Last summer I recorded the complete Chopin etudes on an 1841 Paris Erard piano with original action and strings, tuned to a historically-based temperament specifically devised for Chopin. I also included some original ornaments. I hope my recording will be an interesting addition to the Chopin etudes discography. This was my main creative project from 2010-2017.
Here's what I wrote about it while it was in process:
I'm spending five years (and then presumably the rest of my life) learning all of Chopin’s etudes. There are twenty-seven of them, each a study working out a specific technical problem, each just a couple of minutes long, each beautiful and inspiring and emotional. They’re incredible pieces that stretch what the piano can do and what I can do at the piano.
The etudes are hard—that’s part of the point of them—and they’re an exhilarating, exhausting ride for both me and the audience. Every serious classically trained pianist has grappled with at least some of them: learning them all is making me a better pianist and musician and teacher.
It’s an exciting and humbling process.
I’m playing them in concerts now, still learning from them every day. They've changed me as a musician and as a person; I've never lived with music this closely for this long. Practicing them is challenging every day. Sharing them with an audience is one of the biggest thrills I've ever experienced.
Recently my journey with the etudes has included driving to anywhere I can find historical pianos, and that's really shaping some of my ideas about how some of these pieces might have sounded when Chopin wrote them. I've been reexamining pedal and tempo markings and musical texture, and I'm enjoying that inquiry tremendously. I've played on seven Erards now, and have also played on some Viennese instruments that are more similar to the kinds of pianos Chopin might have been playing growing up in Warsaw, as well as some other instruments from the 19c. Chopin said Erard was his favorite piano when he needed some help from the piano, and I definitely feel like the etudes make me need help from the piano. I haven't found as many Pleyels to play on (his other favorite), but I'm hoping that some might turn up; if you have one I can come play, please let me know!
I'll record the etudes this summer, hopefully on an 1841 Erard. (update: I did; it's a beautiful piano, and it was a joy to play on.)
You can listen to my podcast, Play It Again Swig, where I talk and play--basically, give myself a piano lesson on the etudes--here.