I have often considered William Shakespeare to be the
greatest writer of all time. Having studied acting technique for several years
at West Virginia University, digesting the writing of Shakespeare in my spare
time as well as scholastically, I found his expressive powers seemed to be
As an actor, I always longed for roles in Shakespeare’s
plays; pretty much every actor dreams of playing Hamlet. Alas, actors and actresses playing
Shakespeare also make the mistake of trying to add drama to the text, which
does not “hold the mirror up to nature.” Such interpretations can have a
cheapening effect on performances and veer dangerously in the direction of
Performing in productions from Shakespeare’s oeuvre was my
highest and most challenging theatrical ambition. To dissect the words of
Shakespeare was daunting to say the least!
That brings me to the man of the month of March: Frederic
Chopin! If Shakespeare is truly the greatest writer of the English
then surely Chopin was the Shakespeare of the piano. Chopin’s grasp of
language of music was equally unrivaled. He was by all accounts an
that stretched the common conceptions of the instrument beyond anyone of
day, even inventing forms such as the ballade.
This is what Franz Liszt said of his friend Chopin,
"Music was his language, the
divine tongue through which he expressed a whole realm of sentiments
the select few can appreciate ... The muse of his homeland dictates his
and the anguished cries of Poland lend to his art a mysterious,
poetry which, for all those who have truly experienced it, cannot be
to anything else ... The piano alone was not sufficient to reveal all
within him. In short he is a most remarkable individual who commands our
highest degree of devotion."
Having been learning to play the piano on my own for several
years, I feel much of the same sense of helplessness and ineptitude in
approaching Chopin’s works now as I felt in my younger years of reading
works of Shakespeare. My experience and vocabulary on the instrument is
limited to truly interpret his masterpieces.
I imagine his
work has the same effect on many players
regardless of skill level. To approach his artistic height, one needs
to have virtuosic chops, but also, a complete vocabulary, or else one
butcher the beauty by seeking to add drama to the already charged notes.
I have an experience of my own to share (not too proudly I might
add), from my last piano class in college, one of several electives in an
to learn how to play better. My final was an excerpt of a transcription
Chopin Etude, and some of my first attempts in playing the piece
melodramatic. It is a common mistake of young artists to get caught up in
themselves in roles’ rather than seeing the role itself. The only thing
playing communicated at first was “look at what I’m playing!”
my technical proficiency has yet to master, my heart
has always understood. Chopin’s music has always been very dear to me
my earliest childhood introductions to classical music. There has always
kinship that I have felt toward his music, of course helped greatly by
of the piano, specifically. His voice was very unique among composers,
seamless blend of technique and lyricism.
appreciation of Chopin’s music comes from his
melodies and his melodies within his melodies. So often, in his pieces
melodies are augmented by staggeringly beautiful melodies underneath;
one of my
favorite examples can be found in Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor
Below is a great rendition by Krystian Zimerman.
March 1, 2010 marked the 200th anniversary of
Frederic Chopin’s birth. He was so much more than just a pianist and his
was so much more than merely the piano.
Here’s the best site I’ve found to date that is devoted to
Chopin: http://www.ourchopin.com, and here is one of my favorite Chopin pieces: