Many years ago, I made a pledge to myself.
I told myself that, before I die, I will learn and be able to perform Frederic Chopin's 24 Etudes, Op.10 and 25.
Now I'm ready.
The ultimate aim of the Chopin Etudes Project is to learn Chopin's Etudes. However, instead of doing it all by myself, I will post regular updates on this blog, writing my thoughts and comments as I study each etude, and posting audio recordings every now and then to showcase my progress.
Why Chopin's Etudes? Well, they are my favourite set of pieces for the piano, and Chopin is also undoubtedly my favourite composer for the piano. I find his pieces contain some kind of brilliant quality found nowhere else in the piano repetoire, the kind of thing that makes you go "Aaahhh...Chopin" and makes your heart melt. But there aren't only personal reasons. Chopin's Etudes are widely regarded as some of the most innovative, imaginative and, perhaps most of all, challenging pieces for the piano repetoire out there. I suppose you can call it the ultimate course of Romantic piano playing ("etuder" means "to study" in French, so "etudes" are "studies")
Before I move on, a few words on this word "learning". I was purposefully being careless with my word choice when I said that I will try and "learn" Chopin's Etudes. I believe that it is not actually possible to "learn" any piece of music. You can throw the word around and people will understand what you mean, but strictly speaking it makes no sense. Me personally, I have "learnt" a fair number of piano pieces in the past, however, whenever I end up performing them in front of an audience, I always hit a bum note somewhere and I never play it with the same confidence I have when practising at home. So my playing is not perfect. And what does "learn" mean in art, anyway? What does it mean to learn to play an instrument, or to learn to dance or learn to paint? I believe art is something you study, not learn.
So what do I mean when I say that the ultimate aim of the project is to learn Chopin's Etudes? I initially foresaw it as this: I will be able to walk up to a piano in front of an audience, play all the etudes (without sheet music!) and receive a generally favourable, genuine response. It might sound slightly egotistical when I put it that way but that's essentially what I mean by "learn".
Unfortunately, I quickly realised that I doubt I will have the opportunity to ever perform for one hour straight in a piano recital. So I'll have to make do with plan B, which is: I will post a video on Youtube of a recording of the complete Chopin etudes, played by me, including good old fashioned scrolling sheet music, and if people "like" it, I'll be happy with that result.
OK, so we've established the end point of the project. Now some more details on the process:
Firstly, I can't guarantee that I will learn the etudes in order. I might skip about here and there, just to spice things up a bit.
Secondly, sadly I can't guarantee that this project will ever become finished. It's easy for me to sit here in front of my PC and ramble on about learning 24 of some of the most difficult pieces for piano, but stuff might come up in the future and I can't tell whether any success will come out of this or not. All I can say is this: this is not a "in-the-spur-of-the-moment" idea, I have been thinking about doing this for some time now. As for the etudes themselves, they have fascinated me ever since I was a child, and I find it difficult to imagine that that this fascination will ever stop, particularly when studying them. I might grow sick of them, but I know I will never stop loving them. Gosh, that sounds so cliche, doesn't it?
Thirdly, I have no teacher. The only teachers will be my conscious, the internet, and Chopin. While this is a risky move (and some of you will probably think of me as arrogant because of it!), I have decided that it will be part of the project. I would love to have a teacher but for now, getting one would be problematic and I'm willing to take the risk of diving in solo.
Now, the question that some of you will undoubtedly have on your mind: Who the hell am I?!
My name is Thomas Kobialka. I am 18 and I study Physics. I started playing piano at the age of 5 and, with help from three fantastic music teachers, finished the Grade 8 exam in the summer of 2010. However, I only started actually liking the damn instrument by the age of...10, or so. I started a Youtube channel (tomekkobialka) where I posted audio + sheet music videos of mostly piano pieces, including some of my own compositions. My passion started off as a fascination of mainly classical piano music after listening to my Dad's CD called "Piano for Dummies" but has since grown into a fascination of all sorts, from avant-garde to jazz to pop to opera. I occasionally compose music for video games and short films.
I am not a professional musician, in the sense that I don't make a living out of it, and I'm not a student of music. My completely formal music training finished with the grade 8 piano exam.
Simply put, music is a strong hobby of mine, and while my brain loves science, my passion ultimately lies in music. But, above all, I am deeply fascinated by Chopin's Etudes, and while part of the purpose of the project is to 'learn' Chopin's Etudes, the main purpose is to investigate the etudes mysteries and decode its difficulties, and share my findings on this blog. I like to describe myself as a musical explorer, a musical wanderer. I love discovering new things. I see musical performance as a side effect of this exploration, a kind of 'lab report', if you will. Don't get me wrong, I'm not demeaning musical performance in any way. But it's not the reason I love music.
Oh, one more thing. If you are unfamiliar with Chopin's Etudes, I recommend you look them up. I uploaded a complete set of videos on my Youtube channel, with audio and scrolling score. You can find more info on the Etudes' Wikipedia page. As far as recordings go, Pollini's Deutsche Grammophon recording is very good all-round. If you prefer to watch somebody play, Vyacheslav Gryaznov's recital performance is simply outstanding, as well as slightly terrifying. And finally, you can find the complete, free sheet music for the Etudes on Chopin's IMSLP site.
OK, best get practising now. I hope to put in at least 1 hour a day of piano practice. I will be posting updates on this blog hopefully at least once a week, summarizing what I've learnt and will also try to often provide audio recordings...maybe even videos.
I hope that, through doing this project, we can all together learn something...
Till next time! :D
I really should've taken that course in improvisation...