Etude in A flat major, Op. 25 No. 1 Op. 25 No. 1
‘Imagine an aeolian harp’, wrote Robert Schumann about the first of the Etudes published as opus 25. His review appeared in the Leipzig music magazine Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, of which Schumann was the editor.
The Etude in A flat major, known to Mendelssohn and Schumann before its publication, and admired by Henrietta Voigt, was placed at the beginning of the twelve Etudes, Op. 25. It did indeed bring the vaporised sound of gradually shifting chords and keys, creating a pastel-hued backdrop to a song that rises steadily and calmly towards its climax, before falling and dissolving in an ethereal pianissimo.
One can admire the way in which Chopin tried to help some of his pupils obtain the effect he had in mind. Jan Kleczyński noted an anecdote passed down by tradition: ‘“Imagine,” he said, “a little shepherd who takes refuge in a peaceful grotto from approaching storm. In the distance rushes the wind and the rain, while the shepherd gently plays a melody on his flute”.’[i]
As a study, and so a pianistic exercise, the A flat major Etude is charged with developing the melodic proficiency of the little finger of the right hand. It is to sing out a melody composed of separate notes cast into the air, which are to make up a sensible, coherent whole.
Chopin wrote the first two etudes of this set into the album of Maria Wodzińska (in Dresden, in 1836), at the time he proposed to her.
[i] Jean Kleczynski [Jan Kleczyński], Chopin’s Greater Works, tr. Natalie Janotha (London, n.d.), 19.