman and her children there in 1838 to escape a bitter Paris winter, shows his affection for her at that time.

And the passionate feelings he had for family members, who remained in Poland after his departure, comes through in the gentle finale, Nocturne No 20 in C Sharp Minor, which he dedicated to an older sister, Ludwika, at the time of his departure.

Chopin’s Last Tour, set in Scotland 12months before he died from tuberculosis, gives Chopin a humanity that makes his piano music even more engaging.