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Cory Hall, pianist-teacher-composer-publisher

A piano blog for your musical enrichment and instruction!

Chopin's Great Étude in C# Minor, Op. 25 No. 7

Peter Lanier

Like all hardworking and serious classical pianists, I diligently practiced most of Chopin's famous twenty-four Op. 10 and Op. 25 Études during my university and conservatory years. I used to have grandiose goals of performing all the Chopin Études because I thought this is what all "real" pianists do. But as time went by and I became older and wiser, I became less interested in spending so much time practicing these works. Instead of being so preoccupied with conforming to the "classical pianist status quo" I began to explore the piano literature more and broaden my musical horizons. After graduating and embarking on my own, I seldom practiced Chopin's Études as I did in my school years. Many pianists contend that one is not a "true" or "real" pianist unless one is able to perform all the Chopin Études. It is not good enough to play just a few of them, but one must play ALL of them to be considered "worthy." I find this belief ludicrous, considering that at least four of the 20th century's greatest pianists -- Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich -- never recorded the Op. 10 and 25 Études. Martha Argerich is legendary for her Chopin playing and her rock-solid technique, yet she has never recorded all the Chopin Études. According to some pianophiles, Argerich isn't a "real" pianist yet! Moreover, the greatest Chopin player ever, Rubinstein, really wasn't so great after all since he never recorded the Op. 10 and 25 Études. Of course I am being facetious here, but I simply intend to point out that Chopin's Études may in fact be less than what pianists think they are. Call me a blasphemer, but I happen to believe the Études as a whole are Chopin's weakest compositions from a musical standpoint. For example, in my opinion the Ballades, Mazurkas, Nocturnes, and Impromptus are much better musical works.

YouTube first began in 2005-6 and I remember first viewing videos there around 2006-7. I noticed that the faster Chopin Études were beginning to be overplayed, especially Op. 10 No. 4. I remember playing this piece in my first public piano recital at 17 and how I loved it so much. However, for some reason it became offensive and "anti-musical" when I began to hear pianist after pianist upload it with the sole intent of attaining the fastest speed possible. I think it was YouTube and the overplaying of Chopin's faster Études that made me lose interest in them altogether. I am not a fan of speed in itself as a musical virtue. In my opinion, even "fast" pieces have limits as to how fast they should be played. Just to illustrate my point, consider the legendary Sviataslav Richter's "world speed record" performance of Op. 10 No. 4. To me, this is not music but rather a "speed fest":


My favorite Chopin Étude of all -- one of which I will never tire and one that will probably never become overplayed -- is the beautiful Op. 25 No. 7, nicknamed the "Cello Etude." It is one of the few slower Chopin Études. The study or problem in this piece is that of voicing, tonal control, pedaling, and overall emotion. I prefer a slower tempo than most other pianists and feel this extra stately and non-rushed tempo allows the music to "speak for itself." In my opinion this piece overshadows all other of Chopin's etudes because it is eternally beautiful music. I recently recorded it on YouTube to unanimously positive reviews and hope you enjoy it!