Category Archives: Chopin

Chopin Course 14 – The idea of a Nocturne; Nocturne in E minor

Chopin and Paris - the two go together like love and marriage, horse and carriage. Chopin's life divided into two halves: the first half in Poland, the second Paris. When he left his beloved home at the age of 20, never to return - though Poland never left his heart, and he would forever carry within him a constant tinge of melancholy at his separation from country, family and friends - he began a new chapter in Paris, where he was to remain for the rest of his much-too-short life. Chopin lived in Paris for just 18 years, but what...

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Chopin Course 13 – ‘Ocean Wave’ Etude, Op.25, No.12

The last of the 'official' 24 Etudes of Chopin is a force of nature. It hardly sounds like a piano at all; it sounds like a full orchestra, consisting as it does of huge waves of sound - so much so that for a long time it was known as the "Ocean Wave" Etude. This is not a name Chopin would ever have given it, but it's not a bad description, Rather than the ocean, however, it is perhaps more like a great cathedral in sound. However, pictorialism is not the goal of music: great music is a window on...

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Chopin Course 12 – Trois Nouvelles Etudes No.1 in F minor

Today a very atmospheric and poetic Etude, very different indeed from the 'Winter Wind' Etude of the last Chopin Course post, which certainly had a lot of atmosphere, but a very different kind of atmosphere. The Winter Wind was dark and wild; this one is dark and moody. The Slavic soul is a deep and strange place - in the West we are much more even-tempered and calm (most of us); in the East there are much greater fluctuations of mood. And this particular mood - melancholy - is a major one, celebrated in the East, but discouraged in the...

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Chopin Course 11 – ‘Winter Wind’ Etude, Op.25, No.11

"Winter Wind"! The winds must be dreadfully cold and ferocious in Northern Europe if this Etude is to be believed. It's hard for anyone in sunny Australia to imagine such fearsome cold. But I suppose it must indeed be a feature of the climate in the part of the world from where Chopin came. Of course he himself did not christen his A minor Etude "Winter Wind". Chopin never gave picturesque titles to any of his works; in this he was different from all the other Romantic composers except for Brahms. The Romantics couldn't get enough of suggestive titles. From...

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Chopin Course 10 – Etude in F minor, Op.25, No.2

Today another Etude. This is a teeny weeny Etude - less than two minutes long, never rising much above a pianissimo. But ALL the etudes are important. And that goes for almost all of Chopin's works. The vast majority of them are under five minutes in length - like a song - but almost every single note is a jewel. "There is more music in a single prelude by Chopin (average length one-and-a-half minutes) than in an entire opera by Meyerbeer" (average length four hours, similar to Wagner), said George Sand. Strange name for a woman, but it worked mightily...

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Chopin course 9 – Arrival in Paris, friendship with Liszt; ‘Aeolian Harp’ Etude, Op.25, No.1

After the emotional turmoil of the fall of Warsaw in September 1831, which found Chopin en route to Paris, and, feeling helpless in the crisis, venting his anger and defiance by composing the "Revolutionary Etude", the 21 year-old decided to continue on to his final destination. His first inclination had been to return home, but letters soon arrived from his family and friends begging him not to even think of doing so. There was no point, as the fighting was all over, and in any case, he wouldn't have been much use, as he was decidedly slight of build. He...

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Chopin course 8 – Debut in Vienna, revolt in Warsaw; ‘Revolutionary’ Etude

"Moscow rules the world! Oh God, do You exist? You do, and yet You do not take vengeance. Have You not had enough of these Muscovite crimes or... or, are You a Russian!!!?... Father, Mother, where are you? Perhad dead... " Thus wrote 21 year-old Frederic Chopin from Stuttgart, where he had stopped on his journey from Warsaw to Paris. He had just spent seven unfruitful months in Vienna trying to gain a professional foothold in the famous musical capital, but as a Pole he had not been especially welcome. That year Austria had joined with Russia to finally dismantle...

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Chopin course 7 – Mazurka in D major, Op.33, No.2

Today I will play another of Chopin's joyous mazurkas. There are not many of these - a few, but not many. The predominant mood of the 59 Mazurkas is bittersweet and rather melancholy. Not over-indulgent melancholy! - Chopin was a Pole, not a Russian, and he had a naturally aristocratic spirit which would never allow him to immerse himself in sentimentality. Sentiment, yes, and in Chopin's case always noble sentiment; but never sentimentality. Nevertheless, the prevailing atmosphere of the mazurkas is undoubtedly bittersweet. He was, after all, recreating the impressions of earliest childhood - of a landscape of weeping willows,...

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Chopin course 6 – Mazurka in G minor, Op.24, No.1

This week's piece by Chopin is a wistful mazurka - sad, melancholy, crestfallen (I'm starting to cry already). It makes a half-hearted effort to look up a bit in the middle section, but this is only a momentary glimpse of sunshine, and soon the wistful melody of the opening returns. Schumann said that melancholy was the natural turn of Chopin's mind, as with all his countrymen - but that's not really true at all. What he meant, I'm sure - and is true - is that eastern Europeans have a melancholy streak in their nature that is not part of...

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Chopin Course 5 – Mazurka in A minor, Op.68, No.2

Today's mazurka is an unusual one. It was composed when Chopin was just 17 years old, still a student at the Warsaw Musical Academy. As such, he had no publisher, so this evocative little mazurka was not revealed to the world until after his death - which occured only 22 years later. It is thus listed as 'posthumous'. I used to think the unpleasant word 'posthumous', in the place where 'opus' numbers go, rather spooky: how could a piece be composed post-humously, i.e. 'after life'. But of course, the word refers - like opus numbers - only to the date...

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