J. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) Hadden.

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of Merit, a distinction which he valued very lightly.
One day he was walking with some friends across the
bridge at Offenbach. One of them stayed behind to
pay toll for the rest. " Is not that the Mr. Mendelssohn
whose music we sing at our Society ? " asked the toll-
keeper. " It is." " Then, if you please, I will pay the
toll for him myself." When Mendelssohn was informed
of the incident, he said : " H'm ! I like that much better
than the King's Order." The composer made one more
attempt to create a home in Berlin, when, by the death
of his father and mother, the old family house became
his property. But again he found it would not work.
" The first step out of Berlin is the first step towards
happiness," he wrote, after trying it for a reasonable
time. The prophet was without honour where his
youth had been spent.

Shortly after his return to Leipzig the date was
April 1843 Mendelssohn was able to realise his long-
cherished project of founding a Conservatorium for the
town. He did not live to see the full results of his in-
ception, but the fame of the Leipzig Conservatorium
has long been known to musical Europe and to America
as well. Mendelssohn had plenty to do at the institu-
tion, for he was its virtual head, as well as one of the
professors. Yet, all the time he was going on with
his compositions with the Lobgesang, and the Festge-
sang, from which is derived the tune for " Hark ! the


herald angels sing"; with the music for the Midsummer
Nigh?sDream,viiih. its ever-popular " Wedding March " ;
with Athalie and its famous " War March of the
Priests," and with many other things besides. At the
date we have reached, the great oratorio of Elijah was
approaching completion. It was written specially for
the Birmingham Musical Festival, where the composer
conducted the first performance in August 1846. How
it was received we learn from Mendelssohn himself.
" No work of mine," he wrote to his brother, " ever
went so admirably the first time, or was received with
such enthusiasm by both the musicians and the audi-
ence." When the Festival was over he returned to
London, " on purpose for a fish dinner at Lovegrove's";
spent a few days at Ramsgate " to eat crabs," and was
back in Leipzig about the middle of September.

Elijah was Mendelssohn's last work : it killed him,
just as the Creation killed Haydn. He had overworked
his never too robust frame, and in his exhausted state
the death of his beloved sister Fanny came to add to
his prostration. He conducted a few of the Leipzig
concerts, but his doctor forbade him to play any more
in public. He fell into a profound melancholy, roaming
about the fields for hours alone, or writing letters to
friends bewailing his lot. Everybody saw how it must
end. One evening, while accompanying a lady at the
piano, he became insensible, and was carried home to
his family. A cerebral attack followed, and on the
4th of November 1847 ne breathed his last, in the
presence of his disconsolate wife and children (five had


been born to him) and a few cherished friends. Thus
was another great musician cut off in the meridian ot

Mendelssohn was one ot the most lovable of men,
gentle as his music, pure as the mountain stream. He
had nothing Bohemian about him. Weaknesses he
had, no doubt, but they were lovable too. He had
little coaxing ways with his friends, which made them
love him with something of a child's love. When in
company with Edward Devrient, he would sometimes
pronounce his name with an affectionate and lingering
drawl, " Ed-e-ward," Apropos of nothing in particular.
He retained through life something of the impulsive-
ness and the simplicity of a child. He had a passion
for cake and sweetmeats. Next to his own country-
men, he loved the English. Her Majesty the late
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among his
warmest admirers ; and the story is told of how the
Queen once sang some songs to his accompaniment
at Buckingham Palace. She was not satisfied with her
performance, and said to Mendelssohn : " I can do
better ask Lablache [her singing master] if I can't.
But I am afraid of you." She asked Mendelssohn how
she was to thank him for accompanying her. He said
he would like to see her sleeping children, and when
this was granted, he kissed them, thinking, we may be
sure, of his own children at home.

In person Mendelssohn was small, but was counted
handsome. His look is described as " dark and very
Jewish." He had strikingly large dark -brown eyes,


which became extraordinarily bright and expressive
when he was animated. He was perhaps the most
versatile of all the composers, for he was an adept at
painting, billiards, chess, riding, swimming, and general

Schumann called Mendelssohn the Mozart of the
nineteenth century. " I look upon Mendelssohn," he
said, " as the first musician of his time, and pay him
the homage due to a master." The musical world is
not so enthusiastic about Mendelssohn now. The
pendulum has swung to the other side : he was praised
too much in his lifetime, and now he is praised too
little. It has become the fashion to decry his music as
lacking in depth. That is not surprising in an age
which puts Wagner above Beethoven and prefers the
pessimism of Tschaikowsky to the optimistic clarity
of Haydn and Mozart. A modern young lady said
she never played Mendelssohn " because there were no
wrong notes " ! But there are still some who do not
like their composers to be eternally rushing through
the thorn bush of dissonance, and to such Mendelssohn
is ever welcome. As Sir George Grove said, there is
surely enough of conflict and violence in life and in
art without demanding more of it from Mendelssohn.
When we want to be made unhappy by music, we can
turn to others. In Mendelssohn we shall find nothing
that is not at once manly and refined, clever and pure,
brilliant and solid.


He came not with an orchestral army, as great geniuses are
wont to come. He possesses only a little cohort, but it belongs
to him wholly and entirely, even to the last hero. SCHUMANN.

FREDERIC CHOPIN is one of the most romantic figures
in musical biography. He was dreamy, tender, woman-
ish, elusive, and (what most excited sympathetic in-
terest in him while alive), he was a consumptive with
a bad cough. And just what he was as a man, that
he was as a composer. In his works are clearly mirrored
his own daintiness and sensitiveness ; his own feeling
for the romantic and the beautiful and the triste. We
see in them something of his modest, retiring nature ;
something of his ardent patriotism as a Pole ; some-
thing of his disregard for the plaudits of the public.

Nothing of the sombre, religious earnestness of
Bach is there ; nothing of the fiery, robust vigour of
Handel ; nothing of the stately, heroic nobility of
Beethoven. It is all like the beauty of the starry
heavens, that cast their glitter upon the earth with a
radiant yet somewhat chastened joy which speaks of
the eternal. To admire Chopin's compositions bespeaks



a keen appreciation of forms of strange and wondrous
loveliness, like the forms of Fairyland. The player
who would do him anything like justice must, of course,
have executive ability of the very highest order. But
Chopin requires much more than this. To play him
and not to sympathise with him not to have some-
thing of that spirit of romance that shines out in his
compositions is to court certain failure ; and that is
why so many players whose talent is chiefly executive
have had to give him up and leave him to the apprecia-
tion of the far-seeing few.

Frederic Francis Chopin was born at a village near
Warsaw, in Poland, on the 22nd of February 1810.
He was an only son, but he had three sisters, one of
whom, the youngest, and Chopin's favourite, was cut
off when only fourteen. For consumption was at work
in this little family. Chopin's father was of French
extraction, but he had thrown in his lot with the Poles
long before he fell in love with Justina Krzyzanowska,
whom he married in 1806. He was very poor, though
gifted with a certain native distinction ; a man of
education and refinement. To him, therefore, the com-
poser owed some of his essential characteristics, to
say nothing of his delicate health. Frederic Chopin
was a weakly child from the first. His mother, whom
he once called his " only love," used to be continually
pleading with him to wrap up carefully. He was, in
fact, a constant anxiety to his parents ; but he was a
quiet and thoughtful boy, with the sweetest of disposi-
tions, and if he suffered he seldom complained.


In his early years he showed himself so sensitive to
music that his father confided him to the care of one
Zwyny, a passionate disciple of the great Bach, who
so advanced his pupil's progress at the piano that
before long he became the wonder of the drawing-
rooms of Warsaw. He was only nine when he made his
first public appearance and played a concerto. It was
characteristic of him that on this occasion he thought
more of his personal appearance than of his pianism.
His mother had rigged him out to the best advantage ;
and when, on his return, she asked him what the
public liked best, he replied innocently : " Oh, mamma,
everybody was looking at my lace collar." His sue
cess at this concert was, however, so marked that his
parents felt they must prepare him for music as a pro-
fession ; and their decision was presently supported by
Madame Catalani, the great vocalist, who gave the boy
a watch with a flattering inscription in praise of his

The piano was Chopin's favourite instrument from
the first. He took to it, we might say, as a duck takes
to the water. To overcome its technical difficulties he
laboured incessantly. He had a curious delight in ex-
tended arpeggios, and to render them easy he used
a stretching contrivance of his own which he kept
between his fingers during the night. He was more
fortunate than Schumann, for the experiment evidently
served him well. Though he was such a frail, delicate
elf of a boy, he never lacked vivacity. The tricks he
played on his sisters and his school -fellows were


innumerable. He would improvise romances for them
too ; and he was such a good mimic that some family
friends thought he should be an actor.

A piano stood in his room, and often during the
night he would get up and start playing, much to the
wonder of the maid, who concluded that he must be
silly. Of course he began to compose. But he had
received no lessons in composition ; so his father now
sent him to Joseph Eisner, the director of Warsaw
Conservatoire, to have him drilled in the theoretical
side of his art. Eisner proved just the right man.
Most teachers of that period were pedantic old fossils,
who pinned their pupils, talented and untalented alike,
down to the stereotyped rules, and chillingly checked
all attempts at originality. Eisner was not a teacher
of that kind. When somebody observed to him that
his pupil was not strict in his observance of the rules,
Eisner replied : " Leave him alone ; he does not follow
the common way because his talents are uncommon.
He has a method of his own, and his works will
reveal an originality hitherto unknown." Discerning
prophet ! And happy Chopin, to have had such a
liberal-minded instructor !

Chopin had been studying with Eisner for some
time when his father thought it would be good for
him to have a little tour before settling down to the
active practice of his profession. Warsaw was a small
place after all, and could never afford Frederic the
opportunity of becoming acquainted with celebrated
artists or of hearing the best performances of the


classics. Thus a tour was arranged. Berlin was the
first place visited. There the young artist heard a lot
of music, including Handel's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,
which he said most nearly approached his idea of the
sublime. Remember he was a very young man then.
At a public meeting he sat close to Mendelssohn, but
was too shy to speak to him. Later, when Mendels-
sohn made his acquaintance, he bestowed on him the
significant name of " Chopinetto."

After Berlin, several places were visited, though
their musical interests were not absorbing. In the
course of his travels by diligence Chopin landed one
day at an inn to find a piano there. It was in tune
too (a rare thing for an inn piano), and Chopin had
been itching to get at an instrument. He now attacked
the keyboard with such enthusiasm (and skill) that
soon he had all the travellers and all the people of the
inn around him. He played on and on, oblivious of
everything and everybody. Presently the driver of the
coach came to announce that time was up. " Confound
the disturber," roared the innkeeper, who had never
heard his piano so played before. " Let the coach
wait," said some of the travellers ; and Chopin con-
tinued his improvisation. When he had exhausted
himself, they brought him wine and cakes, and lady
admirers " filled the pockets of the carriage with the
best eatables that the house contained." Long years
after, Chopin would recall this episode with the keenest
pleasure. He said that the highest praise bestowed on
him by the press was nothing to the homage of the


German traveller at the inn, who, in his eagerness to
listen, had let his pipe go out.

It was about this time that Chopin met Hummel,
one of the older classics of the piano, and himself a
virtuoso of front rank. Hummel had been a pupil of
Mozart, and was for some time Beethoven's rival in
love. He had naturally much interest for Chopin,
whose style was influenced by him in a mild way.
Paganini, the wizard violinist, he heard about the same
date, but Paganini was not much in Chopin's " line."
And then came an important visit to " the beautiful
musical Vienna." There he was besieged with requests
to play in public a thing which evidently surprised
him in a city " which can boast of having heard a
Haydn, a Mozart, and a Beethoven." But play he did.
The best accounts of the performances are given by
himself in his letters home. Some, he tells, objected
that he played too softly; some, on the other hand,
were "quite enthusiastic about the delicacy and
elegance of my execution. My manner of playing
pleases the ladies." It always did. One Vienna lady
was, however, overheard remarking that it was a pity
the youth had so little presence. Perhaps she would
rather have had a tall, fine, officer-looking man at the
piano. Chopin gave a second recital, partly because
he was asked, but partly also for the curious reason
that people might say in Warsaw : " He gave only one
concert in Vienna, so he could not have been much
liked." At any rate, Vienna swelled its voice into a
full chorus of approval, and Chopin was enraptured.


Before he left the city he made the acquaintance of
Carl Czerny, whose "exercises" for the piano have
tried young fingers for so many generations. Of the
parting Chopin meaningly said that Czerny was
" warmer than all his compositions." At Prague and
at Dresden he met more musical celebrities, but
declined to play for fear of forfeiting the renown
he had won in Vienna. And so the little tour, the
Wander jahre^ ended. Chopin had tasted of the tree of
knowledge : Warsaw he could no longer think of as
a permanent home.

Before he left it a circumstance very usual with
young people occurred : Chopin fell in love. Though
he never married, he was often enough in love. Some-
body says he could fall in and out of love in an
evening ; and that a crumpled rose-leaf was sufficient
to induce frowns and capricious flights. This is an
exaggeration ; but undoubtedly Chopin did find, like
Sterne, that it " harmonised the soul " to be in love.
And perhaps it was good for his music too. Goethe's
flirtations contributed something to his artistic develop-
ment; and if Burns had not been so frequently
" smitten," we should have been without some of his
finest songs.

Chopin's first love was a student at the Warsaw
Conservatoire, a certain Constantia Gladowska. Liszt
(an authority on women) describes her as " sweet and
beautiful " ; and Chopin himself, when he got her to
sing at one of his recitals, told that she " wore a white
dress, and roses in her hair, and was charmingly beauti-




ful." For a long time Chopin sighed in silence. " Six
months have passed," he says in a letter, " and I have
not yet exchanged a word with her of whom I nightly
dream." And yet he admits that she inspired the
Waltz (Op. 70) in D flat, as well as the Adagio of the
F minor concerto. Chopin, in fact, loved but lacked
the courage to speak out. Instead, he put his passion
on music paper and played it. He bids somebody else
tell Constantia that " so long as my heart beats I shall
not cease to adore her " ; that, " even after death, my
ashes shall be strewn beneath her feet."

Alas ! the course of this love did not go smoothly.
Liszt gushes thus over the affair : " The tempest,
which in one of its gusts tore Chopin from his native
soil, like a bird dreamy and abstracted, surprised by a
storm upon the branches of a foreign tree, sundered
the ties of this first love, and robbed the exile of a
faithful and devoted wife, as well as disinherited him
of a country." The plain English of which is, that
Constantia gave her heart to another ; that Warsaw,
in consequence, became to Chopin quite impossible ;
and that, in the November of 1830, he left it never to
return. Rivers of ink have been spilt over this episode
in his early career, but many of the details are obscure.
The regrettable thing is that it should have affected
Chopin's health. Stephen Heller, passing through
Warsaw, found him thin and sunken, and told that
already the Warsaw people had marked him out for an
early death. Concealment of his love had, like a worm
i' the bud, as Shakespeare says, fed on his pale cheeks.


" I am going out into the wide world," Chopin wrote,
just before saying good-bye to his home for ever going
out " with the keyboard and a brain full of beautiful
music as his only weapons." The parting with his
family was sad enough. The father he saw once more
in life ; the mother he never saw, though she outlived
him by ten years. At Wola, a village beyond Warsaw,
a romantic incident occurred. His old master Eisner,
with all the pupils of the Warsaw Conservatoire, met
him, sang a cantata composed for the occasion, and
presented him with a silver goblet filled with Polish
soil. That same soil was, after a few short years, to be
strewn on his coffin in the cemetery of Pere la Chaise,
at Paris.

It was Paris that Chopin now settled in, though he
had no definite idea of his destination when he left
Warsaw. As a matter of fact, he made visits to Breslau
and Dresden and Vienna and other places before finally
deciding for Paris. He was in Vienna when Warsaw
rose in revolt against the Russians, and his patriotism
prompted a shouldering of arms on behalf of his
country. Writing from Vienna, he appeals to a friend :
" Shall I go to Paris ? Shall I return home ? Shall I
stay here? Shall I kill myself?" It was just like
Chopin to be so undecided. But the Fates had decided
for him. In the September of 1831 Warsaw was
captured by the Russians ; and in October Chopin
was in Paris, a youth still under twenty-two, lament-
ing his country's downfall, and wondering what had
happened to the beloved Constantia. How he felt


about Poland's fate he has expressed, so far as music
can express such feelings, in the magnificent fitude in
C minor (Op. 10, No. 12), which has been well described
as one of the truest and saddest utterances of despair-
ing patriotism.

But what was Chopin to do in Paris, now that he
was there ? Well, first of all he had to prove himself
as a pianist, and to perfect his technique. Kalkbrenner,
whose works nobody plays now, was at that time the
leading teacher of the piano in Paris, and to him Chopin
went to consult about lessons. Kalkbrenner heard him
play, and then said he must study with him for three
years. He objected, it seems, to such " unconstitutional
effects " as Chopin was in the habit of producing by
using his third finger for his thumb, and other equally
trifling matters of technique. These old masters found,
one suspects, that they could not play Chopin, and so
they decried him. Moscheles, another virtuoso of the
period, says in one of his letters : " I am a sincere
admirer of Chopin's originality ; he produces the
newest and most attractive piano work. But personally
I object to his artificial and often forced modulations ;
my fingers stick and stumble at such passages, and
practise them as I will, I never play them fluently."
That last remark lets us into the secret, for Moscheles
admitted when he heard Chopin himself that what his
fingers could not master ceased to offend when Chopin's
own delicate hands manipulated the keys.

At any rate, three years was too long a time for
Chopin to give up to Kalkbrenner. He had his living


to make, and he decided to perfect his technique by
himself. Meanwhile, he would give Paris a taste of
his powers by a public recital. The recital came off in
February 1832, and though the audience was small the
artistic success was great. Mendelssohn was present
and " applauded furiously." Chopin made no money
by the concert, but he made a reputation a reputation
which was further enhanced by a second recital in May.
Still, his path was far from being clear. Fame was all
very well, but fame would not feed and clothe him.
His finances were running low, and his spirits went
down with them. " My health," he wrote, " is very bad.
I appear, indeed, merry, especially when I am among
my fellow-countrymen ; but inwardly something tor-
ments me a gloomy presentiment, unrest, bad dreams,
sleeplessness, yearning, indifference to everything,
to the desire to live and the desire to die." In this
melancholy mood, he conceived the mad idea of
emigrating to America. Imagine Chopin, the musical
dreamer, in dollar-land ! Then a fortunate incident
happened which turned the tide in his affairs.

Prince Radziwill took him to a soiree at the
Rothschilds'. He was asked to play, as a matter
of course, and he played so superbly that he was not
only overwhelmed with compliments, but was promised
several good-paying pupils on the spot. After that, he
speedily came to the front, both in society and as a
teacher. Pupils flocked to him ; he had invitations from
all the grandees ; distinguished people called at his
rooms ; and concert managers struggled for his services.


" All the Frenchwomen dote on him," said one. " He is
the fashion, and we shall no doubt shortly have gloves
a la Chopin" Chopin himself wrote : " I move in the
highest circles and I don't know how I got there."
Thus was the young Pole launched on his career of
popularity in Paris. The popularity never waned, and
he had as much teaching as he could get through :
up at least to the time of the Revolution, when the
Parisians had something else to think of than music

Chopin would fain have lived quietly, if that had
been possible, which it was not. His friends and
admirers would not leave him in peace, and would
often invade his rooms in a body. The mere fact of
his being a Pole brought him irksome and uninvited
attentions, for Paris was greatly in sympathy with the
Poles at this time. " Vivent les Polonais ! " the mob
would cry when they identified a prominent Pole on
the streets. Chopin was already beginning to show
unmistakable signs of the chest trouble which ulti-
mately cut him off, and this made him more than ever
an object of tender interest to the fair sex. Of passing
fancies he had several, and we need not dwell on them.
But one fancy which was more than passing we must
dwell on. Chopin's connection with Madame Dudevant,
the French novelist, better known as " George Sand,"
was, in some respects, romantic enough. George Sand
was already a wife and a mother, living in Paris apart
from her husband, when Chopin met her. One would
have said there could be no attraction between these


two, their tastes and temperaments being so different.
We know what Chopin was : dainty, neurotic, tender as

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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 11 of 17)