During the 19th Century, before the invention of radio, television, Internet and the wii, the piano reigned for decades as the center of home entertainment. To accommodate the increasing desire of the masses for proficiency at the piano, books of études were published. Etudes were musical exercises designed to increase strength and dexterity through repetition of a single technique, such as octaves, or scales. Most études made no pretense of being works of art. To perform them would be comparable to doing sets of crunches and push-ups at a soirée.
Frédéric Chopin composed two books of twelve études, Op. 10 & Op. 25, at the height of the piano exercise craze. With these works he invented new technical challenges for the pianist, cleverly defining the character of each étude by the way the motif moved across the keys. Op. 25 No. 3, for example, is based on a single motif in which the hand does a wiggle-hop. For the duration of the entire piece, the two hands hop nonstop up and down the keys like two frogs. The directional ambiguity of the wiggle motion manifests itself throughout; in the zigzag phrases, and in the downward modulation scheme, which magically returns up to the original key like stairs in an Escher drawing. Each étude is an artfully crafted musical masterpiece inspired by physical motion. Out of a single floating feather Chopin would create a flying bird of paradise.
Chopin’s études were intended to be performed. Their twofold demand of stamina and poetry might be likened to doing 200 frog leaps in succession while reciting a sonnet. Perhaps this is why Chopin’s études have remained in the piano repertoire since they were first published over 170 years ago. No doubt they will continue to fascinate pianists and audiences for generations to come.
Special thanks to Ho Lan, H. T. Chang, Hsi-Ling Chang, James P. Nichols,
Al& Caroline Rufino, Adrian & Elizabeth Kitzinger, and Stephen Jan for
their support on this project. This recording is dedicated to my former
teacher Abbey Simon who assigned both Op. 10 & Op. 25 to me years ago.
- Hsia-Jung Chang
New York City
Pianist Hsia-Jung Chang is a self-described Chopin addict. Her other
recordings for the Mandala Studio label include Chopin: Complete
Préludes, recorded on a rebuilt Pleyel piano, and Chopin: Impromptus,
Ballades, Berceuse. In her most recent recording Inside the Piano -
21st Century Improvisations Chang uses soft mallets and other
unconventional tools to play the inner strings and frame of the piano. The CD has become a favorite of experimental music DJs across the country, making the Best of 2008 list of KKUP’s radio show No Pigeon Holes. For more information about the artist, please visit www.hsiajungchang.com. For Mandala Studio releases, please visit
Copyright 2010 Mandala Studio.