Chopin and Bach – Practising the Piano

We know that Chopin began his piano practice every day with some preludes and fugues from Bach’s 48. It is said this is the only score he took with him to Majorca in 1838, where he completed his own set of 24 Preludes.

There is nothing purer for the mind or for the fingers than Bach’s supreme examples, which are models of compositional clarity and logic. It is not just the composer’s own beautiful handwriting, but also the design of his musical structures that leap off the page, that have often made me wonder why no wallpaper manufacturer has come up with the idea of using his manuscripts as prints. A bit too busy, perhaps…

I stumbled across a score of the C sharp major Prelude from Book 1 that Chopin annotated, and thought it should make an appearance here:

Earlier today I was teaching Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. Because of the polyrhythms, it is challenging to practise the outer sections slowly and be rhythmically absolutely precise (the LH is in sixes, the RH in eights). Provided we play the LH with a circular (or spinning) motion generated from the arm, the body coordinates the two rhythms (after a while), requiring no conscious thought from the mind as to how the two hands go together. This is not the case when practising slowly – and practise it slowly we must!

You can, of course, struggle with “What Atrocious Weather”, the 3 against 4 equivalent of 2 against 3’s “Quick Cup of Tea” (or “Fried Fish and Chips”, if you come from up North):

Or you might take inspiration from another prelude of Bach, the Prelude in D major from Book 1.

…and practise a skeleton version of our Fantasie-Impromptu every now and again, thus:

If you do this with no pedal and strictly in time, you will be synchronising the main LH events (the music that falls on the beats) with the RH, with Bachian precision and clarity. Master it and make it sound great at a variety of speeds and dynamic levels.

Further Reading & Resources

A complete set of video walkthroughs for this work is available as a series on the Online Academy and can be purchased individually here or as part of an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

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