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- Chopin: The Man and His Music - 4/43 -

Hummel called on Frederic, but we hear nothing of his opinion of the elder man and his music; this is all the more strange, considering how much Chopin built on Hummel's style. Perhaps that is the cause of the silence, just as Wagner's dislike for Meyerbeer was the result of his obligations to the composer of "Les Huguenots." He heard Aloys Schmitt play, and uttered the very Heinesque witticism that "he is already over forty years old, and composes eighty years old music." This in a letter to Elsner. Our Chopin could be amazingly sarcastic on occasion. He knew Slavik the violin virtuoso, Merk the 'cellist, and all the music publishers. At a concert given by Madame Garzia-Vestris, in April, 1831, he appeared, and in June gave a concert of his own, at which he must have played the E minor concerto, because of a passing mention in a musical paper. He studied much, and it was July 20, 1831, before he left Vienna after a second, last, and thoroughly discouraging visit.

Chopin got a passport vised for London, "passant par Paris &. Londres," and had permission from the Russian Ambassador to go as far as Munich. Then the cholera gave him some bother, as he had to secure a clean bill of health, but he finally got away. The romantic story of "I am only passing through Paris," which he is reported to have said in after years, has been ruthlessly shorn of its sentiment. At Munich he played his second concerto and pleased greatly. But he did not remain in the Bavarian capital, hastening to Stuttgart, where he heard of the capture of Warsaw by the Russians, September 8, 1831. This news, it is said, was the genesis of the great C minor etude in opus 10, sometimes called the "Revolutionary." Chopin exclaimed in a letter dated December 16, 1831, "All this caused me much pain--who could have foreseen it!" and in another letter he wrote, "How glad my mamma will be that I did not go back." Count Tarnowski in his recollections prints some extracts from a diary said to have been kept by Chopin. According to this his agitation must have been terrible. Here are several examples:

"My poor father! My dearest ones! Perhaps they hunger? Maybe he has not anything to buy bread for mother? Perhaps my sisters have fallen victims to the fury of the Muscovite soldiers? Oh, father, is this the consolation of your old age? Mother, poor suffering mother, is it for this you outlived your daughter?"

"And I here unoccupied! And I am here with empty hands! Sometimes I groan, suffer and despair at the piano! O God, move the earth, that it may swallow the humanity of this century! May the most cruel fortune fall upon the French, that they did not come to our aid." All this sounds a trifle melodramatic and quite unlike Chopin.

He did not go to Warsaw, but started for France at the end of September, arriving early in October, 1831. Poland's downfall had aroused him from his apathy, even if it sent him further from her. This journey, as Liszt declares, "settled his fate." Chopin was twenty-two years old when he reached Paris.


Here, according to Niecks, is the itinerary of Chopin's life for the next eighteen years: In Paris, 27 Boulevard Poisonniere, to 5 and 38 Chaussee d'Antin, to Aix-la-Chapelle, Carlsbad, Leipzig, Heidelberg, Marienbad, and London, to Majorca, to 5 Rue Tronchet, 16 Rue Pigalle, and 9 Square d'Orleans, to England and Scotland, to 9 Square d'Orleans once more, Rue Chaillot and 12 Place Vendeme, and then--Pere la Chaise, the last resting-place. It may be seen that Chopin was a restless, though not roving nature. In later years his inability to remain settled in one place bore a pathological impress,--consumptives are often so.

The Paris of 1831, the Paris of arts and letters, was one of the most delightful cities in the world for the culture-loving. The molten tide of passion and decorative extravagance that swept over intellectual Europe three score years and ten ago, bore on its foaming crest Victor Hugo, prince of romanticists. Near by was Henri Heine,--he left Heinrich across the Rhine,--Heine, who dipped his pen in honey and gall, who sneered and wept in the same couplet. The star of classicism had seemingly set. In the rich conflict of genius were Gautier, Schumann, and the rest. All was romance, fantasy, and passion, and the young men heard the moon sing silvery--you remember De Musset!--and the leaves rustle rhythms to the heart-beats of lovers. "Away with the gray- beards," cried he of the scarlet waistcoat, and all France applauded "Ernani." Pity it was that the romantic infant had to die of intellectual anaemia, leaving as a legacy the memories and work of one of the most marvellous groupings of genius since the Athens of Pericles. The revolution of 1848 called from the mud the sewermen. Flaubert, his face to the past, gazed sorrowfully at Carthage and wrote an epic of the French bourgeois. Zola and his crowd delved into a moral morass, and the world grew weary of them. And then the faint, fading flowers of romanticism were put into albums where their purple harmonies and subtle sayings are pressed into sweet twilight forgetfulness. Berlioz, mad Hector of the flaming locks, whose orchestral ozone vivified the scores of Wagnerand Liszt, began to sound garishly empty, brilliantly superficial; "the colossal nightingale" is difficult to classify even to-day. A romantic by temperament he unquestionably was. But then his music, all color, nuance, and brilliancy, was not genuinely romantic in its themes. Compare him with Schumann, and the genuine romanticist tops the virtuoso. Berlioz, I suspect, was a magnified virtuoso. His orchestral technique is supreme, but his music fails to force its way into my soul. It pricks the nerves, it pleases the sense of the gigantic, the strange, the formless, but there is something uncanny about it all, like some huge, prehistoric bird, an awful Pterodactyl with goggle eyes, horrid snout and scream. Berlioz, like Baudelaire, has the power of evoking the shudder. But as John Addington Symonds wrote: "The shams of the classicists, the spasms of the romanticists have alike to be abandoned. Neither on a mock Parnassus nor on a paste- board Blocksberg can the poet of the age now worship. The artist walks the world at large beneath the light of natural day." All this was before the Polish charmer distilled his sugared wormwood, his sweet, exasperated poison, for thirsty souls inmorbid Paris.

Think of the men and women with whom the new comer associated-- for his genius was quickly divined: Hugo, Lamartine, Pere Lamenais,--ah! what balm for those troubled days was in his "Paroles d'un Croyant,"--Chateaubriand, Saint-Simon, Merimee, Gautier, Liszt, Victor Cousin, Baudelaire, Ary Scheffer, Berlioz, Heine,--who asked the Pole news of his muse the "laughing nymph,"- -"If she still continued to drape her silvery veil around the flowing locks of her green hair, with a coquetry so enticing; if the old sea god with the long white beard still pursued this mischievous maid with his ridiculous love?"--De Musset, De Vigny, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Auber, Sainte-Beuve, Adolphe Nourrit, Ferdinand Hiller, Balzac, Dumas, Heller, Delacroix,--the Hugo of painters,--Michelet, Guizot, Thiers, Niemcevicz and Mickiewicz the Polish bards, and George Sand: the quintessence of the Paris of art and literature.

The most eloquent page in Liszt's "Chopin" is the narrative of an evening in the Chaussee d'Antin, for it demonstrates the Hungarian's literary gifts and feeling for the right phrase. This description of Chopin's apartment "invaded by surprise" has a hypnotizing effect on me. The very furnishings of the chamber seem vocal under Liszt's fanciful pen. In more doubtful taste is his statement that "the glace which covers the grace of the elite, as it does the fruit of their desserts,...could not have been satisfactory to Chopin"! Liszt, despite his tendency to idealize Chopin after his death, is our most trustworthy witness at this period. Chopin was an ideal to Liszt though he has not left us a record of his defects. The Pole was ombrageux and easily offended; he disliked democracies, in fact mankind in the bulk stunned him. This is one reason, combined with a frail physique, of his inability to conquer the larger public. Thalberg could do it; his aristocratic tournure, imperturbability, beautiful touch and polished mechanism won the suffrage of his audiences. Liszt never stooped to cajole. He came, he played, he overwhelmed. Chopin knew all this, knew his weaknesses, and fought to overcome them but failed. Another crumpled roseleaf for this man of excessive sensibility.

Since told of Liszt and first related by him, is the anecdote of Chopin refusing to play, on being incautiously pressed, after dinner, giving as a reason "Ah, sir, I have eaten so little!" Even though his host was gauche it cannot be denied that the retort was rude.

Chopin met Osborne, Mendelssohn--who rather patronized him with his "Chopinetto,"--Baillot the violinist and Franchomme the 'cellist. With the latter he contracted a lasting friendship, often playing duos with him and dedicating to him his G minor 'cello Sonata. He called on Kalkbrenner, then the first pianist of his day, who was puzzled by the prodigious novelty of the young Pole's playing. Having heard Herz and Hiller, Chopin did not fear to perform his E minor concerto for him. He tells all about the interview in a letter to Titus: "Are you a pupil of Field's?" was asked by Kalkbrenner, who remarked that Chopin had the style of Cramer and the touch of Field. Not having a standard by which to gauge the new phenomenon, Kalkbrenner was forced to fall back on the playing of men he knew. He then begged Chopin to study three years with him--only three!--but Elsner in an earnest letter dissuaded his pupil from making any experiments that might hurt his originality of style. Chopin actually attended the class of Kalkbrenner but soon quit, for he had nothing to learn of the pompous, penurious pianist. The Hiller story of how Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt and Heller teased this grouty old gentleman on the Boulevard des Italiens is capital reading, if not absolutely true. Yet Chopin admired Kalkbrenner's finished technique despite his platitudinous manner. Heine said--or rather quoted Koreff-- that Kalkbrenner looked like a bonbon that had been in the mud. Niecks thinks Chopin might have learned of Kalkbrenner on the mechanical side. Chopin, in public, was modest about his attainments, looking upon himself as self-taught. "I cannot create a new school, because I do not even know the old," he said. It is this very absence of scholasticism that is both the power and weakness of his music. In reality his true technical ancestor was Hummel.

He played the E minor concerto first in Paris, February 26, 1832, and some smaller pieces. Although Kalkbrenner, Baillot and others participated, Chopin was the hero of the evening. The affair was a financial failure, the audience consisting mostly of distinguished and aristocratic Poles. Mendelssohn, who disliked Kalkbrenner and was angered at his arrogance in asking Chopin to study with him, "applauded furiously." "After this," Hiller

Chopin: The Man and His Music - 4/43

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