Hi guys! I have a big surprise for you – a detailed video tutorial dedicated to Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C# Minor, op. posth. 66 (which is a piece for the advanced level, accessible after aprox. 7-8 years of serious piano practice ).
This tutorial is part of my PianoCareerAcademy.com project Piano Masterpieces – Detailed Video Lessons for All Levels .
The lesson consists of two main parts:
- Analysis – a very detailed written article where we will analyze the history/genre/form/dramaturgy/texture etc. of the Fantaisie-Impromptu, so that you have a better understanding of its artistic concept and main expressive/technical tasks.
- Video Practice Guide – a super-detailed, step-by-step practice demonstration, consisting of two videos:
- Part I: Practicing the Exposition (available here on PianoCareer.com);
- Part II: Practicing the middle section and the Coda (available only in the Members Area of PianoCareerAcademy.com!).
Please download the score before moving on (I’m sharing with you several editions for offering you a ‘complete picture’ of this piece ):
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Kullak)
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Mikuli)
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Joseffy)
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Godowsky)
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Paderewski)
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu op. posth. 66.
The written analysis is HUGE – an enormous article + form diagrams, lots of score examples etc. For your browsing comfort, I used a little programming trick (pianists can be tech-savvy too LOL): click on the link below, and the entire analysis will appear underneath it; then click it again, and the analysis will be hidden (so that in the future you can go straight to the video, without having to browse so many pages of text)!
This detailed analysis will help you to have a better understanding of the artistic concept and main expressive/technical tasks encoded in today’s piece.
As always, we will analyze the history/genre/form/dramaturgy/texture (and other important elements) of the Fantaisie-Impromptu in our attempt of deciphering its message as clearly as possible – so bear with me, I’ll try to make the ‘musicological ordeal’ as easy-to-comprehend, exciting and useful as possible!
1. Meet the music:
Don’t hesitate to listen to Yundi Li‘s recording, with the score in front of you:
Now that you have a good ‘audible picture’ of this piece, let’s continue our analysis :
2. History and genre/title:
Frederic Chopin wrote 4 Impromptus for piano solo:
- Op. 29: Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat major (1837)
- Op. 36: Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp major (1839)
- Op. 51: Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major (1843)
- Op. posth. 66: Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor (1834)
Chronologically the first of Chopin’s Impromptus, the Fantaisie-Impromptu was published posthumously (only after the composer’s death) in 1855 (by Julius Fontana, who added the title Fantaisie to the original Impromptu).
The word Impromptu literally means ‘unexpected’, ‘unrehearsed’, ‘unprepared’, ‘spontaneous’, ‘improvised’.
In music, an Impromptu is a composition with the character of an improvisation (as if prompted by the spirit of the moment), in a relatively free style, usually for a solo instrument (such as piano).
This term began to be used as a title for musical works in the early 1800s (resonating very well with the spirit of the romantic era, focused on freedom of expression).
Even though the Impromptu (as a musical genre) is meant to have a free form – things are obviously not as easy . This genre appeared at the confluence of classicism and romanticism, in the period of transition from the epoch of symmetry and rigid rules to the one of relative freedom of expression – therefore, it helped composers to take another step forward towards flexibility of expression (and complete freedom was out of the question at the time).
For this reason, most Impromptus have a pre-defined form (just like other romantic genres) – usually ternary ABA, with faster outer sections and a slower lyrical middle section.
A few important highlights from the history of this genre:
- Franz Schubert published two sets of 4 Impromptus for piano – op. 90 and op. 142. After his death 3 more unnamed piano compositions (Klavierstucke) were sometimes named Impromptus.
- Robert Schumann wrote several Impromptus, published as op. 5.
- Franz Liszt composed an Impromptu in F sharp (sometimes called Nocturne) and a piano piece named Valse-Impromptu.
- Alexander Scriabin is known to have written at least 9 Impromptus for piano in his early period.
- Jean Sibelius composed 6 Impromptus for piano op. 5.
Even though the Fantaisie-Impromptu is one of Chopin’s most inspired (and famous!) works, musicologists agree that it was not intended by the composer for publication. There are several possible reasons behind this decision:
- a tempo/texture/form similarity with the Impromptu in Eb Major by Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870, Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso);
- a melodic/tonal similarity with the 3rd movement from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata;
- this piece might have been originally sold to the Baroness d’Este, who simply wanted to have it as her exclusive property.
One way or another, we are very lucky nowadays that this ‘Fantasy with an improvisational character’ (the literal meaning of the title) was found and published by Fontana – and that we can appreciate, practice and perform it! Despite the similarities mentioned above (which are not even noticeable to the ‘naked eye’ of the non-musicologist LOL), this work is a masterpiece of a great artistic value, offering a delightful aesthetic experience both to the listener and the performer .
On a macro-level, the Fantaisie-Impromptu is written in a ternary ABA + Coda form:
Exposition (bars 1-40);
Middle section – also called Trio (bars 41-82);
Reprise – an identical repeat of the Exposition (bars 83-118);
Coda (bars 119-138).
Here is a more detailed form diagram:
As you can see, each part is based on two main Themes, and each Theme has its own ‘section‘ (too big to be called a ‘sentence’, and often formed of several musical ideas).
On a micro-level, the section of each Theme can be divided into two, three or four 4-bar phrases (which are the building blocks of the entire piece).
Here is the micro-structure of the Exposition (please notes the increasingly number of phrases as we approach the end of the Exposition, where we have the culmination of the first part of the piece):
Here is the micro-structure of the middle section:
Also, never forget that musical thoughts are flexible entities (especially in romantic music) – so in identifying their exact edges, don’t follow the 4-bar model blindly – instead, allow your hearing and your musical understanding to look for the logical beginning, destination and ending of each idea (noticing that some of them begin with an anacrusis, others – on the strong beat of the bar etc.).
4. Tempo and character:
The tempo and character indication for the Exposition is very suggestive: Allegro agitato – fast, with a restless character.
For the introductory bars of the middle section we have the indication Largo pesante (very slowly, with emphasis), and then the tempo changes to Moderato cantabile (moderately, in a singing manner) when the beautiful RH melody appears.
The tempo of the Reprise is actually the subject of a little controversy: in some editions, the tempo is the same as in the beginning (Allegro agitato), while in others, we see the indication Presto (very fast). Both tempo options make sense from the point of view of dramaturgy: if we choose the first version, we simply return home, to the same character we had in the beginning; if we opt for the 2nd version, we take the main idea to a whole new level – and the initial restlessness (associated by many performers and teachers with agitated gusts of wind) grows into a more powerful storm (that leads to the ‘closure’ of the Coda).
5. Time signature:
The Exposition and Reprise are written in alla breve (a C with a vertical line through it) – also called ‘cut time’ or ‘cut common time’; alla breve is the equivalent of 2/2 – and the only difference with the 4/4 (C) time signature is in the way we perceive the pulse of the music: instead of thinking in 4, we think in 2 (having only 2 main beats per bar, one per half note).
The middle section is written in common time (4/4).
Both time signatures are very suggestive – alla brave being very appropriate for creating the illusion of movement and impetuous horizontal development, and 4/4 matching the calmer flow of the middle section.
6. Tonal plan:
The Exposition and Reprise (having a darker atmosphere with a restless character) are written in C# Minor, while the luminous middle section – in the enharmonic Major equivalent of the main tonality – Db Major.
7. Dramaturgy and dynamics. Texture.
Introduction: the piece begins resolutely, with a powerful bell-like G# octave (the dominant step of C# Minor), sf. This octave sounds like a challenge and ‘opens the door’ for the music that’s about to begin. The ‘pulse’ of the piece is set by the next 2 bars, where the LH accompaniment (written in sextuplets, with a relatively wide pattern that requires good wrist navigation) begins the ‘swirl of movement’, piano, also introducing the minor mode and the restless character.
The Main Theme appears as a new layer on top of this foundation: it has an intricate pattern with 16th notes that reminds us of an Etude – but only at first glance! Once we hear this Theme, it instantly ‘conquers’ us with its power of expression, and its melodic potential is not diminished by its ‘figurative’ structure (I hope you don’t mind the musicological language, couldn’t help it LOL).
Chopin makes a masterful use of cross-rhythms for creating the feeling of forward movement, animation and impetuosity: on the sextuplet foundation of the LH, the RH plays in a duple meter – and even though we have only 2 beats per bar, it’s much easier to overcome this coordination challenge by imagining that we play 3 on 4, not 6 on 8 . In other words, our hands will ‘meet’ at the beginning of each quarter note (more details in the practice guide!).
As you will notice during your practice, each separate layer (the LH and the RH) is not very difficult when played on its own – but their combination results in a special technical/expressive richness (the illusion that we have an ‘avalanche’ of notes!). In other words, this piece sounds more difficult and impressive (and faster!) than it really is – which is always awesome!
The music of the Exposition has been compared by many pianists with a windy night: it’s very easy to imagine the gusts of wind lifting the fallen leaves of the ground, gaining power and raising higher and higher with each new phrase. We could also imagine ocean waves during a windy night – raising to meet the moon and then falling back, each new wave having its unique ‘height’ and ‘intensity’, and yet belonging to the general pattern of movement of the entire ocean (in musical terms, each individual phrase is an inseparable part of the bigger dramaturgy of the piece).
If we keep in mind this wave (or leaf swirl) metaphor, it will be much easier to create convincing micro- and macro- dynamics (after all, on a dynamic level, a phrase is simply a wave with a beginning, culmination and ending).
The Main Theme begins softly (piano), like a whisper, and the first phrase consists of three consecutive steps: first attempt to rise (bar 5), second attempt (bar 6), and finally the successful wave with a complete rise-and-fall pattern (bars 6-7). These rises and falls have to be reflected in our micro-dynamics – and the crescendo and diminuendo indications from the score have to be followed very carefully! The higher a passage rises, the greater should be the dynamic increase.
The 2nd phrase of the Main Theme rises even higher (to the culmination of this section), and then falls down only for a second, simultaneously preparing the appearance of the Secondary Theme.
The Secondary Theme (bars 13-24) brings yet another layer to the already dizzying texture of the Exposition – and a voicing challenge! Until now, it wasn’t very difficult to maintain a good sound balance (RH brighter than the LH) – but starting with bar 13 we have two voices in the RH:
– in bars 13-16, the melody is in the middle register (being played with the thumb) – and it has to be properly voiced and emphasized, being much deeper than the surrounding 16th notes (which are part of the accompaniment), and forming one uninterrupted melodic line:
– in bars 17-22, the melody moves to the higher register (being played with the 5th finger) – and emphasizing it properly is more difficult, for three reasons:
1) the 5th finger is weaker than the thumb (making is harder to channel the entire weight of the arm);
2) the main dynamic intensity is piano here, so we have to create a clear differentiation of sound intensity in 3 layers (LH accomp – RH accomp – melody) within the limits of a soft sonority (so the available dynamic range is not very wide – from pp to an approx. mp);
3) the main notes appear on the second 16th note of each 4-note group, therefore having a syncopated pattern:
We’ll obviously learn how to overcome this voicing challenge in the video below!
The section of the Secondary Theme begins in E Major (the parallel of C# Minor) – and the change of harmonic color is reflected in the dynamics (bar 13 begins forte).
The 2nd phrase of the Secondary Theme (where the melody migrates to the higher register) begins piano, like an echo of the first phrase (the first two bars of these phrases are similar), but then the atmosphere changes suddenly, and a very powerful and abrupt crescendo takes us to the culmination of this section (in bar 19, where we have forte again). We make a very gradual diminuendo in the following 3 bars (in bar 21 we begin the 3rd phrase of this section), still emphasizing the upper voice. The 2nd half of the 3rd phrase sounds like an echo of the first half – we have pianissimo, and these bars (23-24) have to be played with a new sound color – more delicate and shy, emphasizing the lower voice just a little. A little ritenuto prepares the appearance of the Main Theme (in bar 25).
This dramaturgy is very expressive – and we can imagine many metaphors and storylines behind this music. I will share one that first comes to my mind – and you can (and should!) also invent your own!
So, metaphorically speaking, the section of the Secondary Theme brings a change of attitude. If until now we were the passive observers of the gusts of wind/swirling leaves/ocean waves, mentally ‘surfing’ these waves, exploring their sadness but not daring to interfere – now we begin to take action – and we do it in a very ‘colorful’ way LOL: filled with hope, we light a flame in the dark (bars 13-16) – and we race forward, carrying this flame and trying to escape the dizzying swirl of the leaves. Here you can also imagine that you’re riding a horse in the night, torch in hand, hair and robes flowing in the wind, gloomy treetops closing over your head, fearlessly galloping towards a luminous destination (sometimes I wonder if I missed my vocation as a romance novel author LOL ).
In bar 17 a bright memory makes you reduce your speed a little (as we play the melody piano) – but then we resume our frantic race again, increasing the speed even more (forte in bar 19) and trying to maintain this enthusiasm, to keep the flame from dying down – but our strength gradually wilts away (bars 20-22). We look around, not willing to give up, but there’s nowhere to go, and we are forced to accept the impossibility of our attempt as a shy echo of our initial bravery still lingers in the air, bars 23-24 ( – I hope you’re having fun reading this – I know I am enjoying writing this ‘story behind the music’)!
Main Theme, Development and Culmination (bars 25-40). Our ‘inner tension’ diminishes even more (ritenuto in bar 24) as we return to the place we started – the restless and hopeless gusts of wind, following with our eyes their futile attempt of escaping the swirling circle of movement (the return of the Main Theme, bars 25-28).
However, our little adventure from the Secondary section taught us to think outside the box , gave us a new perspective on life and made us believe in our own powers – and instead of taking the same path (and repeating the 2nd phrase of the Main Theme), we start exploring new territories again: this time, we dare to transform the swirl itself, and beginning with bar 29 we have an impetuous development of the melodic pattern of the main Theme (bars 29-34) and an impressive crescendo until the very end of this section (instead of the ‘wave’ rounded dynamic curve). This development is very cleverly written, and the melodic pattern (consisting of a short ‘trill’ followed by an ascending arpeggio-like figuration) seems to be ‘climbing’ gradually ascending steps with each half bar:
This rebellion against the unfairness of the situation reaches the dramatic ‘lamentations’ from bars 33-34 (two abrupt melodic ‘rises’ followed by a chromatic descent), culminating with a desperate cry, as the melodic line is unexpectedly interrupted by the powerful C# Minor ‘cadence’ chord, forte (bar 35); the chord is followed by a descending chromatic scale that sounds like an angry blast of wind (bars 35-36). This is the culmination of the entire Exposition, the climax of the entire emotional build-up we had until here, the full manifestation of the ‘raging storm’ – and it continues with a series of ‘lightning strikes’ (bars 37-40), a vigurous descending sequence of octaves (on the steps of the C# Minor triad chord, with 16th note figurations in the RH) that will allow your ‘inner virtuoso’ to go wild :
The RH figurations from this passage are not difficult once you understand their logic and the underlying hand positions: we have a descending sequence of 4-note patterns, and each one is basically a ‘broken’ octave preceded by two notes in the middle with a ‘stabilizing’ function (more practice tips in the video!).
Also, don’t miss the very expressive LH octave melody in bars 39-40 – its ‘sinuous’ movement with half tones helps us to gradually reduce the impetuous pace and the emotional turmoil, the ritenuto in bar 40 allows the music to transform without any major breaks – and the sonorous introductory arpeggios of the middle section (Largo) seem to rise victoriously, like the sun , out of the tormented waters of the pre-dawn ocean.
The change of harmony (the luminous Db Major replaces the darker C# Minor) transforms the atmosphere entirely, creating a powerful contrast with the exposition. The middle section is a lyrical (and very intimate) confession, an isle of peace in the middle of the angry ocean, a bright memory in the midst of the dark reality.
The Largo arpeggios of the Interlude (bars 41-42) rise and fall (with corresponding micro-dynamics), and the inner tension continues to subside as we approach the serene Main Theme.
The Main Theme (bars 43-50) is exquisite from every point of view – an inspired and very expressive melody, brilliant in its simplicity, delicate and dreamy.
In the middle section, Chopin continues to use cross-rhythms for enriching the musical texture – but this time we have a calmer 2 on 3 (triplets in the accompaniment, duplets in the melody) – corresponding with the artistic concept of this section.
The Main Theme consists of 2 phrases, 4 bars each, based on a similar layout: the first phrase (bars 43-46) begins from Ab, and the second (bars 46-50) – from Bb, one step higher:
Don’t miss the appearance of the middle voice in the LH (bar 45) – it sings in unison with the RH melody, emphasizing its expressiveness and giving it a 3D feel .
The Main Theme Section (bars 43-58):
The Theme begins moderato cantabile (singing, in a moderate tempo), sotto voce (softer, in a ‘hushed’ manner), being presented 2 times (bars 43-50 and then 51-58). The overall sonority is piano (but we can also diversify it a little, as I explain below), and we have plenty of micro-dynamics with a phrasing purpose (most of them being indicated in the score).
This Theme is repeated 4 times during the entire middle section, with minor changes (as you can see from the form diagrams I shared above) – and we could ‘play’ a little with the character and overall dynamic intensity of each presentation for enriching the dramaturgy (and avoiding a repetitive character).
For example, the first presentation piano, delicately and transparently; the 2nd presentation (bars 51-58) – a little more expressive, with an approximate mp and a higher rise in micro-dynamics.
The Secondary Theme section (bars 59-70) begins boldly, in Ab Major (the dominant of Db Major), with a resolute statement of the descending octave and a sudden change of character (from lyrical/delicate to energetic/volitive): we have sf on the lower Ab, then, as we rise towards forte – after the dotted-rhythm motif which ‘intensifies’ the inner pulse of the music – we take a short breath (the rest in bar 60) before the sudden upward leap (this time a tenth), with a sf on the upper note (which sounds like a flare of hope). The sf peak is followed by a descending passage in Db Minor (which creates a very interesting harmonic color), diminuendo, bringing the melody (and its dramatic/dynamic intensity) back down – like a sparkling wave in the sunlight.
The expressiveness of this Theme is enriched by the 7 on 6 cross-rhythm – which creates a very elegant effect as we play the descending passage.
This short wave (the dynamic rise and fall) follows the layout of the melody (according to the same principle we had in the Exposition: the higher the melody rises – the greater the dynamic increase).
After another short dotted-rhythm motif in bar 61, we have a very expressive contrast – a delicate pianissimo ‘reply’ in Gb Major which creates yet another interesting harmonic effect (make sure you listen to it properly and bring out this change of color!).
This was the Secondary Theme – a big dramatic potential concentrated in a short 4-bar phrase (bars 59-62):
This Section continues – and the delicate Gb Major ‘reply’ prepares the appearance of the 2nd sentence of the Main Theme (bars 63-70). By this time, our lyrical confession starts feeling like a mirage that we cannot escape, as if we’re unable to find our way out of this deceiving labyrinth, and no matter what we do – we keep returning to the Main Theme.
This third return of the Theme can be diversified again – for example playing it pianissimo (as if we’re beginning to lose the hope we just gained several bars ago) – or maybe mf, as we explore this music with renewed energy.
Repetition (bars 71-83):
Then this entire loop (Secondary Theme + 2nd sentence of Main Theme) is repeated (we’re still trapped in the labyrinth of our sweet dreams) – and we can put our imagination to good use again : as we perform the leap to the upper C (bar 72), why not make a goose-bump-generating quiet culmination? This means that instead of playing this C sf, forte – we will play it as softly as possible, pianissimo – which will create an amazing floating effect (as we suddenly escaped the force of gravity). This effect will be emphasized if we ‘complicate’ the passage a little bit – and use the version shared by Godowsky in his edition (which I will demonstrate in the practice guide). In this case, the descending passage will be longer (and sound richer) – and we can make good use of our jeu perle skills here .
The Reprise is an identical repeat of the Exposition – but you can experiment with the tempo and character, as I mentioned above (playing it either Allegro agitato, or Presto). You can also choose to enter this fast tempo gradually – beginning bar 83 slower, and then quickly increasing the speed. This will help you to make a smoother connection between the Middle Section and Reprise.
And, last but not least, you could also begin the Reprise pianissimo, as a distant whisper – as if the darkness of the Exposition is slowly creeping on us from afar until it engulfs the last remnants of sunlight .
The Coda (beginning in bar 119) appears as a natural continuation of the Reprise, taking even further the dramatic power of the culmination from the preceding bars. The 16th note figurations in the RH are based on the same pattern we had in bars 115-118 (a broken octave encompassing two middle notes) – while the LH accompaniment intensifies the movement with 8th note arpeggios.
We still have forte – and on top of this impetuous and very powerful foundation a new layer appears (and therefore another voicing challenge, similar to the one we had in the Secondary Section of the Exposition/Reprise): the upper voice (marked with accents, on the weak part of each beat) forms an independent melody – and the syncopated character gives even more forward movement to this music.
And this is not all! As this powerful melody descends, we make a little micro-diminuendo (following the layout of the passage) – and then we have a softer reply, piano, as the melody descends to a lower register; then the same dialogue is repeated one more time. This was the first phrase of the Coda (bars 119-123):
The 2nd phrase of the Coda (bars 123-126) creates a stretto feeling – as if the dialogue is now ‘compressed’ into quick ‘flashes’, the 4-note patterns alternating between registers. This phrase begins forte, and then we have a gradual diminuendo that slowly takes us to a different realm as the dark turmoil finally goes away (this time, for good ).
This new realm (bars 127-138), similar to the one we find at the end of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor, op. posth, brings serenity and true peace (not an imaginary/transitory one, like in the middle section): this is the enlightenment after the struggle, the calm after the storm, the dawn vanquishing the darkness of the night, wisdom triumphing over emotion .
In this fragment (which begins piano) we have a synthesis of the two main (conflicting!) musical images of this piece: the impetuous movement with 16th notes from the outer sections – and the calm melody of the middle section. They are combined in a masterful manner: first we have two bars (127-128) of accompaniment (this time in the RH – the roles are reversed); its length reminds us of the Interlude to the middle section, while its pattern is still the one we had in the descending ‘octave’ passage from the culmination of the Exposition/Reprise.
Then, on top of this shimmering foundation (isn’t it wonderful how a simple change in dynamic/character can make the same pattern sound powerful and dramatic, and then peaceful and whispering?) the Theme of the middle section appears in the LH (bars 129-136): as we begin playing this cello-like melody, the accompaniment goes into the background even more, as if gradually dissolved by the light of the dawn (the pianissimo indication in the score refers to the RH!) – while the LH has to be played in a very singing manner (il canto marcato), with a deep velvety sound and perfect phrasing/intonation (we will learn how to create this effect in the video below).
If we talk about the tonal plan, things are very interesting here : in bars 127-128 the mode is still unclear (we have only the 1st, 2nd and 5th steps of C# in the RH, without the 3rd which would determine the major/minor LOL). Then, as the LH melody begins, first we have an A# in bar 130 (the colors are getting ‘warmer’) – and then the beautiful E# (the third of the major scale – remember that this effect is called the Picardy Third?) appears, allowing our entire ‘sky’ to be fully lightened by the soft glow of the major mode. From this moment on, there are no more doubts, no more sadness, no more struggles – only a gradual ‘ascension’ into the realm of piece and quiet.
Also, don’t miss the fact that the pattern of the RH accompaniment changes in bars 135-136 – and the wider stretch will require a bit of awareness and flexible practice .
The last two arpeggiated chords should be played very softly and delicately, ppp, as if dissolving into these beautiful warm harmonies…
Pedaling the Fantaisie-Impromptu requires some mastery .
Most editions indicate a simultaneous pedal for the Exposition/Reprise – pressing the pedal on the first beat of the bar – and releasing it either on the last beat/8th note of the bar, or on the last 8th note of the halfbar.
This pedaling is good if executed properly (with your hearing in charge, and expressive tasks as a priority); however, if you pedal mechanically, it will sound clumsy and awkward.
Another version is to use the delayed pedaling technique (changing it once per bar or halfbar, depending on the underlying harmonies) – but in this case, in order to avoid a cluttered ‘dirty’ sonority, you will have to use half (or even quarter) pedals – again, not forgetting that the art of pedaling is governed by the ear!
More pedaling details in the video!
9. Special difficulties:
Where should I start? LOL
In my opinion, the biggest difficulty is allowing the artistic concept to guide you as you practice (instead of simply focusing on overcoming the multitude of technical challenges). In other words, it’s important to not lose sight of your real goals and priorities as you ‘find your way’ through technical problems – and not forget that technique is simply a means to an end, a step you need to climb in order to bring out the message encoded by the composer in the musical text.
Moreover, your technique can be fully developed only when it is in tune with the musical ideas you want to express – otherwise, it will always be a meaningless collection of gestures and notes that serve no expressive purpose.
Keeping this in mind, it goes without saying that there are plenty of technical challenges in this piece (especially in the fast outer sections) – especially when there are bigger stretches and/or crossings in the melodic figurations, and there is the risk of ‘landing’ on wrong notes (for example, the ascending passage in bar 7). Reaching the final tempo is also not easy – and I will remind you that playing in a fast, light, effortless, horizontal (and yet precise) manner is first of all a function of your mind (and also the results of lots of preparatory slow/mindful practice).
This piece abounds in voicing challenges (like the ones I mentioned above); phrasing should be never forgotten – always in tune with the micro- and macro- dynamics; intonation is paramount (it always is in playing Chopin! ) – in the melody of the middle section and also whenever an extra voice appears in the outer sections (in such cases, we have a double voicing+intonation challenge).
Dramaturgy is a challenge in itself (having a clear sense of form, of the ‘bigger picture’ and the dramatic development of the music – and expressing it clearly in your playing).
The cross-rhythms (playing 3 on 4) will actually not be an issue for those of you with a good hearing/coordination; and, just in case, I’ll show you how to practice them in a step-by-step manner!
And now that we have such a clear picture of the main tasks encoded in this piece (proper analysis is always golden!) – it’s finally time to practice!
Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu op. posth. 66.
Video Practice Guide.
Part I: Practicing the Exposition.
00:38. Introduction. The focus and structure of today’s tutorial.
02:40. The importance of practicing hands separately first.
02:54. Left hand (LH) practice. The Introductory G# octave.
04:19. The accompaniment arpeggios.
05:21. Tips for your independent LH practice. Adding the sustain pedal, phrasing and dynamics.
06:13. Right hand (RH) practice – a few general ideas.
07:08. 1st phrase – step-by-step practice demonstration. Slow&deep practice.
07:47. Understanding the hand positions for each passage. Using positional playing for mastering bar 9.
10:19. Practicing the descending passage in bar 8.
11:29. Connecting the entire phrase. Feeling the pulse in 2; adding micro-dynamics and phrasing.
12:49. Adding the sustain pedal.
13:12. Applying the same method to the RH for the entire Exposition. Tips for your independent RH practice.
14:41. Practicing both hands together (HT). My recommendations for Stephan – Introduction and 1st phrase.
15:23. HT practice, without pedal. Mastering the ‘3 on 4′ cross-rhythm.
17:01. Overcoming the coordination challenge of the cross-rhythms – a step-by-step practice demonstration. Sound balance.
20:07. ‘Cross-rhythm’ tips for Stephan.
20:43. Mastering the rhythm, sound balance, phrasing and dynamics for the entire 1st sentence (phrases 1 and 2).
21:23. Adding the pedal to our HT practice. The general pedaling approach for the Exposition.
22:33. The importance of sound balance and voicing for good pedaling.
23:09. Pedaling recommendations for Stephan. HT practice with pedal, phrasing and dynamics – Introduction and 1st sentence.
24:26. Dynamic and phrasing tips for Stephan. Understanding the layout of each phrase.
25:42. Acquiring a ‘broader view’, ‘lifting your perspective’ and encompassing wider structures with your vision/hearing, for achieving better phrasing and a faster tempo.
26:45. The section of the Secondary Theme (bars 13-24). Voicing – the main thing Stephan needs to improve here.
27:24. Voicing the melody in this section – step-by-step practice demonstration for the RH.
33:19. Setting a very clear expressive task – the most important thing in achieving good voicing.
33:34. Practicing this section HT.
34:10. Recommendations for Stephan.
34:40. Making a big contrast of character and sound intensity as we begin the 2nd sentence of this section (bar 17).
34:59. Practice tips for emphasizing the melody formed by the upper notes while maintaining a soft general sonority (bars 17-18).
37:50. A little ‘expressive trick’: making a little tenuto on the first beat of bar 17, for emphasizing the shift of character.
38:20. Making a dramatic crescendo in bar 19.
38:52. Bars 21-22.
39:23. Making a sudden change on color in bar 23.
39:56. Emphasizing the culmination in bar 19.
40:48. The return of the main Theme in bar 25.
41:19. The new wave of development that starts in bar 29.
41:49. Making a gradual and very powerful crescendo (a build-up of dramatic tension) as we reach the culmination in bar 35. The art of preparing a culmination.
43:18. Practice tips for the RH (bars 29-35).
43:49. An additional ‘expressive trick’: emphasizing the bass notes (LH) starting with bar 30.
44:54. Stephan: changing the pedal clearly in bar 35. Playing the chords in a powerful, dramatic manner. Clearer pedaling in bars 37-40.
46:48. Step-by-step practice tips for the descending ‘broken octave’ pattern in bars 37-39.
50:54. Voicing the ‘sinuous’ chromatic movement of the LH in bars 39-40.
51:34. Part II of this tutorial – short sneak peek .
Get access to PART II of this tutorial (a step-by-step Practice Guide for the Middle section and the Coda from Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu) by becoming a member of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com! 😉
In the Private Members Area you will also discover many other Masterpiece Video Lessons, my video feedbacks to countless MasterClass recordings – and many hundreds of other exclusive piano playing tutorials (including step-by-step courses) that will transform your expressive & technical skills and bring them to a whole new level!
Other recommended tutorials:
How to Practice Cross-Rhythms?
My reply to Ellen’s question about cross-rhythms from our January Q&A.
What is Rubato? Origins, Meaning and Detailed Description. Creating an Expressive Rubato in Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 No. 6.
Practice with drive and inspiration ,
P.S. Many new articles and video tutorials are coming soon on PianoCareer.com! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Google + (and now also on Pinterest!) to get instant updates, support and motivation!
If you enjoyed this free online piano lesson, here are some other piano learning and practice topics you’ll like:
Chopin – Nocturne in C Minor, op. 48 No. 1. Detailed Piano Tutorial
Bach-Liszt – Organ Prelude in A Minor, BWV 543. Detailed Piano Tutorial and Real-Time Practice
J.S. Bach – Little Prelude in C Major, BWV 939. Piano Tutorial. Lesson No 96 for Beginners
No piano? How to practice anywhere
Chopin – Impromptu No. 1 in Ab Major, op. 29, Piano Tutorial
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Hi Ilinca madam,
It’s nice to see you after a long time in your blog.This tutorial is very interesting and there are new things to learn.Your written analysis is very detailed and it leaves no room for questions.Thank you for making it a video,it makes easier to learn in step by step manner.I liked this video.Thanks for sharing.
Ilinca best regards, I would like to know the model of Yamaha piano used in your classes. Advance my thanks for your answer.
You will find a detailed answer to your question about my piano in our FAQs (http://www.pianocareeracademy.com/faqs/), question No. 32.
You can also browse our other FAQs – you will find out more about the functionality of my Piano Coaching Program (and you will also discover lots of useful piano information!).
Isn’t it great for this wonderful little lady Ilinca to produce such a marvelous tutorial. I’ll probably never get to the point where I’m ready for Fantasie, but I’ll know this tutorial will be there if I ever am.
Thank you, Bill! 😉
I’m sure that you will be able to play this piece one day – but for making it happen, you have to practice correctly and consistently, in a progressive manner! 😀
You can find many tutorials for beginners and intermediates in the Members Area of my Piano Coaching Program at PianoCareerAcademy.com – so you’re always welcome to join our community! Also, if you have any questions before registration, our super-detailed FAQs are the best place to start :).
Really superb video demo Ilinca.thank you so much for the interest in presenting so that we can play this in ourlife.i hope you will fulfil my ambition.thank you once again
Watching this tutorial really improving my playing I am hearing this Chopin’s music for more than ten yrs .I thought it would be more difficult to play.I am following your methods so I can play easily .thank you for sharing your advice.May God bless you
Thank you so much for your appreciation – and enjoy practicing this beautiful piece! 😉
Hope you can tutorial the Chopin ballade 1, miss Ilinca.
I am an advanced pianist with a Licentiate diploma in piano and theory teaching.
I taught piano for a number of years as well as being a school science teacher.
I have always loved Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu but always thought it too difficult because of the rapidity of the right hand combined with the 4 against 3 with the left hand.
I was recently inspired to have a go at this and managed better than I thought I would. However it was certainly not up to performance standard until I came across your tutorial on this (just the exposition).
I found this exceptionally helpful and have considerably improved my performance of this beautiful piece.
I want to thank you very much for this.
I would have liked to see the rest of the tutorial which is only for members, but I cannot afford to join – I am retired, living on superannuation with only a little supplementary money.
Thank you again however for the great help this video gave me.
Thank you for your comment and your appreciation!
My assistant Natalia just sent you an email with a detailed answer to your inquiry :).
Podría traducir en español. Gracias
This is Natalia, Ilinca Vartic’s assistant at PianoCareerAcademy.com.
Ilinca’s Piano Coaching Program offers its members an enormous database comprising many hundreds of detailed video and written tutorials – but ALL of them are in English (without Spanish subtitles or translations).
So I’m afraid that you can only benefit from Ilinca’s lessons if you speak some English :).
If one day we will find the time/possibility to add subtitles in other languages to our videos, we will immediately announce all our subscribers!
I am the happy mother of a 2 1/2 year old little girl, and a full time teacher, with a partner constantly away for work and no family around. Which leaves me practically no room in my schedule for a regular activity. I used to play the piano. I used to put all of my soul into moving my fingers across the keyboard. Back when I was learning though, as a kid/teenager, practice put a lot of pressure on me and I stopped after 6 years, even though I had reached a somewhat advanced level quickly due to dedication, hard work and a love of the instrument. Now, I have found your website and your wonderful approach to piano playing. It really speaks to me. Even though I haven’t subscribed yet because it’s too big an investment for only a few stolen hours of practice when the universe magically allows me to do so, your free videos and analyses make me dream and give me hope. I love listening to your explanations, I love your approach, because I too believe that interpreting a piece is/should be a reflection of your soul and what feeling you put into it, on top of a rigorous work on the score. Your work satisfies both my hunger for precision and rigour, and my passion for the feelings we put into music. Thank you so much for what you do. Thank you for so much positive energy. You really do contribute to the beauty of what art has to offer in the universe 🙂
Thank you so much for your appreciation and your inspired comment! 🙂
I am working on Chopin’s – Fantasie Impromptu. Question: I have the G. Henle Verlag Urtext edition which has two versions of this piece. I like all the Henle editions that I have, but wondered if I should also get another if you have any recommendations.
I searched the net and found you! I made a printout of your tutorial, and will start working with it forthwith. Just noticed that you list five editions. I may already have the best. Let me know.
I prefer the Paderewski edition (which you can download above the video tutorial) – and I also like to compare different editions in the practice process (so that I have a more ‘complete’ picture of a certain piece and its potential).