At the end of his tonebase tutorial on Chopin’s Etude Op. 10 №1, Garrick Ohlsson cautions the viewer, “You really have to train like an athlete to play this piece.”

True, no doubt, especially for the daredevils among us striving to perform it for an audience. Indeed, the Chopin Etudes have become somewhat of an Olympic Event for many professional pianists, with the full set from Op. 10 or the longer Op. 25 regularly appearing on competition and recital programs in the past few decades.

And since pianists are always trying to outdo themselves, Liszt’s complete Transcendental Etudes — a much longer and emotionally exhausting set of 12 than either Chopin Opus — is increasingly finding its way to the stage. tonebase Artist Asiya Korepanova has gone even further, taking all 24 Liszt Etudes to the stage in a feat of endurance akin to running two marathons back-to-back.

For the rest of us whose piano athleticism is more fit for recreational leagues, is it even worth cracking open the scores of these treacherous works — or should we just leave them to entertain our ears?

The genre of Concert Etudes emerged in the first half of the 19th Century, when the piano was rapidly growing in popularity in Europe. Many volumes of Exercises and Etudes were already in circulation when Chopin first published his Op. 10 in 1833, dedicated to Franz Liszt. Beethoven’s pupil Czerny, who has more opus numbers to his name than just about every other composer combined, dedicated a significant chunk of his output to such non-concert studies. But it was Chopin who first elevated the genre to an art form.

Chopin’s two volumes redefined piano technique, and in doing so they revealed colors and textures unprecedented in music history.We can view Chopin’s Etudes as a whole, therefore, as a kind of beautiful gym. Whether you use the individual exercise machines to train for a double-marathon, or simply to develop your reflexes and stay in shape while practicing more modest repertoire, is up to you. Just as non-athletes benefit from maintaining a light regimen of cardio and weight training, there is much that ordinary pianists can gain from practicing Concert Etudes, from Chopin to Liszt, Debussy to Ligeti.

In this spirit, tonebase is releasing new etude tutorials every week in August. Throughout the month, tonebase Artists will explore studies of different styles and speeds, covering a range of techniques, and composed over a span of 150 years.

“Etude Month” will begin off-platform, with tonebase Piano Community’s inaugural Facebook livestream workshop with tonebase Artist Jarred Dunn — “Making exercises musical & making music our of exercises.” The following week, the releases begin on tonebase:

August 7th
Scriabin: Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 2 №1
Instructor: Nicolas Namoradze

Liszt: Transcendental Etude №8 “Wilde Jagd”
Instructor: Asiya Korepanova

August 14th
Chopin: Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 25 №7
Instructor: Jarred Dunn

Liszt: Transcendental Etude №4 “Mazeppa”
Instructor: Asiya Korepanova

August 21st
Scriabin: Etude in F-sharp Major, Op. 42 №4
Instructor: Nicolas Namoradze

Liszt: Transcendental Etude №5 “Feux Follets
Instructor: Jeffrey Biegel

August 28th
Ligeti: Etudes Book 1, Nos. 1–3
Instructor: Imri Talgam

And, as a special treat, 1970 International Chopin Competition Winner and tonebase Artist Garrick Ohlsson will lead a second workshop for the tonebase Piano Community on August 13th, where he will break down practices strategies for many of Chopin’s Etudes from Op. 10 and Op. 25.

See you in the gym!

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Dave McLellan

Concert & Chamber Musician

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