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Chopin Prelude 9

An old favorite, brought from the past to the present for your listening enjoyment.

Prelude Op 28 No 9 (in E major)
Paul Cantrell, piano

I love the steady outpouring of energy, the unbrokenness of the flow as it goes through such a dramatic series of changes, the perfect balance of the different sections, the tremendous sense of scope of this mere 95 seconds, a single printed page of music. Chopin is totally my hero.

Esoteric Musicological Aside

There’s an interesting controversy about this piece: in certain places, Chopin notated the melody as dotted eighth + sixteenth on top of three triplets. For those of you who don’t know music notation, that’s corresponds to the fractions 3/4 + 1/4 = 1 beat on the top, and 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 1 beat underneath. With me so far?

Now if you work out the math, the sixteenth note (that 1/4 of a beat) should come slightly after the last of the three triplets — but in the autograph Chopin very clearly and consistently notated it directly above that last triplet, implying that they should come at the same time. So his math and his visual language contradict each other; which do we take?

Composers did sometimes write dotted-eight + sixteenth as a shorthand for (quarter + eight) triplet — that is, the rhythm that would make them line up. That was a sort of outdated practice in Chopin’s time, but it’s still quite possible he would have done it. His obvious visual positioning, which really is quite consistent in the autograph, suggests that’s what he was doing. And at other points, he used a double-dotted rhythm to show very clearly that last note of the melody coming after the three triplets (at 1:02, for example), and in those spots, he doesn’t align the notes vertically in the autograph. I really think that “at the same time” is what he meant, and that’s how I play it. (I differ with the venerable Paderewski edition on this question.) For a fun home experiment, compare to your favorite recording!