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Below are some interesting, insightful, surprising and sometimes curious manifestations of Chopin’s music in popular culture and modern life. For examples of Chopin in modern song, see here. This page will stay relatively static, but if you want to stay in touch with Chopin in today’s world follow me on Twitter, @anniklafarge.
The Victorian Music Box, a guest house in Aspen, Colorado, whose architectural façade was inspired by Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9, no. 2. Click here to read more about how the creative team at CCY Architects worked with Chopin’s score to develop the perforated scrim that would, through a play of light and shadow, evoke Chopin’s music in architecture.
“Frederic: The Resurrection of Music”: a video game in which Chopin arises from his grave at Père Lachaise cemetery to fight musical duels against all manner of bad guys in an effort to save the soul of music and, finally, return to his homeland. Created by Polish game developer Forever Entertainment. This short video clip of a gamer dueling with the sheriff at high noon, to the accompaniment of the funeral march from Opus 35, is used with permission.
The Forest of Piano: Netflix series. This remarkable 24-part television series tells the story of Kai Ichinose, a kid who grows up in the red light district and sneaks into the forest at night to play an abandoned piano. It’s unusual for various reasons, including the long stretches of music — mostly Chopin — played by Kai and his friends and competitors at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. It’s about friendship, the special bond between teacher and student, the politics of piano competitions but most of all about finding one’s own voice and style at the keyboard, and playing from the heart. The series is based on a wildly popular Japanese manga series titled Piano No More, written and illustrated by Makoto Isshiki. Unfortunately the manga is not available in English.
Dr. Dre Plays Chopin in the HBO series “The Defiant Ones,” Episode 4, beginning 21:45. There’s a wonderful moment in “The Defiant Ones” in which Dr. Dre sits at his piano in a glass room looking out on the ocean, playing around on the keyboard. In the voiceover he’s talking about the pressures of television. “You know what, when it comes to release dates: I think release dates are the enemies of creativity. You never know what’s going to inspire you. You can’t put a time limit on creativity…I don’t know if the idea I have today is the good idea. You don’t know. Know what I mean? We’re artists, we’re just being creative. So it’s like: just shut the fuck up and let us do our job. And then we’ll give it to you and you can make your money.” It’s at this point that he begins playing Chopin’s E minor Prelude, op. 28, no. 4.
“Ramona Shows Destiny Moves,” from the movie “Hustlers”
In the 2019 movie “Hustlers” Jennifer Lopez gives her co-star, Constance Wu, a lesson in pole-dancing, while Chopin’s Étude op. 25, no. 1 (known as “Aeolian Harp”) plays in the background. “Every girl has muscles to do this,” Ramona assures Destiny. Indeed. Watch the clip here. Hear the Étude gorgeously played by Roy Eaton here. The film’s director, Lorene Scafaria, scored the music cues long before she got the directing job, and there are 12 works of Chopin — all etudes — included in the film.
“Chopin: The Women Behind the Music,” a documentary about “the women who put the song in music.” Includes interviews with Garrick Olhsson, Halina Goldberg, Emmanuel Ax, and featuring the pianist James Rhodes. Available to watch on YouTube.
“Eternal Sonata,” a role-playing video game based on a fictional narrative about a world conjured by Chopin in his dreams, just hours before his death. Many of Chopin’s works are played by pianist Stanislaw Bunin. Made by the Japanese company tri-Crescendo.
“Five Easy Pieces,” Jack Nicholson playing the role of Bobby Dupea, a California oil rigger, plays Chopin’s Prélude op. 28, no. 4 in E minor. The movie includes other classical works from Chopin (the Fantaisie in F minor, op. 49), Bach, and Mozart.
2009 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, Oslo. Just before being awarded the gold medal, Lang Lang played Chopin’s Étude op. 10, no. 3 (known as “Tristesse”). It was a stirring moment: a Chinese pianist performing a work by a Polish composer to celebrate an American president in Norway. Lang Lang’s performance begins at 32:30.
In June 2020 Iranian artist Hadi Karimi used the computer technology Zbrush to “sculpt” a digital image of Chopin, using his death mask as a guide to the composer’s facial structure and relying on various other software tools to create a wholly modern portrait of a man who died in 1840. More 3D images and information about the sources he used are here, on Karimi’s ArtStation page.
In February 2020 Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrived at an EU summit in Brussels “armed with a biography of Chopin,” as Reuters reported, using the presence of the book to signal his level of dis-engagement in the budget talks. Five months later, the landscape now changed, Rutte returned to Brussels. Signaling his new readiness to seriously negotiate, he announced he was “leaving his Chopin biography at home.” See a photo here.