Classical Music | Piano Music

Frédéric Chopin

Etude Op. 10, No. 8 in F Major  Play

Sung Chang Piano

Recorded on 08/26/2016, uploaded on 04/30/2016

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Chopin’s Études Opus 10 mark the beginning of the modern school of piano playing. His contemporaries, exponents of the style brilliant vogue of the early 1800s, wrote complex and varied sequences of scales and arpeggios which were based on the Classical piano technique of Mozart and Beethoven (itself already based on the harpsichord techniques of the Baroque period) — although they pushed it to the limits of playability. The hands stayed in the classic five-note position, the thumb rarely ventured onto the black keys, and leaps over a tenth were hard to find.

Each Chopin Étude focuses on a specific technical detail, transparently evident in the listening. But in contrast to the emotionally meaningless physical exercises of a Czerny étude, the development of a Chopin étude is guided by the musical demands of the figurations, inspired at every moment by the physical and aural qualities of the instrument. In this way, Chopin elevated the étude, as he did with the mazurka and polonaise, into the realm of abstract music.

The true importance of the Études lies not in their technical originality or difficulty, but in the relationship between the technique and the musical expression. Chopin did not believe, as certain pillars of the Romantic movement were to proclaim, in the separation of intellect and emotion. The impact of the Études was immediate and far-reaching. Almost all of the major pianists and composers since Chopin have followed his example in writing études: Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, etc.

                                                                                                                      Notes by Frederic Chiu


Études, op. 10    Frédéric Chopin


Chopin’s first collection of études, published in 1833 as his opus 10, was a turning point in the development of piano technique. Extensive sets of exercises had been commonplace since the latter part of the 18th century with the most notable collections being composed by Muzio Clementi, J.B. Cramer and Carl Czerny. However, these pieces were exactly that: exercises—didactic compositions and nothing more. Chopin’s études, on the other hand, not only introduced new technical challenges to the performer but also elevated the form from a technical study to an artistic composition. For this reason, several of the études have become permanent fixtures in the concert repertoire as legitimate pieces of music. Furthermore, Chopin set the stage for other similar pieces by other composers. Franz Liszt was influenced by them in the composition of his own series of études and, later on, Johannes Brahms achieved a similar fusion of technique and artistry in his challenging Variations on a Theme of Paganini, op. 35.

Comprised of twelve études, opus 10 was composed during the years of 1829-33. This accentuates the technical challenges of the études because of Chopin’s young age. During these years, Chopin left his native Poland and travelled to Vienna. Shortly after arriving in the Austrian capital, news reached him and his friend, Tytus Woyciechowski, of the November Uprising. Woyciechowski returned to Poland, leaving Chopin in Vienna alone. Unable to adapt to Viennese society, he left for Paris arriving there in September 1831. En route to Paris, he learned of Poland’s humiliating defeat to Imperial Russia. It is believed that Chopin’s reaction to this news lead to the composition of the famous “Revolutionary” étude that concludes the opus 10 set. When published in 1833, the études were dedicated to Franz Liszt, whom Chopin had met in Paris. Like his preludes, the études have also acquired epithets, no doubt invented by others and of which Chopin likely did not approve.

The twelve études cover a broad spectrum of the pianist’s technique but all hold one trait in common: the development of a legato playing style, which Chopin considered to be crux of the pianist’s technique. For example, the first étude in C major demands this style while executing arpeggios in the right hand, many spanning more than an octave while the following etude in A minor develops the weak fingers of the same hand with a persistent chromatic scale also in a legato style. In E major, the third étude contains what Chopin considered his greatest melody. Drastically different from his other études, it is slow, demanding more in terms of expression than technique. Likewise, the sixth etude also proceeds at a somewhat slower pace (marked Andante) and focuses on the ability to perform and differentiate between two expressive melodies simultaneously. The remaining études, of which the “Revolutionary” is one, are exceedingly virtuosic, proceeding at quick tempos and demanding near superhuman abilities of the pianist.      Joseph DuBose