Friday, April 29, 2016

Chopin - Twelve Etudes For Piano Opus 10

An etude is a composition written for keyboard  that explores a specific aspect of technique, such as double notes, arpeggios, etc. The origin of the word is French, and means study or exercise.  There were etudes written before Chopin wrote his opus 10 set, but his are not only studies for specific aspects of technique. They are works that weld technique, musical expression, and substance into a new art form that revolutionized piano playing.

In 1829, Niccolò Paganini played some concerts in Warsaw, and a teenage Chopin saw and heard him play. The influence of Paganini's revolutionary playing of the violin had an influence on Chopin, and inspired him to try and do the same for the piano. Chopin wrote 27 etudes for the piano in his career; opus 10 and opus 25, both containing twelve etudes each, and three separate ones with no opus numbers.  The opus 10 set was published in 1833 and dedicated to his friend Franz Liszt (also influenced by the virtuosity of Paganini). The opus 10 etudes made a profound influence on the dedicator as Liszt revised his own set of etudes after studying Chopin's.  Chopin's etudes were the first to become staples of the recital literature and have never lost their appeal.

1. In C Major 'Waterfall' -  Over the years there have been names attached to some of the etudes, but none of them originate from the composer.  The first etude is a study in extended arpeggios for the right hand that cover 4 octaves or more. Chopin has lead off the set with one of the most difficult etudes, and follows in the tradition of J.S.Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. Prelude No. 1 In C Major by beginning with a piece in broken chords:

2. In A Minor - A study in chromatic runs for the 3-4-5 fingers of the right hand while fingers 1-2 of the same hand play two note chords. The left hand plays a staccato accompaniment of bass alternating with chords. This etude is not only technically difficult, but the musical problem of keeping the chromatic runs in the forefront (complete with crescendos and diminuendos) while cleanly playing the accompaniment is considerable:

3. In E Major 'Tristesse' (Sadness) - This etude is also known by the name 'L'adieu' (Farewell) Chopin recommended that his students hear the leading singers of his day so they could try and emulate the voice at the piano. This etude is a good example of what Chopin was trying to convey, as the lyrical melody sings above the accompaniment. An agitate middle section in parallel sixths brings the music back to the beginning. Structurally this etude resembles the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 In C Minor 'Pathetique' in the first and last part. Whether Beethoven's music was a model or merely a coincidence, this etude is one of Chopin's most well known works:

4. In C-sharp Minor -  This melody of this etude switches from right to left hand throughout. With cascades of sixteenth notes, this etude embodies some of the difficulties of the first three. The pace is relentless, and ends with a downward chromatic run in both hands and arpeggios in the right:

5. In G-flat Major 'Black Key' - This etude has a melody played in chords of the left hand while the right hand plays an accompaniment in triplets using only the black keys. Chopin didn't think this etude one of his best, but it has been one of his most popular.

6. In E-flat Minor - An etude in the partsA melancholy melody plays over an accompaniment of a middle voice in sixteenth notes that winds under the melody while the bass gives support. The technical problems involve keeping the middle voice balanced as a secondary melody with the main melody in the right hand. The sadness of the music is lifted with the very last chord in E-flat major.

7. In C Major - A study in double notes for the right hand as the left hand plays the melody. The combination of shifting harmonies and repeated notes in the right hand makes this a difficult etude to make musically satisfying.

8. In F Major - Rapid sixteenth note runs scamper up and down the keyboard throughout while the melody is played in the left hand. The middle section darkens as the key changes to D minor, but only briefly. The piece ends with rolled chords in both hands in F major.

9. In F Minor -  A somber melody in the right hand is played over a wide spaced accompaniment in the left. In every six note figure in the left hand there is embedded a third element; a secondary melody in the 3rd and 5th note. The recognizing and playing of this secondary melody balanced with the main melody is a test of the ear and musicality of the performer. The ending of this etude is very quiet.

10. In A-flat Major - Written in apparently consistent patterns in both hands, Chopin mixes things up by shifting accents, touch and phrasing. One of the most difficult etudes musically.

11. In E-flat Major - An etude made up of rolled chords in each hand. The melody is in the top note of the right hand and is difficult to bring out when the piece is played up to tempo. Many of the chords are widely spaced and give added difficulty. The generally quiet dynamics of the piece make the rolled chords more difficult as well. The music reaches a crescendo with the closing notes and ends loudly.

12. In C Minor 'Revolutionary' - Tradition has it that this etude came about after Chopin learned about the Russian takeover of Warsaw. Whether this is fact or legend, the music itself is passionate and unsettling. It can be thought of as a summing up of the previous eleven etudes of opus 10, as it has many elements from each within it. The left hand has a relentless figuration of sixteenth notes as the melodyin chords shrieks from the right hand.
The piece grows more and more complex and passionate until the left hand figuration is heard in both hands fortissimo, in parallel motion before the piece ends in an unsettling C major:

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