Chopin Etude Op. 10, No. 4

Question: Hi, I would like to have some explanation about the third measure of the Chopin Etude, Op. 10, No. 4. I already play it up to tempo, but only on this passage am I having some problems. it doesn’t sound exactly how I expect it to sound. I even rotate and don’t leap, even though this is not actually a big distance, but some notes get lost, the ones in the middle of the arpeggio, and the whole passage is kind of weak.

Thank you very much.

– Diego (Brazil)

Albert’s reply: The key to this passage is not rotation but rather pivoting. The index finger is the pivot point, and it must be held until it leads to finger 3. This is a separate motive, indicated by a separate voice:

Even more importantly, the line G-sharp, F-sharp, E, D-sharp, C-sharp – all the notes played by finger 2 – is a rhythmic augmentation of the opening motive in sixteenths. (The etude starts with these notes.) This needs to be made audible, and shaped dynamically. Thus, we have a motive (played by finger 2) within a motive (2–3, 2–3, 2–3, 2–3) within a motive (the arpeggios).

Each of the motives needs to be suitably articulated in addition to its dynamic shaping. Practice the 2–3 motive by itself, with an upstroke of the wrist as you release the hand (or rather momentarily thereafter).

The arpeggios need to be played legato, as indicated by the slurs; therefore a leap between fingers 1 and 2 is not a musical possibility. I should note parenthetically that Chopin does not always use a slur to indicate a literal legato, but expands the symbol to include whole phrases as well as longer passages that should be conceptualized as belonging together. The D major Prelude, Op. 28, No. 5, is a perfect example: There, virtually the entire piece is written under a single slur, even though it contains very many wide stretches and leaps that can’t possibly be connected.

Practice slowly, exaggerating the lifting of the hand between arpeggios. Make sure you practice without pedal and that you emphasize the 2–3 motive. Some of the detail will be less obvious when you play up to tempo, though you must always listen for it and hear the slowly practiced shapes in your mind’s ear. This way you’ll realize them even when played at tempo, and you’ll be able to do so securely.

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