This Polish man is nothing short of legendary in the world of solo piano, and without doubt should be a staple in the repertoire of any classical pianist. There really is only one person we could be talking about here, and it’s Mr Frédéric Chopin.
There is not a classical pianist in the world who hasn’t come across the beautiful work of Chopin, and his compositions have kept their position in the classical repertoire for hundreds of years now. Many composers in the Romantic era only found their fame after death, but not this man! Perhaps one of music’s first celebrities, Chopin was in high demand throughout his life – he became a highly sought-after teacher and composer, there was a public interest in his love life and his early death was felt right to the core of European society. He formed a friendship with another of our favourite Romantic composers, Franz Liszt.
Chopin’s talents were present from an extremely young age and he was delivering public concerts before even reaching double figures! His final university report read “Chopin F, third-year student, exceptional talent, musical genius” – that’s some high praise for our soon to be celebrity. However, contrary to what we might believe about celebrity status, he was actually a very shy character who disliked giving public concerts and much preferred the more intimate settings of the Parisian salon.
Every single one of Chopin’s compositions included the piano, and there was a lot of them – think mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes, polonaises, études, scherzos, preludes, sonatas – you name it, Chopin did it!
Being the shining star of piano composition that he is, Chopin has rightly made his way into the RSL Classical Piano syllabus, not once, not twice, but three times! And these are some truly iconic pieces that are so full of his own quirks and character traits that you just won’t be able to get enough of them.
Chopin X RSL
We first meet Chopin in our Grade 6 syllabus (you weren’t expecting these to be easy, were you?!) with his “Mazurka in A, Op.24, No.3”. A mazurka is an old Polish dance with some pretty unusual rhythmic accents, and after a little bit of Chopin study, you’ll soon realise that this rhythmic freedom became his signature style.
Now we all know that getting our pulse and rhythms correct is vitally important, but let it be known that you’ve got a challenge on your hands with this one! We’ve got crisp dotted rhythms, we’ve got eighths and triplets. Throw in some rubato, some pauses, a hell of a lot of ornamentation AND the unusual accents that are typical of the mazurka feel and you’ve got yourself a very strong rhythmic cocktail! Practise with a steady pulse at first to get these complicated techniques down before getting creative and playing around with it.
Chopin wrote a total of 59 mazurkas in his lifetime - he was clearly a fan of this style! We’d recommend listening to as many of them as you can get your hands (or ears) on to really get a feel for the unique style. We’ve got another one for you in the RSL Classical Grade 7, this time it’s his “Mazurka in Bb Major, Op.7, No.1”. You can carry all your learnings from Grade 6 right through to this piece, which will present some very similar rhythmic challenges. Chopin actually gives us a top tip within the notation of this piece which definitely shouldn’t be glossed over. As you can see below, he suggests that we change fingers even though we’re playing the same note. This is so that we can really achieve that separation intended between these two notes which is also highlighted by that semi-quaver rest. It might seem a small detail, but this will certainly help you pull of the playful, lively and crisp character of this wonderful piece. Thanks for the heads up, Fréd!
From the Mazurka to the Nocturne!
There’s one final place that you’ll find Chopin in the RSL Classical Piano syllabus, and it’s again within Grade 7 (what a treat!), but this time we will see a completely different side to the man behind the music. His “Nocturne in Eb Major, Op.9, No.2” is so vastly different from what we have seen so far. This piece is elegant, flowing, expressive and charming, and widely considered one of Chopin’s most famous works. Of course, we still see that classic Chopin rhythmic freedom shining through, but in a far more melancholic and dreamy way than our mazurkas.
The piece starts off with a beautiful melody that we see return again and again but developed slightly each time. Our top tip for playing this piece would be to keep the character of that original melody in mind throughout the piece. This will allow you to make the best artistic decisions for the developed phrases. This piece really is stunning and we don’t doubt that you’ll be humming that floating melody on and off the piano!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this dive into the wonderful works of Chopin. He’s alongside an incredibly diverse range of composers in the RSL Classical syllabus, from Germaine Tailleferre to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, to Claude Debussy and Alexis Ffrench, so be sure to check those guys out too. Until next time!