Each Chopin waltz is an elegant salon piece with unique freshness and sparkle.
Chopin wrote his waltzes over the course of his entire life. I think they're a great example of his talent of adding his own stamp to a particular genre.
Chopin's waltzes were unlike any that had come before.
They were hugely different from the popular (at the time) Viennese ballroom style, which Chopin thought was a bit loud and silly. Instead, he penned sophisticated waltzes to fill the quiet rooms of society's elite, where he usually performed.
Ironically for waltzes, they're nearly impossible to dance to! But it's better to sit and listen to them instead of dancing, anyway...
There are 19 Chopin waltzes. But only 8 of them were published when he was alive - the rest were published after he died.
These other ones aren't really as well-written or interesting as the ones which were published during Chopin's lifetime. Chopin realized this, so he didn't submit them to be published.
He probably sneakily stuffed them into a drawer somewhere! I can just picture the scene...
It actually took quite a while for some of them to finally get published - one Chopin waltz wasn't even found until well into the 20th century!
Here is a list of every Chopin waltz. First, the eight which were published when the composer was alive...
Opus 64 No. 1 in D flat major, popularly known as the Minute Waltz, is by far the most well-known and famous of the Chopin waltzes. It's a lively miniature, with a delicate feeling of never-ending motion.
Its nickname refers to "minute" as in "tiny", not the unit of time lasting 60 seconds... This has confused a lot of people who assume it to mean the latter, especially since the piece in fact lasts almost 2 minutes!!
Here are the Chopin waltzes which were only published after Chopin died:
(The Brown-Index is a list of all of Chopin's pieces based on date of composition, which comes from the 1960 book by Maurice JE Brown).
Waltzes 18 and 19 in E flat major and A minor are a bit mysterious.
Some researchers think that they're not real Chopin pieces, since the way the music is constructed isn't the same as the every other Chopin waltz.
However, the pieces sound like Chopin to me, and the different structure was probably because they were sketches which Chopin didn't manage to finish.
I really love several of the waltzes.
The floating delicacy of Op. 70 No. 1 in G flat major is enchanting. The sadness of Op. 34 No. 2 in A minor (Chopin's own favorite waltz) is touching and understated. And let's not forget the sheer fun of the Minute Waltz!!
But my favorite waltz in Op. 42 in A flat major. The composer Robert Schumann thought that it was such an aristocratic and well-crafted piece that it should only be danced to by nobles above the rank of countess!
Idil Biret has a nice little set of the complete Chopin waltzes on Naxos, which are a great introduction to the pieces.
An excellent historical recording of the waltzes (or most of them) is by Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti, recorded in the 1940s. I find these recordings to have an utterly perfect sense of rhythm and excitement.
Lipatti manages to play technically flawlessly, but without showing off. He lets the waltzes express their own graceful charm. I'd recommend this CD if you want to hear the waltzes the way they should be played. You almost forget you're hearing piano music!
The recording is available on EMI classics, along with a few other pieces by Chopin, which are equally well-performed!
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