Friday, April 20, 2012

The Chopin Études: Part Study, Part Art

So let's pick up where I left off...

The handful of posts I've made thus far have been mere preludes to the main event. I've been warming up, if you will. But now it's time to get to the heart of the matter. You'll remember (or maybe you won't) that the declared aim of this blog is to transcribe into words an ordinary pianist's struggle with the Chopin Études. The ordinary pianist is Me, of course, and this blog is meant to last only as long as it takes to do an in-depth study of all the opus 10 and 25 pieces. 

My use of the word ordinary is not a form of self-deprecation or false modesty. What I mean is, I'm a professional pianist without being Evgeny Kissin; a teacher without being Heinrich Neuhaus. Neither do I aspire to be a Kissin or a Neuhaus, but rather to arrive at the fullest possible understanding and mastery of my art. And what is the art of piano made of? Interpretive intuition, historical perspective, theoretical knowledge,  familiarity with the  mechanics of the piano itself...and technique in all its various facets, both mental and physical. At the risk of sounding mystical, I'm using the Études as a vector towards technical "enlightenment"; my passage through them a kind of pilgrimage.  

I have no plan to perform the Études in public. And in any case, I have trouble fully enjoying some of them in concert programs because they feel, well, so "étude-ish". This is especially the case for opus 10 no.1. 

Clearly, in any given Étude there's both étude (in the sterile, utilitarian sense of the word) and art (musical substance, poetic and aesthetic value); yet opus 10 no.1feels to me much heavier on the first. This is not a value judgement on my part, rather an observation that has lead me to consider its shallow musical virtues to be its very strength as a study piece. 

In other words, it meets the criteria of an étude both in addressing a specific technical difficulty, and in eschewing the obstacles to learning the notes in the first readings. In the spirit of simplicity à la Hanon, opus 10 no.1 takes one rhythmic pattern and one motif, creating a uniform texture that extends from the first bar to the last, and resulting in a soft learning curve on the reading and memorizing end. The pianist's energies are thus free to confront the tremendous technical difficulties this work presents. 

As you may suspect, the next post will discuss those very difficulties, and how they've very nearly brought me to tears on several occasions...


  1. Hi My name is Maria , pianist. Ho letto (tramite Likendin) i tuoi posts. Leggerò con interesse quello che scriverai

  2. Hi my Name is Darlene I played a little piano in college but Guitarand vocal is my two instruments. I found your blog through Music Teacher's linked. I am writing a blog for my advocacy in Early Childhood thesis. I am also doing a special thesis on music classical writer . I am also doing this paper on "Nikolai Rumsky-Korsakov". That will be on my Humanities through the arts class.
    I nwill be interested to follow your blog to see your thoughts on playing classical music. As I learned only a few pieces myself on piano. I learned more of them on the guitar. I was surprised that when I took piano that we learned more Jazz than Classical. We did do some peices but not many.
    Music seems to have lost a little bit of the classics.
    If you would like I am doing a blog on advocacy in Early Childhood Music. I have a Preschool Music Class at one of our local Daycares in my town. I wrote this progam of musical friends and have had sucess in PA with this Program as well. I started this in 1998, while I was hired to be a music director for a preschool in Newtown PA.
    Music has lost in this area and in many of the schools trying to keep the instruments and tools needed to fund the programs. Some private schools give it but that is a paid luxury not considered as a subject really needed . I feel students who have music in early childhood excel in many other subject areas.
    THisa is a class blog for Early Childhood hope you enjoy!
    Darlene Tschopp

  3. If you are a piano lover, you must love to know about the revolutionary Chopin etudes and techniques.
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