He is a Grammy award-winning musician hailed as “a phenomenon” and one of “the most astounding young pianists of our age”.
Now the Russian virtuoso Daniil Trifonov is to take another step towards musical stardom when, as part of a new film, he will perform the work of Frédéric Chopin on the same pianos that the composer played on his 1848 concert tour of Britain.
“Other Chopin films have played his music on contemporary pianos, which sound different. Like all my movies, we’re trying to recreate history and bring you back in time,” said the producer Donald Rosenfeld, former president of Merchant Ivory Productions, who made period classics such as Howards End, starring .Emma Thompson. He and Andreas Roald at Sovereign Films have just acquired the film rights to Paul Kildea’s book, Chopin’s Piano: A Journey Through Romanticism, which traces the history of Chopin’s masterpiece, the 24 Preludes, through the instruments on which they were played.
The film-maker has also secured permission to use two of Chopin’s pianos, part of the collection created by Alec Cobbe over 50 years at Hatchlands Park, a Georgian National Trust property in Surrey. “These instruments evoke a completely different response to the music. They’re magical,” said Cobbe.
Rosenfeld said Kildea’s book, originally published by Allen Lane, had inspired a “dream project” about a musical genius, more than 30 years after Miloš Forman’s Amadeus, a film about the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri that won eight Oscars.
Exploring the nature of artistic inspiration, the film will tell the story of how, in 1838, a sickly Chopin went to Mallorca with his lover George Sand to escape the Parisian winter. They settled in an abandoned monastery, where Chopin was “close to all that is most beautiful”, but struggled to compose without a decent instrument. He told his publisher: “I dream of music, but I can’t write any because there are no pianos to be had here – in that respect it is a barbarous country.” Using a small piano, a pianino, made by a local craftsman, he composed some of his most sublime music.
Rosenfeld said: “The circumstances of the writing of the Preludes, the trip to Mallorca, Chopin’s volatile relationship with Sand, will be brought painstakingly to light. He also wrote some of the greatest work he ever made in that terrible time.”
The film, which goes into production next year, will follow Chopin to Paris and on his concert tour of England and Scotland.
It will also cross two centuries, extending to Wanda Landowska, the Polish pianist who acquired the pianino – only to have it seized by the Nazis as a symbol of a composer they wanted to claim as their own.
Rosenfeld, whose films include Voyage of Time, narrated by Cate Blanchett, says of the Oscar-winning actress: “I think she would be great as Sand,” but he wants to discover a new talent to play Chopin. Of Trifonov, who has won many international competitions and performed with the world’s top orchestras, Rosenfeld said: “He is the greatest modern performer of Chopin. He visited Cobbe’s collection and didn’t want to leave. He loved the instruments.”
He also produced Effie Gray, about John Ruskin’s loveless marriage, which recreated exquisite details of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Now he wants to recreate authentic sounds, performing Chopin’s works in their entirety rather than as “soundbites.” “It’s going to be a beautiful movie driven by its music.”
Of Cobbe’s 47 keyboards, 18 are linked to composers. While the pianino is missing, he owns the Pleyel that Chopin brought with him to England, keeping it in his lodgings and playing it at his London debut. He said: “Everything about it, the depth, the touch was tailored to the client – Chopin.”
In London, Chopin chose three Broadwood pianos, including one that he played at the Guildhall, among other recitals, which is on permanent loan to the Cobbe Collection Trust from the Royal Academy of Music. It and the Pleyel are likely to feature in the film.