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Awesome Music / Fryderyk Chopin

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Frédéric Chopin is considered one of the undisputed masters of compositions for solo piano, and rightly so.

  • Though Chopin ordered the manuscript for the Fantaisie-Impromptu burned at his death, the executors of his estate fortunately defied him and had it published anyway, leaving us with one of his most blinding works.
  • Chopin's waltzes might be a bit difficult to dance to, but they include some of the most fascinating pieces he composed. The Grande valse brillante in E-flat major is an exhilarating five-minute ride away from and back to the home key. Of the three "Valses brillantes", No.1 in A-flat major is perhaps the most masterfully assembled, but the heart-rending No.2 in A minor and the wild ride of No.3 in F major are also real winners. And while the first of the Op.64 triptych is the instantly recognisable "Minute" waltz, No.2 in C-sharp minor is another classic (both waltzes are too often played far too fast; a more moderately paced rendition allows performer and listener alike to absorb the works' many subtleties).
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  • The posthumous nocturne in C-sharp minor is somewhat light on the technical demands (Chopin wrote it for his sister Ludwika as a technical study to prepare her for his F minor piano concerto, from which it features several direct quotes), but it makes up for it with expressive challenges that define "heartbreakingly beautiful". It was memorably used in The Pianist as the piece Wladyslaw Szpilman plays on live radio as the first bombs of World War II fall on Warsaw, and the piece with which he opens his first broadcast after the Nazis have been driven out of the city.
  • Variations on 'Là ci darem la mano' from Mozart's Don Giovanni. The guy wrote it when he was only SEVENTEEN.
  • Chopin's two piano concerti in E minor and F minor rank among the greatest in the standard repertoire. Although the orchestra has little to do in either concerto, the pianist's technique really takes flight in both, from their emotionally expansive opening movements to their heart-rendingly beautiful slow movements to their energetic finales.
  • The two sets of 12 études stand as some of the first pieces written as technical studies which are also suitable for concert performances.
    • The Op.10 set was dedicated to Chopin's friend and fellow composer Franz Liszt. After galloping out of the gate with the right-hand arpeggii of No.1 in C major, the set goes for understated awesome with the 3-4-5 finger chromatic scales of No.2 in A minor. No.3 in E major, sometimes called "Tristesse", is one of Chopin's most heart-rending works, but the atmosphere is immediately blown away by the fury of No.4 in C-sharp minor. The spiky No.5 in G-flat major is nicknamed the "Black Key" as the right hand plays only on those keys, while No.6 in E-flat minor returns to solemnity with an exercise in playing fluid countermelodies quietly. The awesomeness builds across the repeated notes of No.7 in C major, the sprints up and down the upper register of No.8 in F major, the left-hand stretches of No.9 in F minor, the constant shifts in rhythmic emphasis of No.10 in A-flat major, and the giant rolled chords of No.11 in E-flat major, all building to the spectacular finale of No.12 in C minor, the "Revolutionary", a study in left hand runs that builds to a triumphant final shift to C major.
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    • Chopin dedicated the Op.25 set to Liszt's lover, Countess Marie d'Agoult. Opening with the shimmering No.1 in A-flat major, nicknamed "Aeolian Harp" due to the similarity to said instrument's sonorities, the set moves on to the whirlwind mixed triplets of No.2 in F minor, the carefree four-voice counterpoint of No.3 in F major, the left hand leaps of No.4 in A minor, and the grace note outer sections framing a major key section of right hand runs in No.5 in E minor, which ends with almost defiant major key triumph. The awesomeness goes back to understated for the double thirds of No.6 in G-sharp minor and the melancholy, cello solo-like No.7 in C-sharp minor, but builds back up across the double sixths of No.8 in D-flat major, the skipping right hand figures of No.9 in G-flat major (known as the "Butterfly"), and the double octaves of No.10 in B minor. Chopin saves the best for last; No.11 in A minor, the "Winter Wind", is the most technically formidable of either set (after the deceptively simple opening phrase), with terrifying cascades in the right hand over crashing chords in the left hand, while the furious ebb and flow of No.12 in C minor builds to the same C major blaze of glory as its Op.10 counterpart.
  • With the four Scherzi, Chopin explored what could be done with the basic structure of a fast piece with a slow, contrasting centre section. From the bittersweet melody framed on either side by furious storms of No.1 in B minor, to the alternating clouds and sunshine of the fast sections encircling a "trio" that almost sounds like a new piece has started in No.2 in B-flat minor, to the thundering quadruple octaves, shimmering slower section, and last-second triumph of No.3 in C-sharp minor, to the by turns enigmatic, lively, solemn, and ultimately joyful No.4 in E major, they add up to forty minutes of awesome.
  • The polonaises are an integral part of Chopin's musical love letters to his native Poland (to which he was unable to return after leaving as a young man) and include some of his most spellbinding works. The boisterous No.3 in A major and the sombre and ultimately fiery No.4 in C minor were published as a pair and respectively summarise the triumph and sorrow Chopin could express in his music. No.5 in F-sharp minor is a parallel octave-led wild ride, the tempo of which doubles for a mazurka centre section. By far the most famous is No.6 in A-flat major ("Heroic"), which radiates splendour and bravado from every measure. And the epic-length Polonaise-Fantaisie shows Chopin at the height of his creative and expressive powers.
  • Chopin was not the first composer to write a set of short preludes for piano in all 24 major and minor keys,note  but his 24 Preludes, Op.28 were among the first to be intended for standalone concert performance, and have loomed large over all such sets that have been written since. Though some of them are vignettes that last between 30 and 60 seconds (such as the jittery No.1 in C major, the sparkling No.10 in C-sharp minor, the genial No.11 in B major, and the troubled No.14 in E-flat minor), while others (such as the four most famous of the set: the doleful No.4 in E minor, the gentle No.7 in A major, the reflective No.15 in D-flat major AKA the "Raindrop", and the solemn No.20 in C minor) are light on the technical demands, many are dazzling in their awesomeness. Highlights include No.5 in D major with its uneven and unpredictable melody and rhythms, No.8 in F-sharp minor with its perpetual motion right-hand whirlwind, the repeated note-driven frenzy of No.12 in G-sharp minor, the furious ride through Hell of No.16 in B-flat minor, No.19 in E-flat major with its fluid yet brutally difficult perpetual motion triplets in both hands, and the violent, storm-tossed No.24 in D minor which gallops full speed toward its emphatic final three notes (the lowest D on the keyboard, played thrice).
  • Chopin was more at home writing short-form pieces than long-form ones like sonatas and concerti, but he still left a significant mark on the piano sonata canon.
    • Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor is the source of the famous Funeral March (very often played separately from the other three movements), and while "awesome" is a curious word to use for that piece, the first movement is an exhilarating journey from fire and brimstone to celebration, and the finale (said to represent the wind blowing across the graveyard after the third movement funeral), though the shortest movement by far, is still a remarkable test of the pianist's endurance.
    • Sonata No.3 in B minor is a masterpiece of Chopin's last years; the first movement is a veritable cornucopia of melodies ranging from the fierce to the charming, the second movement scherzo frames a songlike centre section with two flighty displays of perpetual motion, the slow third movement is almost heart-stopping in its serenity, and the frenzied finale goes out in a blaze of major key glory (the only one of Chopin's three piano sonatas to do so).


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