Saturday, August 28, 2010
Chopin's Small Miracles
Wall Street Journal
August 28, 2010
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), whose 200th anniversary it is this year, is the overwhelming favorite composer for the piano. He possessed the most subtle intuitions and fathomed the mysteries of the world. Oscar Wilde once said of him, "After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed and mourning over tragedies that were not my own."
Most of the 24 Chopin Preludes were sketched out between 1837 and 1838. They are the ultimate miniatures. In an age when the symphony and sonata still held sway, writing these aphoristic Preludes was revolutionary. All except two contain a single musical idea, each boiled down to its essence. Never had brevity been so brief. Ten are under a minute in length; nine last just over a minute. Only the celebrated No. 15, the so-called "Raindrop Prelude," attains the length characteristic of a small piece, clocking in at 4½ minutes.
Fourteen of the Preludes are full of light, gaiety, serenity and a kind of happiness. Seven contain anguish, rage and fury. Three are simply sorrowful. No matter how tiny, the Preludes loom large musically. Each one is a masterpiece of compressed emotion blended with an unequaled pianistic ingenuity and originality. Many of them are horribly difficult to play. When Robert Schumann read them, he proclaimed Chopin to be the "proudest poet soul of the age."