Opus 10 no.1
Technique – Arpeggio
In all of Chopin’s works, only once is there a direct reference to Bach and this is it. It is, of course, traditional to start a set of pieces with arpeggios and a standard method at the beginning of any improvisation. With this étude what we have is a very clever rewrite of Bach’s Prelude no.1 from the Well-Tempered Keyboard. Given his idolisation of Bach, it is no surprise to find Chopin’s offering so close to Bach’s Prelude in its construction, namely a single form of arpeggiation throughout and almost a complete match in terms of harmonic shape. One must conclude, therefore, that this reference to Bach was wholly intentional.
This étude is designed to develop and stretch the right hand, specifically between fingers 2, 3 and 4. The fingering for the arpeggios is either 124 5124 or 123 5123 and most importantly, the phrasing of the work is dependent on this fingering. The opening section (bars 1-16) lie reasonably well for the hand and you would do well to master this part first. The middle section (bars 17-47) is where the trouble starts; as the chromatics within the arpeggios becomes more pronounced, so the indicated fingering becomes more of a stretch and will, at first, seem almost impossible. There is always a temptation to change the fingering to 125 2125, but, as I remarked above, this will cause a change in the phrasing and thus destroy the unity of the work.
You should start learning this work at half-speed (or even less) and make sure that you master each section thoroughly, BUT without the dynamics – just a uniform volume to begin with. Once you are happy with your learning, then you can start to add the dynamics and gradually increase the speed.
In the final section (bars 48-79), pay close attention to the pedal points and accented notes within the arpeggios – modulations within the arpeggios must be well-defined and in no way smudged.
Opus 10 no.2
Technique – Chromatics
This étude is designed to develop and exercise the right-hand’s weakest fingers – 3,4 and 5 – and must be played sempre legato WITHOUT PEDAL throughout. As with no.1, master the opening section (bars 1-18) first before moving on to the middle (bars 19-35) and final (bars 36-49) sections. Start at half-speed without any dynamics and learn each section thoroughly. Then put the sections together and once again, without any dynamics, practice the entire work, still at half speed with 100% accuracy. Once you can play the work through at a constant speed, then you can start adding the dynamics and gradually increase the speed.
Opus 10 no.3
Technique - Legato playing and syncopation
This étude is one of Chopin’s most subtle exercises and is as much an exercise for the pianist’s ear as well as the hands. On a technical level, the work must be played legato throughout with very little or no use of the sustaining pedal. Notice in the opening bars how each bass-line note must be held until the next, with the accent falling on the second note. Note also the cross-accents in the right-hand, which are designed to clash with the bass-line accents. What you have, in actual fact, are two separate melodies played off against each other and each one falls in and out of prominence sequentially. The opening section (bars 1-20) introduces the basic themes and you must pay close attention to the tied notes in the right hand (bars 3 and 4, for example). The middle section (bars 21 to 61) expands on these cross-rhythms and further tests the pianist’s ability to resolve these accent-clashes accurately. The final section (bars 62 to 77) is a restatement of the opening theme and contains nothing new.
Opus 10 no.4
Technique - Chromatics and Arpeggios with syncopation and voice-leading
A most complex work, but one that will repay very careful and accurate practice. (Notice how this work contains all of the technical elements of the first three études.) The main test in this work is to pass a melodic line from hand to another, sometimes with a transition and sometimes without. As with all the études, this work can be divided into three sections (bars 1-28, 29-50, 51-82), although the division between the sections are by no means obvious. The opening 12 bars are relatively straightforward with the melodic line being passed between the right and left hands with a transition (bars 4, 8 and 12). Bars 13 to 28 repeat this process but without a transition. Notice how the hands in this section are moving in complementary directions. The central section builds on the basic voice-leading of the first section but this time with the hands moving in opposite directions, starting at bar 36. This will train each hand to move independently of the other and is as much a mind exercise as well as a physical one. The final section is a recapitulation of the opening theme with all elements appearing in the coda (bar 71 onwards). This étude must be played WITHOUT PEDAL throughout, except for the last four bars, where the pedal must be held down continuously for the triumphant ƒƒ climax and close.
Start learning this piece at half-speed or even less and pay close attention to the phrasing within the chromatics and arpeggios (bars 3, 7, 8 and 11). Notice also the similarity in this respect with No.3 and how this étude builds on what has been learnt in the previous one – the melodic line must be distinct from what is going on around it. As you learn each section, gradually start to increase the speed and add the various dynamics. But please remember – NO PEDAL UNTIL THE END.
Opus 10 no.5
Technique – Arpeggios on the black keys
This étude looks more difficult than it actually is, but it does require a very good basic proficiency in the black key arpeggios. It is also an exercise in tone colour and counterpoint, with two distinct melodic lines being played off against each other – one in each hand. The opening section (bars 1-16) is relatively straight-forward with four 4-bar phrases in the sequence tonic, subdominant and dominant and you should practice getting this opening correct first before moving to the next section. The touch must be legato throughout and careful attention must be paid to the pedal points, otherwise you will smudge the arpeggios. The second section (bars 17-48) is where the real test of this work is to be found; this is where the white keys become into play through a series of modulations and the figuration turns into a steeplechase with each key change. Pay close attention to the transition from bar 32 onwards – two beautiful arabesques must be pedalled for the entire two bars each one – followed by the heavily prepared return to the tonic from the dominant from bars 41 to 48. The final section (bar 49 onwards) starts as a restatement of the opening theme, but shortened, with a transition from bar 55 to 66 into the coda (bars 67 to the end). Unlike the main body of the work, this coda must NOT be pedalled and is a test of legato playing.
Opus 10 no.6
Technique - Legato playing and counterpoint
Unlike No.5, this étude is more difficult than it first appears for two reasons. Firstly, the metronome marking is j = 69 and not 60 as appears in some editions. This will seem quite fast, but it is intended as a slow two, rather than a slow six. Secondly, given this somewhat fast tempo, the richly chromatic inner voice is surprisingly difficult to play evenly and quietly AND with the delicate fluctuations that make it expressive without overpowering the melody. Once again, this étude must be played without pedal and is a real test of the ability to play legato and legatissimo in both hands. Section one (bars 1-16) exercises the left hand’s ability to play legato. In section two (bars 17-40) it is the right hand that must play both the melody and inner chromatics through a series of modulations. Section three (bars 41 onwards) is a shortened reprise of the opening theme with the left hand once more in charge of the chromatics.
Learn each section thoroughly WITHOUT any dynamics - the inner chromatics must be quiet and even throughout the piece. Once you have perfected the chromatics, you can then set about adding the dynamics and changes in volume. Also note that there must be no rubato whatsoever, except from bar 49 onwards where there should be a slight sostenuto as the piece draws to an end, followed by a smorzando and rallentando in bars 51-52.
Opus 10 no.7
Technique - Legato playing with arpeggios/chromatics and counterpoint and syncopation.
This work extends the lessons of No.6 but the main lesson here is the ability to play two different melodic lines (one in each hand) consistently off-beat and at times with juxtaposed dynamic markings, i.e. crescendo in one hand and diminuendo in the other. The opening section (bars 1-16) introduces the basic melodies and should be mastered before moving on. Note carefully that the pedal must not be used until bar 16, which is the transition into the development part. The second section (bars 17-33) expands on the lessons of the first section but this time with pedal; this is designed to refine the technique of modulation by way of changes in pedal points. The final section (bars 34-59) is again a recapitulation of the initial theme with a coda starting at bar 44, where the counterpoint (the two different melodies) is very clearly heard. Once again, except for bar 43 and bars 56-59, you should not use the pedal as this will smudge the arpeggios/chromatics.
As before, learn each section at half speed with no dynamics. When you have mastered the melodic and harmonic lines, then you can start increasing the speed and add the dynamics.
Opus 10 no.8
Technique - Counterpoint and Legato playing
This work follows on from No.7 as being primarily another work concerned with counterpoint. In this case, however, the principal melody is in the left hand, the secondary being embedded in the arpeggios/scales of the right hand. As with all the études, the work is divided into three sections – bars 1-28, 29-60 and 61-95 and you should approach this work by learning the first section thoroughly before moving to the middle and final sections of the piece. The right-hand figuration is straightforward with the accent falling always on the first note of each group of four semi-quavers throughout the work. The main difficulty is that they must be played forte legato at speed, ascending and descending sequentially over the keyboard, and must not be in any way smudged. This is not easy, as the sustaining pedal must be used in order to highlight the bass melodic line. Note carefully that the pedal point in each four-bar phrase must be carried over – from the first bar to part way through the second bar, and third bar to part way through the fourth – in each four-bar phrase. (Bars 1-8, 15-22.) Make sure that you practice well the transition in bar 28 for the key-change into D minor.
The central section (bars 29-60) is where the opening figuration starts to get difficult. The D minor lasts only 7 bars before undergoing an extended series of modulations right through to bar 60 – the return to the main theme. Note also that Chopin slips in a further exercise in hands moving in opposite and complementary directions (bars 42-47 and 53-60) – this builds on the exercises in No.4. As with the opening section, the accent always falls on the first note of each group of four semi-quavers. Pay close attention to the pedal points as it is important not to smudge the arpeggios.
The final section (bars 61-95) is a brief restatement of the opening theme with the transition into the coda beginning at bar 71. The coda proper begins at bar 75 and should be played piano legatissimo with almost total absence of pedal until bar 86, where the pedal must be held down until the end of bar 88. You will require a very light touch at this point in order not to blur the right-hand arpeggios, whilst at the same time maintaining the opening tempo (note – no rubato or smorzando). Bar 89 onwards is a simple parallel motion in both hands played forte and leading directly into the final arpeggiated cadences played fortissimo, with pedal being used on the last one.
Opus 10 no.9
Technique - Arpeggios (LH), Legato playing and Counterpoint
Like No.3, this work is very subtle in what it sets out to teach any pianist. On a technical level, it is an exercise in legato playing of arpeggios with the left hand, with the melody remaining wholly within the right hand. However, what is not so immediately apparent is that there is a secondary melody embedded within the left hand arpeggios and thus this étude is as much an exercise of the pianist’s ear in being able to bring out this secondary melodic line when necessary. This étude is also another of Chopin’s tributes to Italian opera, most clearly in the central section. The opening section (bars 1-16) is straightforward – four 4-bar phrases in pairs, the latter pair providing an answer to the first pair. The left-hand arpeggios must be played legatissimo and sotto voce, the right-hand melodic line must also be legato but with a slight stress on each note. The sustaining pedal must also be used – twice per bar almost without exception – but will require a very delicate action so as not to smudge the left hand.
The central section (bars 17-36) is a development of the opening theme and the modulations from F minor come in rapid succession (bars 17-28) accompanied by quickly changing dynamics (from forte to piano and back again) followed by quick accelerando and stretto (bars 23-28). Bars 29-36 are almost pure opera – operatic sobs played forte followed by an echo played pianissimo. You can ease up the tempo slightly for these eight bars, but not too much as the final echo doubles as the transition back to the main theme and final section (bar 37 onwards). The pedal points remain more or less constant, except for bars 27-28 – the ff climax before the operatic sobs – where no pedal should be used.
The final section is once again a restatement of the opening theme and from bar 45 onwards the melody is doubled on the octave and must be played con forza, but still with the left hand playing legatissimo and sotto voce. The reappearance of the operatic sobs (bars 57-64) are effectively the coda, but note this time the first set of sobs (bars 57-60) must be played piano with pianissimo for the echo; this makes the appearance of the octave-doubled sobs (bar 61) played forte even more intense and heightens the pathos of this work. The final bars of this work (65-67) must be played as quietly and as delicately as possible, with only a trace of sustaining pedal in the last two bars.
Opus 10 no.10
Technique - Legato and staccato playing with syncopation
This is one of Chopin’s most remarkable and difficult études, placing huge demands on the performer in varying a single pattern by changes of accent and touch. Chopin’s primary concern in this work is for the widest possible variety of touch that can be given to a single figuration, with the continuous changes of accent highlighting not only different parts of the figuration but also emphasizing the polyphonic nature of the pattern.
The opening section (bars 1-16) sets forth the three basic variations with almost a constant legato bass line; off-beat with four accents per bar in the right hand against four in the left hand (bars 1-8); then on-beat but with six accents in the right hand against four in the left (bars 9-12); and finally both hands staccato with no accents and NO PEDAL.
The central section (bars 17-54) develops the opening theme through a series of modulations (E major, D flat major, A Major and E flat major) with the accents in the right had either being on- or off-beat. This is designed primarily to test the skills learnt in the first section and it is important that these modulations are totally seamless with no alteration in the tempo, except in bar 28 where there should be a slight ritenuto as the figuration moves from D flat major to A major. The climax of the central section starts at bar 43 and at this point it is the left hand that is playing off-beat whilst the right hand maintains a strict four beats per bar. The transition into the final section (bars 49-54) must be in strict time with a slight rallentando in bar 54 through the modulation back to the A flat major tonic.
The final section (bars 55-77) is a reprise of the opening theme, but with several modulations embedded within the final bars, all underpinned by a dominant pedal point. The tonic appears only very briefly in this final section and is not fully re-established until bar 69, which is effectively the coda.
Learn each section thoroughly without any dynamics (other than full legato throughout) and at half speed until you are note perfect. Once you can play the work from start to finish, then start adding the dynamics, but make sure that you do so whilst using a metronome so that you are conscious of the four beats per bar in the bass. With the dynamics in place, gradually increase the speed.
Opus 10 no.11
Technique - Arpeggiated chords and legato playing
This work appears deceptively simple being nothing more than a series of arpeggiated chords in almost uniform three-quarter time. However, this is an easy étude to get totally wrong and as well as requiring 100% accuracy in the playing of each chord, it also requires proper use of the sustaining pedal in order not to smudge the melodic line. The rule for pedal use in this work is simple: if the left hand chords are the same throughout the bar, use the pedal; if they’re different, don’t use the pedal. Similarly, the arpeggiation of the chords throughout the work must be accurate and must not in anyway affect the tempo. Both left and right hands must start and finish each arpeggiation fully synchronised. Note also that the volume throughout this work is fp or less (mostly p or pp), except for the forzando markings that appear at the beginning of some phrases. This will also make the playing of the arpeggiated chords more difficult and you will require a very light, yet firm touch.
The opening section (bars 1-16) is a simple two pairs of 4-bar phrases with a modulation from E flat major to F minor. Learn this section first, without dynamics to begin with and WITHOUT PEDAL, because it is very important that you are also able to play these arpeggiated chords legato throughout. Once you have mastered the notes, then you can add the dynamics and pedal points.
The central section (bars 17-32) expands the techniques learnt in the first section, but this time, as well as having to deal with several modulations, the transition between each modulation is dependent on accurate use of the pedal. These modulations come very quickly (C flat minor, C sharp minor, E flat minor and A flat minor) and demand several changes in pedal points between tonic and dominant. Getting these right will make the return to the tonic at bar 26 all the more convincing and seamless. Notice also how the melody moves back and forth between soprano and alto registers from bar 26 to 32 – another example of how complex this apparently simple work is.
The final section (bars 33-54) is a reprise of the opening theme, but as with all of Chopin’s works, he inserts several acciaccaturi that naturally complicate the figuration. These must be squeezed in accurately and delicately without disturbing the tempo and whilst still maintaining the legato of the melodic line. Only in the last three bars can the volume be cranked up to forte for the final arpeggiated chords – but no accelerando please.
Opus 10 no.12
Technique - Scales, arpeggios with syncopation
Within this work, there are elements of all the other 11 études to be found, if only somewhat briefly. Like its siblings, it is divided into three sections (bars 1-28, 29-48 and 49-84) and it is the only work that I would recommend learning from start to finish as a single entity.
Firstly, except for two places (bars 75 and 80), the tempo must remain constant throughout and this is no easy task (absolutely no rubato). Chopin is wholly unforgiving in the application of sudden crescendos and diminuendos that almost follow the harmonics of the bass line scales/arpeggios. Secondly, although the marking only appears once (bar 81), I would suggest that as well as playing allegro con fuoco you should also add appassionato to this piece overall. It is a passionate and fiery work and this should be reflected in the way it is played. Thirdly, this work MUST be played throughout with NO SUSTAINING PEDAL. Nothing ruins this work more than to hear both the harmony and melody deformed with great washes of pedal.
The opening section (bars 1-28) is relatively straightforward, but you must pay attention to the contradictory dynamics of the melodic and harmonic lines. For example, in bar 10 a crescendo in the right hand must coexist with the diminuendo in the left had figuration. These conflicting dynamics appear throughout the work. Note also the operatic nature of the melody, almost like a series of sung cries of despair.
The central section (bars 29-48) take the opening figuration through a series of modulations that, in typical Chopin style, are extremely difficulty and are somewhat of a reminder of the modulations in No.5. They must, however, be played with no alteration to tempo and no deviation from the marked dynamics.
The final section is further development of the opening theme, but this time with a series of thirds and offbeat accents incorporated into the right-hand melodic line. Once again, this is designed to refine the techniques introduced in the first and central sections. Only from bar 72 with the transition into the coda can you ease up slightly on the tempo, with a marked smorzando in bar 75 and a poco rallentando in bar 80. The final four bars, however, must return to the open tempo and be played ff appassionato, possibly even with a slight accelerando into the final triumphant cadences.
Here are my analyses and tips for dealing with the Op.10 Études. As one can see from what I have written above, there is a good deal of logic in learning these works sequentially, particularly the first three as these are concerned with basic techniques and skills that recur frequently throughout all the works of Chopin. Subsequent Études build upon these basic techniques and the entire opus will act like a gateway to Chopin’s more substantial works, particularly the Scherzi, Ballades, Polonaises and Sonatas. But most importantly, they are wonderful pieces of music, which you hopefully will never tire of either hearing or playing.
- Malcolm Kandzia
Pianist profile of Robert