Frédéric Chopin: His Life and Music

Week 2: Genre

Prof. Michael J. Ruiz, UNC Asheville

Chopin's Versatiliy by Genre

  • ballades
  • études
  • impromptus
  • mazurkas
  • nocturnes
  • preludes
  • polonaises
  • scherzos
  • sonatas
  • waltzes
  • other miscellaneous

Analysis - Three Preludes from Last Week

Prelude in C minor (Voicing)
Prelude in E minor (Half Steps, Whole Steps)
Prelude in E Major (The 12 Keys and their Chords)

Voicing (Example using Rachmaninoff)

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Related to Voicing

"The best way to attain naturalness in performance, in Chopin's view, was to listen frequently to Italian singers, whom there were some very remarkable artists in Paris at the time." Karasowski, Pupil of Chopin

Half Steps and Whole Steps

The 12 Keys

Review: Composers and Periods

Baroque (1600-1750), Classic (1750-1800), Romantic (1800-1900)

Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Young Liszt

Robert & Clara Schumann, Chopin and Amantine, Liszt and Marie d'Agoult

Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin = George Sand, Comtesse d'Agoult = Daniel Stern

Liszt Children and Grandmom Liszt (1788-1866)

Grandmom Liszt was born in 1788.

PLAY THE GAME: When was your grandmother or grandfather born?

The Winner is the one with the oldest date.

I claim the winner is HERE!

Liszt and Students (Early 1880s)

Tracing Back to Franz Liszt

Tracing Back to Frédérick Chopin

Chopin - Liszt (Use of Octaves)


Upon one afternoon, when there were but three persons present, and Chopin had been playing for a long time, one of the most distinguished women in Paris remarked, that she felt always more and more filled with solemn meditation ... (Bio by Liszt)


She asked him what was the cause of the involuntary, yet sad veneration which subdued her heart while listening to these pieces, apparently presenting only sweet and graceful subjects: - and by what name he called the strange emotion inclosed in his compositions ... (from the bio by Liszt)


Chopin's reply reported by Liszt: "for whatever might have been his transitory pleasures, he had never been free from a feeling which might almost be said to form the soil of his heart, and for which he could find no appropriate expression except in his own language, no other possessing a term equivalent to the Polish word: ZAL!" (from the bio by Liszt)


"bittersweet melancholy" says Byron Janis (b. 1928)

Hollywood "Zal"

David Raksin (1912-2004)

About his Laura theme for the movie Laura (1944): "It has a sad cast to it, and this has been understood - it occurs too frequency in my music not to realize that it is an ailment which should have a cure - which I've never found." Raksin

Hollywood "Zal"

Hollywood "Zal"

Zal Goes to Hollywood - Literally

"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (Chopin's Theme)

Judy Garland in "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941)

The Chopin Theme is from his Fantasie-Impromptu (1834).

A vaudeville song published in 1917 (lyrics by Joseph McCarthy, music adaptation by Harry Carroll).

Maria Cooper Janis and Byron Janis (2008, 80th)

Photo Credit Linda Lenzi

Maria Cooper Janis and Byron Janis

Married April 1966 (married over 50 years)

Recent NPR Story on Chopin and the Janis Couple

Nocturne No. 20 in C# minor

from the French, a musical composition inspired by or evocative of the night

Nocturne No. 20 was composed in 1830, but published in 1870 (after Chopin's death in 1849).

Dedicated to his older sister Ludwika as a piano exercise.

  • dedicated to older sister Ludwika as a piano exercise.
  • Waltz in C# minor (1847)

    another piece in C# minor

    • traditional waltz 3/4 time
    • moderate length
    • not designed for dancing
    • composed for concert performance
    • dedicated to Charlotte de Rothschild

    Mazurka, Op. 68, No. 3 (1830-1846)

    published posthumously in 1855

    • based on Polish dance
    • nationalism
    • transformed into a new genre by Chopin
    • not designed for dancing
    • composed for concert performance

    Scherzo in C# minor (1839)

    our third piece today in C# minor

    • traditional meaning is "joke"
    • a stand-alone piece for Chopin
    • "jest goes about in dark veils" Robert Schumann
      (about Chopin)
    • dedicated to Adolphe Gutmann