C...for Chopin

March 18, 2018


Frédéric François Chopin (1810–1849), sometimes regarded the greatest poet of the piano, and perhaps every pianist's first thought when asked for a composer's name beginning with C...rising above Copland, Chaminade, Cage, and Czerny.

It is no surprise that every single one of Chopin's compositions features the piano, and the bulk of it is written for the piano alone; Chopin was a virtuoso pianist of the highest order, and his technical and musical adeptness is reflected in his music. 


Chopin's music for the piano alone, spans several genres in which he often wrote for fruitfully: the Études, Waltzes, Polonaises, Mazurkas; and seriously, but less numerous: the Sonatas, Scherzos, Ballades, and Concertos.


Every skilled pianist will have (or should have!), at some point in their lives, spent a great deal of time in a practice room sweating over the challenges presented in Chopin's Études Op. 10 & 25. Before Chopin, the étude was genre utilised most often only for 'classroom' purposes, and only contained elementary musical features. Chopin's études were the first to demand concert performance, and also exemplify often unique difficulties. Chopin's Études also left a legacy which sparked the greatest composers such as Liszt, Scriabin, Alkan, and Ligeti to write prolifically in such a form.


A complete performance of Chopin's 12 Études Op. 25, performed by Russian pianist, Grigory Sokolov (live recording, St. Petersburg, 1985)


Chopin's études generally serve a particular technical or musical difficulty as an example, as listed below, yet are also of the finest music Chopin was ever to write.


I—A flat major, arpeggio figuration and phrasing

II— F minor, dexterity and polyrhythm 

III—F major, lateral hand movement

IV—A minor, left hand leaps

V—E minor, phrasing

VI—G sharp minor, thirds

VII—G sharp minor, phrasing

VIII—D flat major, sixths

IX—G flat Major, staccato

X—B minor, octaves

XI—A minor, right hand figurations

XII—C minor, arpeggios


Chopin composed 24 études over his career, 10 Études Op. 10, 12 Études Op. 25, and 3 Nouvelles Études without Opus number. It could have been possible to write an étude for each key, as in the 24 Preludes Op. 28, but Chopin avoided some keys entirely (F sharp minor, D major, G major, A major, B major), and composed 3 études in A minor instead!


Pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, took it upon himself to create a version which combines all three A minor études, into one superétude of extreme challenges.


 Canadian pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, performs the first of his 12 Études in All the Minor Keys—'Triple Étude, after Chopin'



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