I had to pick out a relatively easy piece. I only had a month and a half to learn it. That should be adequate time for a lot of the classic canon but not the way I do it (five minutes every third day until two weeks before performance). Several Chopin waltzes fit the bill and I picked one out and started hacking away.
Plenty playable if you could tell what the notes are, but that seems to be a closely-held secret. This one is in the key of Doesn’t Matter, because he plans to change keys every half page or so (in musical terms, “on a whim”). And not necessarily from the major to the relative minor, which would be a sensible thing to do if you simply must mix it up. That’s something we’re used to. You start out sunny and then slide into the relative minor to demonstrate depth of character. It shows you are capable of entertaining morose thoughts without fear and redeeming yourself and humanity later. Or the other way around, if you prefer to be thought of as complicated and dark. Sometimes he lurches from E major to A flat minor and straight into the Spanish Inquisition, which nobody expects.
There’s something about Chopin’s key changes that makes me suspect he did it whenever he was warding off a seizure.
So there we are putzing along in some respectable key and building toward some kind of climax and all of a sudden we have slid into an entirely unrelated trough of a key and there’s no clambering out. And after two or three measures, when he thinks you’ve recovered and can find your way around, he starts heaving in accidentals. (An accidental is a note that is not a member in good standing of the most recently applied scale. And they are called accidentals because we don’t know if the composer meant to do that.) There are double-sharps and double-flats and other such things to trip over in the dark. The goal here is to make sure that none of the notes in the score appear at first glance to correspond to the ones he wants you to play.
And then he puts in some note–some individual note–that bears so little relation to any of the other notes on the page that you have to study it sideways. You check the history of recent key changes searching for clues to its true paternity, and conclude, ultimately, it really is D double-flat natural (“K,” or “bastard”).
Yes, he really does want you to play that note that sounds perfectly horrible with all the other notes. And he’s a right genius to do so. But you won’t know that until you get the sucker up to speed and the note is just a fleeting thing, passing quickly, leaving behind an almost imperceptible but rewarding jarring of the senses. His accidental has become incidental. It’s a drive-by.
When I was young, Chopin used to drive me crazy. I’d struggle with every note making sure I had the right one and not just something in the vicinity. I thought he wrote like that just to piss me off. Now I’m a better reader and don’t take it so personally. I even appreciate him. I’ve already outlived him by 26 years, poor guy. I don’t know that they’ve really pinned down what did him in. Consumption, probably, with adult onset preciousness and flare-ups of artistic temperament, but we can’t rule out homicide.
I know as much about music as I do about sports, which is to say nothing whatsoever. But it sounds like this "accidental" is analogous to that infamous surreptitious frame in the film The Exorcist, in which your brain picks up the death's head, but your eyes don't. So it scares you more than the scene actually warrants. Clever man, that Chopin.
And a very fine baseball player.
I know just enough about reading piano music to understand your post, but not enough to want to run out and get some hellish piece by this guy – whew, dodged a bullet 🙂
Good luck with your practice and your performance, and might there be video at some point?
You know, there's a video of me playing the first page of a Nocturne somewhere–I guess if I've got another Chopin tag on a blog post it's probably in there. Otherwise, no.
I listened to that piece which Ann M noted. Velly interesting! Well played, too.
The rest of it is even easier. I don't know why I didn't just finish it, but I get nervous if I'm being recorded.
I get nervous even when I'm not being recorded! Nice job, and thank you Ann M. for finding the link.
Maybe Chopin sensed he wouldn't be around very long, so he felt pressure to fit in ALL the keys and as many extra flats and sharps as he possibly could. Needed to get his money's worth before his subscription ran out!
I'm going to write ad jingles and ditties so I can live a long time.
I'm sure you know there's nothing one can do to ward off a seizure.
But if you THOUGHT you could by changing keys willy nilly, you might try it.
Random notes and key changes doesn't sound like something easy to me. Kudos to you if you managed to learn it.
Learning new music is supposed to keep your brain healthy. I can't even remember why I walked in the room.
Approximately 28 years ago, I auditioned for the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. I had been a member of the chorus in college, and for a year in a local community choral group, and thought I did fairly well reading music and singing, especially if the persons on my left, right, and directly behind were also singing the same part as me. Then I could really belt it out. I hired a piano teacher to help me prepare the assigned audition music. Then I had to sight-read a bizarre Poulenc piece — impossible. Then I sang a Mozart choral piece that I had practiced (just the alto line, of course)which seemed to surprise everyone, followed by a listen and repeat, which was OK when it only had 5 or 6 notes but when it got up to 15 or 20 I was lost. I was informed that I made the waiting list. As far as I know, I'm still on it. I take humble pride in that.
Of course you're still on it! Why, you're almost there. I miss choral music. When I had a voice, I was valuable in the choir because I would belt out the note where we're supposed to come in and the people around me kind of took it from there, because they had better voices and less confidence.
My first (of very few) competition piece was Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat Major — a lulling beauty of a thing, that is hypnotic when played well. I was 14 maybe? Got 3rd place in Ann Arbor, MI. For a long time, I could just sit down and play it, even after being away from a piano for years, but it's gone now. You have inspired me to pull out the keyboard again :-). You are quite extraordinary, Mary.
Oh that's a good one! Do that, and then come back here and let us know how it turned out. Even if it's on a poop post.
I'm a guitar player and I thought forty time changes in "Blackbird" was enough. There's a reason I don't play classical music beyond "Ode to Joy." And isn't a D double flat just a C?
Depends on how hard you play it.
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