Picture yourself in a Paris salon. The room is small; the setting is society-elegant. There is an expectant hush—broken only by the sound of the ladies’ fans—and the odd throat-clearing—as we wait for the next selection to come from the finely dressed, slight young man at the Pleyel piano. Casually, dreamingly, his hands fall to the keyboard…and suddenly the room is filled with notes, seemingly plucked out of thin air.
The notes may be coming from the lower voice…the left-hand side of the keyboard, but the pianist has a little surprise for you…the dreamy baritone melody starts with the right hand, before the left hand drops down for a bass chord. For several minutes he spins out this “impromptu,” as he calls it, and you are carried along.
And then you hear him arrive at a natural stopping point – a cadence – a logical place to go back to the beginning. Sure enough, we’re back to the opening lines….
This time, the right hand drifts back to the bass line, and stays there, and spins a whole new thread of melody. Chopin has crossed hands, and crossed us up. The result is magical. Thought up on the spot, or crafted and cultivated after countless hours at the keyboard? The dictionary’s definition of “impromptu” is: “Spoken, performed, done, or composed with little or no preparation.” Chopin’s definition of impromptu still keeps us guessing. - Jennifer Foster & Benjamin K. Roe