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Ever your truly affectionate


This last concert, therefore, called forth the most
favourable and enthusiastic notices of Chopin. The
Warsaw newspapers were all full of his praises.
They compared him to the chief European virtuosi,
and prophesied the most brilliant future, saying that
some day Poland would be justly proud of the great
pianist and composer, &c., &c.

The sad but very important day in the life of a
young artist, that on which he leaves his father's
house, drew near. Frederic had to part, for a
lengthened period, from all that was dearest to
him, home, parents, sisters, and also from that lovely
young artiste, the ideal object of his enthusiastic
love. He was to leave her, and, alas ! for ever.

On November 2nd, 1830, he said adieu to his
beloved parents, who gave him their blessing, and
embraced his sisters with tearful eyes. From


Warsaw he went first to Kalisz, where he expected
to meet his friend, Titus Woyciechowski, to travel
with him to Vienna, through Breslau and Dresden.
A circle of friends, of which the venerable Eisner
was one, accompanied Frederic to Wola (the first
village beyond Warsaw) where the pupils of the
Conservatoire awaited him and sang a cantata, com-
posed for the occasion by Eisner. At the banquet
given there in his honour, a silver goblet, of artistic
workmanship filled to the brim with his native earth,
was presented to him. The sight of this beautiful
and ingenious gift caused the shining, art-loving eyes
of Frederic to fill with tears of the deepest emotion.

*' May you, wherever you go, never forget your
fatherland, or cease to love it with a warm and
faithful heart," said the friend who presented him
the goblet in the name of them all. "Think of
Poland, think of your friends, who are proud to call
you their countryman, who expect great things from
you, whose wishes and prayers accompany you."

The young artist once more pressed the hand of
each, and then turned his steps onwards. Before
him lay the wide, checkered, unknown world ; but
the consciousness of a .rue aim and a green blossom-
ing hope sustained him.






WO the lover and especially to the connoisseur of
^^ music it will be interesting to make a more
thorough examination of Chopin's compositions, in
order to appreciate them rightly, and to learn with
what intellectual equipment he set out on his long
years of travel. His first works were written in a
period of apparent quietness and calm. After the
battle of Waterloo, which had happened during the
peaceful labours of the Vienna Congress, the nations
once more breathed freely ; the great conqueror
was in captivity, and the political relations of the
European States seemed for the time settled. Peace,
so much desired, had succeeded at length to the
long and sanguinary wars, and brought with it the
hope of quickened life and renewed effort.

Poland, like every other country, grew conscious
of its own powers, its pride revived, and patriotic


reformers were energetic in diffusing plans for
the amelioration of its internal affairs. By degrees
chaos resolved itself into order, foreign influences were
shaken off, ^nd foreign customs discarded. Despite
the miseries the country had suffered, some enthu-
siasts dreamed that the golden age of the Jagellons
was about to return. Men of science were astir in
the field of discovery, and eagerly seeking to throw
fresh light on established truths. For years the
garlands of fame had been won by bold warriors, and
subtle politicians ; now, poet, artist, and savant were
to gather their laurels on the peaceful fields of science
and art. A new intellectual life, full of aspiring
fancy and creative impulse, universally prevailed.

At the Vienna Congress the right of being called
a " kingdom " had been granted only to the smaller
portion of Poland. Although exhausted by the
Napoleonic wars, and earnestly engaged in healing
its own wounds, the nation was anxiously desirous
of restoring culture, and encouraging literature and
art. There was a general feeling that on the
establishment of a new social and political order,
literature — as in Germany and other countries —
would find its subjects in the life and manners of
the people. The outbursts of feeling, the power of
conception, and the universal impulse towards ex-
pression would, it was thought, lay the foundations
of a national poetry, the classic forms not being
considered in harmony with the character of the
Polish nation.


Following the example of some industrious collec-
tors of Polish songs and proverbs, a brisk investiga-
tion was instituted into the literary treasures of
other countries. We had at that time but one
representative of the new sesthetical and philosophi-
cal ideas and poetic tendencies — Casimir Brodzinski.
As professor of Polish Literature at the Warsaw
University, and member of the Scientific Society,
he could not directly oppose the fundamental
principles of his colleagues, who belonged to the
classical school ; but these circumstances facilitated
rather than retarded the spread of his opinions,
which he propagated by his lectures at the University
and by essays in the journals. These opinions were
based on the principles of Kant and Schiller, on
the historical study of Polish literature, and on the
poetical theories of the Romantic School. Casimir
Brodzinski gathered around him a band of talented
young men, and a contest began, which daily became
more violent and bitter, between 'the Classists and
Romanticists. On one side were the advocates of the
old classic principles ; on the other youth, with its
ready enthusiasm for everything new, with such men
as Bohdan Zaleski, Sewerin Goszczynski, Anton
Malczewski, Stephan Witwicki, Moritz Goslowski,
and later on Slowacki and Sigismund Krasinski.
Mickiewicz,* the gifted author of "Grazyna" and

'•' His poems have been translated into nearly every living
language, perhaps with most success into German. They have
a peculiar colouring, are full of poetic inspiration, and rich in


'^Dziady;" and the greatest of Polish poets, sup-
ported by the historians Lelewel and Brodzinski,
placed himself at the head of the Romantic School,
and his genius soon triumphed over its opponets.

At the time when the battle between the champions
of the two schools was raging hottest, Chopin felt
the first stirrings of creative genius. Living in the
midst of a youthful circle, enthusiastic for national
poetry, which it not unjustly regarded as the basis
of all poetry, he made research for national melodies,
and sought by careful artistic treatment to enhance
their value and give them an assured place in
musical literature. In this he succeeded more com-
pletely than any other composer. No one could
reproduce with such beauty and truth the peculiar
melancholy feeling pervading all Sarmatian melodies.

The noblest enthusiasm glows in Chopin's music :
it may be called the complement, or rather the
illustration of the new national poetry. An eminent
Polish historian says of it : "A peculiar importance
belongs to Chopin's music, because in it more than
in any other our nation is represented in the noblest
light, in the possession of an independance, hitherto
unknown. Such music springs from the same
source as our national poetry."

With respect to Chopin, the same author also
quotes the following passage from Alfred de Musset's
" Confessions d'un enfant du siecle," which charac-
terizes, with such wonderful poetic feeling and
psychological keenness, the prevailing malady of


the age : *' When the war was over, the Emperor an
exile, and portraits of Wellington and Bliicher, with
the inscription ' Salvatoribus mundi,' adorned every
wall, a new generation was beholding, with gloomy
thought, the ruins of the past. In the veins of
these youths flowed the same warm blood which had
flooded the whole world. Everyone raved about the
snows of Moscow, and the sands of Egypt, every
soul was full of dreams, swelling with lofty thoughts
and panting with desires which were impossible, for
wherever men turned their eyes all was emptiness
and desolation. The more mature believed in nothing,
the learned lived in an eternal contradiction, poets
preached despair. An awful hopelessness raged like
a pest in the civilised world." If, according to
Alfred de Musset, political and literary circum-
stances had exercised so baneful an effect on the
younger generation in France, how much more ,
excuse was there for such a state of things in
Poland, where hope had turned into scepticism,
and melancholy become a chronic evil.

The sensitive and pliant Sarmatian temperament
is as susceptible to hope as to despair, but the
miserable political condition of the country for
generations could not but foster an inclination to
melancholy. The more finely strung natures, who
perhaps, maintain with difficulty the necessary
equilibrium for ordinary affairs, are, of course most
sensitive to such influences. Considering the poli-
tical circumstances of Poland, we can only wonder


that misery and despair did not lead the nation to
further extremes.

Among those whose productions expressed their
love for their country, and profound sorrow for its
shameful debasement, Chopin, for tenderness and
refinement, stands pre-eminent. His handsome
aristocratic appearance, and that enthusiasm of
nature, which was transfused into his music, dis-
tinguished him above his compeers. The fatal
events which, at the beginning of the decade of 1830,
brought Poland to the verge of ruin, could not but
influence the works of every native artist. Libelt,
one of the chief poets of that time, sung from the
very depth of his soul :

" Die traute Heimathe bletet uns kein Gluck,
Erliegt dem Vaterland das Misgeschick."

How could Chopin sing a cheerful song out of a
merry heart ? He would have had to assume a
cheerfulness he could not feel, which to his intensely
natural character would have been extremely difficult.
Like every great man, he was greatest when left to
the inspirations of his genius. The fire and spirit
of youth, indeed, glowed in his soul, and sweet
melodies flowed from his pen, but through his smile
the hot tear always glistened — a tribute to his
country and to his brethren fallen in her defence.

The Rondo, op. i (dedicated to Madame Linde)
composed in 1825, and afterwards arranged as a
duet, although artistically written throughout, is
Chopin's weakest work. His individuality was not


at that time fully developed, and Hummers influence
was unmistakable. It is no disparagement of his
talents to say this, for every young pianist of that
period made Hummel his model, and, moreover,
every genius, however independent, begins by un-
consciously imitating his favourite composers and
artists. As an instance of this we need only mention

In the following works, the " Introduction et
Polonaise brillante pour piano et 'cello " (op. 3),
the Sonata in C minor, (op. 4), dedicated to Eisner,
and the Trio (op. 8), which, although entitled
" Premier Trio," has had no successor, the leaning
towards Hummel is still evident ; the motives are
easily comprehensible, harmonious, clear and simple
in their development, but the Variations on " Don
Juan " already bear the true Chopin stamp.

In 1831, just after the appearance of this piece,
R. Schumann wrote a long article in the Allgemeine
Musikalische Zeitung, under the simple heading, '* An
opus 2." We quote a part of it : " Eusebius had
just stepped softly into the room. You are familiar
with the ironical smile on the pale face by which he
tries to excite attention. I was sitting at the piano
with Florestan, who is, as you are aware, one of
those peculiar musicians who pre -judge everything
new and extraordinary. But to-day a surprise
awaited him. With the words, ' Hats off, gentle-
men, a genius ! ' Eusebius laid before us a piece
of music of which we were not allowed to see the



title. I carelessly turned over the leaves. There is
something fascinating in the enjoyment of music
without sound. I think, too, that every composer
has his own manner of writing notes ; Beethoven
looks different to Mozart, just as Jean Paul's words
do not look like Goethe's. But now it seemed to
me as if quite strange eyes^ flowers' eyes, basilisks'
eyes, peacocks' eyes were gazing at me. Light
dawned in places ; I thought I saw Mozart's ' La ci
darem la mano ' entwined in a hundred chords.
Leoporello seemed to be looking steadily at me, and
Don Juan glided past in his white mantle. ' Now
play it,' said Florestan. Eusebius consented, and
we sat squeezed in a window niche to listen. He
played like one inspired and brought forth an
innumerable host of the most life-like forms ; as
if the enthusiasm of the moment had raised his
fingers beyond their usual possibilities. With the
exception, however, of a happy smile, Florestan
only expressed his approbation by saying that
these Variations might have been Beethoven's
or Franz Schubert's, if these composers had been
pianoforte virtuosi. But when he turned to the
title page and read, ' La ci darem la mano, varie
pour le pianoforte par Frederic Chopin, Oeuvre 2,'
we both cried in astonishment, ' a second work ! '
We were dumbfounded, and could only exclaim,
* Yes, but this is something clever. Chopin — I
never heard the name, who can he be? An un-
mistakable genius. In the Variations, in the con-


eluding movement and in the rondo genius shines
in every bar.' "

For one of the greatest musicians in Germany to
write thus enthusiastically of an Opus 2, by an
unknown composer, the work must . have been
marked by unusual originality, creative power, and
technical perfection. One of the most noteworthy
of the innumerable services rendered by Robert
Schumann is, that in spite of the most adverse
criticism, he first paved the way for Chopin's
popularity in Germany, in which endeavour he
was zealously aided by his wife, the world-famed
pianist, Clara Wieck Schumann.

Among Chopin's works, especially distinguished
for newness of form, we place the Mazurkas, op. 6
and 7. This national dance, with its monotonous,
poor, and apparently common-place rhythm, rose
under Chopin's magic touch to a poetic dignity, of
which no Polish musician had hitherto dreamed. I
have already mentioned how carefully and persever-
ingly Chopin listened to and assimilated the national
songs ; , he eliminated all vulgarity from the rhythm,
and retained only its characteristic element, while
the melody he idealised and glorified with his
finest poetry. Thus arose that exquisite series of
mazurkas, filled with gladness and melancholy,
smiles and tears. The two works referred to form,
so to speak, the first links in the chain.

In a foreign country, hundreds of miles from his
beloved home, Chopin often felt an indescribable


yearning for his family and fatherland. At such
times art was his only, and indeed his best solace.
His piano was his confidant, and for hours he would
pour out his feelings in sweet melancholy strains :
the tones-poems thus composed being among the
finest which ever flowed from his pen. This
mazurka form, peculiar to the Poles, seemed to
reveal a particular phase of feeling shared in more or
less by all Chopin's contemporaries. The mazurka
is the musical expression of a national yearning,
and is to every Slav singularly full of charm and

The three Nocturnes (op. 9) are true Petrarchian
sonnets, overflowing with grace, fairy-like charm,
and captivating sweetness ; they seem like whisper-
ings, on a still summer night, under the balcony
of the beloved one. Chopin writes : '' I have the
cognoscenti and the poetic natures on my side." But
the reviewers appear to have belonged to neither
category, for the reception they gave to the nocturnes
was to put their heads together and say, "he has
stolen it from Field ! " They even went so far as to
assert that Chopin was a pupil * of that composer,
who was then living in St. Petersburg, t

* See Schilling's Universal Lexicon of Music.
f John Field, born in Dublin, in 1782, a pupil of Clementi,
was one of the greatest and most celebrated pianists of his
time. In 1804, he went to St. Petersburg, where, except for
some artistic tours, he resided till 1820. He died in Moscow
m 1837.

Chopin's and field's nocturnes. 133

There exists, at all times, a species of half-
educated, envious criticism, ever ready to support
mediocre talent, and to stifle the first germs of
genius. Chopin felt its sting. Foremost among
such opponents vv^as Rellstab, of Berlin, who, in
his journal, the Iris, v^rote disparagingly of Chopin's
talents and compositions. Sikorski, on the other
hand, v^ell-known as one of the best and most con-
scientious of Polish critics, says : '^ On comparing
Field's nocturnes with those of Chopin, it must be
candidly confessed that the former do not surpass
the latter; although it is not to be denied that in
spite of some striking Chopin traits, opus 9 some-
what resembles Field's works in depth of feeling
and particular turns of expression. Their differences
may be thus described : Field's nocturnes represent
a cheerful, blooming landscape, bathed in sunshine ;
while Chopin's depict a romantic, mountainous
region, with a dark back-ground, and lowering clouds
flashing forth lightning."

Worthy of mention among Chopin's early works
are the "Variations brillantes " (op. 12), '' Grandes
Etudes " (op. 10), and some very interesting pieces
with orchestral accompaniments, written between
1828 — 30, for example, " Grand Fantaisie sur des
airs polonais " (op. 13), " Cracovienne " (op. 14),
and two Concertos, of which the one in E minor was
composed before his last journey from Warsaw.
The Fantasia and Rondo are almost unknown to
the German public, although distinguished by an


originality never wanting in Chopin's works. The
technical difficulties, and the specifically Polish cha-
racter of the earlier works have, perhaps, hindered
their popularity. But this is not the case with the
Concertos in E minor (op. ii), and F minor
(op. 21.) * Chopin's spiritual kinsman, Robert
Schumann, valued them very highly, and made
merry over their opponents, whom he jocosely
likened to the French, in the time of Louis Philippe,
refusing to recognize the legitimate Duke of Modena
as King, because he had ascended the throve by a

Chopin never imitated other composers ; and
never suffered himself to be misled by unjust blame
or vulgar praise. The approval of genuine musicians
gave him pleasure, but we can say of him, as we
cannot of everyone, that he never courted distinc-
tions or applause. This noble feature of his charac-
ter was sometimes inimical to his interests, for the
gentlemen of the press are not best pleased when a
poet and artist pays no homage to their power by
asking for their help and favour.

In 1834, Schumann wrote, in his " Gesammelte
Schriften iiber Musik und Musiker," vol. i, p. 275 :
" We may incidentally refer to a famous jackass of a

* I will not refer to the other works produced between
1824-9, and first published after Chopin's death by Julius
Fontana, as the composer did not himself desire their pub-


newspaper which, as we hear, (for we do not read it,
and flatter ourselves that in this we are not quite
unHke Beethoven) sometimes glances at us, under
its mask, with its dagger-like eyes, and only because
we jokingly suggested that the member of their vStaff
who wrote about Chopin's Don Juan Variations
resembled a bad verse, with a couple of feet too
much, which it was proposed to lop off at leisure.
But why should I recall this to-day, when I have
just come from Chopin's F minor Concerto ? Be-
ware ! Milk, cool blue milk versus poison. For
what is a whole year of newspapers to a Chopin
concerto ? What is master of arts madness to
poetic madness ? What are ten editorial crowns to
an adagio in the second concerto ? . . . Chopin
does not present himself with an orchestral army
like the great geniuses, he has only a little cohort,
but this is devoted to him to the last man."

Chopin's friend and brother artist, Franz Liszt,
the greatest pianist of the present century, although
not sharing Schumann's unbounded enthusiasm,
always pays due recognition to Chopin's talents,
and occasionally the tribute of his supreme admira-
tion. Speaking of the two Concertos, Chopin would,
he thinks, have preferred greater freedom, but did
violence to the promptings of his genius in order to
conform to the old-fashioned rules of composition.
Liszt says : " These works are distinguished by a
style of rare excellence, and contain passages of
great interest, phrases of astonishing grandeur. Take,


for example, the Adagio in the second Concerto, for
which he had a decided preference himself, and was
in the habit of frequently performing. The accessory
figures display the composer's happiest manner,
while the proportions of the chief phrase of the
fundamental subject are wonderfully grand. This
subject, with a recitative in the minor, forms the
antistrophe. The whole movement is ideally perfect,
now radiant with joy, now melting in pity."

I feel bound, in conclusion, to supplement the
criticisms of Schumann and Liszt, at that time the
only representatives of the so-called music of the
future, by an opinion formed at the present day,
and unbiased, therefore, by the prejudices and con-
troversies to which our master's creative genius gave
rise. The younger generation of musicians — and the
pianists in particular — having, in a great measure,
studied Chopin from their early youth, know how to
appreciate him, for we can only truly estimate what
we are thoroughly acquainted with, and which has,
so to speak, become to us a second nature. The
discussion as to Chopin's status in the musical world
is over, and his high position assigned to him once
for all. It is, however, interesting to read the
criticism of one of the most gifted pianists of the
present day, Hermann Scholtz. In a letter, which I
here quote, he says, speaking of Chopin's earliest
compositions :

" In considering these works, we are most astonished
at the great productiveness which he displayed in early


youth. What a wealth of melody, harmony, and rhythm
appears even in these first compositions ! His originality
is marvellous, for at a period when other composers are
more or less dependant on models, with him everything
is new. He is rightly called the creator of a new piano-
forte music ; for who before him wrote for the instrument
as he did ? in whom do we find such nobility of thought,
such spiritualization of passages ? I will merely remind
you of the manner in which he treated the left hand.
His tone-poems in the dance form (especially his
mazurkas and polonaises) receive an unusual charm
from their national colouring.

" Among his weakest compositions are the ' Rondo,
op, I,' ' Sonata, op. 4,' and ' Rondo a la Mazur, op. 5,'
which in form leaves much to be desired, but, by its
melodic charm and grace of feeling, is so irresistably
fascinating that its weaknesses are more than counter-
balanced. Exception might be taken to the instru-
mentation of the ' Cracovienne,' the Fantasia on Polish
airs, the Variations on ' Don Juan,' and the two Con-
certos, but on examining the pianoforte part we find it
full of the most beautiful thoughts, besides an unusual
number of passages quite new of their kind and afford-
ing ample opportunity for the display of the pianist's
virtuosity. I would particularly mention the Larghefto,
from the second Concerto, a piece full of poetic charm.
In it all the attributes of a perfect work of art appear in
the happiest union : noble melody, choice harmonies,
agreeable figures, and the perfection of form, while the
thoroughly original ideas are finely contrasted. One
thing, indeed, is frequently lacking in Chopin's


compositions — especially in those written in the larger
forms — the thematic work, which is the point d'appui in

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Online LibraryMaurycy KarasowskiFrederic Chopin; his life, letters, and works (Volume v.1) → online text (page 8 of 12)