I owe a lot to Chopin. Witnessing a performance of his Etude Op. 10 No.1 – those glorious broken chords played up and down the entire keyboard (the musical equivalent of seeing the heavens opening up and blinding you with light) – and then looking at my electric guitar – rusty, out of tune – made me think one thing:
“Fuck this guitar shit… Seriously. I want to learn how to play THAT.”
So really everything I’m doing now started with that bit of inspiration. Chopin, for me, is where it all began. Thanks Chopin.
Now since that Etude was clearly too difficult for me at the time (do yourself a favor if you’ve never seen this piece played – Google it), the first piece I actually memorized and performed was Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28 No. 1. I played it my senior year of high school, I played it during my music school audition in college. Thanks Chopin.
I remember watching videos of the 2005 Chopin Competition in awe. Pianists like Ingolf Wunder playing with so much unbridled passion you wonder – how is this kind of music-making even possible? Chopin, Chopin, Chopin.
Chopin, Chopin, Chopin.
Chopin, Chopin, Chopin, Chopin.
Over a decade later, I have a new perspective on Chopin’s music.
I can’t fucking stand it.
Now before all you classical music snobs wish a violent death upon me, allow me to explain.
His music is executed with perfection. There is no doubt about that. The attention to detail, the harmonic surprises, the technical inventiveness — it is perfectly crafted music that has rightfully influenced all-of-music since.
There’s just one thing – I’ve noticed recently – that prevents me from really enjoying it.
Every time I hear his music I get the feeling it was written by a very sad, sickly man, isolated from society, lost in his head and in his emotions. I also get the feeling that he was maybe pining after a woman who wasn’t all that interested in him. I’m also guessing he didn’t live very long……
(If you don’t know Chopin’s life story – the feeling I get from his music pretty much summarized it, albeit crudely)
To me Chopin is like the Kurt Cobain, the Amy Winehouse – the archetypal ‘Tortured Artist’ – of classical music. Unbelievably expressive – capturing all the angst and frustration and longing we feel as humans, and masterfully transforming those emotions into musical form.
But at the end of the day – just like when I listen to Nirvana or “Love is a Losing Game” – Chopin’s music conveys so much pain and sadness, I’d rather avoid it entirely.
Even in some of the “lighter” pieces (the ‘Minute’ Waltz or the ‘Black Key’ Etude, for example), I still can hear a composer momentarily trying to cover up his sadness with a smile.
(Now on the other end of the spectrum you have composers like Bach and Liszt who basically spent all their time either performing music, composing music, or having sex. Their music has such a joyful, spiritual, filled-with-wonder quality, that I will save these thoughts for another day).
So what does all this have to do with Schumann and Grieg?
When I listen to this Schumann piece, I get the feeling he was calmly looking back on his own childhood – with longing and blissful nostalgia, with sadness and strength.
When I listen to this Grieg piece, I get the feeling he lost something very dear to him, something he cared for deeply, yet eventually learned how to just let it ago. Again, sadness and strength.
Not just sadness, like Chopin.
But sadness and strength.