Wednesday, 17 August 2011

How to play Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu C# Minor: analysis, tips, masterclasses Opus 66

Chopin's Fantasie (or Fantasy) Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor Opus 66 is one of the most popular pieces for grade 8 and above musicians to play. In order to play this piece effectively I have found the most suitable
masterclasses and tutorials from youtube and summarised them.

Firstly, Paul Barton gives the background, inspiration and form of  the Fantasie Impromptu, and inspiration from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Moschelles.

Paul Barton Tutorial summary

Introduction, analysis, origin and influence of the Fantasie Impromptu C#m  [0:00 to 6:12]

  • The term Impromptu was first used by a musical publisher in 1817, so a Romantic period invention, and can be defined as freestyle. 
  • Fantasie Impromptu is in ternary form - or A-B-A.
  • Chopin didn't publish it in his lifetime
  • The fantasie impromptu has a lot of similarity, therefore likely to be inspired from Moscheles' Impromptu in Eb [2:30] (similar in character and tempo, and form) and third movement of the Moonlight Sonata [3:00] (similar in key - C#m and form) with one of the same runs.
Paul Barton's Practical tips (excerpt) [6:12 to End]
  • The right hand plays semiquavers against triplets in the left hand, if you have trouble fitting the notes together, Paul suggests accenting the notes that fall on the beats and the other notes will fall in place.
  • Play all the notes legato, clearly and even as you can, which takes lots of slow practice and try not to overpedal.

Katsaris Masterclass
In 1992, French Pianist Katsaris, first Prize winner of the  International Cziffra Competition 1974,  gives a masterclass on the Fantasie Impromptu for Japan's NHK TV (part 1 of 4)

Katsaris Masterclass Summary Part 1:

  • Impromptu is defined as unexpected or improvised, the piece is an elaborated improvisation [and should be played as such.]
  • The fast right hand melody is in two groupings of semiquavers (cut common time) so you could practice analytically and slowly the right hand melody dotted crotched (dotted 1/4 note) to build up speed.
  • Mood of the piece: The piece should be played more feverish, trembling, like leaves and trees in the forest quivering and trembling. 4 notes in the right hand against 3 notes in the left hand.  Think of a whispering wind blowing. 
  • Broken chords with accents: Play into the In this section, play the piano deeply (more weight) where the accented melody is especially when the thumbs play on the accent marks. Play them as chords to find the right balance with the thumb on the accent marks. Take time between the long phrases (this is demonstrated in part 2) by waiting a little bit at the end of each phrase. You can think of a bell sound effect for the accents. 
Katsaris Masterclass Part 2: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 2 Summary: 
  • Turn your hand into the direction of the accented notes, in effect adding more weight to the accented note. Practice the accented note repeating it four times. 
  • Different colours in these phrases and this section - think that you are on a horse which runs in the wood, and your beautiful long hair is against the wind. So in effect a feeling of total freedom. [2:50] and at the end of this bridge, play pp pianisimo, to create a nice transition effect (perhaps a calming of the storm)

Katsaris Masterclass Part 3: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 3 Summary: 
  • When Chopin played the same piece two or more times, or a repeating section, he liked to play it in different ways. So you can try with pedal and without pedal, which creates a different colour.
  • Or play a little bit slower
  • Some of the colouristic emotions you encounter in this section are: lamentations - which becomes revulsion which becomes anger (end of the section), [hmm sounds a bit like the Yoda mantra!add weight in the keyboard.
    Section B - Major Key [5:30] - Largo and Moderato Cantabile Section
  • The new colour effect is a sunny spell as it's in a major key. It's a new sound world.
  • Communicate the emotion but same time reserved, but it must always sing, each finger sings, think of the Bel Canto. Sing, even if it's not forte, sing.
  • Listen to the sound, control the sound, use the ear to control the sound (right hand melody).
  • Be aware of the tenor countermelody, [8:00] and also remember to make these sing.
  • Think of a little secret, something you haven't told anyone, communicate this here.
  • Bring out the following colours: Hope [9:30], delicacy and elegance.

Katsaris Masterclass Part 4: 

Katsaris Masterclass Part 4 Summary: 
Section B - Major Key 
[5:30] - Largo and Moderato Cantabile Section (continued)

  • Colouristic effects: Abandon yourself [1:15]  
  • In the pp pianisimo sections think of a 'telling your secret' motif as mentioned earlier.
  • Each note must sing with phrasing, think of the bel canto, or even a violin to make the piano sing and sound more than a mere percussion instrument [5:05 - comparison with Chopin Ballade #1 in G minor]
Finale - A Section [5:40]
  • When restarting the finale A section, start PP pianisimo not very fast and without much pedal. So in effect you are carrying over the mood and pianisimo effect from section B.
  • Think of the leaves trembling but in the night, not loud, very light. 
  • Bars 116, 117 and 118 Accent on the little finger, the upper part (right hand)
  • [7:42] Tortured and Suffering [bars 119-122]
  • Bars 130-137 Melancholic remembrance - phrase melody,  pianisimo and singing which dies and becomes almost nothing.

Further Resources

  • Alternative versions: Final version that the most performed version of the Fantasie Impromptu in C#m is the first draft, here Artur Rubinstein plays the final version which has differences


  1. Great summary Ben. I've seen the Katsaris masterclasses before - aren't they inspiring? And Paul Barton can make you believe you can play anything. I've watched some of his etude lessons and they are brilliant also. Keep it up :)

  2. Paul Barton makes it seem so very easy! When he shows the TRLRLR pattern, his sounds so even. My rhythm sounds strange, disjointed. Will be watching many times over.

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  5. Awesome! I love it.. thanks for sharing..

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