Classical Music | Piano Music

Frédéric Chopin

Impromptu no. 3 in G-flat major, op. 51  Play

Sean Chen Piano

Recorded on 01/29/2014, uploaded on 07/20/2014

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

The Impromptus span nine years of Chopin’s compositional output. The first three Impromptus, Opuses 29, 36, and 51 were published during his lifetime, but Chopin never intended the fourth, the Fantaisie-Impromptu, to be published. It was composed in 1834 and revised in 1835, and has had a dual life. The version performed most often was published by Jules Fontana who, in 1855, published many of Chopin’s previously unpublished works. Though this version served as the only one for quite some time, there is an autographed manuscript from the Baroness d’Este’s album, bearing the line “Composé pour Madame la Baronne d’Este.” The version performed today is based on this autograph, and listeners well acquainted with the Fantaisie-Impromptu will hear many differences from the 1855 version.

The fourth Impromptu was chronologically the first to be written. It makes even more sense that Chopin wanted it to remain unpublished when compared to the first Impromptu, Op. 29. These two pieces are both in three sections with the middle sections contrasting in tonality and in character. It is fitting then, in a performance of the Impromptus, to play them in the traditional order, with the two bookending the set, for they give a sense of unity to a collection of pieces perhaps not originally intended to be thought of as a set.  The second Impromptu, Op. 36 is the most structurally complex of the set – improvisatory not only in its figurations but also its organization. The more enigmatic quality of this piece is reflected by the choice of F# major, a key not frequently used by composers of and before the 1800s.  The third Impromptu, Op. 51 is structurally identical to the first, but finds its charm in quick shifting harmonies and chromaticism. Again, the opening gesture is reminiscent of the first Impromptu. These relationships can hardly be coincidental, and help unify the pieces.     Sean Chen