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An Elegant Chopin Melody
(in French Ballroom Style)
The seventh Prelude from Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28, composed when he was 26. The music is really a delicate waltz, made up of rhythmically identical two-measure phrases. Originally in the key of A major, this version states the melody alone in the easier key of G major, then adds a simple bass line. The music is light, airy and elegant. Play it at an easy-going walking speed.
A Plaintive Chopin Melody
(in Polish Mazurka Style)
The middle section of the Mazurka in G minor, Op. 67 no. 2, composed the year Chopin died. This is a song full of longing for his homeland, Poland. A sad tune, played quietly, as though lost in thought about times past. Our version is a whole-step higher than the original, played in the key of A minor.
The theme of Chopin's Berceuse [bear-SIRS], Op. 57, originally in D-flat major and in 6/8. Here in G major, our notation in 3/4 is much easier to play, yet captures the original feeling. Since Chopin never married and had no children, it is not surprising that this lullaby is the only composition of this sort among his works. (Compare this to music by his contemporary Robert Schumann, who had a huge family and wrote many piano pieces for, and about, his children.)
The main theme of Chopin's Mazurka, Op. 67 no. 2—a different section of the music on page 7 ("A Plaintive Chopin Melody"). The Mazurs were country folk living near Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The mazurka [mah-ZOOR-kah], one of their popular national dances, was known as early as the 16th century, and was a particular favorite of Chopin, who wrote more than 60 of these dances for piano. Some are bold and lively; others, plaintive and dreamy.
Mazurka in F
Chopin's Op. 68 no. 3, composed when he was 19, but not published until 20 years after his death at the age of 39. Here's a totally different face for the mazurka: this time it's a jaunty, light-hearted, and very youthful dance piece—the exact opposite of the plaintive mazurka on page 10. As you play, picture the bright, heel-tapping movement of happy, young dancers.
Etude No. 3
The Etude in E major, Op. 10 no. 3, originally in 2/4. This version in F major presents one of Chopin's most beautiful melodies, known all over the world for its lovely simplicity. Since étude [AYE-tood] means "a study," this famous piece seems to be Chopin's study in a full, "singing" tone at the keyboard, with a gently rocking accompaniment in the left hand. Our version in 4/4 doubles all the original note values (quarters instead of 8ths) for easier reading.
Prelude No. 7
A complete version of the gentle French waltz introduced on page 6. Among Chopin's works, the title "Prelude" has no special meaning. Of his 24 pieces with this title, some are sketches barely a minute long; others are quite developed and theatrical. With its two-measure rhythm played eight times, Prelude No. 7 presents a challenge to shape the music in an interesting way, with varying "dynamics" (degrees of loud and soft) as you move from phrase to phrase.
An Early Nocturne
The theme of the famous Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 9 no. 2 (here, in G major), composed when the frustrated and disappointed 20-year-old Chopin was still unknown to the music world. The title "nocturne"—meaning "night piece"—however, was invented by composer-pianist John Field, an Irishman almost 30 years older than Chopin. But it was Chopin who captured the world's attention with 21 magnificent nocturnes composed over the last dozen years of his life.
A Late Nocturne
The Nocturne, Op. 55 no. 1, originally in F minor, now a whole-step higher, in G minor. Chopin's nocturnes have been called "love poems of the finest ardor, and within each one an intimate human drama is explored." As you learn this sweet-sad music, what do you hear? What "story" may be hidden behind those eloquent melodies? (Or is there no story at all?)
The lyrical slow theme from Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, here in C major. Some say that this is the work that awakened the music world to the genius of young Frédéric Chopin. Listen to a recording of the original piece if you can: This perfect blend of heart-melting poetry and electrifying power has been called a "glowing masterpiece."
Ballade in F
The main theme of the Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38, still in its original key and rhythms. Composer Robert Schumann had dedicated one of his pieces to Chopin. So Frédéric returned the favor by dedicating this Ballade to him. Today, it seems unbelievable that great composers actually talked to each other, had dinner together, and played for each other! But it's true.
The third movement of Chopin's Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. Despite the tempo marking, don't drag this familiar piece to death! Keep the rhythm steady, moving along at a gentle pace. Notice that the left hand never changes; once you learn the fingering, you've got nothing more to think about! Then give some shape to the music: perhaps it could start and end very softly, but build in the middle—as though the procession began far, far away, came nearer, then disappeared.
Mazurka in C
The original theme, key, and rhythms of the Mazurka, Op. 33 no. 3. This is our first piece to include a large number of grace notes—those quick, little decorations written in very small notes. Grace notes have no time value, so don't let them stick out! Instead, play them with light fingers, just a split-second before the beat. The result will be charming, fanciful dance rhythms.
Grand Waltz in A Minor
The theme of the Grande Valse Brillante, Op. 34 no. 2. Close your eyes and imagine Paris, the most beautiful and fashionable city in all of Europe. Picture a candle-lit ballroom, music in the air, and elegant dancers in fine dress. Yet underneath it all is a hint of melancholy and sweet sadness. Was young Chopin thinking of his Polish homeland as he composed this quiet piece?
The Waltz in A-flat, Op. 69 no. 1, called "L'adieu" (The Farewell). It is said that Chopin wrote this waltz while courting a young Polish countess living in Paris. But as a poor musician, he was considered unsuitable for marriage and was rejected. True or not, it is a romantic tale that perfectly fits the poetic 19th century. (Those 13 little notes at the 2nd ending, p. 33, are typical decorations in Chopin's style. Play the phrase lightly, as though you were throwing it away.)
The lyrical middle section of the world-famous Waltz in D-flat, Op. 64 no. 1. The misleading word "Minute" was probably the publisher's idea, for it surely did not come from a composer who disliked nicknames for his music. Although the main theme flows quickly, it takes far more than a minute to play this delightful waltz. The "free" 8th-note-passages that begin and end this three-page piece are from Chopin's original score. (Remember to turn after page 35.)
The complete Prelude in C minor, Op. 28 no. 20, transposed to G minor. The nickname "Organ" captures the way this powerful miniature imitates thick organ sound by using a combination of rich chords (in the hands) and the damper pedal (with the foot) to make the lower piano strings resonate fully and deeply. Just strike each chord and hold it ... then quickly depress and hold the right pedal until you play the next chord. Then do it again!
The theme of Prelude in D-flat, Op. 28 no. 15, here in D major. Those repeated A's in the left hand are supposed to imitate raindrops, but no one really knows what was on Chopin's mind when he composed this music. For the best performance, play that lovely right-hand melody very smoothly (legato) and sweetly (dolce), while your left hand intones those A's in the background, quietly and lightly detached (piano e poco leggiero). Practice hands separately!
The slow theme—originally in D-flat major, here in F major, from the Fantaisie-impromptu, Op. 66. And what a beautifully balanced musical form!—16 measures altogether (count them) ... perfectly divided into two pages ... each page perfectly divided into four little phrases. As you play this world-famousmusic, listen to how effortlessly it unfolds ... expands ... repeats ... and comes to rest.
The theme of the Etude in G-flat, Op. 25 no. 9. Every étude (French for "a study") has something special to teach the player. This one must be about lightness and a delicate touch in piano playing, for it just seems to fly along, soaring here and there with no effort at all. Remember that you are now in the key of C, that both hands are always in the treble clef, and that pp means pianissimo (very soft).
What began as a peasant song-and-dance in Poland's villages soon reached the great reception halls of high society, where splendidly dressed guests pranced in courtly processionals to the spirited martial music of their country. This was the famous polonaise—the highest expression of Polish national spirit. But it remained for Frédéric Chopin to elevate the polonaise to its highest form, making these piano works a symbol to all the world of intense Polish nationalism.
It was 1830, and the unknown Chopin (just turned 20) had left Poland for the first time to seek fame in Europe's musical world. He was performing in Stuttgart, Germany, when he learned of the capture of Warsaw by the Russians under Csar Nicolas I. Chopin's dream of a free, all-powerful Poland never left him, finding intense expression in his two most famous works: the "Military" Polonaise (Op. 40 no. 1) and this driving, emotional "Heroic" Polonaise (Op. 53).
The first of three Écossaises, Op. 72 no. 3. In French, "Scotland" is Écosse, and a "Scottish dance" is écossaise. Published after Chopin's death, this music was written when the composer was barely 16 years old. It is carefree and jolly, full of youthful good spirits—a pleasant way to end our musical visit with this complex, emotional composer whose heart never left home.
Excerpted from My First Book of Chopin by Bergerac. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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