Chopin’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major, Opus 28 for piano is a piece that begs to be transcribed for the guitar.
This is such a beautiful and brief piece that is very hard to describe in terms of words. What you have a is a short 33 measure progressive movement of a 2/8 agitato beat (a very rare tempo indeed) that flows through almost every key in the book. When you listen to this piece you realize that Chopin kind of “mashes-up” (to use a modern term) several genres (or styles) of music. What we’re hearing is a cross between Romantic era classical music and Impressionistic era classical music—kind of like Francisco Goya meets Monet. Though Chopin is primarily regarded as a Romanic music era composer some of his pieces do touch upon latter 19th century to early 20th century tonal themes and qualities.
The Prelude No. 1 is just such a piece. At bar 19 on the “stretto” is where it takes off into new musical territory with a progressive key change and a rise in volume. Then then it begins to slowly descend to end on an arpeggio and pianissimo C major chord.
The use of “con pedale” throughout only adds to the ethereal nature of the prelude. Short, but oh so sweet, this is a masterwork concert hall piece.
Listen here to Alexander Kobrin performing the prelude with just the right tempo to make it truly sonorous.
So this then leads me to my original thought as to why it would make a great piece for the guitar. Reminiscent of the Fernando Sor Estudios, the Chopin Prelude No. 1 places the demands of the music squarely upon the shoulders of the performer. With Sor, the technical facility required to play the studies are great, this certainly would be true if Chopin’s work were transcribed to the guitar.
But it is not enough just to be able to play the piece both fast and well. You have to make music out of it. Ever since I heard this prelude when I was a kid back in high school, I dreamed of being able to play it one day. I never learned enough of the piano to even attempt it on that instrument; however, I did learn quite a bit of classical guitar to make an attempt at transcribing the piece. What I found was that a drastic re-tuning of the guitar was required in order to play even the first few bars. The E-string had to be tuned down two whole steps to C, and the A-string down to G, and D down to C. Essentially, the guitar needs to be a C instrument from the bottom up. And that was only the beginning. The voices required to emulate on the guitar (without a piano) meant that a lot of chordal holding was also necessary. And finally the technical demands on both the left and right hands are extreme.
All in all, a very difficult piece to play on any instrument—maybe even more so on the guitar.
I really hope that someone more adept on the instrument (i.e. the classical guitar) can tackle this challenge and then post their attempt on something like YouTube. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait until that happens and enjoy the piano rendition of this wondrous piece of musical heaven.
Here’s what it looks like on the piano:
I absolutely love and adore this piece of music. This 38 to 52 second song (depending on the performance) represents some of the most angelic qualities of humankind in the smallest of packages. If you really want to touch a piece of our God-like nature, then listen to Chopin and then listen to all the other great classical composers—including my personal favorites for the chitarra (guitar) like Tarrega, Giuliani, Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, and Albeniz (a piano composer, but his works are easily transcribed for guitar as if he wrote them for it). There is something so perfect and magical in this type of music that simply can not be quantified.
Like an apparition, Chopin’s Prelude No.1 can not be touched, but only longingly appreciated like the memory of love more than the present realities that we so often disregard in this life.
Listen again, and remember love.