A composer’s first piece. Your business card to the world. A great opportunity – and an even greater challenge to measure up. And the words to a big hit called “Opus One” for the Mills Brothers, Tommy Dorsey, and other icons of the Big Band era:
“I'm wrackin' my brain to think of a name
To give to this tune so Perry can croon;
And maybe ol' Bing will give it a fling,
And that'll start everyone hummin' the thing.
The melody's dumb - repeat and repeat…
And if you can swing, it’s got a good beat.”
And from the moment music publishers went into business in the Baroque era, there’s been a buzz about Opus Ones: Handel’s was a set of 12 recorder sonatas. The very first of Haydn’s groundbreaking string quartets was his Opus One, Number One. And the famously finicky Beethoven waited several years before issuing his polished set of piano trios as HIS Opus One.
But what about Fryderyk Chopin’s Opus One? It’s a little known Rondo in C minor that was published when he was just fifteen years old. And, frankly, it shows: the melody is... kind of dumb, and it does repeat…but it does have a decent beat.
Some critics call it Chopin’s weakest work…derivative of composers like Weber and Hummel. Others a little more generous: Biographer Friedrich Niecks: “…it has a natural air which is alike free from affected profundity and insipid childishness.”
And we’ll leave the last word to Robert Schumann, who made Chopin famous by waxing poetic about Fryderyk’s Opus Two. “Chopin’s first work is in my hands, it is piquant. A lady would say it is very pretty, very piquant, almost Moschelesque. But I humbly venture to assert that there are between this composition and Opus 2 two years and twenty works.” - Ted Weiner & Benjamin K. Roe