Playing this etude feels that way because the score for the entire right hand is played on the black keys, hence its nickname the “black keys” etude.
Unlike some other pieces, playing this piece does not evoke many images in my mind. The concentration in playing this piece is centred more around technique rather than emotional expression.
The right hand needs to be played legato and somewhat passive because the melody for this piece is predicated on the left hand. Like all pieces of music, this piece especially needs to be committed to memory to be played relatively fast in order to bring out the melodic motives of the left hand.
There is only one single note in the entire piece where the right hand plays on the white key and this is in bar 66 where the right hand plays a F natural.
For those who intend to play the entire piece on the black keys with the right hand, this particular note can be played with the left hand since this note is within a slow passage of the piece. Perhaps Chopin wanted to dip his toes into the water at this juncture.
I particularly like the interpretation by young Derek Wang, a 12 year old prodigy of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation which is inspiring millions of young musicians around the world to embrace music in their lives.
”Through music I want children to see a different dimension of life. I want to show them how music can help them achieve their dreams” – Lang Lang
Ironically, all the pieces played by the budding pianists in the foundation launch were Chopin’s music.
Paraphrases and newer arrangements
Due to the popularity and uniqueness of this famous etude, Leopold Godowsky, the legendary Polish American pianist and composer had paraphrased this etude (among many other Chopin etudes) in as many as seven different ways. Some of these paraphrases and arrangements introduced interesting melodic motives, harmonies and a higher level of pianistic ability to master than the original piece composed by Chopin.
Godowsky’s paraphrases have become important works in their own right because of its creative variations whilst always respecting the originality of Chopin. Drawing parallels, these paraphrases can be juxtaposed against creative variations to famous works of art and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a great example where countless variations have been done:
What kind of emotions do you feel when you view the picture above and how are these emotions different when viewing the original by da Vinci?
Godowsky’s creative compositions are being widely interpreted and here are six different paraphrases by Godowsky based on the original Chopin Etude in G flat major (Black Keys) played by by Canadian virtuoso pianist Marc Andre Hamelin.
Mastering Chopin’s original piece is challenging enough. Imagine doing so and playing six highly challenging variations as well!
My favourite Godowsky paraphrase version
I like the second version because it is so lively with such beautiful harmonics that resembles the original version.
I also like the third version because it is the only version out of the six versions paraphrased in a minor key which renders the piece darker and a little more serious and dramatic.
Third version – Tarantella
Fifth version – Inversion for left hand
Sixth version – Inversion for right hand