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Nocturne, Impromptu, Gallade, Prelude, Waltz, Barcarolle and Fantaisie

Chopin's compositions for the piano are dreamy, haunting, and highly romantic, but he can also be very heroic, as in the Fantasy in F Minor as performed here.

Chopin is without a doubt the most popular and well loved of all the great classical composers who have written music for the piano.



1.     Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, Opus 66

2.     Nocturne in E-flat Major, Opus 9, No. 2

3.     Prelude No. 15, Opus 28

4.     Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Opus 45

5.     Prelude No. 4 in E Minor, Opus 28/4

6.     Prelude No. 3 in G Major, Opus 28

7.     Prelude No. 15 in D Flat Major, Opus 28 “Raindrop”

8.     Prelude No. 24 in D Minor, Opus 28

9.     Waltz No. 7 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 64, No. 2

10.   Barcarolle, Opus 60

11.   Fantaisie in F Minor, Opus 49

12.   Life and Career of Chopin

13.   Chopin and the Modern Piano

14.   Listener’s Guide: Texture--Accompaniment

15.   Listener’s Guide: Texture--Melody

16.   Listener’s Guide: Rhythm

17.   Listener’s Guide: Rubato

18.   Listener’s Guide: Harmony

19.   Chopin's Romanticism

20.   The Chopin Legacy



The 1830's and 1840's saw the high tide of the Romantic movement in music and the other arts, a movement that would define the sensibility of nearly the entire nineteenth century. Several great composers of this period gave expression to the spirit of Romanticism , none more so than Frédéric Chopin. Chopin’s Romanticism is apparent in his rich harmonic shadings, intense poetic expression and his attention to the sensual qualities of music. It reveals itself also in his preference for short piano solos of the type often called “character pieces,” which convey a sense of spontaneity and immediacy so prized by the nineteenth-century Romantics.But Chopin did more than just write music imbued with the spirit of Romanticism. In many ways he embodied an archetypal Romantic character: a lonely genius doomed by that most Romantic disease, tuberculosis, a visionary musician too refined for the public acclaim sought and won by such contemporaries as Liszt and Paganini. Chopin’s exquisite sensitivity, which led him to abandon the concert stage and retreat to the salons of Parisian high society, seemed to set him above of commerce and showmanship that attended concert life during the second third of the nineteenth century, and this, together with his reticence about appearing in public, only added to the Romantic aura about him, even during his lifetime.  


Child Prodigy 

Chopin was born on March 1, 1810, on an estate outside of Warsaw. He was baptized with the Polish name Fryderyk, but he later used its French form, Frédéric. Young Chopin soon demonstrated an exceptional aptitude for music. For six years he studied with a local piano teacher named Wojchiech Zwyny, who soon found himself struggling to keep up with his prodigiously gifted student. By the time Chopin was twelve, Zwyny admitted “there is nothing more I can teach him.” By this time Chopin had already begun performing in public. During his adolescence he played before the cream of Warsaw’s society, impressing even Poland’s ruler, Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, who sometimes sent his own carriage to fetch Chopin to his palace. Chopin had also begun composing, having written some short piano pieces as early as age seven, and in this, too, he made steady progress. As with his piano playing, he owed his achievements in composition more to native ability and self-instruction than to the tutoring he received. Chopin received only three years of instruction in composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. By the time he received his diploma, he was already the author of an ambitious sonata, two piano concertos and a number of shorter piano solos.

Travel and Exile 

As Chopin matured, he sought to broaden his horizons beyond Warsaw. A trip to Berlin shortly after he turned eighteen was followed by another to Vienna the following year. In November 1830, at age twenty, he set off once more for the Austrian capital. For eight months he tried to establish a career in that musically important city. His efforts met with little success, the concerts he gave there winning little more than polite approbation. Meanwhile, trouble beset his homeland. A revolt against Russian domination was brutally supressed as France, Austria and other European governments failed to aid the Polish rebels. In Vienna, Chopin followed the news from home and poured out his despair in a diary he kept at this time. “Father, mother, sisters, everything that is most dear to me,” laments one entry, “where are you now? Dead, perhaps?” ... Ah, there are no words to describe my misery.”The crushed revolt in Poland created a stream of refugees, as many members of the Polish aristocracy made their way to Paris. From Vienna, Chopin decided to join them and arrived in the French capital in September 1831. At first he wavered between pursuing a career as a concert artist or concentrating on composition. His first Parisian recital received praise from no less a judge than Felix Mendelssohn, who was visiting France at the time. But Chopin soon decided that the life of a virtuoso performer was not congenial to him. He therefore curtailed his public performances to approximately one appearance annually. But he quickly established a flourishing career in a more intimate setting, the homes of Paris’ French and Polish nobility. 

The Salons of Paris 

Paris in the 1830's was the intellectual capital of Europe and now rivaled Vienna as the most important center of music on the continent. The Opéra staged lavish productions of works by Rossini, Meyerbeer and a host of French composers. The Conservatoire was not only the most respected music school in the world but the site of important orchestral concerts. Theaters, smaller recital halls and churches also supported an active musical life. But the best music often was to be found not at any of these venues but in the salons of the city’s wealthy élite. There writers, painters, musicians and intellectuals mixed with leaders and aristocrats. There the conversation was always informed and lively. There one could see the most important men and women of the day, and to be seen by them.At Parisian salons Chopin met ambassadors, princes and made the acquaintance of musicians like Franz Liszt and Rossini, the painter EugPne Delacroix, Alexandre Dumas, Balzac and other French writers, as well as the exiled Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. But Chopin did more than mingle. He became the reigning musician of Parisian high society. His performances and improvisations at the salon gatherings had a spellbinding effect on those listeners who were privileged to hear him play. In addition, he acquired a number of pupils among the wealthy French and exiled Polish aristocrats. Proficiency at playing the piano was a highly prized accomplishment at this time, particularly for women of the upper classes, and in Paris the most ambitious and well-to-do keyboard students now sought out Chopin for lessons. Chopin’s pupils included aspiring professionals and accomplished amateurs. Among the latter were countesses, princesses and other members of Parisian high society. Many of them attained considerable proficiency, for the pieces Chopin wrote for his students to play are by no means easily negotiated. They also must have paid handsomely for Chopin’s services, since the expatriate Polish musician was able to afford a comfortable apartment, a fine wardrobe and an elegant carriage.Chopin’s schedule left ample time for composition, and since he had abandoned thoughts of a concert career, writing music became his chief ambition. In this, too, he quickly gained recognition. As early as December 1831 Robert Schumann published a glowing review of one of Chopin’s early work’s that closed with the famous encomium: “Hats off, gentlemen. A genius!” Having composed two concertos, a set of variations and several smaller pieces for piano and orchestra before he arrived in Paris, Chopin now turned away from orchestral music and devoted himself almost entirely to keyboard solos. 

With George Sand 

It is not certain that Chopin enjoyed any romantic liaisons during his first half decade in
Paris, though evidence indicates that he had many female admirers. But in the autumn of 1836 the composer met a woman of far stronger character than the aristocratic ladies who habituated the salons of Paris. Aurore Dudevant, who went by her pen name George Sand, was one of the most unusual personages of her day. Having ended her dismal marriage to a French baron, she set about supporting herself and two children through literature, her prolific output of novels, essays and other writings being her sole source of income. Such independence was unusual for a woman at this time, but Sand reveled in her freedom. She dressed and behaved unconventionally, wearing trousers, smoking cigars and taking a succession of lovers.Sand evidently was not a particularly attractive woman, and she seems not to have made a very favorable impression on Chopin at their initial meeting. But the two kept encountering each other at social gatherings, and eventually a fondness arose between them. By the summer of 1838 the composer and writer were engaged in a serious romance.Chopin and Sand remained devoted to each other for most of the next decade, although their ardor seems to have faded fairly quickly into friendship. In the autumn of 1838 they traveled together to Majorca, the Mediterranean island off the coast of Spain. There Chopin composed some inspired music but also fell seriously ill. Sand, who possessed strong maternal instincts, nursed him through the crisis. Subsequently the pair shared adjacent apartments in Paris and also lived together at Sand’s rural home. The relationship between Chopin and Sand ended unhappily in 1847. Chopin had taken sides with one of Sand’s daughters in a quarrel over her marital prospects. Although feelings between the composer and writer had cooled considerably during the previous year, this dispute led to a permanent breach. Sand cut off contact with a short letter that ended by remarking on “this bizarre conclusion to nine years of close friendship.” 

Final Years 

Chopin’s career was by this time nearly over. Increasingly he suffered from tuberculosis, symptoms of which had been plaguing him for years and now depleted his energy for composing. In February 1848 revolution shook
Paris and sent many of his students fleeing the capital. Chopin therefore accepted an invitation to visit England and Scotland. In London he gave several public concerts and played privately for an audience that included Queen Victoria. Returning to Paris, he found himself too weak for either teaching or composition and would have fallen into dire financial straits but for the generosity of a wealthy Scottish lady who had been one of his students. Chopin died on October 17, 1849, six months short of his fortieth birthday. Three thousand people attended his funeral, where portions of Mozart’s Requiem and an orchestral transcription of the “funeral march” movement of his own Piano Sonata in B-Flat Minor were played.  


Despite extensive documentation of his life and the enormous popularity his works enjoy, Chopin remains a somewhat enigmatic figure. Apart from such questions as his nationality — he was, in various ways, both French and Polish — and his sexual orientation, there is the issue of his artistic temperament. As mentioned above, his highly original music placed him in the ranks of the “radical” Romantics who congregated in
Paris — Berlioz, Liszt and, briefly, Wagner — during the 1830's and 1840's. Yet Chopin was no musical iconoclast. For all the originality of his own compositions, he retained a deep love for music by certain older masters, especially Bach and Mozart. Nor was Chopin a revolutionary in other aspects of his life. On the contrary, his refined manners and impeccable dress were perfectly suited to the mores of Parisian high society during the reign of the conservative King Louis-Philippe. Chopin’s  delicate features seem to have won him flattering attention from a number of women, but his romantic life remains obscure. Although his correspondence mentions love for a young Polish conservatory student, and although his name was linked with several ladies in Paris, his liaison with George Sand stands as his only certain love affair. Some passionately worded letters to a boyhood friend have prompted speculation about homosexual inclinations, but Chopin’s biographers remain divided about the significance of those expressions of affection.It seems likely that Chopin had little interest in close relationships. All accounts portray him as exceptionally reserved and reticent, a quality that even George Sand, who was as close to him as well as anyone, found cause for complaint. Moreover, Chopin probably had little energy for sexual passion. Frail and underweight as a child, he suffered from poor health most of his life.  Chopin’s delicate constitution has led some listeners to think of his music as equally delicate. While it is true that the nocturnes and certain other pieces convey a gossamer dreaminess, other compositions reveal Chopin’s capacity for impassioned and quite robust expression.  


Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 66 

The last of Chopin’s four compositions bearing the title Impromptu is one of his most characteristic pieces. In it we find the juxtaposition of virtuoso keyboard writing and song-like melody, the rhythmic fluidity and broad A-B-A design that are hallmarks of the composer’s style. The impassioned opening theme gives way to a melody of such irresistible lyricism that it was appropriated for the popular song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” Following the reprise of the initial subject, Chopin alludes once more to this tune in the brief coda passage that concludes the piece. 

The Nocturnes 

Chopin’s nocturnes are perhaps his most popular group of compositions. Certainly this genre, whose very title implies a mandate for poetic reverie, suited his Romantic tendencies. The two nocturnes we hear, both in the key of E-flat major, date respectively from the early and late phases of Chopin’s career. The composer wrote Opus 9, No. 2 in the winter of 1830-31, shortly before his move to
Paris. It features a song-like melody over a steady and widely spaced accompaniment pattern. Florid ornamentation of the melodic line creates a rhythmic fluidity quite characteristic of Chopin’s style. Published in 1844, Opus 55, No. 2, is a more mature and sophisticated composition. From its initial gesture, a single clarion note that falls into a shimmering trill, the music captivates with its supple melodic lines, the eloquent asides of its inner voices and its subtle, expressive dissonances. 

Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Opus 47 

Chopin’s four ballades are among his most complex compositions. Their titles imply a verse narrative, and it was reported during the composer’s lifetime that the composer created these works after poems by Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish writer who, like Chopin, lived in exile in
Paris. No concrete connection has been demonstrated between these works and Mickiewicz’s verses, however, and the music seems not to have any firm programmatic basis.Chopin composed his Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Opus 47 in the winter of 1840-41 and introduced it in one of his rare concert appearances in February 1842 in Paris. This music conveys what is for Chopin an unusually genial and relaxed character, its rhythmic lilt serving to moderate even those passages where minor-key harmonies and restless keyboard textures impart a sense of disquiet. The composer presents a succession of thematic ideas during the course of the piece, yet each of them grows out of the work’s first phrase, where a rising scale fragment and a falling two-note pendant provide a melodic kernel from which the entire composition grows. 

The Preludes 

When Chopin arrived on
Majorca in November 1838, he carried with him some volumes of Bach and sketches for his own set of Preludes, Opus 28, which he completed on the island. The latter work was evidently inspired by Bach’s keyboard preludes of The Well-tempered Clavier. Like those pieces, Chopin’s Preludes make a systematic traversal of all 24 major and minor keys. Also like them, each focuses on a particular musical concern: a type of keyboard figuration, a specific mood or a singular melody. Here, however, the comparison with Bach’s music ends, for Chopin’s Preludes typify the Romantic character piece. Each of these brief compositions evokes a unique mood and conveys this through compressed and seemingly spontaneous musical expression. Of the Preludes recorded here, No. 15 in D-flat Major is especially famous. Its designation “the Raindrop Prelude” derives from the single tone reiterated over nearly the whole course of the piece, and from George Sand’s story that Chopin composed it during a downpour as raindrops fell heavily on the roof of their shelter on Majorca. The Preludes as a whole cover a wide range of moods as well as keyboard textures and sonorities. Claudio Arrau, the pianist who plays them on our recording, once described them as “a survey of Chopin’s cosmos.” 

Mazurkas and Waltzes 

Originally a central-European peasants’ dance, the mazurka had made its way into the salons and ballrooms of
Warsaw by the time Chopin came upon it. Retaining the rhythms and general character of the dance, Chopin appropriated it as a vehicle for his own distinctive style of melodic and harmonic invention. As Robert Schumann observed, “Chopin has elevated the mazurka to a small art form; he has written many, yet few among them resemble each other. Almost every one contains some poetic trait, something new in form and expression.”The waltz proved no less congenial a vessel for Chopin’s musical imagination. He regarded his works in this form as concert music rather than ballroom fare. Robert Schumann concurred. “These are waltzes for the soul, not the body,” he wrote of some of Chopin’s early works of this kind. That certainly seems true of the Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 64, No. 2. Chopin wrote it in 1847, toward the end of his life and in the wake of his break with George Sand. Here the aristocratic elegance of the music mingles with a feeling of soulful melancholy. By contrast, the earlier Waltz in A-flat Major, Opus 34, No. 1, fully deserves the sobriquet valse brillante. 

Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Opus 60 

One of the most distinctive species of character piece in Romantic piano music was the barcarolle. This is a stylized version of the kind of song traditionally sung by Venetian gondoliers. Such songs traditionally featured lilting rhythms in either 6/8 or 12/8 meter, and these became principal traits of the piano barcarolles written by a number of nineteenth-century composers. The most famous of all such works is Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-Sharp Major, Opus 60, composed in 1845-46. Like so many of the composer’s works, it unfolds in a broad A-B-A form, here framed by a brief introduction and a fairly substantial coda. This relatively simple design, however, contains a wealth of invention. The rocking accompaniment figures support florid melodies ornamented in Chopin’s inimitable fashion, and much of the piece produces an exquisite harmonic “haze” that foreshadows an Impressionist style half a century into the future.