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3 recordings that will change your perception of Chopin

The music of Frédéric Chopin is known for its delicacy and clarity – qualities which it definitely has, but it’s worth remembering that Chopin’s music has historically been played very differently. Unfortunately we only have written accounts of Chopin’s playing, but recordings from the first half of the 20th century give us an idea of how much Chopin interpretation has changed. So I present to you 3 great Chopin recordings as a counterbalance to current trends in Chopin performance. They might sound wrong to you at first, but bear in mind that Josef Hofmann was a pupil of Anton Rubinstein, who heard Chopin play in his studio, and Alfred Cortot knew several of Chopin’s pupils.

Josef Hofmann

First of all, Josef Hofmann’s live 1938 recording of Chopin’s lesser-known Polonaise in Eb minor, Op.26 No.2:

His playing gets so loud at 1:27 that he maxes out the capabilities of the recording equipment.

(If you were a fan of that, his performance of Chopin’s Ballade No.4 from the same concert is even more extreme.)

Alfred Cortot

Next, Alfred Cortot’s 1933 interpretation of the finale of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.2 in Bb minor, Op.35 (jump to 6:30 if the video player doesn’t do it automatically):

Listen to how he picks out individual notes at 7:24.

(Here’s the rest of the recording.)

György Cziffra

Finally, György Cziffra’s very macho 1963 rendition of Chopin’s Étude Op.10, No.1:

(The whole set is pretty extraordinary.)


Of course, I’m not saying that these are the only ways to play these pieces, but you’ll get more ideas about how to interpret Chopin if you listen to older recordings than if you only listen to contemporary pianists. If you’d like to hear more authentic renditions, listen to recordings by Chopin’s pupils.