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a woman, dreamy, slim of frame ; a man whose whole
appearance made those who saw him think of the
convolvuli, which, on the slenderest of stems, balance
divinely-coloured chalices of such vaporous tissues that
the slightest touch destroys them. Contrast this with
George Sand. To begin with, she was not pretty.
Liszt speaks of her "masculine countenance." De
Musset says she was "brown, pale, and dull com-
plexioned." Others describe her as short and stout,
dark and swarthy, with " a thick and unshapely nose
of the Hebraic cast, a coarse mouth, and a small chin."
Balzac, the novelist, wrote that her dominant character-
istics were those of a man ; that she was " not to be
regarded as a woman." We know that she often wore
men's clothes, and as often smoked " enormously thick
Trabucco cigars." Chopin was very doubtful about
her when first introduced. " What a repellent woman
that Sand is ! " he remarked to Ferdinand Hiller. "But
is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it.'*
Writing to a friend, he said : " Yesterday I met George
Sand. She made a very disagreeable impression on
me." Yet this was the woman who, according to most
of the biographers, broke Chopin's heart and directly
caused his early death. As Liszt puts it, she " inspired
the frail and delicate Chopin with an intensity of ad-
miration which consumed him, as a wine too spirituous
shatters the fragile vase."

It would take a long time to tell the story in full.



FREDERIC CHOPIN 175

It must suffice to say that George Sand, falling in love
with her hero, pretended to the world that she was
only looking after him in a motherly way; nursing
him through the winter, when his malady was most
troublesome, and relieving him from the worries of
business and household affairs, against which his artistic
nature rebelled. She carried him off, contrary to
medical advice, to an island in the Mediterranean,
where he was nearly brought to death's door, and where
the fatigue of tending him became so much more pro-
nounced than the pleasure of flirting, that her attach-
ment began to wane. Back in Paris, she complained
more and more of the tiresomeness of her self-imposed
task ; and in the end there was a complete rupture,
after eight years of what she called " maternal devo-
tion." Unfortunately the love had burnt itself out on
one side only: to the very last Chopin would have
died for this woman who had been the unworthy object
of one of the most consuming passions which nine-
teenth-century romance gave birth to. " All the cords
that bound me to life are broken," he would pensively
remark.

After the separation, the grief and agitation of his
mind, combined with his physical weakness, brought
him almost to the gates of death. But he got a little
better for a time, and when the Revolution broke
out, in 1848, he was able to start for England, where
he hoped to make some much-needed money. Still,
he was in a wretched state of health. People were
positively pained to see him. At Lord Falmouth's



1 76 MASTER MUSICIANS

he "came into the room bent double, and with a
distressing cough. He looked like a revived corpse."
At Broadwood's piano saloons he had to be carried
upstairs, being unequal to the exertion. For all this,
when he sat down to the instrument he played, as we
are told, " with extraordinary strength and animation."
He gave some public recitals, and played at Court
after being presented to the Queen.

He went to Scotland for recitals in Edinburgh and
Glasgow (he played in Manchester too), but the climate
was too severe for him, and the kindly-meaning people
gave him no rest. In one letter he writes : " I have
played at a concert in Glasgow before all the haute
voile. To-day I feel very much depressed oh, this
fog ! Although the window at which I am writing
commands the most splendid view in Scotland, I can
see nothing except when the sun breaks momentarily
through the mist. I feel weaker and weaker, and can-
not compose, not from want of inclination, but from
physical causes ; and besides, I am in a different place
every week. But what am I to do ? I must at least
lay by something for the winter." Pathetic it is to
think of this " revived corpse " dragging himself about
to play for a fee that any of the great recital pianists
nowadays would scorn. At Glasgow and at Man-
chester Chopin was paid just 60.

Tired, ill, distracted, hopeless about the future, he
was soon on his way to Paris, resolved that he would
appear no more in public. Alas ! it was a needless re-
solve. The seeds of consumption had lain too long in



FREDERIC CHOPIN 177

his frail frame, and in a few months he was stretched
on the bed from which he was never more to rise.
As his last hour approached he asked the Countess
Potocka to sing something. Mastering her emotion,
she sang Stradella's Hymn to the Virgin. " Oh, how
beautiful ! My God, how beautiful ! Again ! again ! "
exclaimed the dying composer. Evening closed in,
and the next morning, feeling a little better, he asked
the last Sacrament and confessed to a Polish priest.
To those around him he gave his blessing, and with
one sigh closed his eyes on the world. Many a tear
was shed when his death became known, for he was
beloved by a wide circle of friends. According to an
old custom, he was laid in the grave in the clothes he
wore at his recitals, and over his coffin was emptied
the goblet of Polish earth which he had brought with
him from that parting scene outside Warsaw. Thus
passed away, at the early age of thirty-nine, the greatest
c^ative musician that Poland has ever given to the
world. He was laid to rest in Pere la Chaise. Near
by is the splendid mausoleum of Rossini, inscribed in
gold letters with the simple name of the composer.
Higher up is the musicians' corner, where lie Cherubini,
Heiold, and Boieldieu. Chopin has a white marble
statue bearing the inscription: "Frederic Chopin.
Erected by his Friends." He sleeps, but his works will
live for ever.

Those who have read thus far will already know
Chopin the man. He was, let it be repeated, exactly
like his compositions. Pauer says truly that he never

N



1 78 MASTER MUSICIANS

in his life wrote a bar of music that contained a vulgar
idea. And there was nothing vulgar about himself.
That same sense of refinement and delicacy that we
experience in listening to a sympathetic rendering of
his best works is just what every one who met him
seems to have found to be his characteristics as a
man. He liked having fine, neat clothes ; he liked
flowers always in his rooms ; he disliked smoking.
These are details upon which we may found. Nobody
knew him better than George Sand, and her descrip-
tion is therefore worth quoting. She says :

Gentle, sensitive, and very lovely, he united the
charm of adolescence with the suavity of a more mature
age ; through the want of muscular development he re-
tained a peculiar beauty, and exceptional physiognomy,
which, if we may venture so to speak, belonged to neither
age nor sex. It was like the ideal creations with which
the poetry of the Middle Ages adorned the Christian
temples. The delicacy of his constitution rendered him
interesting in the eyes of women. The full yet grateful
cultivation of his mind, the sweet and captivating originality
of his conversation, gained for him the attention of the
most enlightened men, whilst those less highly cultivated
liked him for the exquisite courtesy of his manners.

To this may be added the picture drawn of him by
Liszt, who knew him well, and did much to help him
forward in his early public career : "His blue eyes
were more spiritual than dreamy ; his bland smile
never writhed into bitterness. The transparent deli-
cacy of his complexion pleased the eye ; his fair hair
was soft and silky ; his nose slightly aquiline ; his
bearing so distinguished, and his manners stamped



FREDERIC CHOPIN 179

with such high breeding, that involuntarily he was
always treated like a prince. His gestures were many
and graceful ; the tones of his voice veiled, often
stifled. His stature was low, his limbs were slight."

These quotations not only help us to understand
the nature of the man : they show us also how intimate
is the connection between what may be called the
external Chopin and the internal as exhibited in his
works.

As a player Chopin was always heard to best ad-
vantage in a small room or building, and he knew
this so well that he had a life-long aversion to appear-
ing in large concert halls. His touch, to say nothing
of the style of his music, was too delicate for anything
but a small and select company, who could appreciate
the poetical refinement of what Liszt called his "cabinet
pictures." " I am not suited for concert-giving," he
once said to Liszt. " I feel timid in presence of the
public ; their breath stifles me ; their curious gaze
paralyses me." When asked if he studied much before
giving a concert, he would reply : " It is a dreadful
time for me ; I do not like public life, but it is part of
my profession." Schumann said that Chopin knew
the piano as no one else did. Some called him the
Ariel of the piano ; some said his playing reminded
them of the warbling of linnets. George Sand had a
pet name for him, and it was " Velvet Fingers." Such
was Chopin the man and the player.

About Chopin the composer, as seen in his works,
a whole book might be written, and indeed more than



i8o MASTER MUSICIANS

one book has been written. His compositions are
absolutely unique of their kind, for Chopin is the poet
of the ^i&nQ par excellence, and has had neither imitators
nor rivals. His finest works are to be found in the
smallest forms, such as the Nocturne, the Mazurka,
the Ballade, and the Study. They are all so thoroughly
tinged with the native sentiment that they seem to be
suggested by thoughts of that country of his which
has presented so many different phases of character,
like every other country struggling for its freedom.
His originality is very remarkable ; he not only in-
vented new chords and modes of treatment, but also
new forms. He was fond of blending the major and
minor keys that is, he applied unreservedly to pieces
written in major keys chords belonging of right to the
minor keys, and vice versa ; and the amalgamation
offered to him many new and surprising harmonic
effects. The Impromptu, the Ballade, and the Valse
de Salon are all his creations. In his eighteen Noc-
turnes he gives us music of great charm, and of a
nobility of feeling rarely met with. His twenty-four
grand Studies are standard works, of great beauty and
lasting value, and have not been surpassed.

But why labour a point which every musical amateur
recognises ? Rubinstein said finely, and with finality :
" 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 instru-



FREDERIC CHOPIN 181

ment." This is the sum and substance of Frederic
Chopin. He lived his life, gave what was in him, and
died with a name destined, like the name of Mary
Stuart, to exert over unborn generations a witchery and
a charm unique in the history of his art.



RICHARD WAGNER: THE REVOLUTION-
ARY OF THE MUSIC DRAMA

There must be a beyond. In Wagner there is none. He is too
perfect. Never since the world began did an artist realise him-
self so perfectly. He achieved all he desired. GEORGE MOORE.

IN a fit of morbid despair at the apathy of the public,
Wagner once declared his music to be " the music of
the future." At that time it was emphatically so ; now
it is just as emphatically the music of the present.
Fifty years ago Wagner was looked upon as practically
a musical madman, a charlatan who had arisen to throw
all established art forms and traditions to the winds, to
trample under his feet the hitherto accepted great gods
of the divine art. The pendulum has swung to the
other side, and perhaps we are making too much of
Wagner now. But at least we have arrived at the point
of accepting him as a colossal genius in his own domain,
the domain of music drama. And whereas his con-
temporaries, for the most part, imagined that he would
have no place in musical history, we are all perfectly
assured now that the future of music can no more
ignore him than it can ignore Beethoven or Bach.
Wagner altered the whole course of modern opera, and

182



RICHARD WAGNER 183

founded a musical system which it is practically im-
possible for later composers to set aside.

Richard Wagner was the youngest of a family of
nine children, and was born at Leipzig on May 22,
1813. His father, a man of good education, occupied
some minor official post in connection with the police.
But Wagner never knew his father. Around his cradle,
as some one has put it, was fought the battle of the
nations. One hundred and twenty thousand Germans
and Frenchmen lay dead or dying in the fields near
Leipzig when the baby Richard was snuggling peace-
fully in his cot ; and the epidemic fever which came
stalking abroad to finish the grim work of carnage
rendered the future composer fatherless when only five
months old. Frau Wagner, left thus with a big charge
and little means, could hardly do better than marry
again. The second husband was a certain Ludwig
Geyer, a writer of plays and an actor at the Dresden
Theatre ; and to Dresden therefore the Wagners re-
moved. Geyer proved a very good step-father. But he,
too, was cut off before he could have any real influence
on the boy, for he died when Richard was only ten.
Still, as Sir Hubert Parry says, it is probable that
Geyer's profession added strength to the already strong
theatrical influences which were present in the Wagner
family, and thereby helped towards those favourable
conditions which were necessary for the achievement of
the special work the boy was to do in the world.

Most of the great composers have been prodigies,
as we have seen. Wagner ripened late, like Schumann.



1 84 MASTER MUSICIANS

It was literature that interested him first, rather than
music. Thus at school he took a fancy for Greek, and
made great progress in it. He conceived also a vast
admiration for Shakespeare, and under that influence
wrote a tragedy himself when he was fourteen. A
wonderful effort it was : a sort of mixture of " Hamlet "
and "Lear" and "Titus Andronicus." Forty -two
persons were killed one after the other long before the
end ; and in order to have anybody on the stage some
of the characters were brought back as ghosts ! All
this time his musical leanings had shown themselves
only in a very faint way. As a child of seven he used
to strum on the piano, upon which, later on, his Latin
tutor gave him some lessons, only to predict that
musically he would " come to nothing." It should be
remarked, however, that Wagner always hated the
piano, and never could play it well. " He could never
fondle a piano without making it howl," says one. There
is a curious story in illustration, and it introduces us to
Wagner's first love, a Jewish beauty called Leah David.
In adult life Wagner had a fierce hatred for the Jewish
race, but Jewish youth and beauty bewitched him in
his teens. Leah had a Dutchman cousin who was a
pianist, and Wagner, jealous, criticised his playing. He
was invited to do better, and did so badly that he rushed
from the room vowing vengeance on the Dutchman.
This put him out with the pretty Jewess, who of course
married her cousin. "It was my first love sorrow, and I
thought I should never forget it," said Wagner.

When his step-father was dying, he was heard to




WAGNER



HANFSTAENGL COLLECTION



RICHARD WAGNER 185

mutter that " something worth while might be made
of Richard." Wagner used to repeat this with pride,
adding : " I remember how I long imagined that some-
thing would be made of me." But what was the " some-
thing " to be ? That remained uncertain for many a
day. It was a hearing of one of Beethoven's sym-
phonies that practically brought about the decision.
" I fell ill of a fever," says Wagner, speaking of this
turning-point in his career, " and when I recovered I
was a musician." He set to the study of Beethoven's
works in dead earnest, and it is stated that he knew
them all familiarly before he was twenty. Early in his
teens he heard Goethe's Egmont with Beethoven's
incidental music. This inspired him with the idea
of writing incidental music for his own portentous
tragedy, mentioned above. And so the die was cast :
Richard would be a composer.

He sought out a music master, who, however, was
"not successful in controlling and directing his
energies." Richard experimented with various large
works, which, of course, did not fit in with the master's
views, and as Richard would not brook adverse
criticism, the two parted company. Richard had no
liking for moderate experiments : he must try his hand
at works on a grand scale. He wrote overtures, for
example, and one of them he carried to Dorn, the
conductor at the Dresden Theatre Royal. It was set
down in ink of three different colours red for the
string parts, green for the wood-winds, and black for
the brass. Dorn was kind enough to put the thing



1 86 MASTER MUSICIANS

in performance, "much to the bewilderment of the
audience," says the biographer.

Meanwhile, in 1828, Wagner went back to Leipzig,
to enter the University there. Music was temporarily
laid aside in favour of classical studies. But only
temporarily. He took more lessons, this time from
an excellent musician called Weinlich, cantor of that
same Thomas School with which Bach was con-
nected. The lessons went on for six months, and then
Weinlich told his pupil that he had arrived at technical
independence, and might be left to himself. This was
indeed the case, for Wagner had no more formal in-
struction in his art. But he was one of those men
who develop slowly. His aims were very high, and he
had to go through an immense amount of experiment
before he found out how to express himself fully.

It would be of no use to speak at any length of his
early efforts at composition, for they are all forgotten
now. An opera was produced in 1832, but it was a
failure. Then Wagner went to Wiirzburg to fill the
post of chorus-master at the theatre there. His next
attempt was a three-act opera called Die Feen (The
Fairies), but neither the libretto (described by a critic
as "clotted nonsense") nor the music could make
the thing " go." These experiences rather sickened
Wagner of Wiirzburg; and in 1834 he moved to
Magdeburg, where he was engaged in a similar capa-
city at the theatre.

In 1836 he "billed" Magdeburg with a new opera
for performance, but the audience were so disappointed



RICHARD WAGNER 187

with it on the first night that the second representa-
tion had to be stopped half-way through in deference to
the empty benches. Soon after this, Wagner got an
engagement as conductor at Konigsberg. He had fallen
in love some time before, and his attraction to Konigs-
berg is explained by the fact that the lady was now
fulfilling an engagement at the theatre there. For
Minna Planer was an actress : described as pretty by
some, and as of a " pleasing appearance " by others.
One painter said she was " pretty as a picture " but had
a sober, unimaginative soul. The wedding followed,
but it soon became apparent that Minna was not the
kind of mate Wagner wanted. " I was in love," he said
afterwards, " and I persisted in getting married, thus
involving myself and another in unhappiness." This is
hardly the sort of book in which to discuss Wagner's
or any other composer's matrimonial affairs in detail.
But much has been written in direct condemnation of
Minna Planer, and a feeling of chivalry dictates a mild
protest.

When Wagner married, he was a young man strug-
gling with poverty and beaten down by disappointed
hopes. By and by, as his genius developed and ex-
panded, he found that he could not get on with Minna,
and a separation was the ultimate result. But Minna
was not solely to blame. Wagner's biographers have
nothing worse to say of her than that she failed to
recognise her husband's genius. But how many much
better instructed and more discerning people than a
popular actress was likely to be, recognised Wagner's



1 88 MASTER MUSICIANS

genius at that time ? When Wagner married he was
totally unknown to the great world of music. How
should Minna Planer know that she was giving her
hand to a man who, though at present obscure and
impecunious, would successfully fight against all diffi-
culties, and whose works would, in the distant future,
become not only celebrated but even popular ?

Let us be fair to Minna Wagner. That she had not
the perception which the Wagner biographers demand
of her was her misfortune rather than her fault. And
there is this to be remembered to her credit, that she
suffered bravely and even gladly all those terrible hard-
ships which beset her husband during the changeful
years after the marriage. It is recorded that she
pawned her jewelry under some domestic distress.
Wagner's diary reveals that in Paris, when he invited
a sick and starving German to breakfast, his wife
told him there could be no breakfast as there was no
money in the house. Wagner used to recount with
moist eyes these stories of his wife's self-denial, and of
" the cheerfulness with which she, the pretty actress
of former days, cooked what meals there were to
cook, and scrubbed what clothes there were to scrub."
For those who know all the facts it is impossible
to refrain from sympathising with Minna Wagner,
thrown out at last upon a cold world, to live isolated,
to die with a shadow upon her name as a wife.

But to return to the date of the marriage, the year
1836. Wagner's life at this period was necessarily
Bohemian. He had grand ideas, but no means of



RICHARD WAGNER 189

turning them into remunerative realities. And now,
anchored to a wife, he found his difficulties greater
than ever. Always on the move, we hear of him next
at Riga, where he filled another miserable post at the
theatre. But he had already begun to look towards
Paris, and was indeed now composing the kind of
opera which he supposed would bring him success
there. He had read Bulwer Lytton's Rienzi> and had
been taken with the subject. The Parisians, he saw,
were fond of glitter and noise, and Rienzi would be
exactly the thing for them.

In the summer of 1839 this new plan came to
maturity, and Wagner, with his wife and a big New-
foundland dog (he had a fancy for dogs), started on
board a sailing vessel for London, intending to make
his way from thence to Paris. The voyage lasted
nearly a month, for there was a terrific storm on the
North Sea. Wagner wrote afterwards : " The only
time I ever went to sea, I barely escaped shipwreck.
Should I go to America, I am sure the Atlantic would
receive me with a cyclone." However, the delay
proved of ultimate advantage to Wagner, for, to re-
lieve the tedium, he got into talk with the sailors, and
they recalled to him the story of the Flying Dutch-
man, which was to bear fruit later. " Three times,"
he says, " we suffered from the effects of heavy storms.
The passage through the Narrows made a wondrous
impression on my fancy. The legend of the Flying
Dutchman was confirmed by the sailors, and the cir-
cumstances gave it a distinct and characteristic colour



190 MASTER MUSICIANS

in my mind." We shall say nothing of the London
visit, further than to note that Wagner lost his dog
the day he landed. In great distress, he ran about
asking everybody in broken English if they had seen
the animal. Next day he started off to the Docks in
search of the favourite, but in vain. On his return
to the " King's Arms," Soho, his step was recognised
on the stairs, when, to Wagner's delight, the dog
" burst into barkter."

Wagner reached Paris in the autumn, with the MS.
of Rienzi in his pocket, full of hope, but empty in
purse. He had expected to get Rienzi staged, and
thereby to win fame and fortune. Alas ! the managers
of the Grand Opera would have nothing to do with
Rienzi) and the despairing composer was left face to
face with a struggle for bare existence. First he tried
to get a post as a singer in a small theatre, and was
told that he could not sing. Next he wrote articles
for a musical paper ; wrote even a couple of novelettes.
A music publisher proved kindly, and engaged him
in " making arrangements for every conceivable


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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 12 of 17)