If ever I am asked to take a set of records with me to unending solitude, three composers will top the list: Rachmaninoff, Poulenc and, Fryderyk Chopin, whose etudes I don’t want to be without – alone, or among a million people.
Like a lot of other dreamy kids who grew up in the rural South of the early 1950s, I endured a lot of ridicule for my love of classical music. But another part of my Southern heritage was a profound mistrust of any and all authority figures. That ridicule made me determined to listen to my “longhair” music whenever and wherever I could.
One of the most unlikely places where I got my music fix was the Scoggins-McBrayer Furniture store. They sold phonographs of all sizes, and I listened to my heart’s content to their bin of demonstration records. I also snuck off to have piano lessons. Even though I struggled at it, I got hooked by that big black magician. Which is why piano music—especially the Chopin etudes—would dominate my desert-island disc collection.
Among the Etudes, one has a special place: the so-called “Winter Wind,” Op. 25, No. 11 in A minor.
I heard it the first time on a small tape player, when I was working at the Smithsonian. The hair on the back of my arms rose and a chill flashed down my neck. Not just because it does conjure up a chill wind, but it also seems to jump out of the earth and shake a fist at death and say, like a true rebellious hillbilly, “Oh no, not now, not yet. You ain’t ever gonna get me.” - Marc Overton
Marc Overton is a San Diego-based arts writer, and co-host for Spoleto Today.