Adieu - Tutorial Intro

Op 69 1 - Introduction

This is the first in a series of four articles which complement a three-part video series on Chopin's Op 69 1, L'Adieu Waltz, in which I teach and discuss, at length, technical exercises and relevant theory to help you master the piece both at and away from the piano.  Due to the length and number of sections required, this first article is simply an introductory blurb on the piece, along with study tips which you would do well to apply before approaching any score.  It is recommended, of course, to read these articles and watch the videos in the order presented.

The first thing to highlight is the score itself.  Of any piece, especially Chopin, who updated so often his compositions, many editions exist.  Famous performances by great pianists also added their own interpretative ideas to whatever score they learnt the piece from so I beg of you not to be one of those people who say "that isn't right", or who seek a perfect edition because there is no right/wrong way to perform Chopin and there is rarely a definitive edition.

If you research the composer, as I have done extensively over the years, you'll discover that Chopin himself rarely played the piece as written, adding little bits here and there and playing however the mood took him.  You would do well, once you have mastered the piece based on an edition, to enjoy the same kind of flexibility in expression.

All that can be asked of any Chopin performer is to acknowledge various editions, choose one and stick to what most would consider 'the primary melody and structure'.  Should you wish to make minor personalisations, do so respectfully without ruining the piece entirely.  With all that in mind, here is a link to download the First Edition which is actually printed well for you yourself to print if necessary, or zoom in on a device screen.  I used this edition to learn the piece myself and will use it in each section's analysis and video:  Chopin's L'Adieu - Op 69. 1 Waltz

 First page of L'Adieu, Op 69. 1 in Ab, first edition
Before first approaching a piece, you would do exceedingly well to follow closely this three-point checklist, strictly away from the piano.  I will answer/discuss the questions specific to our piece in question afterwards:

  1. Listen as much as possible to as many interpretations as possible until the piece is absolutely burnt onto your Internal Jukebox, enabling you to play it at will in your mind.  If you don't know the piece in your mind, you can't possibly play it at the piano!  Doing this also helps with score dissection and technical difficulties so that in your mind, you can match the notes (printed and piano) to the music as you work through it away from the piano.
  2. Research the history of the piece: Why was it written? For whom? What was happening in the composer's life at the time?  Is there a paper-trail about the piece?  Knowing these answers will help you to create an emotional connection to the piece and assist you in performing it more authentically, perhaps even connecting it to similar events in your own life and provoking a unique interpretation?  As Chopin said, "Nothing is more odious than music without hidden meaning".
  3. Study the score for theoretical and potentially technical weaknesses, as well as general information about the piece such as tempo, key, time signature and structure.  Doing so will put you in a more confident and relaxed state of mind when you finally sit at the piano, knowing you have fixed any or many weaknesses and are ready to take on the actual piece!  Of course, whatever knowledge or technical abilities you have acquired can be transferred to other repertoire, so this step is beneficial beyond merely the piece you're playing.
And now, the answers specific to our piece:

  1. I first discovered this piece from this video and after listening to many versions, finally settled on this performance below as my personal favourite. (He plays it live, here)  But why?  It seems, from extensive listening and reading, that many pianists instantly connect the words Chopin repertoire to the words excessively expressive.  This performance, however, alters tempo and doesn't get too emotional.  It's playful and 'fast', traditionally speaking.  People have become brainwashed into thinking that everything Chopin is slow, sad and depressing and should be played as such - but this is simply incorrect.

    It may surprise you to learn that many titles of his music (and other composers) were added years after they were composed and unfortunately those titles only added fuel to the fire in terms of the meaning behind the piece, influencing people to get too emotional or giving them the wrong idea completely.  Try to detach yourself from titles is what I'm trying to say.

    Nevertheless, I listened to this piece many, many times (10?) until I could successfully play it on my Internal Jukebox.  I also identified a few personalisations by the various pianists I listened to which pleased me in terms of hesitation, dynamics and technique and I heard things which I found repulsive so will be sure not to do myself.  You would do well to do the same, noting that your results will probably differ from mine!
  2. Op 69 1 in Ab was composed by Chopin in 1835 and first published in 1852, 3 years after his death.  At the time of composition, he was 25 years old and enamoured by Maria Wodzinska.  He did dedicate this piece to her but that was in 1835 (the original signed copy exists that she received), yet she wrote to him to call off their engagement in 1837, so as I said above, the emotional connections that people have created due to the (pseudo) title of the piece (L'Adieu, or 'Bye!', basically) is a terrible distraction as to how the piece should be played (not sad and slow) because he had already written it before they separated.  Now isn't that interesting, all you pianists who play this piece so slowly and sad, to think he wrote this when in love and excited!
  3. I sought editions and read recommendations for which one to use.  The one main difference between editions in the first section, for example, appears to be the use of a trill before a big jump.  Some have it, some don't.  This moment will be discussed in more detail in the next article so don't worry about it for now.  I settled, for these articles and videos, on the first edition which I provided above, so let's have a quick look at it.  I'll highlight some things you, as a 'beginner', may not know, by way of demonstrating how you might do it yourself with other pieces.

    The piece is in the key of Ab so make sure you know and are able to orientate yourself totally within this key.  The tempo marking is 138bpm which is actually quite fast (another reason why excessively slow interpretations don't really work or aren't necessary).  I notice that there are quite a lot of accidentals (read here for more) and dynamic markings (read here for more).  The 'pedal markings', telling when to press the sustain pedal (indicated by 'Ped') are useful and help with defining a pulse during performance.  The time signature is 3/4, which is somewhat unsurprising considering it's a Waltz!

    There are some Italian terms which appear on the score.  It may therefore be necessary for you to brush up on those.  Of note, I see 'riten.' quite often.  Do you know what that means?  See here if not.

    Technically speaking, I notice that the left hand has a relatively easy accompanying role using a bass note up to two and three-note chords.  No fancy left hand work appears to be required.  The right hand more often than not is playing notes of shorter than longer duration so it may be a nice warm-up to do some rapidity exercises, perhaps using the major or chromatic scale, just to loosen the fingers a bit.  Specific difficulties can be dealt with when and if they are encountered.

    Finally, the structure.  I researched this piece before learning it and discovered that different editions have different structures (!)  Therefore, do not worry if a performance you hear doesn't match the edition you have studied.  Rather than write it here, why not listen to your favourite recording and try to identify the sections and repeats yourself?  It's not too difficult at all.

As you can see, a lot of enjoyable effort (a few hours?) goes into preparing to learn a new piece.  I hope I have somewhat convinced you that just running to the piano and opening the score is quite simply the worst thing you can possibly do.

As a little footnote, there is nothing wrong with playing around at the piano very casually while listening in order to try to follow the melody, just to see 'where it is' on the piano, or following along with the score as you listen.  By all means enjoy YouTube to 'cheat' a little but just, above all, make sure that you have truly followed the three-point checklist above, otherwise you'll be overwhelmed very quickly and even if not, you'll play the piece in quite a lifeless, mechanical way because you'll just blindly be following black dots and using muscle memory.  I call this "mindless playing over mindful playing".

You want to get to the point where you can play the piece on your Internal Piano without the score because you have dissected it, as we shall do over the next three articles and videos, so well, both at and away from the piano, that the piece has become you and no conscious interference can possibly be present during performance, just a combination of mastery, fluency and emotion.

I close with a quote by the mighty Franz Liszt on Chopin:

"Music was his language; the divine tongue through which he expressed a whole realm of sentiments that only the select few can appreciate.  The muse of his homeland dictates his songs and the anguished cries of Poland lend to his art a mysterious, indefinable poetry which, for all those who have truly experienced it, cannot be compared to anything else.  The piano alone was not sufficient to reveal all that lies within him. In short, he is a most remarkable individual who commands our highest degree of devotion."

Painting by Chopin's dedicatee of our piece, Maria Wodzinska