Chopin and Piano Are One

It is impossible to imagine Chopin without the piano and almost equally hard to imagine the piano without Chopin.

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Chopin's teachers: Wojciech Żywny and Józef Elsner by unknownThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Natural talent

Chopin’s professional guidance in playing the piano was minimal. It was Fryderyk’s elder sister Ludwika who gave him the first lessons. 

When he was 6 years old, he began taking classes with Wojciech Żywny, who was primarily a violinist. After 6 years, his formal piano education came to an end.  

Rondo in C minor, Op. 1 (1825) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Self-education

Chopin developed his pianistic skills guided by intuition and piano scores that he would read in large amounts being a frequent guest at A. Brzezina’s music shop. 

It was also Brzezina who published his first compositions including the Rondo in C minor, Op. 1. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Kalkbrenner by unknownThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Refusal of mentorship

When Chopin came to Paris, one of the leading pianists of the time, Friedrich Kalkbrenner proposed to become his teacher. 

After taking advice from his former teacher in composition Józef Elsner, Chopin refused. He wanted to develop his individual style.

Józef Elsner by Maksymilian FajansThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Refusal of betrayal

Chopin composed works exclusively for the piano – either alone or accompanied by other instruments, including the human voice. His close friends, including his teacher Elsner and poet Stefan Witwicki, were trying to persuade him to compose an opera. 

Despite their authority, Chopin refused to betray his instrument and the pianistic path he had chosen for himself.  

Etiuda Ges-dur op. 10 nr 5 Etiuda Ges-dur op. 10 nr 5 (1829 - c. 1832) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Etude in G flat Major, Op.10 No.05
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Exercises in his very own style

Early on in his career Chopin started to work on piano etudes that he called ‘exercises in my very own style’. The 24 etudes published as Opus 10 and Opus 25 can be seen as the most comprehensive guide to Chopin’s pianistic abilities.

Piano playing methodThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

An unfinished idea

Chopin was planning to write a piano playing method describing his insights as a teacher and largely self-educated pianist. Unfortunately he did not fulfill this aim. 

The sketches he left give us a unique opportunity to glimpse at his intentions. On this page of paper he wrote 'Wrist [=] breathing in the voice'. We can imagine that he wanted the pianist to move his wrist in a way comparable to the breathing of a singer. 

Chopin did not tell us much about the way he played the piano. His piano playing method was left in sketches. However, many things can be learned from the instruments he played.

Piano action (1843)The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Understanding the piano

Chopin’s intimate understanding of his instrument became the crucial factor for his success as a composer. His works are accessible for amateurs and attractive for professionals. Both amateurs and professionals find them very comfortable and satisfactory to play. 

Due to Chopin’s intimate understanding of instruments he played, performing his music on instruments constructed during his lifetime or modern copies of such instruments gives the pianist a particularly interesting insight into his music. 

Grand piano Erard, 1849The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Pleyel, Erard and Broadwood

The instruments of Pleyel, Erard and Broadwood are among those which Chopin knew best. However, it was Pleyel who managed to earn Chopin’s friendship. 

Grand piano Pleyel, c. 1854The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The favourite brand

Chopin owned Pleyel pianos, played them in public and in private. He would also take them on his journeys. Pleyel pianos were an immanent part of Chopin’s creative process. 

Grand piano Buchholtz, c. 1825-1826, copyThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The mystery of Chopin's Warsaw piano

The reconstruction of Chopin’s Warsaw piano made for him by a Warsaw piano maker Fryderyk Buchholtz allowed us to hear the sound of the instrument that guided the composition of Chopin’s piano concertos.

None of the known instruments from Buchholtz’s workshop that were similar to the one owned by Chopin has survived to our time in a very good shape. Therefore, a reconstruction was needed so that the sound of Chopin’s Warsaw piano could be made known to us again.  

The instrument opens a unique way to better understand his master and his music.

Credits: Story

Paweł Siechowicz (Chopin Institute)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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