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Of Two Minds
The Music of Frédéric Chopin and Tobin Mueller
Cover, Of Two Minds
Of Two Minds: The Music of Frédéric Chopin & Tobin Mueller
available on Spotify, Qobuz YouTube Music, Amazon, Apple Music

Jump to: Disc 1 (MP3s/liner notes)Disc 2 (MP3s/liner notes)

See also: Reviews

Fanfare Best Recordings 2016

Of Two Minds is the third album of The Masterworks Trilogy. It achieved Fanfare Magazine's 2016 Editor's Choice Award. It explores the music of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) through adaptation, variation and original works. As both pianist and composer, I infused myself into Chopin’s passions and invited his spirit into my own. The Masterworks Trilogy was a way for me to have conversations with The Masters. My conversation with Chopin was the most satisfying.

There is no one more beloved by pianists than Chopin. It’s as if the piano was invented for him. Expanding its colors and depth, he rethought the piano, and in doing so, rethought music as well.

Chopin’s music represents the purist example of the Romantic movement. He expresses the Hero’s struggle in infinitely intimate terms. With every phrase, Chopin exposes his inner self, the artist emoting on an almost confidential level, combining ardor, ecstasy, awe and spontaneity… the very definition of Romanticism. If you believe music is “the organization of sound toward beauty,” Chopin is its greatest champion.

Flawlessly authentic, his music always services the drama of the internal story. The listener is never aware of its actual complexity. In fact, you rarely imagine the composer at work, only the emotions flowing out of the player. Even during technically difficult passages, you almost never feel as if the music is there merely to demonstrate virtuosic talent.

There is also something wonderfully modern about Chopin. More than any composer before him, much of his music resembles songs, with melody lines that sing like the human voice. Innovative harmonics, radically new key changes, arrhythmic flourishes, and variations that seem more like improvisations than calculations... all this opened the door to what music would become. Even his quieter pieces are imbued with a sense of the Romantic Poet in a way that could well accompany the sexual revolution. The mix of personal romanticism with the classical ideal is best balanced with the Nocturnes. This is why, on Disc 2, it is his dreamy night music that supplies the harmonic framework, even as I use his Preludes as immediate inspiration.

Of Two Minds is a stunning addition to Tobin Mueller’s discography and a fascinating, innovative recording that will make you hear both Chopin and Mueller in a new light. Warmly recommended!"

Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, Fanfare Magazine

After completing the 28 tracks that make up Flow (completed in early 2015), I vowed never to do another double album. It was extremely taxing, physically. I spent three months recovering. But it was also emotionally exhilarating. After compiling the list of pieces I want to incorporate, I soon realized that a single compact disc could not hold enough music to satisfy my curiosity and creative ambitions. Health be damned. I split the project in two discs, just as I did with Flow.

As I moved through the Chopin repertoire, I found it affecting me in profoundly different ways than the other music examined in this Trilogy. Bach’s cerebral precision thrust me into each score’s analytics. At the very least, Bach presented puzzles and provocations that challenged me to make sure every note had a reason, that every broken rule could be justified in a computational way. Flow contains some of my most difficult music. While working on Chopin, however, I found myself walking with a lighter gait. I contemplated love instead of loss, night skies instead of purposeful afternoons, poetic phrasing instead of time signatures. Chopin freed me from the burden of competitive construction.

One would be hard-pressed to find an artist with a more creative musical mind than Tobin Mueller’s - especially one with the playing chops to fulfill his or her vision."

Of Two Minds CD Package

Seduction pervades Chopin's music, but it is different than the sensuality expressed by the Impressionists’ literal immediacy (as I discovered in the first album of the Trilogy, Impressions of Water & Light). Chopin is more formal yet more internal. The watery runs and whole tone harmonics of Debussy and Ravel conjure fabulously idyllic images of Nature, fluid and tactile, as if one is experiencing it at that moment. Chopin seems to express more of a nostalgic meditation, a memory of what Nature and Experience leaves within you. I found myself playing (and arranging) from a place of recollection instead of emersion. The music seems more of a personal reflection, less of an attempt at capturing action or participation.

Interview and Review

Chopin’s music is youthful, impetuous, yet mature beyond its years. I cannot imagine it existing before Revolution shook the foundations of Western civilization. It makes me yearn for both heroic action and shared silence, recklessness and wisdom, and it does so without any sense of contradiction. It is music of the private bedroom and as well as the public pedestal, juxtaposing personal and political longing.

While sitting at his own piano, I cannot imagine Chopin playing any of these pieces as originally written. Not two times in a row, at least. Not if he was alone, awash in independent solitude. I hear him flying off into imaginative variations, finding joy in renewing innovation. My own reinterpretations are a way to pay homage to his Romantic genius by evoking both restlessness and found love. Of Two Minds embodies my search for a subtle postmodern expression of the Romantic life.

Perhaps I say all this because I no longer feel satisfied (or fully myself) while playing anything the way I played it yesterday. This is my personal affliction. I just hope that, like other struggles I've encountered through the years, this affliction has helped birth a silver lining.

Disc 1 Liner Notes: Tobin Plays Chopin — Liner Notes by the composer

In Impressions of Water & Light, I paired each piano piece with an Impressionist painting, highlighting the cross-genre aspects of cultural inspiration. In Of Two Minds, I pair each piece with poetry and observation, turning mainly to the writings of George Sand, Chopin’s greatest love. ("George Sand" is the pseudonym for the writer and feminist Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin (1804 – 1876). Their affair is a perfect example of two minds co-inspiring each other.)

Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40, "Military Theatre"
I’ve retitled this piece "Military Theatre" instead of the historically accepted "Military" to highlight its Musical Theatre stylings. (I retitle each of Chopin’s pieces, mischievously twisting the historically accepted nickname.) The Polonaise is one of the five historic national dances of Poland. Chopin proudly developed the traditional music of Poland, mainly through his polonaises and mazurkas, lifting them well beyond mere dance music. I try to develop this arrangement in a way that describes the scene from varying perspectives. “Every historian discloses a new horizon.” (George Sand)
Nocturne No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, “To Find Without Searching”
Chopin’s Études and Préludes are perhaps his greatest contribution to the development of music. But it is his Nocturnes that best illustrate his romantic sensitivity. For me, they represent his most effortless and essential music... “His creation was spontaneous, miraculous. He found it without searching for it, without foreseeing it. It came to his piano suddenly, complete, sublime, or it sang in his head during a walk, and he would hasten to hear it again by tossing it off on his instrument. But then would begin the most heartbreaking labor I have ever witnessed. It was a series of efforts, indecision, and impatience to recapture certain details of the theme he had heard: what had come to him all of a piece, he now over-analyzed in his desire to write it down, and his regret at not finding it again would throw him into a kind of despair. He would shut himself up in his room for days at a time, weeping, pacing, breaking his pens, repeating and changing a single measure a hundred times, writing it and effacing it with equal frequency, and beginning again the next day with a meticulous and desperate perseverance. He would spend six weeks on one page, only to end up writing it just as he had traced it in his first outpouring.” (George Sand)
Étude No. 5 in G-Flat Major, Op. 10, “Black Keys and Butterflies”
Adding notes to Chopin runs seems a very flighty endeavor, indeed. Thus, amending the more traditional title “Black Keys” with “Butterflies” seemed appropriate. My adaption of this étude lends it a kind of Impressionistic sensibility, with an early Jazz vibe felt mostly in the left hand rhythms. This piece is often played with a certain frantic muscularity. I tried to give it a naturalistic gracefulness. “Butterflies are but flowers that blew away one sunny day when Nature was feeling at her most inventive and fertile.” (George Sand)
Portrait of George Sand by Eugene Delacroix
Mazurka No. 4 in A Minor, Op. 17, “Captured Heart”
The mazurka Polish folk dance usually uses accents unsystematically placed on the second or third beat. I float the stresses to create airy uncertainty, almost like a swoon. “Once my heart was captured, reason was shown the door, deliberately and with a sort of frantic joy. I accepted everything, I believed everything, without struggle, without suffering, without regret, without false shame. How can one blush for what one adores?” (George Sand)
Étude No. 12 in C Minor, Op. 10, “Revolutionary Disquisition”
The Revolutionary Étude was written during the November Uprising of 1831, an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire. (Large segments of Lithuania, Belarus, and the right-bank of Ukraine soon joined.) When Russia first invaded Poland, Chopin fled to Paris as a political exile, where he became friends with the cultural elite of the day, including composers Franz List, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Vincenzo Bellini, and later, the writer George Sand (Lady Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin). The end of the 12th Étude alludes to Beethoven's last piano sonata, a piece Chopin greatly admired. Chopin was forever homesick for Poland and carried a small container of Polish soil at all times. Upon his death, at age 39, this soil was poured out over his coffin. “The capacity of passion is both cruel and divine.” (George Sand)
Portrait of Chopin by Eugene Delacroix
Berceuse in D-Flat Major, Op. 27, “Lullaby avant Satie”
A berceuse is a ‘cradle song,’ or lullaby, written for the piano. My original melody, inspired by Chopin’s, enters at the 1:23 mark, showing how one composer’s thought can lead to another’s. The hypnotic two chord minimalist structure portends the music of Erik Satie, so I retitled the piece “Lullaby before Satie.” In 1843, eighteen-month old Louise Viardot – “Louisette” – came to stay with Chopin and George Sand at the couple’s country estate. The child’s pixie-like magical presence lent a sparkle to the household, bringing together the two adults who had begun to drifted apart. He spent hours cradling the child, kissing her tiny hands, making faces and playing peek-a-boo. Chopin composed this piece for Louisette. She was both healer and muse. “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” (George Sand)
Nocturne No. 3 in B Major, Op. 9, “Angels Walk”
The relationship between Chopin and George Sand was inexplicable to most of Chopin’s friends. Their personalities were polar opposites. She complained that he was petulant, childish, irritable and sulky. But when she heard him play, everything changed. ''Something about her repels me,'' he wrote after their first meeting, which was not surprising coming from a man of Chopin’s tastes, considering her reputation as a cigar-toting sexual outlaw. But she brought a level of intimacy and care to his life no one else offered. I chose an intimate Tango style for this Nocturne (and the Polonaise that follows) in honor of their turbulent relationship.

What biographers sometimes miss is how Chopin’s lifelong illness, his battle with tuberculosis and all the health issues that resulted, might have impacted his art and demeanor. The reserve and distance Chopin maintained between himself and the world was underscored by his limited energy and worrisome frailty. His ‘shyness’ may well have been a mechanism required to preserve himself and, above all, protect his art. George Sand not only nursed him, she cherished his innocent elegance (unique among the Bad Boys of the Romantics). Sand worried that “his sensibility is too finely wrought, too exquisite, too perfect to survive for long.” He never reproached her for her endless indiscretions or public ‘vulgarities,’ but referred to her as his "angel" for her self-sacrifice and devotion. I wait until the 2:50 mark of the piece to unlock the heart of the story: “I'm beginning to believe that there are angels disguised as men who pass themselves off as such and who inhabit the earth for a while to console and lift up with them toward heaven the poor, exhausted and saddened souls who were ready to perish here below.” (George Sand)

Polonaise in A-Flat Major, Op. 53, “Heroic Couplet, a Tango of Vanities”
Chopin's original "Heroic" Polonaise evokes the thrilling, rhapsodic side of heroism. In contrast, my tango adaptation blends in a more personal kind of experience. When arranging the piece, I recalled George Sand's statement: “Vanity is the quicksand of reason,” conflating heroic posturing with vanity. Hubris and folly are sometimes the flip side of valor and daring. It is this interaction I try to illustrate by my twin-themed Tango couplet. “Nothing resembles selfishness more closely than self-respect.” (George Sand)
Prelude No. 20 in C Minor, Op. 28 / Nocturne No. 2 in C-Sharp, Op. Posthumous - “Quivering”
I thought it fitting to place Chopin’s Prelude No. 20, “Funeral March,” as an introduction to this wonderful Nocturne, often referred to as “Reminiscence.” Nocturne No. 2 in C-Sharp was first published 26 years after his death. The piece was famously played by Holocaust survivor Natalia Karp for the Nazi concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth, with Goeth being so impressed with the rendition that he spared Karp's life. “Try to keep your soul young and quivering right up to old age... As one grows older, one climbs with surprising strides. One approaches the journey's end. But the end is a goal, not a catastrophe.” (George Sand)
Fantaisie-Impromptu No. 4 in C Sharp minor, Op. 66, “Simplicity: The Last Limit of Experience”
Ernst Oster, the famous music theorist, observed that this Fantaisie-Impromptu draws many of its harmonic and tonal elements from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. “Chopin understood Beethoven to a degree that no one…has ever understood him. The Fantaisie-Impromptu is perhaps the only instance where one genius discloses to us — if only by means of a composition of his own — what he actually hears in the work of another genius.” Two minds, indeed! I add to the music a straightforward sensibility, skipping the wild introduction section, and, instead, articulate the simple satisfaction Chopin’s music has instilled in me. “Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.” (George Sand)
Disc 2 Liner Notes: Tobin Plays Tobin — Liner Notes by the composer

Chopin completed 24 Préludes in Majorca where he spent the winter of 1838–39, fleeing the damp Paris weather with George Sand and her children. He brought with him a single volume of music: The Well-Tempered Clavier by his greatest musical hero, Johann Sebastian Bach. Chopin composed a prelude for each major and minor key, much like Bach’s series of 48 Preludes and Fugues, but Chopin’s collection reads more like a private musical diary than Bach’s systematic compilation.

Prior to 24 Préludes, the term "prelude" had only been used to describe an introductory piece. In contrast, these are self-contained units of widely varying lengths and construction, each conveying a specific idea or emotion. As Robert Schumann put it: "They are sketches, beginnings of études, or, so to speak, ruins, individual eagle feathers, all disorder and wild confusions.” Liszt, however, loved them: "Chopin's Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart. They are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams…”

The original idea for this project was to play a specific prelude, then follow it with a piece of my own, showing the direct inspirational thread. However, I later determined that Chopin offered too many other suggestive architectures to concentrate solely on the Préludes. Disc 1 became adaptations of Chopin’s other works, mirroring what I did with Bach in Flow, pushing the Prelude-Original Works coupling concept to Disc 2. Yet, once I began writing new material, I realized there wouldn’t be enough space to include a replaying of each preparatory prelude. Instead, I cite the specific prelude used for inspiration in words only, after each title. It’s up to the listener to go back and decipher the audio catalysts and influences, which, in most cases, flow more from emotional resonance than structural remodeling. With one exception:

Track 8, “Stages of Dream and Memory” (after Prelude #7), is the only piece that begins by quoting its antecedent. In it you can hear how I evolve out of Chopin’s melody, forging new yet related melodies and chord progressions. The alterations that follow diverge further and further from the original source, more like wildly branching outgrowths than logical variations. Track 8 illustrates what I’ve left unstated in other pieces: the obvious and direct links to each prelude.

I’ve sorted the nine pieces on Disc 2 into three sonatas. Taking yet another page from Chopin’s 24 Préludes, these sonatas do not follow regular form. Rather, they are conscious-streaming passages from my own acoustic diary, organized by concept. I provide personal reflections in the liner notes to help set the stage.

Although his Préludes form the initial encouragements and jumping-off points for these pieces, Chopin’s Nocturnes provide the greater emotional influence. They better complement my current disposition and mellowed lifestyle. But I’m sure you will hear that as soon as the music starts.

Sonata of Quantum Entanglements
Sonata of Quantum Entanglements

When I was 20 years old, I dropped out of Music Composition and switched to Physics, but not to become a physicist. I just wanted to study Quantum Mechanics and understand the theories driving modern science. I continued writing music for friends’ senior recitals, etc., but thought (with typical Sophomore vanity) that my music professors couldn’t teach me anything I wasn’t able to learn on my own. Physics, however, required qualified teachers. Sonata of Quantum Entanglements express some of the wonder and poetry that the study of science has provided me.

Time As Emergent Phenomenon (after Prelude #3) - Sonata of Quantum Entanglements, first movement
The urgent yet paradoxically peaceful feel of this piece (the same combination of feelings I get from Chopin’s Prelude #3) tries to emulate the forward motion of creation, a momentum I associate with the unfolding of time. Time is an emergent phenomenon that comes about because of the nature of quantum entanglement. It exists only for observers inside the universe. Any god-like outside observer sees a static, unchanging set of particles. Quantum mechanics also predicts the possibility of being in two places at once, or existing in two states at the same time. Even as I play at a frantic pace, I try never to leave a state of grace or lose my sense of unity.
Unexpected Escape (after Prelude #6) - Sonata of Quantum Entanglements, second movement
Prelude #6 in B Minor sets the stage for this piece not only by being in the same key, but with its sense of weight and emotional viscosity. My response provides, at first, a Jazz-Blues escape, which is interrupted again and again with new evasions, sidesteps, flights of fancy. Escapes within escapes. As a student of both science and philosophy, being nimble has become second nature.
Two Minds (after Preludes #1 and #14) - Sonata of Quantum Entanglements, third movement
“Two Minds” refers to the many pairings I include in this piece: Chopin/Mueller; Light/Dark; Major/Minor chords; Classical/New Age; Passion/Intellect; Density/Space; Two-note pairings that make up the melody. Preludes #1 in C Major and #14 in E-Flat Minor struck me as being light-dark mirrors of one another. What would happen if I alternated between the two Preludes every few measures? This experiment formed the starting point of the piece.
Sonata Under The Night's Sky
Sonata Under The Night's Sky

This sonata is my homage to Chopin’s Nocturnes. Frail, sickly, soft-spoken, Chopin’s demeanor and music were perfectly suited for performing in the intimate rooms of the French Salons. I try to bring this same intimacy to both my composition and recording techniques. I share with Chopin fragile health and limited energy, in addition to a spirit that aspires to transcend these constraints. Here, I embrace his connections to love, evenings and cozy audiences, adding my own sense of myth, bewitchment and affection for the night sky.

Phases of the Moon (after Prelude #18) - Sonata Under The Night's Sky, first movement
The combination of anxiousness and rage that animates Prelude #18 in F Minor works as a contrasting precursor to the calming interplay of shadows this piece depicts. Think of this first movement as a balm, a seductive cooling response. The power of Night Music is how it is able to wash away the stress of the Day. I present several phases of the moon, occasionally evoking a sense of deepening shadow only to lighten it a short time later. The disparity between melody and countermelody melts into a single voice. Twinkling and flashing stars slowly form a window into the coda, where we find simplicity, serenity, winking imagination.
Momentary Clarity (after Prelude #9) - Sonata Under The Night's Sky, second movement
Prelude #9 in E Major blends both majesty and romance. As the piece progresses, one becomes aware of the stunning dignity that love instills. Momentary Clarity evolves from a quiet place to one of Romantic power and heroic insight. This piece is more like a Chopin prelude than any other in this collection, expressing a single idea in a straight line – or, a single arc that circles back to the beginning, creating a twilight illusion of cyclical constancy. There is nothing like the dead of night to remind you of the grandeur of stillness and the brightness of passion.
The Goddess Speaks (after Prelude #20) - Sonata Under The Night's Sky, third movement
Prelude #20 in C Minor acts like a herald announcing the procession of the goddess, employing an ethereal balance of beauty and tragedy. My piece picks up where Prelude #9 leaves off. At the 1:39 mark, she begins her chanting. Nyx, goddess of the night, stands at the beginning, before there was Light. The mother of Hypnos (Sleep), Thanatos (Death), Erebus (Darkness), and Eros (Desire), she is a figure of exceptional power and beauty, feared by Zeus himself. For Orpheus, the legendary musician/poet, she took on an even more important role: Nyx, rather than Chaos, is the first principle from which all creation emerges. Her primordial chanting still echoes across the night sky.
Sonata for Dreamers
Sonata for Dreamers

Dreams have always fascinated me. As a college student, I set my alarm to 4 o’clock in the morning so that I’d be awakened during a dream and be able to write it down. Often, I’d dream again after going back to sleep, usually with an added degree of control. This is how I discovered lucid dreaming. Throughout my career as a playwright, I utilized lucid dreams to help solve plot issues and create a mind stage in which my characters could ‘live’ independent of my preconceptions. Later, I wrote Book of Dreams, a poetic memoir of my first 50 years, using many of those dreams. After I wrote the book, I stopped remembering most dreams. Perhaps I no longer need dreams to help heal the wounds of the day? Dream on…

Storytime (after Prelude #15) - Sonata for Dreamers, first movement
Prelude #15 in D-Flat Major was the first Chopin I ever played. It was one of the pieces I used to audition before being accepted as a Music Composition major. I consider it the most complete piece of music in the 24 Préludes. It’s two discreet yet related parts form a construction technique I’ve used many times in my career. This style of mood change occurs 1/3 of the way into Storytime. There is also a section employing a repeated accompaniment note, as in Prelude #15. But the similarities stop there. Story Time serves as a candid opening narrative to the Sonata for Dreamers. Like much of my instrumental work, it is more memoir than music, part allegory, part pilgrimage.
Stages of Dream and Memory (after Prelude #7) - Sonata for Dreamers, second movement
Prelude #7 in A Major is one of the shortest, sweetest, most innocent and best known Préludes. I use it to start a series of variations illustrating my process of integration, inspiration and conception. The unique part of the piece that breaks completely with Chopin begins at 0:39. It moves through changes that have more to do with subconscious associations than logic. As in dreams, traditional transitions are ignored, replaced by fanciful juxtapositions.
Starfall: Untold Reflections (after Prelude #13) - Sonata for Dreamers, third movement
Two striking moments in Prelude #13 in F-Sharp Major called to me: 1) the use of sustaining notes that portend future chord changes rather than sustaining earlier notes; and 2) the way the music changes half way through, bringing the entire piece to a near halt, yet, instead of forming a bridge to a new section, it provides context for purification and reassertion. I try to incorporate both ideas in this final piece. Starfall: Untold Reflections is full of falling stars, lullaby motifs, sparkling comets, the kind of reveries only nighttime reflection can conjure. My hope, as is often said after I hear one of Chopin’s Nocturnes, is that the dreamer will awake and say, simply, “lovely.”
Play button 1 Time As Emergent Phenomenon
Play button 2 Unexpected Escape
Play button 3 Two Minds
Play button 1 Phases of the Moon
Play button 2 Momentary Clarity
Play button 3 The Goddess Speaks
Play button 1 Storytime
Play button 2 Stages of Dream and Memory
Play button 3 Starfall: Untold Reflections