Chopin lived just as music was becoming big, bold and dramatic, but much of his work couldn’t be more different from that if it tried
As orchestras got bigger in the first half of the 19th century, Chopin trimmed his scale down to the solo piano, virtually to the exclusion of all else.
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With concert halls expanding he preferred the intimacy of recitals in small rooms to rapt, select audiences.
And at a time of epic drama and ambition in music spanning history, art and literature his pieces focus on inner psychological worlds, fleeting moments and feelings rendered with great poetry.
Chopin’s output, marked by a mix of simplicity and depth and extended melodies with lilting accompaniments, has remained popular with audiences and performers.
Here are a few of the highlights of this beautiful and rather meditative music:
Raindrop Prelude: The longest of his famous preludes is a delicate and magical evocation of tapping rain, particularly portrayed by a repeated series of A flat notes. A truly beautiful piece of musical scene setting.
Ballade No.1: The four ballades are longer, single-movement works and the first is the place to start: a mystical opening leads into gently propulsive music which is varied throughout by sudden explosive bursts of notes and scales.
Piano Sonata No.2: Chopin’s longer works are sometimes criticised for their formal structures but this one has to be mentioned for the
well-known funeral march which forms the slow movement.
Nocturne in E, Op 62/2: A poetic portrayal of the hours of darkness, the nocturne suited Chopin’s approach down to the ground. This is a fine example of the singing piano style Chopin excelled in.
Cello Sonata: This long four-movement work is his best involving instruments other than the piano. The two players’ parts intertwine appealingly and the autumnal first movement showcases the cello’s yearning low range.