Saturday, 26 January 2013

Frédéric Chopin: A Short Guide

by Aladdin Benali

In this article I will attempt to explain why Chopin was such an influential composer and pianist, guide you through my Top Ten of his works, their influences and, despite this article being on classical music, do this all without any hint of pretentiousness.

Autograph partiture by Chopin of his Polonaise Op. 53 in A flat major for piano, 1842
(image source: Wikipedia).

Frédéric Françios Chopin (for the purposes of removing pretentiousness we will call him Fred) was born in Zelazowa Wola (Poland) in 1810, but emigrated at the age of 20 from his home country shortly before the 1830 uprising against Russian occupation. Fred would never return home, becoming one of many expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration. Fred is most famous for his various piano solo compositions, which are separated into many forms but, in a shameless parody of the charts, here are the Top 10:

(1)       Fantasie Impromptu in C-sharp minor (Opus 66)

With the insane combination of triplets in the left hand and semi-quavers in the right, much of this piece is chaotic and edgy, which contrasts with the slow and sweet middle section.

(2)       Nocturne in C-sharp minor (Posthumous)
No falling autumn leaves could complete with Fred’s legendary and unique ability to produce such strong feelings of melancholy, the wonderful kind of depressiveness which you just can’t get nowadays. This is most epitomised in one of his 21 Nocturnes where the style remains both subtle and mature. Not only this, but this nocturne displays melodic distinction and charm.

(3)       “Raindrop” Prelude in D-flat Major (Opus 28, No,15)

The preludes are definitely some of the strangest compositions; published in chromatic order of key signature, many were written in Fred’s winter in Majorca, while he was dying of tuberculosis. For me, the best part of this prelude comes when emerging from the loud and suffocating middle section with the suspended chords.

(4)       “Revolutionary” Étude in C-minor

Many of these pieces are painfully difficult and instil fear into most mortals who are learning the piano; despite this, they are still beautifully epic. In the "Revolutionary” Étude in C Minor the left hand is required to perform heroic feats.

(5)       “Suffocation” Prelude in E-minor (Opus 28, No.4)

This is one of the most melodramatic pieces and was played at his funeral along with his Prelude in B-minor.


(6)       Ballade in G-minor (No.1, Opus 23)

At over 8 minutes long, this piece is somewhat more hard-core than the Nocturnes, technically challenging and with harmonic imagination. The ending is simply epic, with an extremely loud contrary motion and then parallel motion double chromatic scales.


(7)       Nocturne in C-minor (Posthumous)

This contains what I believe to be one of the most beautiful melodies ever written; characteristically of Chopin, the melody is cantabile, meaning lyrical.

(8)       “Winter Wind” Étude in A-minor (No.11 Opus 25)

A study which begins with a slow and calm introduction, swiftly followed by a mind-boggling and chaotic motif.


(9)       Prelude in A-Major (Opus 28, No.7)

One of the shortest pieces Chopin wrote this prelude is dreamy and surreal with a cheeky modulation in bar 13.

10) Mazurka in B flat major (Op. 17, No. 1)

Finally, the challenge is to identify what song from a famous musical took inspiration from both this piece and the previous “Raindrop” Prelude…

In conclusion, I hope that I have given you some insight into the works of a genius composer. By no means is this list all there is and there are many more wonders to behold.

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