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- Chopin: The Man and His Music - 2/43 -


lad sported familiarly with his talents, for he is related to have sent to sleep and awakened a party of unruly boys at his father's school. Another story is his fooling of a Jew merchant. He had high spirits, perhaps too high, for his slender physique. He was a facile mimic, and Liszt, Balzac, Bocage, Sand and others believed that he would have made an actor of ability. With his sister Emilia he wrote a little comedy. Altogether he was a clever, if not a brilliant lad. His letters show that he was not the latter, for while they are lively they do not reveal much literary ability. But their writer saw with open eyes, eyes that were disposed to caricature the peculiarities of others. This trait, much clarified and spiritualized in later life, became a distinct, ironic note in his character. Possibly it attracted Heine, although his irony was on a more intellectual plane.

His piano playing at this time was neat and finished, and he had already begun those experimentings in technique and tone that afterward revolutionized the world of music and the keyboard. He being sickly and his sister's health poor, the pair was sent in 1826 to Reinerz, a watering place in Prussian Silesia. This with a visit to his godmother, a titled lady named Wiesiolowska and a sister of Count Frederic Skarbek,--the name does not tally with the one given heretofore, as noted by Janotha,--consumed this year. In 1827 he left his regular studies at the Lyceum and devoted his time to music. He was much in the country, listening to the fiddling and singing of the peasants, thus laying the corner stone of his art as a national composer. In the fall of 1828 he went to Berlin, and this trip gave him a foretaste of the outer world.

Stephen Heller, who saw Chopin in 1830, described him as pale, of delicate health, and not destined, so they said in Warsaw, for a long life. This must have been during one of his depressed periods, for his stay in Berlin gives a record of unclouded spirits. However, his sister Emilia died young of pulmonary trouble and doubtless Frederic was predisposed to lung complaint. He was constantly admonished by his relatives to keep his coat closed. Perhaps, as in Wagner's case, the uncontrollable gayety and hectic humors were but so many signs of a fatal disintegrating process. Wagner outlived them until the Scriptural age, but Chopin succumbed when grief, disappointment and intense feeling had undermined him. For the dissipations of the "average sensual man" he had an abiding contempt. He never smoked, in fact disliked it. His friend Sand differed greatly in this respect, and one of the saddest anecdotes related by De Lenz accuses her of calling for a match to light her cigar: "Frederic, un fidibus," she commanded, and Frederic obeyed. Mr. Philip Hale mentions a letter from Balzac to his Countess Hanska, dated March 15, 1841, which concludes: "George Sand did not leave Paris last year. She lives at Rue Pigalle, No. 16...Chopin is always there. Elle ne fume que des cigarettes, et pas autre chose" Mr. Hale states that the italics are in the letter. So much for De Lenz and his fidibus!

I am impelled here to quote from Mr. Earnest Newman's "Study of Wagner" because Chopin's exaltation of spirits, alternating with irritability and intense depression, were duplicated in Wagner. Mr. Newman writes of Wagner: "There have been few men in whom the torch of life has burned so fiercely. In his early days he seems to have had that gayety of temperament and that apparently boundless energy which men in his case, as in that of Heine, Nietzsche, Amiel and others, have wrongly assumed to be the outcome of harmonious physical and mental health. There is a pathetic exception in the outward lives of so many men of genius, the bloom being, to the instructed eye, only the indication of some subtle nervous derangement, only the forerunner of decay." The overmastering cerebral agitation that obsessed Wagner's life, was as with Chopin a symptom, not a sickness; but in the latter it had not yet assumed a sinister turn.

Chopin's fourteen days in Berlin,--he went there under the protection of his father's friend, Professor Jarocki, to attend the great scientific congress--were full of joy unrestrained. The pair left Warsaw September 9, 1828, and after five days travel in a diligence arrived at Berlin. This was a period of leisure travelling and living. Frederic saw Spontini, Mendelssohn and Zelter at a distance and heard "Freischutz." He attended the congress and made sport of the scientists, Alexander von Humboldt included. On the way home they stopped at a place called Zullichau, and Chopin improvised on Polish airs so charmingly that the stage was delayed, "all hands turning in" to listen. This is another of the anecdotes of honorable antiquity. Count Tarnowski relates that "Chopin left Warsaw with a light heart, with a mind full of ideas, perhaps full of dreams of fame and happiness. 'I have only twenty kreuzers in my pockets,' he writes in his note-book, 'and it seems to me that I am richer than Arthur Potocki, whom I met only a moment ago;' besides this, witty conceptions, fun, showing a quiet and cheerful spirit; for example, 'May it be permitted to me to sign myself as belonging to the circle of your friends,--F. Chopin.' Or, 'A welcome moment in which I can express to you my friendship.--F. Chopin, office clerk.' Or again, 'Ah, my most lordly sir, I do not myself yet understand the joy which I feel on entering the circle of your real friends.--F. Chopin, penniless'!"

These letters have a Micawber ring, but they indicate Chopin's love of jest. Sikorski tells a story of the lad's improvising in church so that the priest, choir and congregation were forgotten by him.

The travellers arrived at Warsaw October 6 after staying a few days in Posen where the Prince Radziwill lived; here Chopin played in private. This prince-composer, despite what Liszt wrote, did not contribute a penny to the youth's musical education, though he always treated him in a sympathetic manner.

Hummel and Paganini visited Warsaw in 1829. The former he met and admired, the latter he worshipped. This year may have seen the composition, if not the publication of the "Souvenir de Paganini," said to be in the key of A major and first published in the supplement of the "Warsaw Echo Muzyczne." Niecks writes that he never saw a copy of this rare composition. Paderewski tells me he has the piece and that it is weak, having historic interest only. I cannot find much about the Polish poet, Julius Slowacki, who died the same year, 1849, as Edgar Allan Poe. Tarnowski declares him to have been Chopin's warmest friend and in his poetry a starting point of inspiration for the composer.

In July 1829, accompanied by two friends, Chopin started for Vienna. Travelling in a delightful, old-fashioned manner, the party saw much of the country--Galicia, Upper Silesia and Moravia- -the Polish Switzerland. On July 31 they arrived in the Austrian capital. Then Chopin first began to enjoy an artistic atmosphere, to live less parochially. His home life, sweet and tranquil as it was, could not fail to hurt him as artist; he was flattered and coddled and doubtless the touch of effeminacy in his person was fostered. In Vienna the life was gayer, freer and infinitely more artistic than in Warsaw. He met every one worth knowing in the artistic world and his letters at that period are positively brimming over with gossip and pen pictures of the people he knew. The little drop of malice he injects into his descriptions of the personages he encounters is harmless enough and proves that the young man had considerable wit. Count Gallenberg, the lessee of the famous Karnthnerthor Theatre, was kind to him, and the publisher Haslinger treated him politely. He had brought with him his variations on "La ci darem la mano"; altogether the times seemed propitious and much more so when he was urged to give a concert. Persuaded to overcome a natural timidity, he made his Vienna debut at this theatre August 11, 1829, playing on a Stein piano his Variations, opus 2. His Krakowiak Rondo had been announced, but the parts were not legible, so instead he improvised. He had success, being recalled, and his improvisation on the Polish tune called "Chmiel" and a theme from "La Dame Blanche" stirred up much enthusiasm in which a grumbling orchestra joined. The press was favorable, though Chopin's playing was considered rather light in weight. His style was admired and voted original--here the critics could see through the millstone--while a lady remarked "It's a pity his appearance is so insignificant." This reached the composer's ear and caused him an evil quarter of an hour for he was morbidly sensitive; but being, like most Poles, secretive, managed to hide it.

August 18, encouraged by his triumph, Chopin gave a second concert on the same stage. This time he played the Krakowiak and his talent for composition was discussed by the newspapers. "He plays very quietly, without the daring elan which distinguishes the artist from the amateur," said one; "his defect is the non- observance of the indication of accent at the beginning of musical phrases." What was then admired in Vienna was explosive accentuations and piano drumming. The article continues: "As in his playing he was like a beautiful young tree that stands free and full of fragrant blossoms and ripening fruits, so he manifested as much estimable individuality in his compositions where new figures and passages, new forms unfolded themselves." This rather acute critique, translated by Dr. Niecks, is from the Wiener "Theaterzeitung" of August 20, 1829. The writer of it cannot be accused of misoneism, that hardening of the faculties of curiousness and prophecy--that semi-paralysis of the organs of hearing which afflicts critics of music so early in life and evokes rancor and dislike to novelties. Chopin derived no money from either of his concerts.

By this time he was accustomed to being reminded of the lightness and exquisite delicacy of his touch and the originality of his style. It elated him to be no longer mistaken for a pupil and he writes home that "my manner of playing pleases the ladies so very much." Thismanner never lost its hold over female hearts, and the airs, caprices and little struttings of Frederic are to blame for the widely circulated legend of his effeminate ways. The legend soon absorbed his music, and so it has come to pass that this fiction, begotten of half fact and half mental indolence, has taken root, like the noxious weed it is. When Rubinstein, Tausig and Liszt played Chopin in passional phrases, the public and critics were aghast. This was a transformed Chopin indeed, a Chopin transposed to the key of manliness. Yet it is the true Chopin. The young man's manners were a trifle feminine but his brain was masculine, electric, and his soul courageous. His Polonaises, Ballades, Scherzi and Etudes need a mighty grip, a grip mental and physical.

Chopin met Czerny. "He is a good man, but nothing more," he said of him. Czerny admired the young pianist with the elastic hand and on his second visit to Vienna, characteristically inquired, "Are you still industrious?" Czerny's brain was a tireless incubator of piano exercises, while Chopin so fused the technical problem with the poetic idea, that such a nature as the old pedagogue's must have been unattractive to him. He knew Franz, Lachner and other celebrities and seems to have enjoyed a mild flirtation with Leopoldine Blahetka, a popular young pianist, for he wrote of his sorrow at parting from her. On August 19 he left


Chopin: The Man and His Music - 2/43

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