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CHOPIN Grandes Etudes, Op.10 and Op.25 Angela Lear
To the young Chopin the principally didactic character and purpose of existing stereotyped piano exercises and studies were not sufficient to conquer the technical and musical demands his compositions presented. On 24th October 1829 Chopin wrote to his friend Titus Woyciechowski, “I have composed a grand study in my own manner.” Those last four words provide some insight into the originality of Chopin’s style: the man and his music being inseparable.

No.8 in F major was probably the first étude to be written and by 1831, when Chopin arrived in Paris, all but No’s. 3 and 4 had been completed. On completion of the set he arranged their order for publication.

There is a hint of irony in Chopin’s typically modest choice of genre title. His études undeniably illustrate the importance he placed on the art of touch and the cultivation of it, beyond the acquisition of virtuosity, demanding an infinite variety of tone-colour and textural contrast. Each étude is as much a study in expression and emotional dynamic as pure technique and far transcend the basic didactic objectives of dealing with a principal technical difficulty. No two études are alike and, with few exceptions, exhaust all technical and musical possibilities. Exceptions being the rather theatrical ‘orchestral’ effects of tremolos and broken octaves, which held no particular interest for Chopin.

Although Chopin’s études present a formidable challenge to pianists their extreme technical demands must remain only 'a means to an end’. They are magnificent compositions amply demonstrating his undeniable mastery as a composer of works of the highest art. My former teacher Louis Kentner regarded them as “a perfect fusion of the athletic and aesthetic”.

There have been numerous editions of the études since their first publication, including those edited by Chopin’s pupils; Milkuli, Tellefsen, Gutmann, Wolff and Fonata – who were all in disagreement! Pianistic ‘traditions’ cannot always be relied upon for credibility. This is a disconcerting fact since some critical editions have been based on these copies. To compare the various urtext editions that successively claim evermore ‘close adherence to original texts’ is additionally worrying due to the disparities existing between these publications. The plethora of edited publications available present us with a musical ‘minefield’ – at least for those seeking to give interpretations as closely as possible to Chopin’s intentions, rather than any attempts to re-compose his compositions. To that end it is essential to research as much as possible into not only his autograph manuscripts, but to also undertake combined studies of original manuscripts and related material (i.e. draft scores, early editions and annotated scores), including familiarising ourselves with the many statements made by his associates, friends and pupils who knew Chopin’s playing and teaching principles
To cite just two examples of the importance of studying all available original sources:

Firstly, the celebrated E major etude, Op.10 No.3, is an example of some of the disparities that exist when comparing Chopin’s autograph manuscripts with various edited publications. It was originally given the tempo Vivace by Chopin, later adding ma non troppo. (Illustrated below) It is not in 4/4 time and the passages (from bar 46) have no fortissimo or doppio movimento indications. The poco piú animato (often marked at bar 21) is not given in the original ms. Chopin’s ardent dislike of the sentimentalisé approach and exaggerated tempo deviations are well known. Additional tempo changes break down the musical logic and structure of the whole, subverting Chopin’s expressed intentions.
Stacks Image 1

Opening measures of Chopin’s Etude in E major, Op.10 No.3
Reproduced by kind permission of The Chopin Society, Warsaw

The Gb major étude, Op.10 No.5, popularly known as the ‘Black Keys Study’, is generally executed in brilliant style as a technical showpiece with heavy dynamics and liberally pedalled, taken at a fast pace with an inevitable (though unwritten) slowing down of pace for the closing double octave triplets. The illustration reproduced below of the opening measures from Chopin’s autograph manuscript of this étude clearly shows that it was originally marked to be played leggierissimo e legatissimo. No tempo was given by Chopin and there are no tempo changes. Chopin’s first forte marking does not appear until bar 33. Applying heavier dynamics and over-dramatising his precise score directions eclipse the essentially elegant and light-hearted character of this remarkable composition, in addition to producing an opposite concept of its interpretation to that of the composer. Chopin’s dynamics are undoubtedly easier to ignore than achieve, especially on our powerfully resonant and ‘fleshier’ toned concert pianos.
Stacks Image 2

Opening measures of Chopin’s Etude in Gb major, Op.10 No.5
Reproduced by kind permission of The Chopin Society, Warsaw

Chopin was more concerned with the quality of tone and how music is performed, than with piano exercises for finger dexterity and development of the high finger striking techniques, requesting his pupils to stroke or caress the keys – “.. mould the keyboard as if with a velvet hand and feel the key rather than striking it!”. [Chopin Pianist and Teacher: Eigeldinger] Technique is essential as a basis to the music, but should remain subordinate to the music itself. As Schumann commented, “.. no-one should dare to be a poor musician in order to become a fine virtuoso.” [Neue Zeitschrift (14) 1841]

Op.10 composed 1828-1832, published 1833 [dedicated to Franz Liszt]

No.1 in C major
Sweeping r.h. figurations in extended chordal patterns encompass a four-octave range of arc-shaped phrases generated by l.h. bass octaves. Stylised chords patterned in arpeggios were used by earlier composers, namely J S Bach, whose C major Prelude from Book I of the ‘48’ is particularly relevant. This stylisation underwent transformation by Chopin. That he revered the music of Bach and Mozart above other composers, including his contemporaries, is a very important fact in Chopin interpretation. This étude is commonly played forte-fortissimo at an extremely fast pace although my manuscript copy shows only two bars marked forte with no tempo indication.

No.2 in A minor
R.h.3rd, 4th and 5th 'weaker' fingers crossing over each other in chromatic patterns while the thumb and 2nd finger play inner harmonic notes. A technique exploited by harpsichordists, e.g. the didactic works of CPE Bach and Couperin. Chopin marked Vivace with no metronome marking.

No.3 in E major
A fine example of Chopin’s love of vocal art, this celebrated étude is a study in the tonal balance of ‘voiced’ melody and harmonic background. Unfortunately the main theme has fallen prey to various mistreatments, due in part to the mythical legends about Chopin - the archetypal Romantic languishing in a violet-scented mist of indecision about his scores. A distorted view of his music has been perpetuated over the years. Chopin originally gave the tempo marking Vivace, later adding ma non troppo. The quavers and semiquavers in 2/4 time are generally taken at an exaggeratedly slow and lingering pace (4/4 time), with additional tempo changes are applied. The metronome marking ♪=100 appeared later in a publication, in addition to the original Vivace ma non troppo altered to Lento ma non troppo – which combine to provide a very confusing contradiction in terms. Chopin had an ardent dislike of the sentimentalisé approach. Simplicity related to the Art of touch was his credo.

No.4 in C# minor
As Kullak said, this is "a bravura study for velocity and lightness in both hands" in which the hands play alternating 4-bar patterns. Prevalent in Bach but uncommon in Chopin. Marked Presto con fuoco with no metronome marking.

No.5 in Gb major
('Black Keys Study') Originally marked leggierissimo e legatissimo, without a tempo marking. The r.h. plays exclusively on the black keys. A wonderful example of Chopin’s inventiveness It has an elegance and humour that is easily subverted by a heavy and over-pedalled approach..

No.6 in Eb minor
An intensity of feeling is contained in the plaintive melody, enhanced by an unusual chromatic inner line. A study in the 'art of touch', the four-tiered texture demands
careful tonal balancing. Marked only Con molto espressione with no tempo indication.

No.7 in C major
In the style of a lively 'toccata', the r.h. sustains constantly shifting double notes. To the piano and legato indications Chopin marked Vivace, with no metronome marking.

No.8 in F major
According to Huneker this étude demands " aristocratic ease, a delicate touch and a fluent technique that will carry of this study with good effect." Originally marked leggierissimo e legato, with no tempo stated, this étude tends to be executed with preferred forte/fortissimo dynamics. An over-dramatised approach that facilitates interpretation, especially on modern concert pianos, but eclipses Chopin’s original directions.

No.9 in F minor
The first étude to concentrate technical demands on the l.h. which sustains wide-spread figures demanding extended positions of the fingers. It contains some dramatic effects and a certain grandeur. Again, Chopin gave no tempo. The draft ms gives Agitato and a copyist added a metronome marking of 92=dotted crotchet.

No.10 in Ab major
Written in Chopin's favoured tonality, Ab major lends itself to the joyful nature and spontaneity this wonderful étude radiates. One of the most difficult technically and musically, it demands not only considerable dexterity in both hands but also the important co-ordination of the hands in their constantly shifting accents and cross-rhythms. One of the most difficult technically and musically, it demands not only considerable dexterity in both hands but also the important co-ordination of the hands in their constantly shifting accents and cross-rhythms. This work of genius prompted von Bülow to claim that 'anyone who can play this study in a real finished manner may congratulate themselves on having climbed to the highest peak of the pianist's Parnassus'. Marked Vivace assai by Chopin. His meticulously marked dynamics in the autograph ms have been altered by editors and interpreters.

No.11 in Eb major
Often known as the 'Harp Study' due to the succession of widespread arpeggio chords. Another formidable challenge is presented by Chopin in this inspirational étude, demanding extreme flexibility of the hands, wrists and forearms. The melody lines are enriched by ravishing harmonies and complementary melodic fragments.
Chopin gave the tempo marking Allegretto.

No.12 in C minor
Generally entitled the 'Revolutionary Study', this bravura composition focuses on l.h. velocity and is an intensely dramatic and passionate étude. This was composed in September 1831 when Chopin heard of the fall of his beloved Warsaw to Russia. The relentless l.h. figurations generate a tempestuous moto perpetuo with the powerful declamations expressed by the r.h. punctuated melodic phrases. It is a magnificent and noble creation.
Marked Allegro con fuoco by Chopin.

© Angela Lear

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Op.25 composed 1833-1836, published 1837 [dedicated to Countess Marie d'Agoult]

No.1 in Ab major
The gently billowing arpeggios in both hands create a magical accompaniment to the singing melody, predominantly sustained by the 5th finger of the r.h.. To the exquisite harmonic background, Chopin introduces brief countermelodies. This étude is usually entitled "Aeolian Harp" and was the last to be composed of the études.
Chopin gave the tempo marking Allegro sostenuto.

No.2 in F minor
Delicately spinning quaver triplets in the r.h. are complemented by the l.h. cross-rhythms in crotchet triplets. The poetic nature of this étude is expressed in the two-part textural writing as a beautifully flowing counterpoint.
Marked Presto by Chopin. The Coda includes a variant written into the score of his pupil Catherine Dubois.

No.3 in F major
This étude has a lively and bouyant atmosphere. Chopin again uses varying accentuations, with four different rhythms incorporated into each of the 4/4 beats. The F major sections are juxtaposed with sections in the remote key of B major - the interval of the sharpened 4th which is the favoured Polish modal inflexion from the Lydian scale.
An Allegro marking was given by Chopin.

No.4 in A minor
A 'capriccio' style is applied to this étude. Syncopated r.h. chords with subtly varied textural changes and suspensions are combined with the l.h. quavers which are played staccato throughout. This étude reminded Stephen Heller of the first bar of the Kyrie from Mozart's Requiem.
Chopin gave the direction Agitato - with no metronome marking.

No.5 in E minor
A study in lightness of touch. Chopin develops rhythmic transformations of the main motives, introduced with chromatic grace notes that add a coquettish charm. In contrast to the outer sections, a central melody of great lyrical beauty is introduced in the tonic major 'E' in the lower registers. Chopin creates a very effective Coda passage to close the étude using double trills.
No metronome marking was given by Chopin, who wrote the direction Vivace.

No.6 in G# minor
Beyond the immense technical difficulties of the relentless r.h. double-thirds, Chopin expresses a work of art - transfiguring the traditional double-note studies to new pianistic horizons. The tonality of G# minor casts a rather eerie quality over this amazing étude.
Marked Allegro by Chopin.

No.7 in C# minor
Chopin's fondness for the 'cello is evident in this étude from the opening measures (marked Lento) that introduce the main themes*, which are presented as a duality of melody and counter-melody. The deeply nostalgic and poetic mood of this étude can easily tend towards the sentimentalisé approach, so disliked by Chopin.
*At the introduction of the main themes Chopin gives the change of tempo to crotchet=60.

No.8 in Db major
Based on double-sixths throughout in the r.h., the l.h. plays double notes simultaneously. To these technical demands Chopin also requires a lightness of touch. This étude has an effervescent character and a harmonious vibrancy.
Given the tempo Vivace by Chopin.

No.9 in Gb major
Known as the 'Butterfly Study', it is usually cast aside as a somewhat conventionally written little showpiece merely for pianists to display their virtuosity at the keyboard. It is an effective étude that bubbles with its springy rhythm. There are subtle differences applied to the r.h. slur markings, while the l.h. maintains a staccato touch throughout.
Chopin marked this étude Allegro assai.

No.10 in B minor
A stormy étude almost entirely in double-octaves. It is basically monophonic with some inner notes sustained. The extended central section, in B major, is given to a lovely r.h. melodic line, in octaves still, enriched on repetition by the addition of complementary inner voiced melodic fragments.
Marked Allegro con fuoco by Chopin.
No.11 in A minor
The celebrated 'Winter Wind Study' has epic proportions ideally suited to the bravura nature. It is supremely pianistic and the grandest of the set, not least for the bold originality of the soaring lines and the l.h. 'marziale' motif. Opening lento, the introductory phrases present the motto that forms the basis of the main themes, which are subsequently given prominence in the bass registers. This is another extremely demanding étude, requiring not only great dexterity and power, but wide-ranging dynamic control, equality of touch - and endurance!
Chopin's markings are Lento : Allegro con brio.

No.12 in C minor
Nicknamed the 'Ocean Study', this is also a study in bravura playing with sweeping arpeggios in both hands across the whole keyboard. A chorale-like theme is sustained predominantly by the r.h. thumb as an expressive stylisation of a cantus firmus. This is a tumultuous étude, that nevertheless should not receive a relentless barn-storming fortissimo from first note to last. The intrinsic power generated by this etude is of elemental force - and could not be further removed from the mythical picture of the pallid-faced dandy of Parisian salons.
Marked Allegro molto con fuoco by Chopin.

[Tempo and metronome marking details have been given only if authenticated as having been written in Chopin's hand, omitting editorial suggestions.]

©Angela Lear


[Volume 1 in Angela Lear’s Chopin CD series features the complete Op.10 and Op.25 Studies]