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Topic: Help me understand Chopin's Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 42  (Read 776 times)

Offline paxxx17

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I've read that this is considered Chopin's "greatest" waltz. It's often played at the Chopin Competition and I've listened to it a lot, of course. However, I just never understood what's so great about it (and I'm a huge Chopin fan). I have to note that I am not a fan of waltzes in general, but I find, for example, Op. 18 and Op. 64 No. 2 much more beautiful.

Sure, I love the section starting at bar 120, and I think the first theme has a nice texture due to the 2 versus 3 polyrhythm, but that's about it...? On the other hand, the "chorus" with the right hand runs somehow sounds very haphazardly written and all over the place (like it's some random composer and not Chopin), but since it's the most repeated section, I suppose it should have some weight; the connections between the sections are practically non-existent; and the rest of the sections are just okay.

I do not want this to sound like a rant. I genuinely want to see if I'm misunderstanding this piece, because people obviously love it. I just want to try to understand what it is that people love about it. Thanks!
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Offline transitional

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Re: Help me understand Chopin's Waltz in A-flat major, Op. 42
Reply #1 on: January 06, 2024, 03:26:35 PM
Op. 42 is my favorite Chopin waltz and I love Chopin waltzes in general. My theory's terrible but I'll try to get at it. I think at the beginning, with the two voices against running sixths, it does kind of give a two-four sound where it sounds both brilliant but frantic at the same time, further challenging the waltz form with it (because Op. 18 is still quite dancable).

To me ms. 41-56 is just the way music should work. Flowing freely, simply, but always having a quick direction. Many pianists overspeed them, but I like to try to understand them in the context of the score rather than the recordings. It's also surprising how at 73 this motif comes back prematurely without hearing the two-four motif first. At ms. 57 then it takes a turn to pure brilliant Chopin, though seamlessly integrated into the piece nonetheless.

I think the sequence from 89-104 uses amazing harmonic ideas to create lots of interest while maintaining still, kind of zooming up on an idea but never quite getting there. THEN the fast run motif comes back (rather than the 2/4 one we are expecting, effectively building on the waltz's momentum).

Ms. 121-164 zoom into the root of the problem. It's like how I spend 4 days procrastinating a single homework assignment and voila! they're done in 1 hour after all that procrastination. No, it's not a big climax, it's just a fast, momentous buildup.

Now we see the main motif and the two-four motif coming back again in a different light, because it's "supposed" to be done. But the fast motif comes back afterwards for more, signifying another turn. Everything after that just takes all the previous ideas from the piece and keeps building up. In general, this waltz makes use of what I feel are Chopin's most brilliant and beautiful ideas. It also maintains a sense of direction by throwing us off with the form. If this didn't help, I don't care. Your taste is your own and if you can at least appreciate what Chopin is getting at that's good enough.
Schubert sonatas are amazing and I want to learn all of them eventually! My favorites are D 960, D 959, D 840, D 568, and D 894.
 

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