The Piano Music of Frederic Chopin

F. Chopin
F. Chopin | Source

The Music of Chopin

note: I’ll use youtube recordings below every genre of composition discussed

The Piano Music of Frederic Chopin. What can I say that hasn’t already been more eloquently stated by other writers, but I’ll try to put in my ‘two cents’ anyway. Many have called Chopin, the greatest composer for the piano that has ever lived; he is one of the giants of music, period. The only other composers for the piano that have fought to gain his supreme title (some of Chopin's fans would say they do not even come close...) are: Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy; Mendelssohn and Schumann, while also great composers of piano music in their own rights, scarcely come close to Chopin. Many music scholars have claimed, that after Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, Chopin’s piano music is the greatest that has ever been composed for the instrument; many have placed Beethoven above Chopin in piano music; some have placed Chopin above Beethoven in piano music; many have placed both Debussy and Liszt above Beethoven and Chopin in piano music, etc...; however, few if anyone would argue Chopin’s greatness as one of music’s greatest poets, by reason of a refined, startling and very vivid imagination - when it comes to his music, it’s all simply about colors....

This article is not a biography of Chopin, but of his famous and great piano music. However and for all intents and purposes: Frederic Chopin lived from 1810 - 1849; he died of tuberculosis (back then known as consumption) at the early age of 39.

Although Chopin was primarily a miniaturist (a composer who writes in smaller musical forms, such as preludes, waltzes, nocturnes, etc), he also wrote large scale works for the piano such as Concertos, Sonatas, Ballades, Scherzos and, his Fantasy in F minor, which some have called it his Magnum Opus - greatest work.

Scherzos

Chopin wrote four Scherzos for the piano. What's interesting to know, is that before Chopin, the scherzo form was considered to be a simple bagatelle (short and light musical composition). Chopin expanded the ternary form and created works with deep emotional content. Many have argued if Chopin's Scherzos are true scherzos in the sense of the word - scherzo is the German word for "joke" or "fun." "Fun" might well describe the Fourth Scherzo, while strong emotional passions would best describe his Second Scherzo. Regardless, they are technically challenging compositions for even the greatest among pianists. Here's the most famous of the set:

Chopin's Scherzo No. 2

Nocturnes

Chopin is - hands down - the greatest composer of nocturnes that has ever lived. However, unlike popular believe, Chopin was not the progenitor of this musical form. We must give credit to the Irish composer, John Field, as he was the true progenitor of this musical form. Liszt's nocturnes pale by comparison to Chopin, although "Liebestraum" is without doubt the most famous nocturne that has ever been composed. Chopin's Op 27, No. 2 is one of the most pianistic composition ever written; it's simple gorgeous! And, here it is performed by the great Arthur Rubinstein:

Chopin - Nocturne Op, 27, No. 2

Preludes

Another genre in which Chopin reigns supreme is the prelude. One of the things which makes Chopin's preludes so special in contrast to say Rachmaninoff's for example, is their simplicity. Before Chopin, few composers managed to write short and simple bagatelles, while at the same time making them intellectual and interesting. Well, Chopin's Preludes have great emotional depth, yet are technically easy for even beginning piano students to learn to play. Chopin's Raindrop Prelude is one of his most famous and beautiful, and here it is:

Chopin's Raindrop Prelude

Piano Concertos

Chopin wrote two piano concertos. Because Chopin struggled with large musical forms (concerto's, sonatas, etc), his concertos aren't considered as eminent as his other piano music. However, the slow movement of this concerto is beautiful; it's really just a simple nocturne. The young lady performing was the winner of the 2010 Chopin International Competition:

Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 - Slow Movement

Mazurkas

Chopin wrote many short piano bagatelles which he called "Mazurkas." These short piano compositions are quite representative of his Polish Culture. Here's the great Vladimir Horowitz performing one of them:

Horowitz performing a Chopin Mazurka

Polonaises

Chopin wrote many of them. The most famous of all - hands down - is the A flat aka 'Revolutionary Polonaise'. All said, the polonaise I decided to feature is also very beautiful:

Chopin's Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante

Etudes

If nothing else, know this, Chopin and Liszt made the "Etude" what it is today - Liszt turned it into a 'Tour de Force' for piano solo to be reckoned with; and, Chopin turned it into an actual piano composition, instead of a mere exercise - hence its name's sake "etude/study." Well, Chopin wrote many Etudes for the piano, but this one I featured is by far the most famous and loveliest of all:

Chopin's Etude Op. 10, No. 3

Waltzes

Before Chopin, C. M. v Weber, and a small handful of other composers attempted to conquer this genre, but Chopin was the first composer who made it cool for future composers to write piano waltzes. ...not only is this one of Chopin's most famous waltzes, but it's also one of the most famous classical compositions of all times - and here it is:

Chopin's "Minute Waltz"

Sonatas

Here's an area of composition in which some may say Chopin felt short. He was arguably the greatest miniaturist that has ever lived, but Chopin did have a few problems in tackling larger and more ambitious musical forms. All said, Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 3 is very beautiful and melodic. Of course, one can hardly discuss Chopin's Sonatas, without playing his most famous/infamous of all and here is that famous slow movement:


P. S. this famous movement is in ternary form aka "ABA" - the "A" or first section of the movement, is dark and gloomy, whereas the "B" or second section of the movement, is quite lyrical and typical Chopin.

Chopin's Sonata No. 2, 3rd Movement

Impromptus

Chopin wrote just a few impromptus, but this one is by far most famous of all:

Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu Op. 66

Final Thoughts:

In addition to these compositions, Chopin also wrote miscellaneous works for piano and orchestra, a Fantasie for solo piano, and much more.... All said, it's Chopin's simple and lyrical style that has made him so famous and well loved. True, Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy (the composers whom I discussed in the beginning of this article), unlike Chopin, all excelled in different musical genres - large and small forms alike; however, Chopin's niche was always in his unique, poetic and startling approach to piano music, which has yet to be surpassed by any other composer.

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Comments 14 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I am happy to report that I have heard of Chopin and even recognized some of his works on the videos. Thank you for continuing my education.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

The first piece of classical music I learned to play was by Chopin. I thought I would never get it. And needless to say I did not go on to become a concert pianist but it was thrilling to learn to play complex music.

Thank you for this salute to him

Sending you Angels this evening. :) ps


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this. I never considered myself good, but I knew my way around a keyboard,


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Bill, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub.

Thanks again and take good care of yourself

John


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi pstrabie48, and thanks so much for stopping by.

I love Chopin; he's one of my favorite composers. Chopin is very difficult to play, but much of his difficulty lies more in expression than virtuoso prowess; however, he's can also b technically challenging.

Thanks again and take care

John


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Mhatter99, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub!

Take care,

John


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

You picked beautiful pieces in this article John--do you play?


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Audrey, and thanks so much for stopping by.

Yes, that's me playing the finale of the 3rd Ballade....

Take care and enjoy your Tuesday evening!

John


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 3 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

Chopin is one of my favourite composers and you have presented us here with a selection of dazzling enchantment. Thankyou John.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Chris, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

Chopin is one of my favorite composers: "I still have enough of the Pole in me if I can only keep Chopin." Nietzsche said this in Ecce Homo and I agree!

Thanks again and enjoy your upcoming weekend

John


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Beautiful John and so wonderful to hear you play!


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Audrey,

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed my playing.

Take care of yourself

John


LKMore01 profile image

LKMore01 3 years ago

This is amazing, John Sarkis! Thank you for putting this extraordinary piece together. I can see it has already been shared on FB, eleven times. Chopin was a genius. There is a deep admiration I have for anyone who can master the piano. Brilliant work.


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Lisa, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Yes, indeed Chopin was great. He's also one of my personal favorites.

Thanks again!

John

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