Jimmy Page has demonstrated his guitar talents in a range of musical styles over the course of his career, from hard rock to folk. And for one celebrated event, he dabbled ever so briefly in classical, when he adapted Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude in E minor (Op. 28, No. 4) for electric guitar.
The occasion was the ARMS Charity Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on September 20, 1983. The star-studded event was the kickoff for a series of rock concerts to support Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis. The project was the brainchild of Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, who suffered from multiple sclerosis.
In addition to Page, the premier concert featured Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, making it notable as the first occasion at which the three former Yardbirds guitarists performed together onstage. Other artists who performed included Clapton’s Blind Faith bandmate (and Traffic member) Steve Winwood, the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, and former Faces and Who drummer Kenney Jones.
Clapton, Beck and Page each had their own segments, as did Clapton and Winwood, before everyone joined together for the concluding tunes “Tulsa Time” (recorded by Clapton on his 1978 Backless album), Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” and the Lead Belly standard “Goodnight, Irene.”
While Clapton and Beck served up an assortment of their better-known cuts, Page focused on tracks from his soundtrack for the 1982 movie Death Wish II, including the Chopin-composed “Prelude,” “Who’s to Blame” and “City Sirens,” the last two featuring singer Paul Rodgers. His set concluded with the Led Zeppelin hit “Stairway to Heaven,” performed instrumentally with Page, Beck and Clapton each sharing lead guitar duties.
For this performance of the prelude, Page (with cigarette dangling from his mouth) uses his Telecaster with Clarence White B-Bender. His adaptation of the Chopin piano piece is for the most part true to form, with his guitar playing the right-hand melody. But his expressive playing, extensive use of the B-Bender and melodic embellishments transform the song into a bluesy instrumental. The prelude is one of 24 that Chopin composed and is marked by a strong sense of despair (Chopin requested to have it played at his funeral, along with Mozart’s Requiem), but in Page’s hands it became a modern and compelling film noir set piece.