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Frédéric Chopin: The Etudes: History, Performance, Interpretation

Frédéric Chopin: The Etudes: History, Performance, Interpretation

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Frédéric Chopin: The Etudes: History, Performance, Interpretation

4.5/5 (5 valutazioni)
229 pagine
2 ore
Dec 9, 2015


The Chopin Etudes are without doubt one of the highlights of piano literature - they are essential in achieving a masterful technique and full of musical ideas. The present e-book edition illustrates the etudes in a historical context, based on an excursus on Chopin's piano methodology and a thorough comparison of the musical texts: from the original manuscripts to the most recent urtext editions. It deals with questions about genesis, style, interpretation and playing technique as well as with the history and development of the piano. This casts an entirely new light not only on the etudes themselves but also on the interpretation of other works by Chopin. With its numerous examples, facsimile reproductions and a discography, this e-book is a must-have for both lovers of Chopin's music and advanced amateur and professional pianists.
Dec 9, 2015

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Frédéric Chopin - Jan Marisse Huizing

Jan Marisse Huizing

Frédéric Chopin

The Etudes

History. Performance Practice. Interpretation

Translated from the German by Matthias Müller

In remembrance of Jan Ekier (1913-2014)

SDP 124

ISBN 978-3-7957-8549-9

© 2015 Schott Music GmbH & Co. KG, Mainz

All rights reserved

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Cover: Stefan Pegatzky



1 The piano etude in Chopin’s time

2 Pianist and pedagogue

3 Chopin’s instrument

4 Are there models for Chopin’s Etudes?

5 Notation and performance practice

6 Style and interpretation

7 The editions

8 Discography

9 Notes

Appendix: piano action


Index of Persons

Index of Etudes

Curriculum Vitae


Alfred Cortot [on the Chopin etudes]:

‘Bold undertakings to which the musician without virtuosity is just as unable to find access as the virtuoso without musicality.’

Von Lewinski, II, p. 1.

The first thing a book about Chopin’s Etudes brings to mind would be something in the way of a piano methodology; a personal, methodic approach to the (technical) challenges of these works. This is however not the primary focus of my book. Instead it deals with another, no less intriguing aspect: the Etudes in a historical perspective. While there are a number of publications that concern themselves with specific methods of technically coming to grips with the Etudes¹, these masterpieces have in the course of the history of piano playing rarely been examined from a historical perspective. However, the growing interest for historical performance practice need not limit itself to pre-Romantic music; it certainly makes sense to apply this approach also to the Chopin Etudes that have been of key importance for the development of piano playing.

Chopin began work on his Etudes Op. 10 while still in Poland when he was not yet twenty, followed these up in Paris with the twelve Etudes Op. 25, finally writing three smaller Etudes a few years later.

When his Op. 10 was published in 1833 it caused a veritable sensation among his contemporaries, and together with his Op. 25 which was published in 1837 it was regarded as the summit of the pianistic parnassus. This is still the case today. Essential for acquiring a virtuoso piano technique, Chopin’s Etudes stand alone in that here technique is wedded in an unparalleled way to a wealth of musical ideas.

This book sheds light on a variety of aspects that are connected to historical performance practice: keys, manners of playing, tempo / character and metronome indications, pedaling and variants are put into perspective with regard to Chopin’s piano writing and the instruments he used. Attention is also given to a number of Urtext and historical editions as well as to the way the musical image of a work has changed over time. The book concludes with an overview of the many recordings of these Etudes that have been made over the years and an appendix presenting the different systems of piano action in the instruments used in Chopin’s time and after.

This is also the place to thank those who have helped me in writing this book. First and foremost my heartfelt thanks go to the eminent Polish pianist and scholar Jan Ekier with whom I had the privilege of studying in Warsaw in the 1960s and who shared his great love for and knowledge of Chopin’s works with me, which meant a great deal to me. Moreover, Ekier encouraged me in many conversations to write this book. Sadly, in August 2014, a few weeks before his 101 birthday, he passed away.

Also important was the exchange of ideas with the Swiss Chopin expert Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, who graciously gave me permission to quote comments of Chopin’s pupils that he collected in his book Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils.²

After my book was published in 1996 in Dutch by ‘de Toorts’ in Haarlem, my friend and colleague the German pianist Detlef Kraus, who suddenly passed away in 2008, offered to translate it into German. This resulted in a revised edition published by Schott in 2009, and here I am very grateful to Paul Badura-Skoda, pianist and editor of the Wiener Urtext edition of the Chopin etudes, for letting me avail myself of his critical eye.

And now this English version has given me the opportunity to make some further amendments and include additional material, in particular in chapters 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

My special thanks go to translator and musician Matthias Müller for undertaking the task of creating the English text for this ebook which led to an intensive and inspiring collaboration.³

In addition I would like to thank the Bibliothèque National in Paris for the permission to reproduce a number of facsimiles, and to Hanna Wróblewska-Straus, the former curator of the Chopin Institute ‘Towarzystwo im. Fryderyka Chopina’ (TiFC) in Warsaw, who made it possible for me to study Chopin’s original manuscripts and provided photographic material. I also owe thanks to the ‘Österreichische Nationalbibliothek’ in Vienna for furnishing me with an important facsimile, as well as to the publishers Henle, Wiener Urtext, Breitkopf & Härtel and Schott for their kind permission to reproduce examples taken from their editions.

Finally, I hope this book will shed some light on the musical contents and background of Chopin’s Etudes and contribute to arriving at inspired interpretations of these masterpieces.

Jan Marisse Huizing, The Hague, Autumn 2015.

A portrait of Chopin in a rare lithograph. Drawing by Cäcilie Brandt after a portrait by Vigneron (lithograph, by A. Kneisel, Leipzig; private collection). The portrait was made in 1833, the year the Etudes Op. 10 were published.

1 The piano etude in Chopin’s time

Robert Schumann [on Chopin’s Etudes Op. 25.]

‘But wherefore the descriptive words! They are all models of bold, indwelling, creative force, truly poetic creations. […]’

(Neue Zeitschift für Musik, 22.12.1837). (Huneker, p. 99.)

When Chopin composed his Etudes Op. 10 – around 1830 – tutors specially written for the piano were being published only for a couple of decades. Most of the material published in this field until around 1800 usually concerned keyboard instruments in general: harpsichord, organ and clavichord, even though the authors sometimes revealed a preference for a particular instrument.⁴ Interest for these older keyboard instruments gradually diminished, particularly in Germany, due to the emergence of the more recent ‘fortepiano’, invented 1698 by Florentin Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731)⁵, until finally keyboard music was exclusively written for this instrument, besides the organ.⁶ One of the most important methods available at the end of the 18th century was the Klavierschule (1789) by Daniel Gottlob Türk (1756-1813). It was conceived for performers on the clavichord – listing its required qualities and special features of touch – as well as the harpsichord, organ and the fortepiano. It dealt with general music theory, performance practice and the correct application of embellishments. Technical matters were rarely addressed. In this, piano tutors very much reflected the way how music was typically understood at the time: as a unity of technical and musical content. The same also applies to the music of this period written for teaching purposes. It was part of a long tradition which included, in the field of keyboard music, Bach’s Inventions and Scarlatti’s sonatas – he called them Essercizi – as perhaps the most outstanding works of their kind.

During the Baroque period, but also for a great part of the ‘style galant’ and the early classical period, the different strength of the fingers was particularly emphasized. In that time there was talk of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fingers that should be used in the service of a specific articulation to be derived from the musical text. ‘Good’ fingers for the ‘good’ notes, as they were called, which were somewhat emphasized and could be held even a little longer than notated, while ‘bad’ fingers took care of the lighter notes, to be played somewhat shorter. For the harpsichord and the organ this was an absolute necessity: considering the limited possibilities to differentiate the dynamics within a specific passage this way of playing helped to enrich musical expression.⁷ By contrast, on the new instrument, the fortepiano, which became very popular around the time of the Viennese classical period, it was not only possible to play in a nuanced way within extended passages but also within one chord. In addition, crescendo and diminuendo became important new means of expression.

These new developments were thus directly connected with a stylistic change. The transition from articulation to phrasing, differentiations within the dynamics and greater equalness in passage work were all means of expression in a new musical concept. Passage work, which in the Baroque period was frequently used in toccatas and preludes for instance, now served primarily to create connections between individual themes, as they appeared in the new forms of the time, for instance in the sonata and rondo form. In passage work, the necessary modulations could take place or a particular key could be reinforced for a longer period without the need for a new theme to appear.⁸ Passage work connected the themes in a ‘natural’ way to a musical whole.⁹

In the light of this development technical problems naturally came to be related to the weakness of particular fingers. It was considered necessary to work on the strengths of the fingers in order to implement the new possibilities of expression in the piano music of the time.

The many Etudes by composers such as Czerny, Hummel, Cramer and Clementi that were composed in this time reflected the difficulties that appeared in the new compositions. The specific technical problems were extracted from them to be studied separately and became a preparation for what was to be expected in the ‘real’ compositions.

We find this principle in numerous methods that were written by eminent piano pedagogues, for instance in the first method written specifically for the fortepiano by the frenchman Louis Adam (1758-1848).

His Méthode de piano, published in 1804, is the first to treat technique completely independently from the music and deals primarily with the execution of scales and triads. Only at the end do we find a few works by some major composers, for instance the first movement of Mozart’s A minor sonata K. 310, and of course also a few works by himself that serve to apply the newly acquired technique. This approach, which leaves very little room for the treatment of musical issues, is characteristic for all early 19th century piano methods.

A different approach consisted in finding in the compositions themselves a form in which the new technical possibilities could be applied.

A suitable model for this was the prelude, understood not only as a quasi improvised ‘overture’, but as an independent work with a technical and musical substance of its own. The preludes from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier were still known to some extent – and moreover written in all 24 keys. Would it not be possible also to deal with piano technique in all keys?

The connection between preludes and exercises was already made. In his Preludes and Exercises in all major and minor keys, composed in 1811, Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) prefixed each exercise with a short prelude. In 1819 the Vingt Exercises et Préludes by the Polish composer Maria Szymanowska (1790-1831) were published; and Václav Vilém (Wilhelm) Würfel (1790-1832), professor at the Warsaw conservatory, with whom the twelve year old Chopin took his first organ lessons, wrote in 1831 his Zbiór exercycyi w ksztalcie preludyów ze wszystlich tonów maior i minor.¹⁰ Chopin must have been aware early on of the idea of combining preludes and exercises in all keys in a special way.

While in preludes the musical content became ever more important, as Chopin’s later masterfully showed in his Op. 28, exercises were developed into the form of the etude, where technique was the first goal. Also here, all 24 keys were used, for instance the 24 Etudes Op. 20 by the German composer Joseph Christoph Kessler (1800-1872), written in 1825 and published by Haslinger in Vienna.¹¹ For decades they enjoyed great popularity and received much praise from eminent musicians such as Moscheles, Kalkbrenner and Liszt.

Chopin was well acquainted with Kessler, 11 years his senior, who had settled in Warsaw in 1829 and gave popular musical soirees that also Chopin enjoyed visiting. We can assume that Chopin then already got to know these Etudes to which Kessler owed a significant part of his fame in the course of his life. August Göllerich (1859-1923), Liszt’s piano pupil and secretary in Weimar, many years later, from 1884 to 1886, kept a journal during that time in which he recorded Liszt’s remarks about how much he and Chopin had valued Kessler’s etudes¹²:

‘We both loved Kessler’s etudes, they are even today very recommendable.’

(Göllerich, p. 17.)

Special piano pieces aimed at mastering piano technique met a growing demand – which a number of composers could satisfy, but which particularly Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny (1791-1857) had a knack for. Writing practical, pleasing pieces in which the focus on the actual goal of the exercise was not distracted by too much musical depth was uniquely suited to his masterful pedagogical talent. Others followed in his wake, for instance Cramer and Clementi, whose Etudes however demanded more expressivity. The difference in musical texture between Czerny and Hummel on the one hand – both belonging to the Viennese school – and Clementi on the other, who belonged to the so-called ‘English’ school, can certainly be explained by the different kind of instruments they had at their disposal. The action of the Viennese pianos, known

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