Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, op. post. 66, is surely one of the composer’s most popular works – one that many pianists often try to play before they are quite ready for the technical challenges it poses.
The story goes that Chopin wrote the piece in 1834 but never published it. Instead, his friend and executor, Julian Fontana published it posthumously – but why? We have to wait until 1960 for the answer, when Artur Rubinstein acquired an album owned by Madame la Baronne d’Este. The album contained a manuscript of the Fantasie-Impromptu in Chopin’s own hand, dated 1835. It would appear that the reason Chopin had not published the work is because he had received a commission from the Baroness, and the piece was therefore her property.
The Henle Urtext edition contains both versions. There are a number of differences between the two, mostly in the left hand, so you will first need to decide which version to play. I have a preference for the Fontana, probably because I learned it this way as student, but either is fine.
Readers of this blog will be looking for solutions to the challenges of the piece, so how to begin it? I have created a series of six substantial video tutorials, in which I look at all aspects of the piece, offering detailed technical solutions and suggestions for practice. The series which features six video walk-throughs is available now on the Online Academy here.
It is obvious that the main stumbling block is how to manage the 6:8 polyrhythm that pervades the outer sections, and while it is of course possible to practise this slowly (provided you know exactly how one hand fits together with the other) it’s probably not the best approach. It’s virtually impossible to hear the three-against-four past a certain speed, so for me the best way to start is to know each hand separately extremely well before attempting to put it together.
Once you have sufficient fluency playing each hand by itself, there are a number of stages I can recommend for putting the piece hands together. I am happy to share with you the video that relates to solving the polyrhythm.
The 6:8 Polyrhythm
Skeleton Left Hand
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. I was teaching the D major Prelude from Book 1 of the 48 when I saw a parallel with the Fantasie-Impromptu and this inspired me to come up with a practice idea that I highly recommend when beginning to put the piece hands together. Play only those left hand notes that come on the beat and you’ll be learning the framework without the difficulty of the polyrhythm. The beauty is we can do this slowly to start with.
I suggest returning to this skeleton on occasion even after you have mastered the polyrhythm. Do it cleanly with Bachian precision, senza pedale, to detox from the excesses of pedal and overdone rubato that can come from too much playing through.
The complete set of video walkthroughs for this work which include an additional five videos is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription.
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A detailed Annotated Study Edition is also available for this work. This includes the complete set of video walkthroughs in addition to a score with detailed annotations, additional video demonstrations and step-by-step practice worksheets. Click here for more information.
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