Friday, September 18, 2020

Bach - Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 In F Major, BWV 1046

Musicians in Bach's era were treated much as any other servant by many of the royals that employed them.  So it was inevitable that a musician such as Bach would have his share of difficulties. Sometimes it was not the royals that gave him as much trouble as the city councils in the towns he was employed. Bach could be headstrong, as his focus was on giving the best music performances possible, while many members of the city councils couldn't understand why he couldn't make do with what the previous head musician in their employ did. But Bach proved to be shrewd as well as headstrong in his desire to get and keep the musical reputation he strove for. He prevailed more often as not. 

He had a wide reputation as the most knowledgeable musician concerning the organ. He earned extra money by traveling and assessing organs and what was needed to repair theme, as well as working as a consultant when new organs were being built. In the process, he would demonstrate by playing the organ in question, and as he was known as the best organist in the area, his reputation grew. He made contacts which aided him in his negotiation for future positions.

Bach also knew how to talk the talk of the era to royals. He sent the set of 6 concertos
(in his own handwriting) that are now called The Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, while he was still employed by Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. Bach had been hired by the Prince in 1717, and as the Prince was a lover of music, Bach did well there. But when the Prince got married in 1720 to a woman that didn't care for music, the importance of music in the court began to diminish. So Bach went job hunting, and along with the 6 concertos (a quite impressive resume), he sent along a dedication to the Margrave originally in French:

Since I had a few years ago, the good luck of being heard by Your Royal Highness, by virtue of his command, & that I observed then, that He took some pleasure in the small talents that Heaven gave me for Music, & that in taking leave of Your Royal Highness, He wished to make me the honor of ordering to send Him some pieces of my Composition: I therefore according to his very gracious orders, took the liberty of giving my very-humble respects to Your Royal Highness, by the present Concertos, which I have arranged for several Instruments; praying Him very-humbly to not want to judge their imperfection, according to the severity of fine and delicate taste, that everyone knows that He has for musical pieces... 

It took two years from the time the Margrave ordered Bach to send him some compositions until they were sent, and they weren't specially composed for the Margrave. There is musicological evidence that shows the concertos had been written earlier. Whether Bach was honestly considered for the job or not is not known. What is known is that Bach took the job of Cantor in Leipzig in 1723, and stayed there the rest of his life. Whether the Margrave acknowledged the gift or had them performed isn't known. 

There was no standardized orchestra in Bach's time. He would write for the instruments that were available to him. The instrumentation for this concerto is 3 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns (natural horns with no valves), violino piccolo, violin I and II, viola, cello, violone (double bass of the viol family of stringed instruments) and continuo. This is the only concerto of the set that is in 4 movements.

I. Allegro -  This movement, along with the second movement was used in 1713. Bach rewrote the movement to include the violino piccolo. The movement begins with the hunting horns playing traditional hunting calls as the rest of the orchestra plays. Instruments take their turn in presenting themes while the horns punctuate the background with triplets. But the horns are more than an accompaniment; they have their time in the spotlight presenting themes as well, and never fade in the background much. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of this movement is the role the horns play in the ensemble, and even in the disruption of it.

II. Adagio -  A solo oboe begins this movement, followed by the violino piccolo, a small violin that was tuned a minor third above a standard violin. These two instruments play off each other in a duet that is accompanied by the orchestra, minus horns. At the end, the falling notes of the bass alternate with the oboes and strings.

III. Allegro - The violino piccolo has solo material throughout this movement with a wonderful chugging rhythm in the bass. A distinctive touch is when the music comes to a slowdown with two bars of adagio tempo before the music resumes its original speed. Some musicologists believe this music first turned up in a previous cantata. 

IV. Menuet - Trio, Menuet da capo: Polacca, Menuet da capo: Trio II, Menuet da capo - In writing technique, all the movements are in the mood of the concerto grosso, but in form they resemble the multiple orchestral suites of the time. The final movement is a graceful minuet, and after the trio for bassoon and oboes is done, a reprise of the menuet would usually end the movement. But Bach adds two more sections; a Polacca (Italian for Polonaise, a Polish dance) for strings, a reprise of the minuet, and a second trio for horns and oboes. One more reprise of the minuet brings the concerto to an end.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Schubert - Piano Sonata No. 19 In C Minor, D.958

The last months of Franz Schubert's life were times of great physical illness matched with great musical creativity. But for most of his short life, Schubert was not anything if not prolific, as he wrote more than 1,500 works by the time of his death in 1828 at the age of 31.  The final three piano sonatas were but a part of the works composed in his final months, and it wasn't until Schubert was ten years dead that they were published. Even then, it took many years for these last sonatas and most of Schubert's piano music to escape the neglect of the 19th century. 

The Piano Sonata No. 19 In C Minor, D.958 is the first of this set of sonatas, and while all three of them have some similarities in structure, it is the C minor that is different in mood and character. 

I. Allegro - As other authors have mentioned, the comparison with this sonata to those of Beethoven has been made many times. It does share the key of C minor with the powerful works of Beethoven in the same key. But Schubert's piano sonatas may have suffered in reputation by comparison to Beethoven's. What composer's wouldn't? But in the latter half of the 20th century, Schubert's sonatas were taken on their own terms, which is a good tactic to use for any music lover. This first movement begins with the starkness of a C minor chord, that shortly makes its way to a downward A-flat major scale, an example of Schubert's ear for combining differing harmonies. The C minor theme is repeated in a variation with a moving bass line that soon shifts keys to E-flat, relative major of C minor. Indeed, E-flat major is the key of the second theme which at first hearing, is calmer in nature, but upon the repetition this theme is varied by playing in octaves while the accompaniment is in triplets. This adds underlying tension to the music. Then there is a section that adds to the tension with shifting harmonies such as E-flat minor and A-flat minor. A final section of the exposition brings back the second theme, again with shifting harmonies. The exposition is repeated.

The key of A-flat major returns with the chord that leads off the development section, music that could have played a role in the development of Brahms, as the beginning sounds similar to the music of Brahms, who was an editor of some of Schubert's music. Most of the development deals with more shifting harmonies and a restless base.

The recapitulation begins with the first theme, along with variations in the next sections until the second theme is reached, which in this repetition is in C major, parallel key of C minor. The coda winds down the music with the second theme being in C minor, and the movement ends pianissimo.

II. Adagio - It was rare for Schubert to use the designation adagio for a movement, and it begins in A-flat major. The second theme shifts the key to A minor, and is much more agitated. The first theme is played again, with changes in harmony that change its benign mood into something darker. Once again, the second theme begins and darkens the mood. The first theme returns one last time and with changing keys, sounds somewhat deflated from before. It tries one last time to return to what it was before, but it quietly ends. 

III. Menuetto: Allegro - Trio -  Tranquility is in this movement more so than the preceding, but as incongruous as it may be to say, a disquietude is displayed with the bars of rest that interrupt the theme. The theme is in E-flat, but drifts into C minor and other keys. The key of A-flat major makes an appearance in the trio, with appearances of E-flat minor and other keys. 

IV. Allegro - The final movement is in 6/8 time and is in the style of a tarantella. The music is in sonata form and begins in the home key of C minor for the first theme. The music drifts into other keys until a variant of this theme is played in C major. As this theme temporarily runs itself out, a transitional section in D-flat leads to the next theme in C-sharp minor. This theme is punctuated by a resounding rhythm in the left hand as the right hand crosses over it to play the theme. This theme continues to develop with modulations to A minor, E-flat major, E-flat minor, and leads to a third theme in E-flat major. 

After this theme, a rest of two measures for the music to catch its breath brings a section in B major which leads to a development section that maintains the chromaticism of the sonata as it dances its way until a fermata over an eighth rest that signals the recapitulation. 

The first theme is heard in the home key, the second theme changes key to B-flat minor, the third theme repeats in C major. A section in A-flat major leads to the coda with the first theme. Previous material is heard in different keys until the key of C minor takes off on two-note figures that outline the C minor triad (with a few accidentals that belong to G major) for 5 octaves while the bass plays a broken C minor chord (with a few accidentals that belong to G major). This 5-octave descent decreases the volume over its course until it reaches pianissimo. The music ends fortissimo the way it started; with a C minor chord. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mozart - Serenade No. 10 In B-flat Major 'Gran Partita' K. 361/370a

The Serenade in Mozart's time was a multi-movement work that could be written for any combination of instruments, although the majority of them written in that era were for wind instruments. They usually had more than four movements and were lighter music used for dinner parties, weddings, etc.  Serenades were very popular in the middle and late 18th century (along with the similar Divertimento) with Haydn and Mozart writing a large number of them.

The Serenade No. 10 was probably written in 1781-1782. It is written for 12 wind instruments; pairs of oboes, clarinets,  Basset horns, bassoons, four French horns and string bass or contra-bassoon. The music is typical Mozart. Brimming over with memorable melodies and ideas that make this Serenade one of Mozart's most popular.  Mozart's skill at composing for wind instruments has no better example than this Serenade. The subtitle Gran Partita was a later addition to the front cover of the autograph, but it was not in Mozart's hand, and no one knows who wrote it. A partita is nothing more than a name for a set of musical pieces. The work is in seven movements:

I. Largo- Molto Allegro - The movement begins with a short introduction that soons breaks into the allegro of the movement. This movement is an example of sonata form that utilizes only one main theme instead of the usual two or more. The theme is in B-flat major and after it is transposed to F major and modified it returns and serves as a second theme. The development continues to expand on this theme until the recapitulation begins. The theme is heard in its original guise and this time the theme is modified as before but it remains in the tonic of B-flat major.

II. Menuetto - This minuet differs from others Mozart wrote in that there are two trio sections, the first trio is in E-flat major, the second in G minor. The minuet itself is in B-flat major. The form of the movment is minuet -trio I - minuet - trio II - minuet.

III. Adagio - A gentle song played to a syncopated accompaniment. 

IV. Menuetto - Allegretto - Similar in construction to the first minuet as it also has two trios, the first in B-flat minor, the second in F major. 

V. Romanze - Adagio - Another gentle movment that provides contrast in the outer sections, but it contains a robust section that is in the minor and played allegretto. After the adagio section is played the second time there is a short coda.

VI. Tema con variazioni -  A set of six variations on a theme:
Theme - A solo clarinet plays the theme which is in B-flat major.
Variation 1 - The next variation has the oboe play the theme in triplets. 
Variation 2 - Clarinets and bassoon play the theme initially, other instruments take up parts of it.
Variation 3 - A different sonority as the theme is played by the ensemble with different accompaniments.
Variation 4 - This is the only variation to deviate from the home key of B-flat major as it is in B-flat minor.
Variation 5 - The music moves back to B-flat major as the tempo slows to adagio. There is a section where the oboe plays a variant of the theme while the clarinets and basset horns quietly play an accompaniment of arppegiated chords while the horns and bassoons play long notes. The effect is one of a gentle, throbbing accompaniment to a most beautiful oboe tune.
Variation 6 - The tempo quickens to allegretto and the time signature changes to three in a bar in this perky ending. 

VII. Finale - Molto Allegro - Instruments interplay while the bassoon adds some humorous notes to this rondo.

Berlioz - Harold In Italy

After a performance 1833 of his Symphonie Fantastique and other works, Hector Berlioz was approached by Nicolo Paganini with a request to write a piece for viola and orchestra for him.  Paganini had just obtained a  Stradivarius viola and wanted to show it off in a concerto.  Berlioz began the concerto, but when Paganini saw the first movement he complained that there were far too many rests for the viola, that he needed to be playing constantly throughout the concerto.

Paganini lost interest in the work, and Berlioz didn't have much interest in writing a piece for Paganini to show off with. Berlioz continued in the direction the music was taking him. It became a set of scenes for orchestra and viola obbligato that were based on Lord Byron's popular poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.  Byron's work is a long poem that describes the travels of a world-weary young man. Much of the poem is thought to be autobiographical as Byron himself wandered Europe and the Mediterranean area also. Berlioz used the poem very loosely as inspiration for his piece. He used his travels in Italy in 1830 in combination with the general feeling of the poem  to devise the four orchestral scenes.
The four scenes are :
  • Harold in the mountains -A portrait of the hero, against a background of extraordinarily evocative and varied nature-painting.
  • March Of The Pilgrims
  • Serenade - An Abruzzi mountaineer plays a serenade to his mistress.
  • Orgy of the Brigands -A furious orgy wherein wine, blood, joy, all combined, parade their intoxication-where the rhythm sometimes seems to stumble along, sometimes to rush on in fury, and the brass seems to vomit forth curses and to answer prayer with blasphemies; where they laugh, drink, fight, destroy, violate, and utterly run riot.
Berlioz ended up with nothing like a concerto for viola, but one of his most poetic and lyrical pieces, which is in keeping with Berlioz's reported fondness for the viola. The viola in one sense is an instrument that has attracted some composers over the years because it usually helps to flesh out the harmony whenever it is used. Bach and Mozart both enjoyed playing the instrument in ensemble for this reason. Composers are inspired and gifted individuals, and the great ones are also great craftsmen. So it makes sense that they would like getting inside the music this way.

The viola is also much more than just a bigger violin. Theoretically it should fall between the violin and cello in size and string length, but if it were made true to this scale it would be unplayable on the arm and be very awkward to play like a cello. To compensate for the fact that the strings are not as long as they need be, they are of a thicker diameter and the body is smaller. This gives the viola a more nasal and distinctive tone than the violin, while still being able to blend with the other string instruments The very fact that the viola is a 'compromise' is what makes it unique, and no doubt was the reason for Berlioz being fond of it.

The solo viola wanders through the scenes for orchestra, commenting on the happenings and stating its own special theme called an idee fixe by Berlioz.  
The first performance of the work was a disaster that Berlioz blamed on shoddy conducting by the conductor Girard.. After this fiasco, Berlioz himself conducted most of his own music.  And what of Paganini?  He never did get his viola concerto from Berlioz, never played the work, and he didn't hear Harold In Italy until 1838. When he did hear it, he was overwhelmed, heaped praise upon Berlioz and gave him a gift of 20,000 francs!

Read what Berlioz said about Harold In Italy in this chapter from his Memoirs

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique

Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869)  began to compose Symphonie Fantastique, An Episode in The Life Of An Artist, In Five Parts in 1827 after he saw the famous English/Irish actress Harriet Smithson on stage as Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Berlioz fell deeply in love with her and wrote the symphony in her honor.  Berlioz constantly sent her love letters but they didn't actually meet until 1832 when Berlioz managed to give her some tickets through a mutual friend to an upcoming concert. She went, and after she realized that she had inspired the music, they were wed in 1833.

Berlioz distributed a program at the premiere of the symphony. There is no better way to learn what's behind the symphony than to read the program Berlioz provided:

Part one
Daydreams, passions
  The author imagines that a young musician, afflicted by the sickness of spirit which a famous writer has called the vagueness of passions (le vague des passions), sees for the first time a woman who unites all the charms of the ideal person his imagination was dreaming of, and falls desperately in love with her. By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognises a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love.  This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like a double idée fixe. This explains the constant recurrence in all the movements of the symphony of the melody which launches the first allegro. The transitions from this state of dreamy melancholy, interrupted by occasional upsurges of aimless joy, to delirious passion, with its outbursts of fury and jealousy, its returns of tenderness, its tears, its religious consolations – all this forms the subject of the first movement.

Part two
A ball
The artist finds himself in the most diverse situations in life, in the tumult of a festive party, in the peaceful contemplation of the beautiful sights of nature, yet everywhere, whether in town or in the countryside, the beloved image keeps haunting him and throws his spirit into confusion.

Part three
Scene in the countryside
One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance as they dialog with their ‘ranz des vaches’; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind, some causes for hope that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier colouring. He broods on his loneliness, and hopes that soon he will no longer be on his own… But what if she betrayed him!… This mingled hope and fear, these ideas of happiness, disturbed by dark premonitions, form the subject of the adagio. At the end one of the shepherds resumes his ‘ranz des vaches’; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder… solitude… silence…

Part four
March to the scaffold
Convinced that his love is spurned, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow.

Part five
Dream of a witches’ sabbath
He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath… Roar of delight at her arrival… She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.


Berlioz planned the premiere of the symphony long before it was finished. He worked feverishly to finish the work and rehearse it enough to perform it in May of 1830.  He cobbled the score together, led a few rehearsals before everyone involved deemed it not ready for performance. Berlioz again took up the score, and it had it's premiere in December of 1830 with only two rehearsals!  Nonetheless, the symphony was a success.

It is difficult to know how many composers were influenced by the symphony. It was a very new and daring piece of music in its day. The form of the symphony (inspired by Beethoven's 6th symphony 'the Pastoral ' which is in five movements), the harmonies, the use of  the idée fixe which was further developed by Liszt and Wagner as the Lietmotif , and above all the orchestration of the piece,  all were signs that music was changing.   The  sound of Berlioz's orchestra comes from many causes, but one of the main ones is that Berlioz was not a pianist. Composers who are pianists tend to think in pianistic terms as far as spacing of parts, harmony and form. Even when writing for orchestra many composers make a piano outline of the work. Berlioz did not compose in this way. His musical instrument was the guitar, an instrument where there is a choice of which string will play certain notes. While a note may be the same pitch played on two different strings, the tonal color will be more or less different because of the diameter of the string. Subtle though this distinction may be, in aggregate spread over the large orchestra Berlioz calls for, it can make a difference in pure sound.

Oh, and did Berlioz and his beloved live happily ever after? Hardly. By the time Smithson got around to noticing Berlioz and marrying him she had lost her popularity and was deeply in debt. Berlioz for his part grew tired of his idee fixe  rather fast for being so much in love. They divorced after eight bitter, unhappy years of marriage.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Sibelius - Symphony No. 1 In E minor, Opus 39

A composer's first symphony is always special. Beethoven's 1st with its mystic introduction, Brahms 1st with it's rugged beginning, Shostakovich's precocious 1st. Sibelius' 1st is also special. It was written in 1898-99 and in its way says goodbye to the ways of the symphony of the 19th century. Sibelius was not radical in his ideas and techniques, but he did distill and reform the symphony of the 19th century and turned it into a new type of composition.

The first symphony contains many examples of composers and music that had influenced him. Beethoven in structure, Tchaikovsky in feeling and mood, folk song in melody (although no folk songs were used in the symphony), Bruckner in the use of the orchestra.  By the time of the symphony's writing, Sibelius was thirty-three years old, had given up his life-long dream of being a violin virtuoso, and was making his way as a composer and conductor.  He conducted the premiere of the work, but revised it after the performance. The revised version is the one most often played.

The symphony is in 4 movements:
I. Andante, ma non troppo - Allegro energico  - The many tempo indications gives the idea of a symphony that is in a state of change and development throughout. A clarinet plays softly over a drum roll to open the work, the strings enter and swiftly climb to a climax of sorts. This is the movement that some critics think shows an influence by Tchaikovsky.  But the rugged sound of Sibelius comes through any influence and propels the music to climax after climax, until the movement ends with a loud statement from the brass and low strings that tapers off into soft pizzicatos from the strings.

II. Andante (ma non troppo lento) - A sensitive and tuneful theme that sounds like a folk song. Sibelius treats it in his own unique way. Tender, yet still with the Nordic, rugged quality that is a hallmark of Sibelius' music.

III. Scherzo: Allegro -  Trio: Lento (ma non troppo) The theme of the scherzo is heard in the timpani as the upper strings pluck out the beat.  A boisterous scherzo that propels itself headlong until it hits the trio, where it slows and softens. After the trio, the scherzo resumes its rapid tempo until the timpani and brass bring the rushing music to an abrupt end.

IV. Finale: (Quasi una fantasia) Andante - Allegro molto - Andante assai - Allegro molto come prima - Andante (ma non troppo) -  The clarinet melody of the first movement is transformed into a passionate theme. This movement is marked quasi una fantasia, and the frequent changes in tempo do give the movement a sense of a fantasia.  This finale brings all the loose ends of the symphony together and ties them up in a beautiful hymn-like tune gently played by the orchestra. Punctuated by the harp and timpani, this tune unwinds itself until the orchestra returns to a somewhat frantic pace that leads to a climax punctuated by the timpani, brass and strings. The hymn returns in the clarinet, the tune floats through the orchestra, gradually gets louder until the strings bring it to full bloom. A short coda has the orchestra grow in volume and the music comes rushing to an end, with soft pizzicatos in the strings like the closing of the first movement.


Monday, August 31, 2020

Chopin - Twelve Etudes For Piano Opus 25

Chopin published his second set of 12 etudes for the piano in 1837, four years after his Etudes Opus 10. The second set continues in giving musical worth to technical exercises, and remains popular today. While the opus 10 set was dedicated to Franz Liszt, the opus 25 set was dedicated to Liszt's mistress, Marie d'Agoult. Why Chopin did that is still a mystery.

1. In A-flat Major 'Aeolian Harp' -  As in the first set, there are some etudes in this set that have nicknames. None of them originated with Chopin, as he didn't like to put names on his works, and he didn't like others doing it either.  Robert Schumann supposedly nicknamed this etude. An aeolian harp is essentially a box that has strings stretched across the top of it between two bridges that is put into a window or outside where the breeze goes over the strings and make them sound. This etude has a simple melody played in the top notes of the right hand while an arpeggiated accompaniment is played in the right hand and left hand.
Stretches in both hands as well as musical balance is the problem, as the grace note arpeggios need to be in the background while the melody is accentuated.

2. In F Minor - This piece is in cut time, essentially 2/2, but with eighth note triplets in the right hand and quarter note triplets in the left hand, so a slight rhythmic ambiguity arises. A kind of optical illusion for the ear. The dynamics are mostly subdued, and played legato throughout.
The main technical problem with this piece is playing in the correct time with both hands. 

3. In F Major - An etude that challenges the player with different rhythmic patterns in each hand. The opening 8 bars are repeated, and made even more complex with added notes in the right hand. The difficult rhythmic scheme runs throughout the piece.

4. In A Minor - Both hands play staccato chords with a melody line emerging here and there. An atypical piece for a composer known for his love of singing piano tone.

5. In E Minor 'Wrong Note' - Of course Chopin didn't write 'wrong' notes, but this etude is full of minor second intervals, an interval that can give the impression of incorrect notes. The left hand plays large rolled chords while the right hand plays the stumbling, wrong note theme.

The initial theme is played twice before a new theme enters in E major. This new theme is in the left hand and played in chords and octaves while the right hand plays an accompaniment in thirds that goes up and down the keyboard. This new theme is played twice and followed by the opening theme , this time in a more complex form. Chopin was a composer that seldom repeated himself verbatim in music. The ending changes things again, with wrong notes and chords. Chords are held while the inner voices of both hands play a trill. An arpeggio played triple forte leads to the ending note on G-sharp, implying the music has ended in E major.

6. In G-sharp Minor 'Thirds' -  Thirds are played throughout in the right hand, with the difficulty being playing them smoothly and at a relatively soft volume. The left hand compliments the thirds and make the etude more musical while at the same time adds to the difficulty. The phrasing of the left hand groups in the beginning slur over the bar line.

7. In C-sharp Minor -  Next to the piano, the cello may have been Chopin's favorite instrument. He wrote some pieces that have the melody in the bass and remind the listener of the range and character of music for the cello. This etude is one of those pieces, and is sometimes referred to as the 'cello' etude.
It begins with a solo in the bass. Soon it is joined by an accompaniment played in the right hand along with a counter melody at the top of the treble clef, essentially making this an etude in three parts. Towards the middle of the piece, the left hand displays runs as the right hand plays the accompaniment and melody. To bring out the two melody parts as the accompaniment plays in the background makes this difficult musically in itself, while the technical side of the music is no easy matter.

8. In D-flat Major 'Sixths' - As the nickname implies, this etude consists of the interval of a sixth in both hands until the very last bars. It is difficult to play scales and arpeggios in sixths of course, and that is what the music demands of the player.

9. In G-flat Major 'Butterfly' - One of the most recognizable of the etudes because of the nickname. The bouncing nature of the music can give the impression of a butterfly if the listener uses some imagination.
The difficulties of this etude are the jumps in the left hand, the bringing out of the melody in the right. hand, and bringing it all up to tempo. It is the shortest of the 24 etudes, and if played up to tempo lasts just under a minute.

10. In B Minor 'Octaves' - The piece begins with brutal triplet chromatic octaves in each hand. After the opening bars, notes are added between the octaves in both hands and add to the difficulty.
After the first few bars, notes are added between the octaves as a counter melody. This increases the difficulty tremendously as these notes are held down as the octaves are played around them. The middle section has the music shift to B major along with a slower tempo. Octaves continue in the right hand, and this section also has notes in between the octave notes. The right hand plays a two-part accompaniment, then there is a short transition back to a shortened version of the original material.

11. In A Minor 'Winter Wind' -  The etude begins in a quiet mood, but it is deceptive. After the first four bars, the music takes off as the right hand plays a complex pattern that is played throughout the piece while the left hand makes great leaps from playing low bass notes to chords.
The technical demands are considerable, the interpretive demands are no less so. It takes a great deal of endurance to play this etude. The final bars are a 4 - octave run of the A minor scale. There is no etude in this set (or the first set) that is less than difficult, and the 'Winter Wind' is one of the most difficult.

12. In C Minor 'Ocean' -  Chopin ends the last etude of this series in the same key as the last in the first series, C minor.  Both hands play in a unique arpeggio pattern, and after the first bars Chopin throws in a melody in the top note of the right hand.

Snatches of melody interlace between the hands and are to be accented and brought out from the maelstrom of sound of the arpeggiations. The two sets of etudes have a sea of technical and interpretive difficulties that are summed up with this last one.