Episode 151: Chopin's Etude that Isn't?

Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7

rc-non-etude-200Chopin’s etudes are in a class all their own. Each study is all art, no filler; each also happens to do what etudes are supposed to do: exercise and develop a specific pianistic technique.

In the middle of his Opus 25 set, Chopin takes this unrivaled approach to the next level. Some say his Etude in C-sharp minor isn’t even an etude but a nocturne; many agree it’s the most beautiful of Chopin’s etudes. Elegiac, deeply personal, honest - it will stop you in your tracks.

James Huneker hears in it “the nostalgia…of a lacerated soul.” Theodor Kullak, one of the finest piano teachers in Chopin’s time, goes deeper: “[Chopin] lets a broken heart, filled with grief, proclaim its sorrow in a language of pain which is incapable of being misunderstood. The heart has lost – not something, but everything.”

So, how is this outpouring, seventh in the set of twelve, an etude? What skill is it meant to develop? Some say there isn’t one, but Kullak provides insight: “The whole piece is a song…an aria in which two principal voices are to be brought out; the upper one is in imitation of a human voice…the lower one must bear the character of a cello.” Fredrick Niecks heard it similarly: “A duet between a He and a She,” he wrote. Hans von Bülow called it “a duo for ‘cello and flute.” Safe to say it’s about voicing; cooperation and intimate conversation between voices - a piece of chamber music to be played on a single instrument. - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 151: Chopin's Etude that Isn't?

Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7