Chopin’s solo piano music comprises mazurkas, polonaises, waltzes, nocturnes, etudes, preludes, and others. His music interacts with the listener to create a unique intimate environment. Chopin was the first composer to invoke a nationalistic feeling in his music, using folk songs from Poland as the foundation for some of the mazurkas and polonaises, which are traditional Polish dances.
The mazurkas and polonaises sometimes have slower introductions and then burst into joyful explosions of sound. Both are in 3/4 time, but the mazurka has only the first beat divided while the polonaise has all of the beats divided. The melodies are frequently repeated, allowing the listener to easily remember them.
The lilting melodies of the waltzes have maintained their popularity since they were written. The famous “Minute Waltz” was penned after Chopin saw his little dog chasing its own tail, an event the listener can “see” while hearing this piece. In contrast, the nocturnes have an ethereal feel that allows listeners to engage in fanciful ideas or float in a state of dreamy consciousness. While some of these pieces have huge technical demands, all require serious artistic expression to adequately communicate the composer’s intent.
Prior to the publication of Chopin’s pieces, etudes were simply studies to help pianists gain mastery in certain technical areas. However, critics and performers lauded Chopin’s etudes as art worthy of the stage and not just the practice room. Chopin also wrote 24 preludes as short pieces in each of the 24 key signatures, each with power to evoke intense emotion from the listener.
Many excellent pianists have said that Chopin was the ultimate composer for the piano, since he brought colors to the sounds and deliberate manipulations of tempo to his compositions. Further, since he rarely gave concerts but preferred to play in salons for friends, his music has a personal sensibility that allows the audience to be quite affected by this intimacy.