Episode #5 of the course “Famous classical music composers”
A master of piano, 19th-century Polish composer Frederic Chopin changed Romantic music by invigorating it with a sense of nationality as well as his technically-demanding style. Chopin wrote a number of sonatas, nocturnes, ballades, waltzes, preludes, and other pieces for the solo piano. A gifted performer, he highlighted the precision of the soloist by demanding more from keyboardists than previous composers. Although Chopin’s pieces are often shorter than other composers, they contain as many or more notes, structured in challenging harmonies and ornamentations inspired by vocal ranges. Instead of writing for a vocal accompaniment, Chopin demanded the pianist play the same diverse sounds.
Chopin preferred the intimate experience of playing to small crowds in salons, and his performances were limited due to his lifelong poor health. The music he composed, therefore, considers small spaces rather than large orchestral halls, although with current audio technology many pianists perform Chopin in any size venue. One of his most famous works, the “Minute Waltz” (the Waltz in D-flat major Op. 64, No. 1) may be called a waltz, but the tempo is so fast that critics agree Chopin intended the piece for recital rather than to dance to. It adheres to the structures of a waltz, but embellishments like scaling and trills makes the piece unique.
Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor Op. 35 is commonly known as The Funeral March, although the “Funeral March” refers only to the third movement; it is the only piece that Chopin himself titled. The sonata alternates between stormy, dramatic intensity and the softness of relaxed melodies. The finale of the Funeral March is so technically demanding that playing it has become a standard milestone for pianists in their development. Keeping the tempo the same, Chopin writes an intense finale of parallel octave harmonies without giving the pianist or the listener a rest. The Funeral March was played at Chopin’s own funeral.
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