Chopin wrote many works for the piano. His musical output was entirely directed towards this favored instrument. He wrote two significant volumes of etudes to assist the pianist in training. These sets are among the most focused and comprehensive studies ever written for the instrument.
Included in Chopin’s compositions are the following; three sonatas, two concertos, waltzes, nocturnes, mazurkas, preludes, ballades, scherzi, polonaises and other works. Interestingly, Chopin’s “PIANO CONCERTO” no. 1 in E minor was written second. It is probably No. 1 because it was published first.
Chopin wrote many individual works, some often played like the barcarole, berceuse, and fantasies, and others not so often played like the rondos, and smaller individual works. As a young student, I particularly liked the insignificant tarantelle.
Of his seventeen waltzes, only eight were published during the composer’s lifetime. The Opus 70 waltzes, though published posthumously, were written when Chopin was in his twenties. Number 1 in Db, programmed here, has a lively two part introduction, before settling into a more danceable pace. It ends with a restatement of the opening section. This concept of lively introduction and ending coda is common to a number of the waltzes.
Not all waltzes are lively dances, however, since a number of them carry a modest pace and moods can be quite somber.
The waltz programmed here is very short. Not as short as the famous minute waltz (which length is a figurative “minute” not an actual minute. In a real minute it becomes a musical disaster! It’s a “minute” arising from someone saying, ”It’ll just be a minute.”) Many of the other waltzes are quite lengthy with considerable drama.
This programmed waltz is generally ABA. The introduction/A section, is fast and in two sections. The B section is also in two parts with some repeating of material. It swings in a more leisurely pace. Here’s how it is played; as an introduction to the dance, the curtain comes up in section A! Then, when attention is drawn to the dance floor and the elegant dancers are readied, their more leisurely waltz begins! Upon finishing, the speedy introduction returns with considerable flare and fanfare; but at the last, there is a moment of peaceful delight.
And how many nocturnes did Chopin write? He wrote more mazurkas than you can shake a stick at! But he wrote just twenty-one nocturnes; and he wrote them over the span of his lifetime.
Many know that John Field coined the term “nocturne” some twenty years earlier. These quiet evening pieces set a peaceful days-end mood. In the hands of Chopin, they become more introspective and more profound. All Chopin is difficult to perform, but these nocturnes! The expanded use of continually changing open harmony, the length of melodic lines riding above, the small but important changes that occur each time a theme or concept returns; in other words, the intricacy of the writing, and the demand to address significant detail, and to touch numerous and varied gradations of feeling and sensation, make these pieces some of the most difficult in the repertoire.
The two nocturnes of Opus 55 are prime examples of Chopin at his finest. Each of these pieces has a rondo-like form in which a main theme is presented, a following section takes us away for a time, then the theme returns slightly modified with different emphasis and meaning. The sections of interlude also develop their own persona.
The quiet beauty, the moments of subdued passion (yet sometimes not so subdued) the wrenching, piercing, sometimes contemplative melodies, all come together to form a magical moment in time for those who can allow themselves to dwell and open their hearts to this master’s outpouring.