Monday, January 25, 2010

Chopin - A Rough Guide

It's been a while since the last rough musical guide, so to get the
ball rolling again I thought I'd start with something different.  I've
been listening to a lot of classical music lately, and Chopin's piano
compositions have quickly become favourites.

Frédéric Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist.  Born on
22 February 1810, he was regarded as a child-prodigy.  By the time he
was seven, he was already giving public concerts and had his first
work published.  When he was twenty he left Poland to further his

According to Arthur Hedley, "Chopin had the rare gift of a very
personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music
is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal

See Wikipedia for more on the life and music of Chopin:
Here's another good site dedicated to Chopin and his work:

A brief note on the names of the pieces.  Chopin insisted on a strict
convention of giving his compositions simple names based on the genre
and a sequence number (e.g. Prelude No. 15, Étude No. 12).  Later,
these pieces were given more thematic and evocative titles (e.g.
'Raindrop' and 'Revolutionary').

The links in the guide below are to YouTube movies.  If the links are
blocked, you can try listening to the pieces via Wikipedia and

The "rough guide" ...

1. Prelude in D-Flat Major, Op. 28 No. 15, 'Raindrop'
This is part of a set of twenty-four short pieces for the piano, one in
each of the twenty-four keys.  Although the term is generally used to
describe an introductory piece, Chopin's stand as self-contained units,
each conveying a specific idea or emotion. [Wikipedia]

This is probably the piece which triggered my appreciation of the beauty
of Chopin's music.  What I particularly like about it is its dynamics: a
dark and dramatic middle wrapped in variations of a delicate melody.  The
piece got its informal title 'Raindrop' from the rhythmic repetition of
a certain note, apparently inspired by the sound of raindrops falling on
the roof when Chopin was composing it.

2. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9 No. 2
As the name suggests, a nocturne is usually a musical composition that
is inspired by, or evocative of, the night.  Nocturnes are generally
tranquil pieces, often tinged with melancholy.  Written when he was
about twenty years old, this piece vies with 'Raindrop' as my favourite
Chopin composition.

An interpretation of this nocturne, with the title "Collateral Damage",
follows the track "United States of Eurasia" on Muse's latest album.

3. Étude in C Major, Op. 10, No.1, 'Waterfall'
An étude (French for study) is a highly technical piece that is meant to
be an instructive challenge to the performer.  As a consequence, such
pieces tend to lack musicality.  Chopin's, however, are considered to be
artistic as well as technically challenging.  He started writing études
when he was in his teens!

4. Étude in C Minor, Op. 10 No. 12, 'Revolutionary'
I've chosen this performance as it highlights the dynamic, technical
nature of the piece.

5. Étude in G-Flat Major, Op. 10 No. 5, 'Black Key'
This étude gets its nickname from the heavy use of the "black keys" on
the piano.  The video of this performance clearly draws your attention
to the hands and keyboard.

6. Étude Op. 25 No. 11, 'Winter Wind'
This performance also shows the performer in full flight.

After a series of études, let's bring the tempo back down with some

7. Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55 No. 1

8. Nocturne in B-Flat Minor, Op. 9 No. 1

9. Nocturne in D-Flat, Op. 27 No. 2

10. Waltz in E-Flat Major, Op. 18, 'Grand Valse Brillante'
Waltzes are in 3/4 time.  Unlike Viennese waltzes, which were meant for
dancing, Chopin's waltzes were designed for concert performance.

11. Mazurka in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 63 No. 3
A mazurka is based on the traditional Polish dance.  It generally has a
lively tempo.  Chopin wrote at least 58 of them.

12. Polonaise In A Major, Op. 40 No. 1, B 120, 'Military'
A polonaise is a slow dance of Polish origin, in 3/4 time. Chopin's are
generally the best known in classical music.  As its title ('Military')
suggests, this piece is rather bold and patriotic.