Maurycy Karasowski.

Frederic Chopin; his life, letters, and works (Volume v.1) online

. (page 9 of 12)
Online LibraryMaurycy KarasowskiFrederic Chopin; his life, letters, and works (Volume v.1) → online text (page 9 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the works of Beethoven and the older masters. In view
of his undeniable excellencies, we readily look with
indulgence on these minor failings in an artist of such
rare imaginative power as Chopin, who, while revealing
to his hearers a new world of thought, is himself, com-
pletely absorbed in the creations of his fancy, for which
reason most of his shorter works give the impression of
an improvisation.

" Chopin gives us his finest and most finished work in
the smallest forms, such as the nocturnes, in which we
see the real enthusiasm of his nature; his studies even
are redolent with poetry. Play numbers 3, 6, 9, 10, and
12 from op. 10, and you cannot fail to agree with me.
I consider the last study (in C minor), with its heroic
character, as the most beautiful in this collection. To
Chopin is due the merit of having first used the broken
chords in a spread-out form, which had formerly been
written only in a close position. To this innovation we
owe a host of interesting figures, as his studies and
concertos abundantly prove. The transposition of the
third and other intervals to a higher octave produces
that agreeable effect which is so captivating in his
music. Chopin may possibly have received a sugges-
tion from Weber, who used plenty of firm chords in
a scattered position.

" One of Chopin's special characteristics is the employ-
ment of the diminished chord, especially the chord of
the seventh. This frequently occurs in his mazurkas,
in which, by the enharmonic use of this chord, he ac-
complishes a charming return to the chief subject. We


must point out a passage in the Etude in A flat, No. 10,
op. 10, in which, by an enharmonic change of the
ordinary chord of the seventh, the chief melody re-enters
on the chord of the six-four, which produces an effect
quite bewitching. We meet with similar examples in
Schumann's Romance (F sharp) and Mendelssohn's
'Songs without Words' (No. i, book 2.) Wagner,
also, has turned this modulation to the happiest account
in his newest operas.

"Another of Chopin's pecularities is that he always
repeats the chief thought in a new form, and by
arabesques or fresh harmonization always gives it an
additional interest."

With such an intellectual equipment, of w^hose
greatness he was not himself conscious, Chopin went
abroad. Granting that his creative talent developed
in after years, and that he daily gained fresh stores
of knowledge and experience, we still maintain that,
as regards real inspiration, he was never grander or
more independent than in his first works. They
glow with that inimitable youthful fire, which no
one possesses for more than a limited period, but
which produces an unfailing delight and an indelible



SPHE goal of Chopin's travels was Italy, the land
^ still glorious in fame, the land of love, the
cradle of the arts. In the home of the great masters,
v^here sweet rhelodies are heard in every mouth, he
hoped to perfect himself in the practice of his art,
and to gather fresh thoughts for new works.

In Germany, music had, by the first quarter of the
present century, attained a high position ; such men
as Handel, Gliick, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and
Weber had enriched the world with masterpieces ;
all the larger towns possessed a good opera house,
and the best singers and instrumentalists were heard
in the concert halls. But the repertoires consisted
almost exclusively of Italian music, especially of the
works of that most prolific writer and universal
favourite, Gioacchino Rossini. Mozart's operas
were rarely heard : " Der Freischiitz " was the only
German opera that had attained any popularity ;
" Fidelio " met with so little success that, after one


performance in Vienna, it was withdrawn, and, as
was then thought, finally.

Beethoven's immortal works, however highly con-
noisseurs might esteem them, were lying unheeded in
libraries. The chefs d'orchestres, either from indolence,
personal grudge, or because they were envious of the
master who had surpassed all other composers,
showed little readiness to study his wonderful crea-
tions ; besides which, the players of that time were
seldom technically qualified for the difficult task of
adequately rendering Beethoven's Symphonies. The
more easily comprehensible music of the Italian
school was received by the public with great gusto,
and only a few isolated voices were heard asking for
deeper and more earnest works.

Although Beethoven had been sleeping three years
in the Wahringer churchyard, at Vienna, nothing of
his music was heard beyond an occasional perform-
ance of his larger works at the Vienna " Spiritual
oder Gesellschafts-Concerten," or the production of
one of the last quartets by Schuppanzigh, who
received but little thanks for his pains.* Beethoven's
Sonatas had as completely vanished from the piano
as if they had been buried with their author. By
a considerable section of the public his glorious

* From 1827 to ^^3^ there was only one performance of a
Beethoven Symphony at the " Spirituel " concerts. The one
given was the C minor. (See HansHck's " Geschichte des
Concertwesens in Wien."


Pianoforte Concertos, and the Violin Concerto werc-
thought wearisome, and almost unplayable ; only by
a very small and select minority was the master
sincerely reverenced and warmly admired. Through
their exertions to make his works accessible to the
general public, his fame gradually increased, till,
like the sun long struggling through its clouds, it
shone over the whole civilised world.

How often must the master have been cut to the
heart at seeing how small was the number of those
who understood him, and how many of his country-
men exclusively preferred Italian music. But every
lofty genius is aware of the real measure of its own
greatness : mediocre ability over-estimates itself,
great talent knows what are its capacities, but
genius despite much or lone: misunderstanding, and
uninfluenced by praise or blame, goes on its way,
trusting to the voice within which ever and again
cries, " your time is coming."

Beethoven made no secret of his opinions, and,
regardless of giving offence, spoke out plainly against
the French and Italian music of his day. To this
Schindler, in his Biography of Beethoven, refers as
follows: "At the beginning of the third decade of
the present century, when the flood of Italian music
was at its height, Beethoven was one day conversing
with some friends on the almost desperate prospects
of musical art, when we heard him say decisively,
* But they cannot deprive me of my place in the
history of art.' " This clearly shows that sure


confidence about the future consoled him for the
lack of present success.

Under such circumstances the generality of com-
positions were, of course, of an insipid kind, designed
only for external effect. The famous pianists of the
day — Field, Cramer, Klengel (pupils of Clementi),
and Hummel (pupil of Dionys Weber) * — gradually
disappeared from the scene of the triumphs of Field
as a virtuoso, and of Hummel as a composer and
tasteful player. Among a younger generation of
musicians, Kalkbrenner bore the palm ; after him
came Moscheles, Herz, Thalberg, and Mendelsohn.
Liszt had not made a name till some years later.
Felix Mendelssohn had attracted attention by his
instrumental works, but his fame was then merely
in the bud. Franz Schubert t was only known in
Vienna and Prague as a song-writer. In Vienna,
where he was born and lived for the whole of his
short life, people knew nothing, or cared nothing,
about his C major Symphony.

A little band of true lovers of art, men to whom
music was something sacred, strove to bring about
a reform, and shrunk not from material sacrifices in

* Dionys Weber, born 1771, died 1842, founded the Prague
Conservatoire in 181 1. He was a good composer and an
excellent teacher. Under his management the Prague Con-
servatoire became one of the best in Europe.

* Born January 31st, 1797, died November i8th, 1828. His
grave is close to Beethoven's.

144 L^^^ ^^ CHOPIN.

the cause of earnest music. Deeming the encourage-
ment of young and struggling artists a desideratum
they offered prizes for the best symphony, which
were competed for from time to time, as, in 1834,
when Lachner won the first prize. Attracted by
the honour and pecuniary advantages there was
no lack of competitors, but although most of the
compositions displayed knowledge, industry, and
conscientious work, none of them were illumined by
the immortal spark of genius. It was at length per-
ceived that no amount of prize-giving -would produce
genius, or even talent ; that the true musician, like
the poet, must be born ; and the scheme was

The German masters of that day were more
successful in the domain of opera than in that of
symphony ; Winter's " Das unterbrochene Opfer-
fest," Weigl's '' Schweizerfamilie," Spohr's " Jes*
sonda," " Azor und Zemire," and ''Faust," were
favourably received for upwards of twenty years.
Of Kreutzer's works, " Das Nachtlager von Granada "
has alone been preserved, of Marschner's (the greatest
opera composer of the three we have mentioned)
*' Der Templar und die Judin " and " Hans Heiling "
have remained on the stage. Lortzing, a writer of
comic operas, came out later, as also did Flotow.
Meyerbeer, whose " Robert le Diable," and " Les
Huguenots " have now been over the whole world,
had then, with the exception of his " Ritter des
Kreuzes," only written operas for the Italian stage,


but had been unable to compete with the highly-
admired Rossini.

Italy could no longer boast illustrious virtuosi like
Corelli, Tartini, Viotti, Scarlatti, and Clementi,
whose genius had attracted the eyes of all Europe ;
but she possessed a Paganini, the greatest violinist
of the century, as Catalini was the greatest singer.
Spohr, in his autobiography, says a great deal
in disparagement of Paganini, not, indeed, from
jealousy, for, being himself one of the greatest
violinists musical, history can produce, he adhered
as closely to the principles of the Classic School as
Paganini did to those of the Romantic. Those who
heard them both say, that although they could not
but admire Spohr, he never carried them away with
the same force, or produced such a deep undying
impression as Paganini.

In 18^9, Paganini appeared at several concerts in
Warsaw, and Chopin was entranced by his playing.
He never ceased to speak with enthusiasm of the
Paganini evenings, which seemed to carry him out
of the real world into a land of happy dreams.

Lipinski,* who had made Paganini's acquaintance

* Charles Lipinski, born at Rdzyn, in Poland, in 1790, was
as great a violionist as Chopin was a pianist. He enjoyed a
considerable reputation ; but as a composer is so far surpassed
by Chopin that the two can only be mentioned together as
Poland's greatest virtuosi Lipinski died in 1861, at his estate
in Galicia, after holding, for more than twenty years, the post
of chef d'orchestre at Dresden.



at Piacenza, met him again in Warsaw, and the two
artists greeted each other with the sincerest pleasure.
In spite of all the honour paid to the great Italian,
it was felt that Polish patriotism was in question,
and this showed itself very warmly. A competition
was proposed, which the two artists accepted ; they
each played their favourite pieces in turn, and con-
cluded w^ith a double Concerto by Kreutzer,* amid
frantic shouts of applause.

The modesty of Chopin's character .and his free-
dom from jealousy appear from a remark which he
made on this occasion, " If I were such a pianist as
Paganini is a violinist I should like to engage in a
similar competition with a pianist of equal powers."
That evening he made up his mind to pay a long
visit to Paganini's fatherland ; no less did the singers
attract him " to the land where the citrons bloom,"
for Italy had at that day a more brilliant array of
vocal artists than any country in Europe. The
mild climate of those happy regions is favourable to
the development of fine voices ; but the Italian sing-
ing masters understand also the art of bringing out
the voice to the best advantage.

The Italian composers, Rossini, Mercadente,
Vaccai, Bellini, and Donizetti wrote excellently

- Rudolph Kreutzer, not to be confounded with Conradin
Kreutzer, was born in 1766, at Versailles, of German parents.
He was a great virtuoso, wrote several brilliant Concertos,
and some incomparable studies. He died in 1831, at Geneva.


for the voice, but they not only required a fine,
rich organ, but an artistic culture, such as in these
days, unfortunately, is rare. What a stimulus to
fresh effort Chopin hoped to receive from hearing
Rubini, Mario, Galli, Lablache, Tamburin, Pasta,
Judith, Grusi, and Palazzesi !

In Poland, Italian opera was considered the finest
in the world. Every great city, like London, Paris,
Vienna, St. Petersburg, or Stockholm, had an Italian
opera house ; even in such cities as Dresden and
Munich there was an Italian as well as a German
opera, or at least Italian singers were engaged
besides German ones.

Had Chopin gone to Italy his playing would un-
doubtedly have captivated a people so sensitive to
artistic beauty, and it is possible that the voice of
praise might have rendered him insensible to other
influences ; but as a mere listener he had been
learning to admire, and criticise the achievements of

Mozart, to whom Chopin looked up with reverence,
had visited Italy when fourteen years of age, and won
great triumphs as a pianist, but as soon as he had
heard the glorious voices and perfect vocalization of
the operatic singers, he felt stirred by the desire of
writing an opera. In 1770, he composed " Midritate
Re di Ponta," and the success of this work made
him resolve to devote his energies thenceforth more
especially to the stage. In no other country could
a composer attain such operatic triumphs ; the report


of a new and well-received opera ran like wild-fire
from town to town, and the fame of a young com-
poser spread from the Italian cities over the whole

Meyerbeer also began his career as a pianist, and
as such achieved a brilliant success. Salieri, hearing
him improvise at Vienna, at once discerned his
ability, and said to him, '' What are you going to
do ? Go to Italy, and study the operatic style, and
the Italian method of singing." Through the
influence of his wealthy family, Meyerbeer's first
operatic attempts had been produced at the Royal
Theatre in Berlin, but had excited little interest.
To the somewhat dispirited young writer, Salieri's
advice seemed very acceptable. He acted upon it,
and when he had been some months in Milan, wrote
an operetta, which had a very favourable reception.
After an interval of a year he produced the " Crociato
in Egitto," which carried the name of Meyerbeer all
over Italy. Although not quite twenty years of age,
the doors of the Royal Academy of Music in Paris
were opened to him, and they were the key to those
of the entire musical world.

Many of Chopin's friends and admirers used to
say, " Our Frederic will do likewise, and become a
first rate operatic composer." For him, however, a
different though a still splendid destiny was in store.
The non-fulfilment of these expectations, to which
his rare musical gifts had given rise, may be ex-
plained by external circumstances.


It seems at first sight a matter of surprise that
Chopin did not produce one dramatic work during
his many years' residence in Paris, where there is
such an abundance of good models and first-rate
artists ; besides which there was at that time not
only the Grand Opera, but the Comic and Italian
operas. But no one fully acquainted with the
circumstances will be astonished that, in Paris,
Chopin should have held aloof from the stage. In
Italy, a new opera can be mounted without much
expense, for the public care little about costumes
and scenery. They attend the opera solely for the
music ; if this finds favour and the singers are good
a new work may be performed, several nights in
succession, and the fortune of the composer is made.
But in Paris a new opera necessitates a large outlay,
besides which — and particularly in the case of a
foreigner — a famous reputation and influential patron-
age are requisite for the acceptance of any great
operatic work. The Parisians demand a mounting
at once tasteful and gorgeous, and every opera —
whatever the excellence of the music — must include
some brilliant dances in order to produce a due
effect. Otherwise a fiasco may be predicted with
something like certainty.

When Chopin settled in Paris he had to take
thought for means of subsistence, in order to render
needless any further pecuniary sacrifices on the part
of his parents. In spite of his masterly skill he did
not find it easy to gain a footing in a city, where


there were already many pianists of talent and
celebrity. In the winter famous performers from
all parts of Europe resorted to the capital of the
continent to let their light shine before the leaders of
fashion. To keep abreast of such competitors Chopin
was compelled to study continuously, and only a
virtuoso knows what this means. Neither could he
abandon society, although this would have been
better for his delicate health. If he could have
lived according to his inclinations as a composer,
not as an executant, and a Scribe had written a
libretto for him, an opera might then have been
included among his productions in Paris.

But we have been anticipating and must return
to our artist, whose beautiful, dreamy eyes beamed
with delight as he thought of Italy, the ideal land of
his imagination. He was subject, of course, to seasons
of depression, and yearning after his beloved family,
for his was not one of those superficial natures which
soon forgets what is not before its eyes. He thought
fondly of parents and sisters, and of his adored
Constantia with all the passionate ardour of his
poetic soul. Her sweet voice was ever ringing in his
ears, and in his dreams he saw her eyes suffused
with tears ; while the ring which she had slipped on
his finger at parting was his dearest jewel. His
letters to his confidential friend, Johann Matuszynski,
show how noble and fervent was his love, yet
Constantia's name never once appears in his
letters to his family, from whom he kept secret his


attachment. He used earnestly to beg his friend to
send him frequent news of his " angel of peace,"
as he called his Constantia, that he might not
perish with longing and unrest.

As this friend faithfully fulfilled what was required
of him, a brief reference may be made to his life.
Johann Matuszynski was born in Warsaw, December
gth, i8og, and, after passing through the Lyceum,
went to the University to study medicine. At the
end of six terms of diligent study, he was appointed
regimental surgeon in 1830, just when the war of
freedom broke out in Poland. Four years later he
graduated at Tubingen, and received the diploma of
doctor of medicine and surgery. At the same time
he wrote a treatise on " Plica Polonica," which was
highly commended. He next went to Paris, where
he immediately visited his friend Chopin, whom he
had not seen for five years. They had been school-
fellows at the Lyceum, and as the doctor was an
excellent flautist they had as boys played duets
together. A weakness of the chest obliged Matu-
szynski, in after years, to abandon his instrument.

In Paris he soon attracted the attention of the
first physicians, and, what for a foreigner is very
rare, was made professor at the "Ecole de Medicine."
Proud of this position, he devoted himself to his
profession with an assiduity injurious to his delicate
health, and he died of consumption, April 20th,




V^T Kaliz, where Frederic met his friend and
^^ travelling companion, Titus Woyciechowski,
he was the guest of the physician, Dr. Kelbich.
That most agreeable man requested him to give a
concert in the little town, but the young artist
declined, not being satisfied with the orchestra.

At the present day, a famous pianoforte virtuoso
like Chopin would not concern himself about the
orchestra, but unhesitatingly perform the longest
programme, without the assistance of any other
artists. Then, however, pianists rarely played less
than two pieces wdth orchestral accompaniment ;
they engaged the co-operation of other musicians,
partly from a respect for art, partly for the sake of
offering the public more variety.

Chopin declared that it was impossible to play the
whole evening, and as soon as Woyciechowski
arrived, he bade a grateful farewell to his hospitable
host and pursued his journey. The friends stopped
at Breslau, from whence Chopin wrote as follows ; —


Breslau, November, gth, 1830.

My beloved Parents and Sisters,

We arrived here very comfortably on Saturday
evening, at six, in bright pleasant autumn weather.
We put up at the Hotel " Zur Goldenen Gans," and,
as soon as we had dressed and taken some refresh-
ment, we went to the theatre, where Raimund's
" Alpine King" was being performed. You will see
the piece some day. The public admired the scenery
more than we did. I thought the acting pretty good.
The day before yesterday '' Maurer and Schlosser "
was given, but not in first-rate style. To-day I shall
hear the " Interrupted Sacrifice ; " I am quite curious
to see how it will turn out. There is a want of good
singers here, but then the theatre is very cheap ; a
place in the pit only costs two Polish gulden.*

Breslau pleases me much better this time than
last. I have delivered Sowinski's letter, but have
scarcely seen him yet, for we were unfortunately out
when he called. We had first gone to the Ressource,
where, by invitation of the conductor, Schnabel, I
was present at the rehearsal for the concert in the
evening. There are three concerts a week.

As is often the case at rehearsals, there was a very
poor orchestra ; a certain Referendar Hellwig was
going to perform Moscheles' E flat major Concerto.

* An Imperial Mark.


Before this gentleman sat down, Schnabel, who had
not heard me for four years, asked me to try the
piano. I could not refuse this request, and played
some Variations. Schnabel overwhelmed me with
expressions of praise and pleasure. This made
Hellwig feel a little uneasy, and I was pressed to
take his place in the evening. Schnabel threw his
influence into the scale, and asked me so heartily,
that I could not deny the dear old man his wish.
He is a great friend of Herr Eisner's, which means
much to me ; but I told Schnabel at once that I only
played for his sake, that for weeks I had not touched
an instrument, and that it was not part of my pro-
gramme to play in Breslau. Schnabel replied, that
he was well aware of that, but that when he saw me
in church, yesterday, he wished to ask me, but did
not venture to do so. What could I do ? So I went
back to the hotel with his son to fetch my music,
and played the Romance and Rondo from the second

The Germans admired my playing at the rehearsal.
" What a light touchhe has," I heard them whisper ;
but about the composition I did not catch a syllable.
Titus, whose ears are everywhere, and who is always
active on my behalf, heard one gentleman say,
*' there is no doubt that this young man can play,
but he cannot compose."

Yesterday, at the table d'hote^ I made the acquaint-
ance of a very amiable-looking gentleman, who was
sitting opposite me. In the course of conversation


I discovered that his name was Scharff, that he
knew Scholtz, of Warsaw, well, and was on friendly
terms with the gentlemen to whom I had letters of
introduction. This Herr Scharff was wonderfully
kind and obliging to Titus and myself. He took us
all over Breslau, went with us to the suburbs of the
town, wrote down our names as guests at the
Ressource, and procured us visitors' tickets for the
concert yesterday, which he sent before the rehearsal.
How astonished this friendly gentleman, and his

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12

Online LibraryMaurycy KarasowskiFrederic Chopin; his life, letters, and works (Volume v.1) → online text (page 9 of 12)