The Innovations of Frederic Chopin

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The Innovations of Frédéric Chopin

Frédéric Chopin’s personal approach to technique revolutionized the piano. He developed unparalleled fingering and pedalage that shocked the musical world. His clearly established style set him apart from his peers. This consistent and unique style makes him the most notable composer of the Romantic period.

Chopin was born in Zellazowa Wola, Poland in the year 1810. His name was Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen, but he was most commonly known by the French pronunciation, Frédéric François Chopin. Raised in a family of musicians, Chopin developed a talent for the piano at a young age. His first public performance was at age seven, after which he began playing in Polish society. As a young adult, he attended the Warsaw Conservatory of Music where he was under the tutelage of Joseph Elsner. Elsner supported Chopin’s unique playing style and, while he insisted on Chopin studying musical theory and composition, Chopin was allowed to cultivate his individuality on the piano. After a handful of short musical tours, Chopin settled in Paris in 1830. He spent the remainder of his life there, battling with poor health while teaching piano and composing. Chopin never married, but his ten year relationship with the notorious female author, George Sand, was his most productive time and resulted “in a succession of masterpieces” (Hedley). The ending of their connection in 1848 caused “the beginning of the end” for Chopin (Frédéric François Chopin) and he died at the young age of 39 after a long struggle with depression and illness (Hedley).

Chopin’s music embodied multiple modes. While his boundary breaking harmonies and wide range of emotion were characteristic of Romanticism, many of his compositions followed the classical discipline of form. The Vancouver Chopin Society says it best, “his uniqueness sets him apart from Classicism and Romanticism in a world especially his own” (Dubal). Chopin was the first composer to devote himself solely to the pianoforte. His body of work includes the piano in every piece (Libbey). He did not enjoy giving large, public concerts and performed at no more than thirty of them in his life (Hedley). As such, the primary focuses of his composing were short piano solos that other composers would have considered miniscule. He never wrote an opera, oratio or symphony. It is his devotion to the piano that portrays what a personal connection he had to the instrument. Rubinstein, also a pianist, once said:

The Pianoforte Bard, the Pianoforte Rhapsodist, the Pianoforte Mind, the Pianoforte Soul is Chopin. Whether the spirit of this instrument breathed upon him or he wrote upon it – how he wrote for it, I do not know, but only an entire going-over of one into the other could call such composition into life…all possible expressions are found in his compositions and are all sung by him upon this instrument in perfect beauty. (Jonson 22)

The true potential of the piano was realized through Chopin’s innovative techniques. His playing showcased the tone color inherent to the instrument. Before Chopin, the piano was played with the hands remaining in place while the fingers moved across one octave area of keys. The fingers were cramped and curled, banging a rhythm that showed the more percussive style of the instrument. Chopin forwent the traditional technique and created a playing style that to this day is one of the key examples of how the piano should be played. His unorthodox fingering placed an emphasis on every finger’s unique abilities, rather than treating each equally as his predecessors had. This fingering flattened out the cramped position to allow the fingers to all reach the black keys. His compositions required movement throughout the full range of keyboard, a revolutionary quality, and required flexible arms and wrists in order to move the hands up and down the length of the keys. This new technique required both agility in arm...
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