Chopin’s etudes are essentially a system of technical piano playing exercises which are among some of the most challenging and provocative pieces written for the solo piano repertoire. There is a total of 27 etudes comprising two separate collections of twelve, numbered Opus 10 and Opus 25 and a set of three without an opus number.
The etude in A flat major Opus 25 no. 1 was composed in 1836 and published in 1837. Robert Schumann famously praised this work and coined it the “Aeolian Harp etude” seemingly for the rapid arpeggios of sextuplet semiquavers played by both hands which may have resembled the glissando sounds of a harp.
Most of the etudes demand a certain level of technical ability and control to expound evocative melodies and sometimes whimsical harmonic structures. Peculiar fingering which requires the use of weaker fingers in concert to create melodic lines and galloping tempos are among a host of other attributes which give the etudes their unique place in solo piano performance. Over time, romanticised names such as the “Black Key etude”, “Wrong Notes etude”, “Winter Wind etude” began to evolve for these pieces to acknowledge their uniqueness.
The technical challenge for this piece is to be able to play the passive harmonisation of the middle voices whilst the left hand periodically introduces polyrhythms. The beautiful melody is played by the fifth finger of the right hand which falls on the first note of each sextuplet with occasional counter-melodies provided by the inner voices. The key modulates from its home key of A flat major to a brief but beautiful A major section and culminates with an intense climax in the home key.
Seemingly bias but most definitely not, I have found all three published interpretations by Lang Lang to be the best for the following reasons:
1. Sustained legato playing whilst maintaining excellent phrasing for the melodic line.
2. Creative rubato style which breaks up the monotony of the sextuplets semiquavers throughout the entire piece.
3. Excellent fingering technique enabling passive playing of the middle voices whilst beautifully controlling and presenting a clear and succinct melody.