Visualizing Chopin with Musanim

If you don’t “get” classical music, read on. can help.

One of the challenges classical music presents to many people is that it’s not always immediately clear what’s going on. Composers write on many different levels, and often it’s not just the melody that’s important (which may or may not be on the top), but the bass and sometimes how both play against inner voices.

Take Chopin’s Etude in A minor, Op. 25 No. 1* as an example. Here’s the opening pages of the score.

There’s a lot of notes there — but not all of them are of equal importance. Even folks who can read music can have a difficult time trying to sort it all out.

In the video below, Maurizio Pollini plays the etude as the camera follows the score.

It’s helpful — but only if you read music.

That’s what makes Musanim’s site so brilliant. It’s the brainchild of Stephen Malinowski and it animates the music in a fashion far removed from Disney’s “Fantasia” but very close to the graphics of the printed score.

Watch the musanim video of this Chopin etude, and you’ll see the melody (red), the bass line (blue) and the contrapuntal inner voice (purple) leap out from the accompanying patters (teal and yellow).

Dense structure is almost a given for a classical composition. And the more you listen, the easier it is to hear. Musanim’s videos provide a visual approach to the music that can make those structures apparent even to first-time listeners. When you hear the structure, the music makes sense. And when the music makes sense, it can move you emotionally. And that — as it is with virtually every other genre of music — is what it’s all about.

*Don’t be put off by all that nomenclature. The practice over the past few centuries is to assign opus numbers to each publication by a composer. Think of them as volume numbers. So “Opus 25” is simply the 25th work or collection of works that Chopin published. In this case, it was a set of 12 piano etudes, or keyboard exercises. Each etude was numbered, so the piece in question was the first out of that set of 12. Opus 25, No. 1 is just a method of uniquely identifying this from among the 25 etudes Chopin wrote (three of which were in the key of A minor).

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