February is a big month for Chopin in the Washington DC area. There are all-Chopin concerts and Chopin competitions. We, at AMSF, had our own Chopin celebration! George Lopez, the Robert Beckwith Artist-in-Residence at Bowdoin College, gave us another engaging lecture, this time highlighting Chopin’s uniqueness!

So, what made Chopin different from other composers of his time? Chopin emphasized musicality over virtuosity. He revolutionized technique, stressing suppleness and the naturalness of the human hand. To Chopin, touch was paramount, and fingering was to be based on the unique characteristics of each finger, along with the desired effect. To help create the desired effect, Chopin made the use of the pedal an art. Chopin elevated etudes into an art form. His etudes were lyrical and non-repetitive, unlike those of his predecessors.

The term “ballade” had been used in poetry and song prior to Chopin’s time, but it was Chopin who first used the term in instrumental music. Unlike Liszt and Schumann, Chopin did not give his pieces descriptive titles. He composed four ballades, each of a different type.

  • Dramatic—Ballade #1
  • Lyrical—Ballade #2
  • Epic—Ballade #3
  • Tragic—Ballade #4

George Lopez played two Chopin compositions. The first was the Polonaise in G minor, a piece Chopin wrote at the tender age of seven. The second was Ballade #3 in A-flat major. It is amazing how relaxed George Lopez’ hands were while playing, even with the proliferation of octaves, especially in the right hand.

As piano enthusiasts who play at different venues, we—members of AMSF—don’t get to choose the pianos on which we perform. George Lopez suggests that we psychologically prepare to play pianos unlike those to which we are accustomed. We may need to modify our use of the pedal or adapt our program to suit the piano. Also, practicing on a keyboard or on different pianos might help so that we are able to easily adjust to pianos of varying touch and tensions.

The special event on Chopin was held on February 20. Thirty people signed up. All who attended enjoyed and learned more than they probably would have learned through reading. George Lopez always gives us insights beyond what our own research might yield. We look forward to having more lectures by our gifted pianist-and-speaker guest!