Monday, March 10, 2008

Chopin: Preludes

Most people, when they want to become more familiar with classical music, tend to focus almost exclusively on symphonic works.

This is a big mistake.

I think there are a few reasons people favor symphonies. First, everybody's heard of the major symphonic composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc; so it's certainly reasonable (and easier) to learn classical music by starting with these guys and their key works.

Also, the symphony is seen by many as the pinnacle of the classical music art form. Symphonies are big, they're dramatic, they have gravitas. And when you go to hear your local symphony orchestra, they're typically going to play--you guessed it--a symphony.

But there's an entire universe of beautiful music to explore beyond the traditional symphony: solo piano, string quartets, piano trios, and a whole host of other chamber music forms. I'll confess, I had been listening to classical music for two decades before I made a meaningful effort to learn some of the great works outside of the standard symphonic repetory. Hopefully, with the help of this blog, you can make that leap considerably faster.

In today's post we will take that leap, starting with Chopin and his preludes for piano.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Preludes, op. 28 (1838-1839)
Ivo Pogorelich, piano

Deutsche Grammophon, 1990

Before these works were written, a "prelude" was supposed to be a musical preface; it was a brief introduction, either to a larger work, or to succeeding movements of the same work.

Chopin's preludes, however, weren't introductions to anything; they were meant to stand on their own as self-contained, miniature compositions. In fact, one misguided critic from Chopin's time even asked, "Preludes to what?"

The question has become rhetorical now.

Most of these pieces are very short, some even less than a minute long. Listen closely to Preludes 4, 9, 11, and 15 for some particularly wonderful works.

Watch out, or these preludes will inspire you to take up the piano!

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