Hey everyone, I just finished recording Chopin’s etude Op. 10 no. 1 at A432hz. I have to say that I learned a tremendous amount about the piano and piano technique while embarking on this study and I wanted to take a moment to speak about what I learned.
The Chopin etudes have always held a very special in place in the piano repertoire and, for that matter, in the entire repertoire of music. Frederick Chopin was a composer who devoted almost his entire output to one instrument, the piano. He revolutionized the context in which musicians after him would think about the instrument for it would know longer be a simple keyboard but rather, it would be forever recognized as instrument with seemingly limitless potential. This is, after all, what the Romantic era about, limitless potential.
The word etude essentially means “study” and Chopin originally wrote twelve of these studies to advance ones musical and physical potential at the keyboard. This would be his tenth opus hence the abbreviation, Op. 10, and this etude would be his first in this series. When Chopin wrote these etudes, at the age of nineteen, he wanted to write twelve exercises that, when practiced, would give a pianist all he or she needed to strengthen their hands.
However Chopin had a very different approach towards piano technique then his western colleges. Chopin, for example, embraced the idea of practicing only three hours a day, using the body as a whole rather than isolating only the fingers, studying the human voice as the ultimate guide for proper voicing and preaching the importance of balance and suppleness. He was very original in his thought process and one must take this into consideration when learning Chopin’s “studies” because they are ultimately a reflection of his philosophies, especially regarding piano technique.
Chopin was obsessed with relaxation and this etude I discovered is really an etude in relaxation. The piece itself is almost a reflection of water or a waterfall, it has a very fluid sound to it almost, in a way, very much foreshadowing the French impressionistic era that would follow Romanticism. This idea of relaxation, fluidity, liquidness ran throughout my mind while trying to conceive of an interpretation to this piece. It wasn’t so much the speed that mattered but rather how supple can the fingers get. I wanted to see how far I could stretch the hand, get them to, like one once said when watching Chopin himself play his pieces “open up like the jaws of a snake.”
This etude, I found, was really a stretching exercise or a warm-up towards what was to come. Of course when studying the second etude on realizes that, in fact, it is almost the exact opposite. It is all about contraction, contracting the hand. And so one must learn the two together so their is balance. Wide stretches with the first etude and then condensed contraction with the second and after warming up with those two you can then continue on with the other ten etudes.
Another important element in this particular etude are the accent marks a top each 16th note in the measure. These are especially difficult to bring out but a very important clue as to how to play this piece properly. Chopin would say, during his lessons, that the pinky finger or fifth finger is the most important finger of all and this etude confirms that belief. The fifth finger is essential to voicing as it acts as the “voice” of the chord when phrasing or voicing most passages. This piece has, buried within, a beautiful melody begging to be brought out and phrased. When one focuses on the accented notes or melody, one naturally obtains the proper technique for the piece which is heavy emphasis on the pinky coupled with a quick but fluid contraction and expansion of the hand. If done properly one begins to develop a very watery sound.
The last thing I wanted to consider while performing this piece is Chopin’s idea of rubato. Rubato is an extraordinary musical concept one which Chopin himself made famous. Essentially it is generally referred to as “robbing time”. It is that mystical sound most found with singers, the idea that of an inner rhythm that is felt rather than metronomically adhered to.
Chopin popularized this sound in the Salons when he performed and it is not to be underestimated when trying to properly interpret his music. Keeping to the idea of this piece have a watery feel to it, I wanted to let it breath and sing out. I wanted to find the pieces inner pulse. This almost required me to slow down and speed up, expanding each arpeggio then contracting, very much in alignment with my physical hand. Expansion and contraction, it is the running theme to this study, or stretching exercise. Letting some arpeggios go very fast and then some slow down, so long as the hand is supple and always stretching the piece seems to be breathing. As I did this I noticed I could play this etude very hours very easily, never getting tired and my pinky seemed to be getting stronger acting as the balancing point or pivot for my whole hand. This approach also seemed to fall in line with some of Chopin’s own writings about the etude.
Of course I still feel like I have a long ways to go as these pieces (all twelve) are limitless in their depth. I intend to record the second etude very shortly as I found the process of learning that etude equally as interesting. But for now I hope you enjoy this recording of Opus 10 no. 1. It was done very early in the morning (7am) and was recorded in one take so I hope at some point to have a better one out, but this works for now :).
Oh, and of course it is recorded at A432hz which was equally as interesting to work with and I feel is much closer to how Chopin himself would have heard the piece played as A430/432 was a very popular frequency in Paris at the time.