I achieved one of my life goals…

… with hopefully a good 40 or 50 years to spare.

Namely, I learned to play a Chopin Etude:

(OK, I know it’s a fair bit slower than it’s meant to be and there are a few mistakes, but I’m very happy to have even got it to this point. Bars 79-82, the bit near the end with ascending triplets in both hands, especially had me almost tearing my hair out for a while. In the end I had to devise my own set of exercises just for those few bars and beaver away at them for slow and painstaking hours to stop the ending from falling apart completely. Probably a good indication that I should have picked an easier piece, but by that time I was determined to complete it).

Chopin wrote 27 etudes (studies) in three sets. This is the no. 5 etude from the first set, imaginatively nicknamed the “Black Keys” Etude due to the fact that the right hand plays entirely on the black keys. That might sound like a bit of a limitation, but in fact it’s not that bad – using only the black keys you can play a major pentatonic scale starting on G flat. A lot of music of various genres uses pentatonic scales… the Skye Boat Song is another well-known example. It’s my favourite etude out of the handful of popular ones that always make it onto Chopin compilation CDs.

Obviously this is a very different style to my previous piano project, but I think it shares at least one similarity. Both Chopin and Bach imposed on themselves what seem like quite severe technical restrictions (using only the black keys in Chopin’s case, conforming exactly to all the rules of a fugue in Bach’s), yet within those constraints they both produced wonderful music that doesn’t sound restricted or stilted in the slightest.

Right. Now that’s out of the way, I’m off to go learn something that doesn’t take me literally years to finish!


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