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- Chopin: The Man and His Music - 10/43 -


agrees that Chopin's end was serene; indeed it is one of the musical death-beds of history, another was Mozart's. His face was beautiful and young in the flower-covered coffin, says Liszt. He was buried from the Madeleine, October 30, with the ceremony befitting a man of genius. The B flat minor Funeral march, orchestrated by Henri Reber, was given, and during the ceremony Lefebure-Wely played on the organ the E and B minor Preludes. The pall-bearers were distinguished men, Meyerbeer, Delacroix, Pleyel and Franchomme--at least Theophile Gautier so reported it for his journal. Even at his grave in Pere la Chaise no two persons could agree about Chopin. This controversy is quite characteristic of Chopin who was always the calm centre of argument.

He was buried in evening clothes, his concert dress, but not at his own request. Kwiatowski the portrait painter told this to Niecks. It is a Polish custom for the dying to select their grave clothes, yet Lombroso writes that Chopin "in his will directed that he should be buried in a white tie, small shoes and short breeches," adducing this as an evidence of his insanity. He further adds "he abandoned the woman whom he tenderly loved because she offered a chair to some one else before giving the same invitation to himself." Here we have a Sand story raised to the dignity of a diagnosed symptom. It is like the other nonsense.

IV. THE ARTIST

Chopin's personality was a pleasant, persuasive one without being so striking or so dramatic as Liszt's. As a youth his nose was too large, his lips thin, the lower one protruding. Later, Moscheles said that he looked like his music. Delicacy and a certain aristrocratic bearing, a harmonious ensemble, produced a most agreeable sensation. "He was of slim frame, middle height; fragile but wonderfully flexible limbs, delicately formed hands, very small feet, an oval, softly outlined head, a pale transparent complexion, long silken hair of a light chestnut color, parted on one side, tender brown eyes, intelligent rather than dreamy, a finely-curved aquiline nose, a sweet subtle smile, graceful and varied gestures." This precise description is by Niecks. Liszt said he had blue eyes, but he has been overruled. Chopin was fond of elegant, costly attire, and was very correct in the matter of studs, walking sticks and cravats. Not the ideal musician we read of, but a gentleman. Berlioz told Legouve to see Chopin, "for he is something which you have never seen--and some one you will never forget." An orchidaceous individuality this.

With such personal refinement he was a man punctual and precise in his habits. Associating constantly with fashionable folk his naturally dignified behavior was increased. He was an aristocrat- -there is no other word--and he did not care to be hail-fellow- well-met with the musicians. A certain primness and asperity did not make him popular. While teaching, his manner warmed, the earnest artist came to life, all halting of speech and polite insincerities were abandoned. His pupils adored him. Here at least the sentiment was one of solidarity. De Lenz is his most censorious critic and did not really love Chopin. The dislike was returned, for the Pole suspected that his pupil was sent by Liszt to spy on his methods. This I heard in Paris.

Chopin was a remarkable teacher. He never taught but one genius, little Filtsch, the Hungarian lad of whom Liszt said, "When he starts playing I will shut up shop." The boy died in 1845, aged fifteen; Paul Gunsberg, who died the same year, was also very talented. Once after delivering in a lovely way the master's E minor concerto Filtsch was taken by Chopin to a music store and presented with the score of Beethoven's "Fidelio." He was much affected by the talents of this youthful pupil. Lindsay Sloper and Brinley Richards studied with Chopin. Caroline Hartmann, Gutmann, Lysberg, Georges Mathias, Mlle. O'Meara, many Polish ladies of rank, Delphine Potocka among the rest, Madame Streicher, Carl Mikuli, Madame Rubio, Madame Peruzzi, Thomas Tellefsen, Casimir Wernik, Gustav Schumann, Werner Steinbrecher, and many others became excellent pianists. Was the American pianist, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, ever his pupil? His friends say so, but Niecks does not mention him. Ernst Pauer questions it. We know that Gottschalk studied in Paris with Camille Stamaty, and made his first appearance there in 1847. This was shortly before Chopin's death when his interest in music had abated greatly. No doubt Gottschalk played for Chopin for he was the first to introduce the Pole's music in America.

Chopin was very particular about the formation of the touch, giving dementi's Preludes at first. "Is that a dog barking?" was his sudden exclamation at a rough attack. He taught the scales staccato and legato beginning with E major. Ductility, ease, gracefulness were his aim; stiffness, harshness annoyed him. He gave Clementi, Moscheles and Bach. Before playing in concert he shut himself up and played, not Chopin but Bach, always Bach. Absolute finger independence and touch discrimination and color are to be gained by playing the preludes and fugues of Bach. Chopin started a method but it was never finished and his sister gave it to the Princess Czartoryska after his death. It is a mere fragment. Janotha has translated it. One point is worth quoting. He wrote:

No one notices inequality in the power of the notes of a scale when it is played very fast and equally, as regards time. In a good mechanism the aim is not to play everything with an equal sound, but to acquire a beautiful quality of touch and a perfect shading. For a long time players have acted against nature in seeking to give equal power to each finger. On the contrary, each finger should have an appropriate part assigned it. The thumb has the greatest power, being the thickest finger and the freest. Then comes the little finger, at the other extremity of the hand. The middle finger is the main support of the hand, and is assisted by the first. Finally comes the third, the weakest one. As to this Siamese twin of the middle finger, some players try to force it with all their might to become independent. A thing impossible, and most likely unnecessary. There are, then, many different qualities of sound, just as there are several fingers. The point is to utilize the differences; and this, in other words, is the art of fingering.

Here, it seems to me, is one of the most practical truths ever uttered by a teacher. Pianists spend thousands of hours trying to subjugate impossible muscles. Chopin, who found out most things for himself, saw the waste of time and force. I recommend his advice. He was ever particular about fingering, but his innovations horrified the purists. "Play as you feel," was his motto, a rather dangerous precept for beginners. He gave to his pupils the concertos and sonatas--all carefully graded--of Mozart, Scarlatti, Field, Dussek, Hummel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Weber and Hiller and, of Schubert, the four-hand pieces and dances. Liszt he did not favor, which is natural, Liszt having written nothing but brilliant paraphrases in those days. The music of the later Liszt is quite another thing. Chopin's genius for the pedal, his utilization of its capacity for the vibration of related strings, the overtones, I refer to later. Rubinstein said:

The piano bard, the piano rhapsodist, the piano mind, the piano soul is Chopin. ... Tragic, romantic, lyric, heroic, dramatic, fantastic, soulful, sweet, dreamy, brilliant, grand, simple; all possible expressions are found in his compositions and all are sung by him upon his instrument.

Chopin is dead only fifty years, but his fame has traversed the half century with ease, and bids fair to build securely in the loves of our great-grandchildren. The six letters that comprise his name pursue every piano that is made. Chopin and modern piano playing are inseparable, and it is a strain upon homely prophecy to predict a time when the two shall be put asunder. Chopin was the greatest interpreter of Chopin, and following him came those giants of other days, Liszt, Tausig, and Rubinstein.

While he never had the pupils to mould as had Liszt, Chopin made some excellent piano artists. They all had, or have--the old guard dies bravely--his tradition, but exactly what the Chopin tradition is no man may dare to say. Anton Rubinstein, when I last heard him, played Chopin inimitably. Never shall I forget the Ballades, the two Polonaises in F sharp minor and A flat major, the B flat minor Prelude, the A minor "Winter Wind" the two C minor studies, and the F minor Fantasie. Yet the Chopin pupils, assembled in judgment at Paris when he gave his Historical Recitals, refused to accept him as an interpreter. His touch was too rich and full, his tone too big. Chopin did not care for Liszt's reading of his music, though he trembled when he heard him thunder in the Eroica Polonaise. I doubt if even Karl Tausig, impeccable artist, unapproachable Chopin player, would have pleased the composer. Chopin played as his moods prompted, and his playing was the despair and delight of his hearers. Rubinstein did all sorts of wonderful things with the coda of the Barcarolle--such a page!--but Sir Charles Halle said that it was "clever but not Chopinesque." Yet Halle heard Chopin at his last Paris concert, February, 1848, play the two forte passages in the Barcarolle "pianissimo and with all sorts of dynamic finesse." This is precisely what Rubinstein did, and his pianissimo was a whisper. Von Bulow was too much of a martinet to reveal the poetic quality, though he appreciated Chopin on the intellectual side; his touch was not beautiful enough. The Slavic and Magyar races are your only true Chopin interpreters. Witness Liszt the magnificent, Rubinstein a passionate genius, Tausig who united in his person all the elements of greatness, Essipowa fascinating and feminine, the poetic Paderewski, de Pachmann the fantastic, subtle Joseffy, and Rosenthal a phenomenon.

A world-great pianist was this Frderic Francois Chopin. He played as he composed: uniquely. All testimony is emphatic as to this. Scales that were pearls, a touch rich, sweet, supple and singing and a technique that knew no difficulties, these were part of Chopin's equipment as a pianist. He spiritualized the timbre of his instrument until it became transformed into something strange, something remote from its original nature. His pianissimo was an enchanting whisper, his forte seemed powerful by contrast so numberless were the gradations, so widely varied his dynamics. The fairylike quality of his play, his diaphanous harmonies, his liquid tone, his pedalling--all were the work of a genius and a lifetime; and the appealing humanity he infused into his touch, gave his listeners a delight that bordered on the supernatural. So the accounts, critical, professional and personal read. There must have been a hypnotic quality in his performances that transported his audience wherever the poet willed. Indeed the stories told wear an air of enthusiasm that borders on the exaggerated, on the fantastic. Crystalline pearls falling on red hot velvet-or did Scudo write this of Liszt?--


Chopin: The Man and His Music - 10/43

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