An Amateur Analysis of Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No. 11, Winter Wind

Whoa there! Why is it so cold here all of a sudden?

looks at the title


Listnening to music without words can be quite a challenge, because unlike songs, they don’t have any words to lead you into a specific kind of mood. It’s no surprise that instrumental music is not as popular as songs. Unless you were high and listening to Skrillex, I highly doubt anyone would’ve listened to any instrumental piece on their own.

If you’ve been following this site, then you might’ve come across this little article. Yes, I love classical music more than Arjit Singh. Fight me.

Ahem. That was rude dons his monocle.

In this article (and hopefully, a weekly series of it), I’ll try and describe a musical piece, focusing on its meaning.

By the way, Chopin is pronounced as Show-pan. Yep, classical world is crazy.

A Brief Introduction to the Winter Wind

Chopin’s series of etudes (French: to learn) does what it says; they are a series of pieces which aim to increase the skills of a pianist. These etudes are high level musical pieces, and mastering them is an attestment to the skill of a pianist. Although they were meant to be simple exercises, they are actually quite artistic, with expressive emotions of their own. A perfect example would be his Etude Op. 10 No. 3, which has been nicknamed Tristesse (French: farewell). It is a piece with the theme of a farewell, and has been one of the most popular of Chopin’s etudes for its emotional themes.

Etude Op. 25, No. 11, or more commonly known as the Winter Wind etude, fits its name perfectly. It is meant to evoke the cold chills of a snow storm, and in my humblest of opinions, it far exceeds in its work.

Here’s a link to my personal favourite performance of this piece by Valentina Lisitsa:

Here, I’ll try and explain Winter Wind with the limited amount of knowledge I have about western classical music. It might be a little (hopefully not a lot) inaccurate, but I believe it will give a fair picture of what Winter Wind is all about. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Introduction (00:00 to 00:28)

Please note that the time stamps are for Lisitsa’s performance. If you are trying other pianist, then you’ll have to disregard these time stamps.

The music sheet for Etude Op. 25 No. 11, Winter Wind by Frederick Francois Chopin. Sheet courtesy:
Nope. I can’t even dare to try and read all this. Still, at least I can see the top left part has less of those… symbols. Geh. Kill me.

Winter Wind starts on a calm and simple note. The first 10 seconds are single notes, followed by a chord progression built around those notes. It represents a calm wind blowing through a mountain plain covered in snow. As the listener listens to this, he is transported to that snowy plain. The sky seems clear, and the weather is cold, but pleasant. The last notes at 00:28 seconds however, end on a dissonant note, signalling some impending disaster. We then move into the storm.

The Storm Begins: Allegro Con Brio (00:28 to 02:23)

After the dissonant note, the right hand goes berserk with repeated chromatic chords & the left hand provides a march-like melody. The right hand represents the sudden storm that breaks into the calm plain we were earlier in. It’s a harsh and unforgiving storm, and it keeps coming back again and again. The left hand’s marching theme represents the despair inside the heart of the lone person standing in the middle of that storm. The right hand’s storm, if you may, is cyclic; it goes from left to right then back, just like a real storm. This goes on till 00:44 seconds, and is repeated once again with some variations. The variations depict the turbulent nature of the storm, and how it throws the listener into chaos. A simple repetitive melody might’ve been a bit easier to follow, but this chaotic display throws off the listener every time. The feeling of chilly winters remains, but each wind bring a new cold touch to the heart.

At 1:40, the music changes, with the right hand taking up the role previously played by the left hand. In doing so, the despair which was the left’s, and subsequently, the recessive theme, now becomes a dominant one. The imagery of the person in the storm panicking becomes all the more clear, while the storm rages on. After this segment, we move to a sort of inverted version of the previous theme, which builds up to the next part.

Peak of the storm: Allegro Molto e con Fuoco (02:24 to 03:41)

Here, both left and right hand play chromatic chords in tandem, with each iteration ending in a slight pause. This is the momentary calm before the storm; a second’s solace from the frosty winds before their next attack. At 02:32, the insane chords go away, to be replaced by a quick 4-note fingering. It gives a sense of relief that the storm is finally retreating. But just after 5 seconds, the chords slowly pick up again with repetitive chords, enveloping everyone back into it.

The first part is repeated again, and the listener again experiences the storm he just got out of. As the end approaches, the despair inside the person amidst the storm turns into an endlessly accelerated heart beats, while the storm completely overpowers everything. The piece ends with a deliberate note, followed by a quick run from left to right, giving us the last triumphs of the storm.

You might have noticed the crazy hand movements of Lisitsa, as she played the whole piece. Those hand movements alone tip off the amount of work required to play this piece, and the imagery this piece paints. It helps if you’ve ever seen an actual snowstorm, but if not, you can easily experience it if you listen to this piece carefully. I remember actually having chills down my spine at 02:32, as the receding storm was preparing to strike again.

I hope this article helped in a better understanding of this beauty. Till we meet again, under clearer skies and fairer weathers.

Now excuse me, I gotta move all this snow piled up in my room out.

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Anurag Yadav

Move along now, nothing to see here.