Chopin’s Last Prelude — Opus 45

“If the stars should appear but once every thousand years
how man would marvel and stare”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we know, Chopin, like Mozart and Beethoven before him, and Liszt among his contemporaries, was one of the greatest improvisers before the public. How his improvisations sounded, either public or private, in the darkness of his music salon, we will never know. It always seems to me that the closest we will ever come to hearing his musings at the piano is this single five minute Prelude, composed in 1841 in Nohant, and assigned the separate opus number 45. Sending his copyist, Julian Fontana, his manuscript (neither the autograph nor Fontana’s copy are extant), Chopin attached a note that this time (unlike in the case of the Tarantella, Op. 43) expressed a rarely shown satisfaction: “it is well modulated, isn’t it?” In this constant stream of modulations, with no specific form, the main theme and the accompaniment are intertwined. Toward the end comes a cadenza, with double notes in both hands, that a lead to an ecstatic culmination. The opening theme then reappears, and the piece dies away. Its character could be mistaken for that of a nocturne. The work was dedicated to one of Chopin’s female students, Countess Elizabeth Czernyszew. It is puzzling that this marvelous work is performed relatively rarely, although it almost invariably appears in complete recordings of the preludes. It might be worth noting that this work was a obligatory composition during the Fifth International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1955.

Listen to Chopin’s Last Prelude, Op. 45 in C-sharp Minor, performed by Arthur Greene: