Sara Fishko is an Executive Producer and Host at WNYC, specializing in culture.
New York, NY –
This month, the world is celebrating the bicentennial of Frederic Chopin. Locally, we’re celebrating what we hope is the end of a long, long winter. As Sara Fishko tells us, "Chopin" and "winter" came together in 1838 to create a popular musical favorite.
Chopin’s Opus 28, Number 15 is one of his most admired works. Franz Liszt called the preludes, "compositions of an order entirely apart...they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams."
Chopin was a great admirer of Bach, and he wrote the preludes as a tribute to him. Each of the 24 preludes is composed in one of the 24 major and minor keys, echoing Bach’s preludes and fugues from books one and two of The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Op. 28 No. 15 is the longest of the collection of short preludes, but it’s known for reasons other than its length: The prelude is noted for its repeating A-flat, which appears throughout the piece. The A-flat sounds like raindrops to many listeners, giving Op. 28 No. 15 a nickname: The "Raindrop" Prelude. The "Raindrop" Prelude is associated with romance, having appeared as the musical backdrop in romantic film scenes -- its stormy middle section has even been used in Halo 3, a war video game.
The “Raindrop” Prelude’s creation is connected with a well-known story that may or may not be true.
The facts: In the winter of 1838-1839, Chopin went to Mallorca with his lover, George Sand, and her two children. The group stayed in rooms in an Old Carthusian monastery at Valldemossa. Chopin wrote his 24 Preludes during this time period.
Here is a selection from Chopin’s letters during his time in Valldemossa, from Chopin’s Letters published by Dover Press, 1988.
“Palma, 28 Dec[ember] 1838
--- or rather Valdemosa, a few miles away. It’s a huge Carthusian monastery, stuck down between rocks and sea, where you may imagine me, without white gloves or haircurling, as pale as ever, in a cell with such doors as Paris never had for gates. The cell is the shape of a tall coffin, with an enormous dusty vaulting, a small window, outside the window orange-trees, palms and cypresses, opposite the window my bed on rollers under a Moorish filigree rosette. Beside the bed is a square claque nitouchable for writing, which I can scarcely use, and on it (a great luxe here) a leaden candlestick with a candle. Bach, my scrawls and (not my) waste paper – silence – you could scream – there would still be silence. Indeed, I write to you from a strange place.”
The legends behind the “Raindrop” Prelude:
You can find two versions of the “Raindrop” Prelude used in this edition of The Fishko Files at the links below:
Mix Engineer: Wayne Shulmister
Assistant Producer: Laura Mayer