Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20
In this masterclass, Professor Finghin Collins works with student Gaston Schadt on projection, character, and contrast in Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor. Collins helps the student find the correct sound for this work by pressing more deeply into the keys and strategically using the pedal. He encourages Schadt to always imagine playing to the audience even when the dynamics and mood are more intimate, and stresses the importance of having passion and drama in this tension-filled piece. Additionally, he works with the student to play with a more sustained sound; each note must be connected to its predecessor in sound, length, and dynamic. Finally, Collins guides Schadt through incorporating more contrast and bringing out the different emotions and characters in the work.
Chopin composed Scherzo No. 1 in B minor between 1831-32 during the Polish-Russian War. Poland had revolted against Russia’s rule, causing Chopin to remain separated from his family as he pursued his music career elsewhere in Europe. Though the term “scherzo” typically refers to a “joke,” Beethoven had previously paved the way for scherzos to become more complex and emotionally turbulent. In this vein, Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 reflects his anguish over being away from his family and homeland. The piece begins in the dark key of B minor with a tempo marked Presto con fuoco. The first part of the work is characterized by dissonant chords and furious passagework. In the center of the piece, the tempo slows and the mode changes to major, introducing a beautiful, nostalgic melody that quotes a native Polish Christmas tune. The opening material then returns with a vengeance, culminating in a coda marked by emphatic chords and exciting runs. The piece is widely acknowledged to be one of Chopin’s most difficult works for solo piano.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Finghin Collins’ feedback and comments.
Winner of the Clara Haskil Competition in 1999
One of Ireland's most successful musicians, Finghin Collins was born in Dublin in 1977 and, following initial lessons with his sister Mary, studied piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with John O'Conor and at the Geneva Conservatoire with Dominique Merlet. Winner of the RTÉ Musician of the Future Competition in 1994 and the Classical Category at the National Entertainment Awards in Ireland in 1998, he went on to take first prize at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland in 1999. Since then, he has continued to enjoy a flourishing international career that takes him all over Europe and the United States, as well as the Far East and Australia.
Collins has performed with such orchestras as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Gulbenkian Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, garnering consistent praise from critics and public alike.
Performances across Europe have included such prestigious venues as Symphony Hall Birmingham, Royal Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall, The Barbican and Cadogan Hall, London, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam (both halls), De Doelen Rotterdam (both halls), Théâtre du Châtelet and Salle Cortot Paris, Salle Molière Lyon, Liederhalle Stuttgart, Auditorio Nacional Madrid, Palao de la Musica Valencia, Gulbenkian Hall Lisbon, Sala Verdi Milan, Teatro Manzoni Bologna, Konzerthaus Berlin, Konzerthaus Vienna, Franz Liszt Academy Budapest, Philharmonic Hall Warsaw and the Auditorium Stravinski Montreux. He has also performed at Carnegie Hall, New York and the Kennedy Center, Washington DC, as well as at both Ravinia and Gilmore Festivals in the USA.
Finghin Collins is very active as a programmer, commissioner and concert presenter in Ireland, having been Artistic Director of the New Ross Piano Festival since its inception in 2006, and Artistic Director of Music for Galway since 2013. In 2020, Music for Galway presents the main classical program as part of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture, including the inaugural edition of CELLISSIMO, a new triennial cello festival.
Collins is also co-founder and co-Artistic Director of the International Master Course at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, together with violinist Gwendolyn Masin. In October 2017, the National University of Ireland conferred on him an honorary Degree of Doctor of Music, in recognition of his outstanding achievements.
Born in Poland in 1810, Frédéric Chopin was a gifted pianist and a highly-acclaimed composer. He was a child prodigy who from the early age of six-years-old began performing in great halls of the Polish bourgeoisie. It was around this time that the young musician began composing. Between 1810 and 1830, he composed 30 works for solo piano. Chopin’s compositions comprise beautiful melodies, sophisticated harmonies, and an original approach to formal design. If the piano is the romantic instrument par excellence; it is due, in large part, to the contribution of Chopin.
At the opposite of the orchestral pianism of his contemporary Franz Liszt (representative of the most extroverted and passionate, almost exhibitionist, facet of Romanticism), the Polish composer explored an intrinsically poetic style, of a subtle lyricism. The two composers would later become friends and admirers of each other’s works. It is said that Chopin's earliest compositions are, in some way, a product of influence from the "brilliant style" of public pianism associated with composers such as Hummel, Weber, Moscheles, and Kalkbrenner, among others. Later, the pieces that were composed during his Warsaw period—which involved the radical reworking of forms, procedures, and materials—are testimony to the influence of the Viennese Classical composers and Bach. The influence of popular Polish music is also vital in his works.