Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

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IcedNote
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Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by IcedNote » Mon Oct 01, 2012 10:43 pm

Yes, yes, everyone knows that virtually all of Chopin's output is for solo piano. Do we know why? Was it simply a matter of giving the people what they wanted? I mean, if my guitar music catches fire and makes me a popular composer, sure, I'll write more and more of it. But was there something else going on that led Chopin to devote so much of his time to the piano? Something in his personal life? Something in Paris? Being a monster performer didn't "limit" Beethoven, Liszt, etc.

Hm, I wonder if it's at all connected to the argument that Chopin couldn't write a "big work." Maybe it's just easier or more convenient to write his smaller works for the piano than, say, string quartet. More of a market I suppose.

Apologies if I simply slept through this lecture in Musicology 101. :mrgreen:

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Werner
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by Werner » Mon Oct 01, 2012 11:34 pm

I don't see much point in guessing, Garrett.

Why do you speak English? Why do you compose as you do?

I'd say it's a matter of native language - or using the medium we was most comfortable with.

And it's hard to argue with the result, isn't it?
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IcedNote
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by IcedNote » Tue Oct 02, 2012 12:19 am

Werner wrote:I don't see much point in guessing, Garrett.
That's exactly what led to this thread--I'm not sure if people actually KNOW why he only wrote for piano. For example, maybe he wrote some letter to such'n'such explaining why he did. I don't know. Hence the question.

And if there is no such historical document/evidence, then I see no harm in speculating. It's fun. :)

-G
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John F
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by John F » Tue Oct 02, 2012 3:10 am

IcedNote wrote:Yes, yes, everyone knows that virtually all of Chopin's output is for solo piano. Do we know why?
Why not? The piano was his instrument, solo piano music was in vogue with amateur musicians and Chopin's was commercially successful, he didn't need to compose quartets and symphonies, and evidently he didn't want to.

Of course Chopin did compose a fair amount of other music - pieces for 2 pianos or piano 4 hands, pieces for cello and piano, a trio for piano and strings, the piano concertos and other works for piano and orchestra, lots of songs. As far as I know, he composed nothing that didn't involve the piano.

If Chopin ever spoke or wrote about this, I don't know what he said, but maybe someone else here does.
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by diegobueno » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:18 am

We can only guess at the reason. My guess is that Chopin could not separate the act of performance from the act of composition. He would sit down at the piano and improvise to get his ideas and what came out were figurations idiomatic to the piano. He probably could not sit down and imagine the sound of the orchestra in his head, and so he didn't feel comfortable writing for it.

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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by Teresa B » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:15 am

diegobueno wrote:We can only guess at the reason. My guess is that Chopin could not separate the act of performance from the act of composition. He would sit down at the piano and improvise to get his ideas and what came out were figurations idiomatic to the piano. He probably could not sit down and imagine the sound of the orchestra in his head, and so he didn't feel comfortable writing for it.
Seems reasonable, who knows? Chopin's motifs are very idiomatic to the piano, and he was an incredible master at taking advantage of what the piano in particular has to offer as a unique instrument. He did not seem to be the best at orchestrating, compared to greats like Beethoven. For instance, Chopin's piano concertos sound much more like piano solos with orchestral accompaniment than do Beethoven's or Mozart's. I suspect Chopin himself knew his forte was the piano ( :mrgreen: )

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THEHORN
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by THEHORN » Tue Oct 02, 2012 9:43 am

I wonder if Chopin might have written some other works without piano if he had lived longer . Who knows ?

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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by slofstra » Tue Oct 02, 2012 3:16 pm

Jerry Lee Lewis also wrote only for the piano, and nothing for the orchestra. Same with Jelly Roll Morton and Billy Joel. Not just trying to be funny, but perhaps the music Chopin wrote is fairly far removed from orchestral work. On wiki I read that his music is subtly nuanced, and that "his light-handed keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces". Perhaps there is a clue in that. Apparently, he also preferred to compose, publish and play in his salon, and did not enjoy performing for a larger audience. That, and his unplanned emigration to Paris may also have minimized both contact with an orchestra, and opportunity and desire to write for an orchestra.

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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by RebLem » Tue Oct 02, 2012 4:51 pm

I think it has to do with the kind of people who were his earliest fans. They were rich kids who were rich because their fathers were rich, and indulgent, the Jack Osbournes and Paris Hiltons of their generations, the kinds of folks Mitt Romney would have been if his parents had been Presbyterians. Effete wastrels, in other words. Lots of 'em didn't have quite enough money to be able to afford to listen to large ensembles, so piano music was it for this crowd.
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John F
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by John F » Tue Oct 02, 2012 6:09 pm

slofstra wrote:perhaps the music Chopin wrote is fairly far removed from orchestral work.
Oh, I don't know...

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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by Wallingford » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:08 pm

Why can't one live with the fact that, among history's great composers, he was THE pianist, he was THE pianistic innovator, he was THE writer whose piano works represented this magnificent extension of his fingers, the most effortless and the most wondrous. (Yes, and I AM including Liszt.)
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That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by BWV 1080 » Tue Oct 02, 2012 8:25 pm

because he was not familiar with the accordion?


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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by diegobueno » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:29 am

I think the accordion is the reason he left Poland in the first place.

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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by John F » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:46 am

Looking at Chopin's oeuvre at a whole, much of it is in dance forms: mazurkas, polonaises, waltzes. Those pieces that aren't - ballades, etudes, nocturnes, scherzos - don't feature thematic development, which since Haydn and Mozart has been the basis of large-form compositions such as symphonies and quartets. Even Chopin's sonatas aren't very sonata-like, except maybe in their scherzos; more like collections or suites of character pieces whose tempos correspond more or less to the classical sonata template.

Charles Rosen was the first I read who observed that the most important influence on Chopin's music wasn't Mozart or Beethoven but Bach. It took me a while to see this, but now I do. Most of Bach's music is in short forms, like Chopin's, and his suites and partitas consist mainly of dances; if there's even one of them that features any kind of thematic development such as in the Classical Era, I don't know it. There's more to the Bach influence than that, for example Chopin's use of counterpoint, but this will do for now.

The piano (and any other chromatic keyboard instrument) is the one instrument that can truly stand alone. On non-keyboard instruments, harmony is either impossible to play or very incomplete when it's attempted; the only partial exception is the harp or guitar, which are far more limited. Most orchestral scores can be transcribed for the piano; most piano pieces can be rescored for orchestra or any other ensemble. There's nothing "only" about the piano. It also has the advantage that the player has complete control over the performance of every note - he/she doesn't have to coordinate with other players, as in chamber music, or rely on them entirely, as with the orchestra. For that reason the piano is the composer's instrument par excellence, and most composers have been at least competent keyboard players and have used it as a compositional aid, even when the music they write isn't specifically pianistic. Berlioz was an exception in this as in many other respects, but it's the usual case.

If anything, then, it might be surprising that Chopin is the only famous composer whose preferred medium was almost exclusively the solo piano. (Alkan, not really famous but increasingly well known, is another; he composed in large forms while Chopin didn't.) At least it might have been surprising up to the end of the 19th century. Now that few amateurs play the piano (or keyboard), and orchestral concerts are far more popular and better attended than solo piano recitals, composers' incentives have changed from what they were in Chopin's lifetime. But if we can think ourselves back to the 1830s and 1840s, we might understand Chopin's career better.
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Re: Do we know WHY Chopin "only" composed for piano?

Post by slofstra » Wed Oct 03, 2012 11:24 am

John F wrote:
slofstra wrote:perhaps the music Chopin wrote is fairly far removed from orchestral work.
Oh, I don't know...

I think I was right after listening to this dreck, at least the first two minutes of it.

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