Frédéric Chopin: Fantasie-Impromptu
Composed in 1834, but not published until after Frédéric Chopin’s death in 1855, Fantasie-Impromptu has remained one of the composer’s most popular works. It is not explicitly known why Chopin did not want any of his works to be posthumously published, especially with the popularity of the Fantasie-Impromptu. There have been many musicologists that liken Chopin’s Fantasie with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, with the form, keys and themes resembling similar processes. Ernst Oster famously wrote of Chopin’s intentions that:
“Chopin understood Beethoven to a degree that no one who has written on the C# minor Sonata or the Fantasie-Impromptu has ever understood him. The Fantasie-Impromptu is perhaps the only instance where one genius discloses to us – if only by means of a composition of his own – what he actually hears in the work of another genius.”
After the bold first unison chord the left hand begins playing sextuplets before the right hand rushes in playing semiquavers on top. These polyrhythms are devilishly difficult to perform, which is why the work is now often set as a test piece. The energetic and chaotic opening leads to a full exploration of the famous theme in the home key of C# minor. As the tempo begins to change the music modulates to the parallel major of C# minor – Db major.
As a new lyrical theme is explored in the right hand, the left hand keeps the constant arpeggio-like accompaniment light and very much in the background. The delicate melody is a far cry from the opening pandemonium, which offers some light relief in the music. As the theme develops the texture gets somewhat richer and Chopin pulls around the dynamics too to emphasise important phrases.
As the tempo marking suddenly changes to ‘Presto’, the opening chaos returns with the polyrhythms jumping back into full swing. The music is safely back in the home key of C# minor as the music reprises material from the introduction. As the loudest dynamic is reached, the climax flourishes before slowly winding down. The left hand plays fragments of the main melody, with the right hand playing a repeated phrase. Fantasie-Impromptu concludes quietly after resolving on a Picardy third.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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