Etude, op. 10.6 : for string quintet
by Charles Bodman Rae (2012)
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Library shelf no. 785.715/BOD 1 [Available for loan]
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Chopin's Etude for piano in E flat minor op.10 no.6 is one of several remarkable pieces in which the composer seems to 'anticipate' the highly expressive, chromatic sound world we normally tend to associate with the harmony of Wagner's Tristan and the orchestral gestures and sonorities of Gustav Mahler. The connections are obvious to some, but not to all.
One way of enabling us to hear these connections is to 'transpose' or 'translate' certain significant pieces by Chopin into a different instrumental medium. The arrangement for string quintet, of the Etude in E flat minor is part of a continuing series of such transpositions/translations of Chopin. They all have the ulterior motive of revealing Chopin as a great innovator, who, in his succinct compositional miniatures, was really the first to capture a type of expressivity that others were to be credited with developing - more than a generation later.
The first of these projects was an orchestral version of Chopin's Prelude in C sharp minor op.45. It was followed by an orchestral version of the Nocturne in C minor, op.48 no.1.
The Etude in E flat minor op.10 no.6 is remarkable for the poignantly expressive, twistingly chromatic melodic line in the tenor register that - for the pianist - sits under the thumb, index and middle fingers of the left hand. It seemed natural - and irresistible - in the arrangement for string quintet, to give this inner, melodic line to the viola. Thus the piece changes, from being a study in chromatic legato for the pianist's left hand, to being one that treats the violist as a soloist within the ensemble.
The orchestral version of Chopin's E flat minor Etude op.10 no.6 is the latest in a series of orchestrations of selected Chopin pieces having exceptionally chromatic harmony that anticipates Wagner and Mahler. Here the primary focus is on the violas, who carry - from the beginning to the end - a chromatically twisting, curling line of great expressive poignancy.
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass.
Duration: 5 min.
Dedication note: Dedicated to Australian String Quartet
Written for: Australian String Quartet
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