Piano^Graphy - Capa and Chopin
Sunday Magazine

Piano^Graphy - Capa and Chopin

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

The battlefield was being bombarded with the sounds of the incessant shooting of the guns. In that war zone was Capa with his camera, shooting photos, in the midst of real-time danger. The scene was D-Day in Omaha Beach in 1944, where American troops were facing heavy resistance from their German counterparts. And in the range of fire was Robert Capa who took 106 pictures of that conflict. Tragically, in a photo lab accident subsequently, all these pictures, save 11 of them, got destroyed. Legend has it these saved images, which are ranked as among his most famous ones, are referred to as ‘The Magnificent Eleven’. These were published in the ‘Life’ Magazine of June 1944. Steven Spielberg, cinema icon, once remarked that Capa’s D-Day photographs inspired the making of his film, ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

Capa is considered as the greatest combat and adventure photographer in history. He covered the Spanish War, the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, World War II, and the 1st Indo-China War.

Robert Capa © International Center of Photography US troops’ first assault on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings. Normandy, France. June 6, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos. This photo expresses the strong willed nature of the soldier who crawls through the rough sea for an assault.

Says Capa about his assignments,” All you could do was to help individuals caught up in war, try to raise their spirits for a moment, perhaps flirt a little, make them laugh…and you could photograph them, to let them know that somebody cared”. His portfolio marked by close-up from the trenches represented brutal camera-truths—untouched and unvarnished.

Despite his fascination for war, his friends and colleagues included luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John Huston and John Steinbeck. In fact Capa accompanied author, Hemingway, to the war, which would later find mention in his revered novel, ‘For Whom the Bells Toll’.

He had interests beyond war photography too. It was Robert Capa along with Henri Cartier-Bresson who co-founded Magnum Photos in Paris- the first cooperative agency for freelance photographers worldwide. He visited Soviet Union with Nobel prize-winning author, John Steinbeck; photographed, French artist Henri Matisse in his studio; and spent a summer with Pablo Picasso.

© Robert Capa / Magnum Photos. Germany. Near Wesel. March 24th, 1945. American paratroopers landing in Germany. By tilting the horizon and creating tension in the photograph, Capa recreates how the paratroopers might have felt during their descent to the land. The myriad of paratroopers who are in different altitudes also guides the observer’s eye from the sky to the ground.

While covering the 1st IndoChina War, Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine—as he left his jeep to capture a closer shot of a dangerous area under fire. In this context it is so apt to recall a Robert Capa quote,” If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.

Known as a child prodigy, Fredric Chopin is remembered for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Moving to Paris at age 21, away from his birthplace, Warsaw, Chopin gave just about 30 public appearances in his lifetime, wrote little except piano works, but is still considered as one of music’s greatest tone poets.


Known for his unique originality, imagination and craftsmanship, Chopin’s works for solo piano include about 61 mazurkas, 26 preludes, 27 études, 21 nocturnes, 20 waltzes,16 polonaises, 3 sonatas, 4 ballades, 4 scherzos, 4 impromptus, along with numerous individual pieces—like the Barcarolle, Opus 60 (1846); the Fantasia, Opus 49 (1841); and the Berceuse, Opus 57 (1845)—as also 17 Polish songs. The most accomplished of these works –the B minor Sonata, the Op.55 Noctrunes and the Op.56 Mazurkas—represent an unimaginable refinement and complexity. You can find Chopin touching peaks of inspiration in the opening movement of the sonata, integrating turbulence and romantic pining into a wonderful seamless expression.

While it is acknowledged that his output was small and confined to piano, what is remarkable is that within its limited framework, Chopin’s range is considered diverse covering every variety of musical expression. Yes, Chopin could have contributed more had he not wasted considerable time delighting the Parisian aristocracy, which upset critics who evaluated artistic worth in terms of scale of achievement. But he was unrelenting in exploring colourful new passage work and technical figures.

Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 is a popular piece from his “Nocturne” compositions. Nocturnes are compositions that are inspired by the night and its tranquility. The piece begins in a slow melodic manner and intensifies with tension towards the end of the second half which eventually resolves to a melodic end.


Chopin’s understanding of the true nature of the piano as an expressive instrument, and his explorations in fingering, use of pedals, and general treatment of the keyboard, constitute a landmark in the history of piano. And in this respect, he is considered unbeatable because he set a standard for the instrument as no one before him.

The Fantaisie Impromptu in C♯ minor Op. posth. 66 which was published posthumously is an example of a piece which takes the listener on a journey with a combination melodic, expressive and sonorous phrases.


It was his deep perception into the secret places of the heart, as also insights of the hypnotic new sonorities that could be sourced from the piano, that places Chopin among the music immortals of all times. Due to his advanced treatment of harmony & rhythm, his luminous textures & haunting melodies, and the harmonic question marks in his music, every Chopin creation has intrigued generations of pianists.

A thought-provoking quote of Chopin: “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art”.


Siddharth S.Kumar curates SIDART Photography, and his creative interests include Photography (named Best Photographer in Mindshare World network in 2014) & Piano (pursuing Grade 8 - Trinity College London). Professionally, he is Director (The Exchange), Mindshare, Chennai. Views are personal.

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