My First Chopin – Prelude in E Minor

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to share with you a personal story about the first Chopin piece I ever learned. It’s a funny thing. I was in my office going through music, because we just moved a few months ago and I’m still sorting through things. And what did I uncover but a book of Chopin music. It looks just like any old Schirmer edition of Chopin Preludes. But if you open it up you can see that this is the book I used to learn my first piece of Chopin, the E minor Prelude. You can even see where my father assigned the piece to me. It’s really something after all these years to uncover this. And it brings up a few really important points.

Chopin had an incredible output for the piano.

Chopin was incredibly prolific. He wrote ballades, scherzos, polonaises, etudes, mazurkas, and many waltzes, as well as monumental concert pieces, sonatas and concertos. Yet he wrote pieces that can be approached by relatively intermediate pianists. This isn’t to suggest that these preludes are in any way lacking or aren’t profoundly deep pieces of music, because they are. That’s what made me so unbelievably enthralled. I remember when I first played this piece, I couldn’t even imagine any other piece of music, much less another piece of Chopin, being as enthralling. I was just completely in love with this piece! The funny thing is in revisiting it, I still have that same passion for it! Truth be known, I’ve played this piece many times over the years and I never play it the same way twice. I want to just talk a little bit about this unique piece which I’m sure many of you know.

The interesting thing is how simple the melody of this piece is.

If you just listen to the melody of this piece out of context, without the accompaniment, it’s one of the most boring melodies you could ever imagine. How can this possibly be a beautiful piece of music? Well, it’s the lush, rich, ever-changing harmonies undulating underneath in eighth notes that brings this piece to life. Why did Chopin write eighth notes in the left hand with a slow melody on top? It’s because of the physics of the sound of the piano itself. If you just had sustained chords in the left hand it wouldn’t really work, because when you play a chord on the piano it just dies away.

Imagine what this would sound like with a string orchestra.

So much of Chopin’s music is evocative of the human voice or sustained strings, and yet it’s all done with a percussion instrument. Did you know that the piano is technically a percussion instrument? You’re not hitting it with sticks or mallets, but indeed there are hammers that are hitting the strings! To create a singing line out of the piano is really the art and magic of illusion. And when you have a score written by Chopin, it’s amazing how he brings it to life! That’s the mood you can create on the piano. How is it possible? By listening to the ever-changing harmonies while keeping them subtle enough to draw the attention to this incredibly simple melody. Each and every note of that melody takes on profound implications because of the ever shifting harmonies. In the accompanying video I play a performance of this for you so you can hear what I’m talking about. To revisit this prelude after all these years, and to share it with you, is a great pleasure. I hope you enjoy this performance of Chopin’s prelude in E minor.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this! I will be sharing more personal stories about my childhood and my life in music that I hope you enjoy! Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com. This is your piano resource! Thanks again for joining me. See you next time!

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