Chopin We Love 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. Hear some of NPR contributors' favorite performances of music by Chopin on the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Chopin We Love

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

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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

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

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.

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

Cathy Fuller, WGBH

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

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.

Cover for The Chopin I Love

Robin Gehl, WGUC

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

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.

Cover for Chopin: Etudes

Brian Lauritzen, KUSC

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

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.

Cover for Rubinstein Collection, Vol. 16

Terrence McKnight, WQXR

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

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.

Cover for Chopin Recital

Laura Carlo, WGBH

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

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.

Cover for Chopin Complete Edition

Sarah Scanlon, NPR Music

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

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.

Cover for Ivan Moravec

Ben Roe, WDAV

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

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."