Chopin Etude in G flat major, Opus 10 no. 5 (Black Keys)

Chopin Etude in G flat major (Black Keys)
Have you ever tried hopping over rocks along a riverbank without getting your feet wet?

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.
F natural in Chopin's Etude in G flat major
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.

Lang Lang International Music Foundation


”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:

Mona Lisa variation by Martin Missfeldt

Mona Lisa variation by Martin Missfeldt (at

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.

Marc Andre Hamelin

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.

Which is your favourite Godowsky paraphrase of Chopin's Black Keys Etude?

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First version

Second version

Third version – Tarantella

Fourth version

Fifth version – Inversion for left hand

Sixth version – Inversion for right hand

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4 Responses to Chopin Etude in G flat major, Opus 10 no. 5 (Black Keys)

  1. rebecca says:

    fun blog love the combo of your passions for music and food thanks so much for visiting my blog Rebecca

  2. What an intriguing combination and premise for a blog! The roast chicken looks marvellous! And that pan of tomatoes catching the chicken drippings sounds so wrong but oh so good…

  3. Amazing how Derek Wang’s fingers just flew across the piano like that. I was a terrible music student, sigh.

  4. I like the third version best because I truly love minor keys. :) My second favorite is the forth version, it sounds so calming, like a burbling river. And the second is fireworks again! 😀

    The Mona Lisa reinterpretation you’ve posted above elicited a feeling of irritation at first sight. I think it looks a little distorted, and from the variations I think number 5 fits the picture the most because this is the one that sounds a little bristly for my ears. A musical equivalent of the Mona Lisa version above would be a twelve-tone reinterpretation of the Black Keys Etúde, no? 😉

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