Chopin We Love

chopin

An 1838 painting of Frederic Chopin by Eugene Delacroix. The Gallery Collection/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption The Gallery Collection/Corbis

From wistful Waltzes and sensual Nocturnes to fiery Sonatas, what's not to love about Chopin? Perhaps even more than the works of Bach and Mozart, Chopin's music is almost universally admired — by pianists, by critics, and by people who know nothing about classical music.

To mark the bicentennial of the composer's birth, we've gathered a few voices from around public radio and asked them to share a cherished piece by Chopin. Please join in and tell us your favorite Chopin story in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Chopin We Love

Cover for Chopin: Études, Opp. 10 & 25

Fred Child, APM

  • Artist: Murray Perahia
  • Album: Chopin: Études, Opp. 10 & 25
  • Song: Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 10, CT. 14-25 [Étude No. 5 in G flat major, "Black Keys", Op. 10/5]

Chopin utterly revolutionized what was possible on the piano. I used to love listening to his Etudes -- I admired the way they combine physical challenges at the keyboard with melting lyrical beauty and beauty of form. But when I heard this recording... Wow! Murray Perahia blew my socks off with his sheer speed. How on earth does he make them crystal-clear while going at that velocity? It's thrilling! Perahia made me feel I was hearing these for the first time, and discovering the true genius of Chopin's piano revolution.

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Song
Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 10, CT. 14-25 [Étude No. 5 in G flat major, "Black Keys", Op. 10/5]
Album
Chopin: Études, Opp. 10 & 25
Artist
Murray Perahia
Label
Sony
Released
2007

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Cover for Chopin: 4 Ballades/Barcarolle, Op.60/Fantasie in F

Cathy Fuller, WGBH

  • Artist: Krystian Zimerman
  • Album: Chopin: 4 Ballades/Barcarolle, Op.60/Fantasie in F
  • Song: Barcarolle for piano in F sharp major, Op. 60, CT. 6

The Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman said in a London Times interview that "music is not sound. It's the flow of emotions created in the listener." To create that flow, Zimerman somehow frees the piano from its hammers and unveils the singer aching to get out. In his 1987 recording of Chopin's Barcarolle, the music unfolds with heartbreaking tenderness. And that familiar sweet and sad inevitability -- the hallmark of Chopin's most personal pieces -- makes its way directly to the heart.

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Song
Barcarolle for piano in F sharp major, Op. 60, CT. 6
Album
Chopin: 4 Ballades/Barcarolle, Op.60/Fantasie in F
Artist
Krystian Zimerman
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
1988

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Cover for The Chopin I Love

Robin Gehl, WGUC

  • Artist: Jean-Yves Thibaudet
  • Album: The Chopin I Love
  • Song: Nocturne for piano No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9/2, CT. 109

Of the many high-quality Chopin recordings, Jean-Yves Thibaudet's The Chopin I Love contains a number of my all-time favorite Chopin melodies, including his Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. I associate the tuneful, delicate piece with fond memories, since it has found a home in amateur and professional recitals programs I've enjoyed, as well as on radio, television and movie soundtracks. Thibaudet expertly captures both its wistful qualities and its powerful moments. He was inspired to record this CD, and share his favorite pieces, as he was preparing Chopin works for a 1999 BBC television program commemorating the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death.

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Song
Nocturne for piano No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9/2, CT. 109
Album
The Chopin I Love
Artist
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Label
Decca
Released
1999

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Cover for Chopin: Etudes

Brian Lauritzen, KUSC

  • Artist: Maurizio Pollini
  • Album: Chopin: Etudes
  • Song: Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 10, CT. 14-25 [No. 4 in C sharp minor, "Torrent"]

Of Maurizio Pollini's Chopin interpretations, one reviewer wrote, "His Etudes send most pianists back to the practice room." Not surprising for a pianist who, after winning the International Chopin Competition in 1960, literally spent the next seven years of his life in the practice room rather than flitting from gig to gig. The technical brilliance of these performances, especially the Etude Op. 10, No. 4, is impressive enough. But as someone who gave up the piano and regrets it daily (my mom was right!), it's Pollini's illumination of the musical substance that astonishes me most. If you don't tear up listening to the Op. 25, No. 7 Etude, well, check your pulse.

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Song
Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 10, CT. 14-25 [No. 4 in C sharp minor, "Torrent"]
Album
Chopin: Etudes
Artist
Maurizio Pollini
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
1980

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Cover for Rubinstein Collection, Vol. 16

Terrence McKnight, WQXR

  • Artist: Artur Rubinstein
  • Album: Rubinstein Collection, Vol. 16
  • Song: Preludes (24) for piano, Op. 28, CT. 166-189 [Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28]

Though the recording itself sounds a bit crunchy, my favorite interpretation of Chopin's solo piano is Arthur Rubinstein's recording from 1946. I first studied the Preludes almost 20 years ago, and to my ear, it sounded as if Chopin composed them after improvising at the piano. I listened to as many as six different recordings of these Preludes, and when I came across this disc -- bingo! Rubinstein's playing confirmed my ideas about the music. The freedom in his tempos, dynamics and voicings are all original, and his rubato is dizzying. Rubinstein makes this music sound romantically spontaneous, just as it should be.

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Song
Preludes (24) for piano, Op. 28, CT. 166-189 [Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28]
Album
Rubinstein Collection, Vol. 16
Artist
Artur Rubinstein
Label
Rca Red Seal
Released
1999

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Cover for Chopin Recital

Laura Carlo, WGBH

  • Artist: Yundi Li
  • Album: Chopin Recital
  • Song: Fantaisie-Impromptu for piano in C sharp minor, Op. 66, CT. 46

The Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. 66, was the first piece of Chopin's I learned as a young piano student, and it's held a special place for me ever since. So when Chopin Competition winner Yundi Li included his beautiful and freeing interpretation on his debut recording in 2003, I was reminded why I fell in love with it. Chopin apparently didn't care for the piece, but I'd like to think that, were he here, he might change his mind after hearing this remarkable young pianist.

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Song
Fantaisie-Impromptu for piano in C sharp minor, Op. 66, CT. 46
Album
Chopin Recital
Artist
Yundi Li
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
2001

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Cover for Chopin Complete Edition

Sarah Scanlon, NPR Music

  • Artist: Maurizio Pollini
  • Album: Chopin Complete Edition
  • Song: Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 25, CT. 26-37 [No. 12 in C minor]

As a stereotypical violist, I have a confession to make: Chopin is one of the few composers who can break me out of my love for all things string (and only string) and draw me into the piano's luxurious sound world. One piece in particular grabbed me and didn't let go -- his Etude in C minor, Op. 25, No. 12. I'd go around knocking on practice-room doors, begging my pianist friends to play it for me again and again. I love it for its ability to diagram the tumultuous beauty of the world: stormy and passionate, ultimately giving way to underlying warmth and optimism.

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Song
Etudes (12) for piano, Op. 25, CT. 26-37 [No. 12 in C minor]
Album
Chopin Complete Edition
Artist
Claudio Arrau
Label
Deutsche Grammophon
Released
2010

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Cover for Ivan Moravec

Ben Roe, WDAV

  • Artist: Ivan Moravec
  • Album: Ivan Moravec
  • Song: Barcarolle for piano in F sharp major, Op. 60, CT. 6

Chopin's Barcarolle was meant to evoke the swaying of the boats of the Venetian gondoliers. And he wrote it just as his tippy relationship with George Sand was about to capsize. Which prompts a few questions:
Chopin disliked program music; why call it a Barcarolle? Had the consumptively sick composer finally made peace with the world? Was he crossing his own river Styx? Was there anyone on the boat with him? I think the fascination with Chopin's Barcarolle is best captured by Maurice Ravel, who described it as "some mysterious Apotheosis."

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Song
Barcarolle for piano in F sharp major, Op. 60, CT. 6
Album
Ivan Moravec
Artist
Ivan Moravec
Label
Philips
Released
1998

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