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10 Most Famous Piano Compositions by Frederic Chopin

Chopin at 25 by Maria Wodzińska

Frédéric François Chopin (1810 – 1849) was a famous Polish composer of the Romantic era. He was born with a polish name Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin and only later became a French citizen, since Poland was occupied by the Russians. He was a child prodigy and his piano technique was unparallelled among his contemporaries. Chopin wrote pieces mainly for the solo piano, but his music was accredited as having ‘a poetic spirit’ and expressing a multitude of ambivalent emotions. His compositions draw from both Vienna classics and Polish folklore. These include a vast array of mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, preludes and sonatas. Here is our list of top 10 works by Chopin you need to know!

Russian attack on Warsaw in 1831
Russian attack on Warsaw in 1831

1. Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor, the Revolutionary Étude

Written circa 1831, as the last piece in his first set, Etudes Op.10, the publishing of the Étude No. 12 coincided with the Polish November Uprising against the Bolshevik authorities. Poland has unfortunately failed to liberate itself, to which news Chopin reportedly cried out:”All this has caused me much pain. Who could have foreseen it!”Therefore, the critics tend to associate the stormy harmonies and pronounced sforzandos of the piece with a troubled state of mind caused by patriotic feelings and a sense of discomfiture. Chopin dedicated the piece “à son ami Franz Liszt” (“to his friend Franz Liszt”), a famous Hungarian composer and a close ally.

2. Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, the Minute Waltz

Dedicated to the countess Delfina Potocka, the Waltz in D-flat major is without a doubt the best known waltz written by Frederic Chopin. The lively „molto vivace” tempo of the piece and the constant use of the sustain pedal throughout the composition make it both a dreamy and very upper-class salon piece at the same time. What is interesting, the name „Minute” refers to the fact that the waltz was composed as a „miniature” of form. However, in order for the piece to be played within one minutes’ time, you would have to play 420 quarter notes per minute. The waltz also gained the nickname”The Little Dog Waltz”, as it evoked imagery of „a little dog chasing its tail”.

540px-Chopi_f.op028.015.m0001-0004.svg prelude 18 opening
Raindrop Prelude opening notes

3. Prelude, Op. 28, No. 15, Raindrop Prelude

This is one of the 24 preludes written by Frederic Chopin. This is also, by far and large, the longest one, lasting, depending on the rendition, between five and seven minutes. The prelude is most well-recognized for the repeating A-flat sound, which to many imitates the gentle falling of raindrops. The majority of Opus 28 was written during Chopin’s stay at a monastery in Valldemossa, Majorca in 1838. He went there along with his lover, a female writer going by the alias George Sand and her son. The trip was supposed to cure both Sand’s son and Frederic of poor health, but turned out to be a melancholic, yet very prolific period for the composer.

4. “A Young Girl’s Wish”, Polish traditional song

Chopin delighted in Polish folk culture and he also wanted to make a contribution towards it by producing music for some Polish traditional poetry. “A Young Girl’s Wish” is a typical example of this. The poem by Stefan Witwicki tells of a young peasant girl declaring her love for a certain gentleman, saying that if she could she would be the sun shining permanently outside his window and not anywhere else or a bird singing just for him. The piece, sang in quasi-opera tone, became so popular that even Franz Liszt used it in his “Harvest at Woronińce” (1847) and later transcribed the song for a piano solo as No. 1 of his “Six Chants polonais”.

Chopin Playing the Piano in Prince Radziwill's Salon
Chopin Playing the Piano in Prince Radziwill’s Salon

5. Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53, the Heroic Polonaise

This is a piece, which is strongly associated with national pride and independence. The composition is very advanced technically and requires a certain level of piano skills to be interpreted with proficiency, as it is full of virtuosity. The polonaise owes its nickname, or sobriquet, to the fact that George Sand wrote:”The inspiration! The strength! The vigor! There is no doubt that such a spirit must be present in the [1848] French Revolution. From now on this polonaise should be a symbol, a symbol of heroicness!” upon hearing the piece.

6. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21

Chopin composed this piece in the year 1830, when he was just 20 years old and still hasn’t completed his formal education. The first performance of the piece was held on 17 March 1830, in Warsaw, Poland, and Chopin played the soloist part. Truthfully, this was the first piano concerto written by Chopin, but it got published as the second one and therefore gained no. 2 in nomenclature. The finale of the Concerto contains a surprising moment when the violins and violas of the assembly are instructed to play col legno, i.e. with the wood of the bow.

Sonata in G minor, Opus 65 sheet music
Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 sheet music

7. Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58

Composed in 1844 and dedicated to Countess Emilie de Perthuis, the Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor is considered to be one of the most demanding pieces ever created by Chopin, both in terms of dynamics (loudness changes) as well as articulation (manner of playing the notes). Critics claim that Chopin wrote the piece in response to the harsh opinions on his earlier Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. The piece is quite lengthy and consists of four parts: the melodious Allegro maestoso, the cheerful Scherzo: Molto vivace, the slower Largo and the uplifting Finale: Presto non tanto.

8. The Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65

Written in 1846, this is one of the very few pieces by Chopin, intended for other musical instruments than the piano. In total, there were just nine such works. This is also the last composition to be published during Frederic Chopin’s lifetime. The piece was written for and dedicated to Auguste Franchomme, a French cellist and composer, accredited with the „refinement of the bowing technique”. He and Chopin played the piece together during Chopin’s last public concert, at the Salle Pleyel on 16 February 1848.

Op.9, no. 2 Nocturn's opening notes
Op.9, no. 2 Nocturn’s opening notes

9. 24 preludes, Op. 28

Musicologist Henry Finck on one occasion said that “if all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin’s Preludes.” Indeed, the Opus 28 Preludes were definitely something in the music world at the time of their arrival. Some loved them, whereas others were confused. The Prelude as a standard piano form was then a short introductory piece to a larger work, whereas Chopin’s pieces did just fine on their own. Regardless, however of the divided opinions, they continue to be the most frequent repertoire chosen by current generations of pianists. And they are truly beautiful in their variety, even if not one is longer than 90 bars.

10. Nocturnes, Op. 9

The Opus 9 contains three nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin, composed between 1830 and 1832. The works got published later that same year, and are all dedicated to Camille Pleyel, a French virtuoso pianist, publisher, and owner of Pleyel et Cie, a piano manufacturing company. Among the three of the pieces, the second nocturne is especially highly regarded and often featured in various films, television programs and games. IT is in rounded binary form (A, A, B, A, B, A), where A and B are two different musical themes intertwining, and the piece ends with coda, C. The feel of the piece is majestic, and a bit solemn.

monument Chopin Warsaw
A statue of Frederic Chopin in Warsaw

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