Classical Currents

By James Huneker

Guy de Maupassant put before us a widely diverse number of novels in a famous essay attached to the definitive edition of his masterpiece, “Pierre et Jean,” and puzzlingly demanded the real form of the novel. If “Don Quixote” is one, how can “Madame Bovary” be another? If “Les Miserables” is included in the list, what are we to say to Huysmans’ “La Bas”?

Just such a question I should like to propound, substituting sonata for novel. If Scarlatti wrote sonatas, what is the Appassionata? If the A flat Weber is one, can the F minor Brahms be called a sonata? Is the Haydn form orthodox and the Schumann heterodox? These be enigmas to make weary the formalists. Come, let us confess, and in the open air: there is a great amount of hypocrisy and cant in this matter. We can, as can any conservatory student, give the recipe for turning out a smug specimen of the form, but when we study the great examples, it is just the subtle eluding of hard and fast rules that distinguishes the efforts of the masters from the machine work of apprentices and academic monsters. Because it is no servile copy of the Mozart Sonata, the F sharp minor of Brahms is a piece of original art. Beethoven at first trod in the well blazed path of Haydn, but study his second period, and it sounds the big Beethoven note. There is no final court of appeal in the matter of musical form, and there is none in the matter of literary style. The history of the sonata is the history of musical evolution. Every great composer, Schubert included, added to the form, filed here, chipped away there, introduced lawlessness where reigned prim order—witness the Schumann F sharp minor Sonata—and then came Chopin.

The Chopin sonata has caused almost as much warfare as the Wagner music drama. It is all the more ludicrous, for Chopin never wrote but one piano sonata that has a classical complexion: in C minor, op. 4, and it was composed as early as 1828. Not published until July, 1851, it demonstrates without a possibility of doubt that the composer had no sympathy with the form. He tried so hard and failed so dismally that it is a relief when the second and third sonatas are reached, for in them there are only traces of formal beauty and organic unity. But then there is much Chopin, while little of his precious essence is to be tasted in the first sonata.

Chopin wrote of the C minor Sonata: “As a pupil I dedicated it to Elsner,” and—oh, the irony of criticism!--it was praised by the critics because not so revolutionary as the Variations, op. 2.  This, too, despite the larghetto in five-four time. The first movement is wheezing and all but lifeless. One asks in astonishment what Chopin is doing in this gallery. And it is technically difficult. The menuetto is excellent, its trio being a faint approach to Beethoven in color. The unaccustomed rhythm of the slow movement is irritating. Our young Chopin does not move about as freely as Benjamin Godard in the scherzo of his violin and piano sonata in the same bizarre rhythm. Niecks sees naught but barren waste in the finale. I disagree with him. There is the breath of a stirring spirit, an imitative attempt that is more diverting than the other movements. Above all there is movement, and the close is vigorous, though banal. The sonata is the dullest music penned by Chopin, but as a whole it hangs together as a sonata better than its two successors. So much for an attempt at strict devotion to scholastic form.

From this schoolroom we are transported in op. 35 to the theatre of larger life and passion. The B flat minor Sonata was published May, 1840. Two movements are masterpieces; the funeral march that forms the third movement is one of the Pole’s most popular compositions, while the finale has no parallel in piano music.  Schumann says that Chopin here “bound together four of his maddest children,” and he is not astray. He thinks the march does not belong to the work. It certainly was written before its companion movements. As much as Hadow admires the first two movements, he groans at the last pair, though they are admirable when considered separately.

These four movements have no common life. Chopin says he intended the strange finale as a gossiping commentary on the march. “The left hand unisono with the right hand are gossiping after the march.” Perhaps the last two movements do hold together, but what have they in common with the first two? Tonality proves nothing.  Notwithstanding the grandeur and beauty of the grave, the power and passion of the scherzo, this Sonata in B flat minor is not more a sonata than it is a sequence of ballades and scherzi. And again we are at the de Maupassant crux. The work never could be spared; it is Chopin mounted for action and in the thick of the fight. The doppio movimento is pulse-stirring—a strong, curt and characteristic theme for treatment. Here is power, and in the expanding prologue flashes more than a hint of the tragic. The D flat Melody is soothing, charged with magnetism, and urged to a splendid fever of climax. The working out section is too short and dissonantal, but there is development, perhaps more technical than logical—I mean by this more pianistic than intellectually musical—and we mount with the composer until the B flat version of the second subject is reached, for the first subject, strange to say, does not return. From that on to the firm chords of the close there is no misstep, no faltering or obscurity. Noble pages have been read, and the scherzo is approached with eagerness.  Again there is no disappointment. On numerous occasions I have testified my regard for this movement in warm and uncritical terms. It is simply unapproachable, and has no equal for lucidity, brevity and polish among the works of Chopin, except the Scherzo in C sharp minor; but there is less irony, more muscularity, and more native sweetness in this E flat minor Scherzo. I like the way Kullak marks the first B flat octave. It is a pregnant beginning. The second bar I have never heard from any pianist save Rubinstein given with the proper crescendo. No one else seems to get it explosive enough within the walls of one bar. It is a true Rossin-ian crescendo. And in what a wild country we are landed when the F sharp minor is crashed out!  Stormy chromatic double notes, chords of the sixth, rush on with incredible fury, and the scherzo ends on the very apex of passion. A Trio in G flat is the song of songs, its swaying rhythms and phrase-echoings investing a melody at once sensuous and chaste. The second part and the return to the scherzo are proofs of the composer’s sense of balance and knowledge of the mysteries of anticipation. The closest parallelisms are noticeable, the technique so admirable that the scherzo floats in mid-air—Flaubert’s ideal of a miraculous style.

And then follows that deadly Marche Funebre! Ernest Newman, in his remarkable “Study of Wagner,” speaks of the fundamental difference between the two orders of imagination, as exemplified by Beethoven and Chopin on the one side, Wagner on the other.  This regarding the funeral marches of the three. Newman finds Wagner’s the more concrete imagination; the “inward picture” of Beethoven, and Chopin “much vaguer and more diffused.” Yet Chopin is seldom so realistic; here are the bell-like basses, the morbid coloring. Schumann found “it contained much that is repulsive,” and Liszt raves rhapsodically over it; for Karasowski it was the “pain and grief of an entire nation,” while Ehlert thinks “it owes its renown to the wonderful effect of two triads, which in their combination possess a highly tragical element. The middle movement is not at all characteristic. Why could it not at least have worn second mourning? After so much black crepe drapery one should not at least at once display white lingerie!” This is cruel.

The D flat Trio is a logical relief after the booming and glooming of the opening. That it is “a rapturous gaze into the beatific regions of a beyond,” as Niecks writes, I am not prepared to say. We do know, however, that the march, when isolated, has a much more profound effect than in its normal sequence. The presto is too wonderful for words. Rubinstein, or was it originally Tausig who named it “Night winds sweeping over the churchyard graves”? Its agitated, whirring, unharmonized triplets are strangely disquieting, and can never be mistaken for mere etude passage work. The movement is too sombre, its curves too full of half-suppressed meanings, its rush and sub-human growling too expressive of something that defies definition.  Schumann compares it to a “sphinx with a mocking smile.” To Henri Barbadette “C’est Lazare grattant de ses ongles la pierre de son tombeau,” or, like Mendelssohn, one may abhor it, yet it cannot be ignored. It has Asiatic coloring, and to me seems like the wavering outlines of light-tipped hills seen sharply en silhouette, behind which rises and falls a faint, infernal glow.  This art paints as many differing pictures as there are imaginations for its sonorous background; not alone the universal solvent, as Henry James thinks, it bridges the vast, silent gulfs between human souls with its humming eloquence. This sonata is not dedicated.

The third Sonata in B minor, op. 58, has more of that undefinable “organic unity,” yet, withal, it is not so powerful, so pathos-breeding or so compact of thematic interest as its forerunner.  The first page, to the chromatic chords of the sixth, promises much. There is a clear statement, a sound theme for developing purposes, the crisp march of chord progressions, and then—the edifice goes up in smoke. After wreathings and curlings of passage work, and on the rim of despair, we witness the exquisite budding of the melody in D. It is an aubade, a nocturne of the morn—if the contradictory phrase be allowed. There is morning freshness in its hue and scent, and, when it bursts, a parterre of roses. The close of the section is inimitable. All the more sorrow at what follows: wild disorder and the luxuriance called tropical. When B major is compassed we sigh, for it augurs us a return of delight. The ending is not that of a sonata, but a love lyric. For Chopin is not the cool breadth and marmoreal majesty of blank verse. He sonnets to perfection, but the epical air does not fill his nostrils.

Vivacious, charming, light as a harebell in the soft breeze is the Scherzo in E flat. It has a clear ring of the scherzo and harks back to Weber in its impersonal, amiable hurry. The largo is tranquilly beautiful, rich in its reverie, lovely in its tune.  The trio is reserved and hypnotic. The last movement, with its brilliancy and force, is a favorite, but it lacks weight, and the entire sonata is, as Niecks writes, “affiliated, but not cognate.” It was published June, 1845, and is dedicated to Comtesse E. de Perthuis.

So these sonatas of Chopin are not sonatas at all, but, throwing titles to the dogs, would we forego the sensations that two of them evoke? There is still another, the Sonata in G minor, op.  65, for piano and ‘cello. It is dedicated to Chopin’s friend, August Franchomme, the violoncellist. Now, while I by no means share Finck’s exalted impression of this work, yet I fancy the critics have dealt too harshly with it. Robbed of its title of sonata—though sedulously aping this form—it contains much pretty music. And it is grateful for the ‘cello. There is not an abundant literature for this kingly instrument, in conjunction with the piano, so why flaunt Chopin’s contribution? I will admit that he walks stiffly, encased in his borrowed garb, but there is the andante, short as it is, an effective scherzo and a carefully made allegro and finale. Tonal monotony is the worst charge to be brought against this work.

The trio, also in G minor, op. 8, is more alluring. It was published March, 1833, and dedicated to Prince Anton Radziwill.  Chopin later, in speaking of it to a pupil, admitted that he saw things he would like to change. He regretted not making it for viola, instead of violin, cello and piano.

It was worked over a long time, the first movement being ready in 1833.   When it appeared it won philistine praise, for its form more nearly approximates the sonata than any of his efforts in the cyclical order, excepting op. 4. In it the piano receives better treatment than the other instruments; there are many virtuoso passages, but again key changes are not frequent or disparate enough to avoid a monotone. Chopin’s imagination refuses to become excited when working in the open spaces of the sonata form. Like creatures that remain drab of hue in unsympathetic or dangerous environment, his music is transformed to a bewildering bouquet of color when he breathes native air.  Compare the wildly modulating Chopin of the ballades to the tame-pacing Chopin of the sonatas, trio and concertos! The trio opens with fire, the scherzo is fanciful, and the adagio charming, while the finale is cheerful to loveliness. It might figure occasionally on the programmes of our chamber music concerts, despite its youthful puerility.

There remain the two concertos, which I do not intend discussing fully. Not Chopin at his very best, the E minor and F minor concertos are frequently heard because of the chances afforded the solo player. I have written elsewhere at length of the Klindworth, Tausig and Burmeister versions of the two concertos.  As time passes I see no reason for amending my views on this troublous subject. Edgar S. Kelly holds a potent brief for the original orchestration, contending that it suits the character of the piano part. Rosenthal puts this belief into practice by playing the older version of the E minor with the first long tutti curtailed. But he is not consistent, for he uses the Tausig octaves at the close of the rondo. While I admire the Tausig orchestration, these particlar octaves are hideously cacaphonic.  The original triplet unisons are so much more graceful and musical.

The chronology of the concertos has given rise to controversy.  The trouble arose from the F minor Concerto, it being numbered op. 21, although composed before the one in E minor. The former was published April, 1836; the latter September, 1833. The slow movement of the F minor Concerto was composed by Chopin during his passion for Constantia Gladowska. She was “the ideal” he mentions in his letters, the adagio of this concerto. This larghetto in A flat is a trifle too ornamental for my taste, mellifluous and serene as it is. The recitative is finely outlined. I think I like best the romanze of the E minor Concerto. It is less flowery. The C sharp minor part is imperious in its beauty, while the murmuring mystery of the close mounts to the imagination. The rondo is frolicksome, tricky, genial and genuine piano music. It is true the first movement is too long, too much in one set of keys, and the working-out section too much in the nature of a technical study. The first movement of the F minor far transcends it in breadth, passion and musical feeling, but it is short and there is no coda. Richard Burmeister has supplied the latter deficiency in a capitally made cadenza, which Paderewski plays. It is a complete summing up of the movement.  The mazurka-like finale is very graceful and full of pure, sweet melody. This concerto is altogether more human than the E minor.

Both derive from Hummel and Field. The passage work is superior in design to that of the earlier masters, the general character episodical,--but episodes of rare worth and originality. As Ehlert says, “Noblesse oblige—and thus Chopin felt himself compelled to satisfy all demands exacted of a pianist, and wrote the unavoidable piano concerto. It was not consistent with his nature to express himself in broad terms. His lungs were too weak for the pace in seven league boots, so often required in a score.  The trio and ‘cello sonata were also tasks for whose accomplishment Nature did not design him. He must touch the keys by himself without being called upon to heed the players sitting next him. He is at his best when without formal restraint, he can create out of his inmost soul.”

“He must touch the keys by himself!” There you have summed up in a phrase the reason Chopin never succeeded in impressing his individuality upon the sonata form and his playing upon the masses. His was the lonely soul. George Sand knew this when she wrote, “He made an instrument speak the language of the infinite.  Often in ten lines that a child might play he has introduced poems of unequalled elevation, dramas unrivalled in force and energy. He did not need the great material methods to find expression for his genius. Neither saxophone nor ophicleide was necessary for him to fill the soul with awe. Without church organ or human voice he inspired faith and enthusiasm.”

It might be remarked here that Beethoven, too, aroused a wondering and worshipping world without the aid of saxophone or ophicleide. But it is needless cruelty to pick at Madame Sand’s criticisms. She had no technical education, and so little appreciation of Chopin’s peculiar genius for the piano that she could write, “The day will come when his music will be arranged for orchestra without change of the piano score;” which is disaster-breeding nonsense. We have sounded Chopin’s weakness when writing for any instrument but his own, when writing in any form but his own.

The E minor Concerto is dedicated to Frederick Kalkbrenner, the F minor to the Comtesse Deiphine Potocka. The latter dedication demonstrates that he could forget his only “ideal” in the presence of the charming Potocka! Ah! these vibratile and versatile Poles!

Robert Schumann, it is related, shook his head wearily when his early work was mentioned. “Dreary stuff,” said the composer, whose critical sense did not fail him even in so personal a question. What Chopin thought of his youthful music may be discovered in his scanty correspondence. To suppose that the young Chopin sprang into the arena a fully equipped warrior is one of those nonsensical notions which gains currency among persons unfamiliar with the law of musical evolution. Chopin’s musical ancestry is easily traced; as Poe had his Holley Chivers, Chopin had his Field. The germs of his second period are all there; from op. 1 to opus 22 virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake is very evident. Liszt has said that in every young artist there is the virtuoso fever, and Chopin being a pianist did not escape the fever of the footlights. He was composing, too, at a time when piano music was well nigh strangled by excess of ornament, when acrobats were kings, when the Bach Fugue and Beethoven Sonata lurked neglected and dusty in the memories of the few. Little wonder, then, we find this individual, youthful Pole, not timidly treading in the path of popular composition, but bravely carrying his banner, spangled, glittering and fanciful, and outstripping at their own game all the virtuosi of Europe. His originality in this bejewelled work caused Hummel to admire and Kalkbrenner to wonder. The supple fingers of the young man from Warsaw made quick work of existing technical difficulties. He needs must invent some of his own, and when Schumann saw the pages of op. 2 he uttered his historical cry. Today we wonder somewhat at his enthusiasm. It is the old story—a generation seeks to know, a generation comprehends and enjoys, and a generation discards.

Opus 1, a Rondo in C minor, dedicated to Madame de Linde, saw the light in 1825, but it was preceded by two polonaises, a set of variations, and two mazurkas in G and B flat major. Schumann declared that Chopin’s first published work was his tenth, and that between op. 1 and 2 there lay two years and twenty works. Be this as it may, one cannot help liking the C minor Rondo. In the A flat section we detect traces of his F minor Concerto. There is lightness, joy in creation, which contrast with the heavy, dour quality of the C minor Sonata, op. 4. Loosely constructed, in a formal sense, and too exuberant for his strict confines, this op.  1 is remarkable, much more remarkable, than Schumann’s Abegg variations.

The Rondo a la Mazur, in F, is a further advance. It is dedicated to Comtesse Moriolles, and was published in 1827 (?). Schumann reviewed it in 1836. It is sprightly, Polish in feeling and rhythmic life, and a glance at any of its pages gives us the familiar Chopin impression—florid passage work, chords in extensions and chromatic progressions. The Concert Rondo, op. 14, in F, called Krakowiak, is built on a national dance in two-four time, which originated in Cracovia. It is, to quote Niecks, a modified polonaise, danced by the peasants with lusty abandon.  Its accentual life is usually manifested on an unaccented part of the bar, especially at the end of a section or phrase. Chopin’s very Slavic version is spirited, but the virtuoso predominates.  There is lushness in ornamentation, and a bold, merry spirit informs every page. The orchestral accompaniment is thin.

Dedicated to the Princesse Czartoryska, it was published June, 1834.   The Rondo, op. 16, with an Introduction, is in great favor at the conservatories, and is neat rather than poetical, although the introduction has dramatic touches. It is to this brilliant piece, with its Weber-ish affinities, that Richard Burmeister has supplied an orchestral accompaniment.

The remaining Rondo, posthumously published as op. 73, and composed in 1828, was originally intended, so Chopin writes in 1828, for one piano. It is full of fire, but the ornamentation runs mad, and no traces of the poetical Chopin are present. He is preoccupied with the brilliant surfaces of the life about him.  His youthful expansiveness finds a fair field in these variations, rondos and fantasias.

Schumann’s enthusiasm over the variations on “La ci darem la mano” seems to us a little overdone. Chopin had not much gift for variation in the sense that we now understand variation.  Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms—one must include Mendelssohn’s Serious Variations—are masters of a form that is by no means structurally simple or a reversion to mere spielerei, as Finck fancies. Chopin plays with his themes prettily, but it is all surface display, all heat lightning. He never smites, as does Brahms with his Thor hammer, the subject full in the middle, cleaving it to its core. Chopin is slightly effeminate in his variations, and they are true specimens of spielerei, despite the cleverness of design in the arabesques, their brilliancy and euphony. Op. 2 has its dazzling moments, but its musical worth is inferior. It is written to split the ears of the groundlings, or rather to astonish and confuse them, for the Chopin dynamics in the early music are never very rude. The indisputable superiority to Herz and the rest of the shallow-pated variationists caused Schumann’s passionate admiration. It has, however, given us an interesting page of music criticism. Rellstab, grumpy old fellow, was near right when he wrote of these variations that “the composer runs down the theme with roulades, and throttles and hangs it with chains of shakes.” The skip makes its appearance in the fourth variation, and there is no gainsaying the brilliancy and piquant spirit of the Alla Polacca. Op. 2 is orchestrally accompanied, an accompaniment that may be gladly dispensed with, and dedicated by Chopin to the friend of his youth, Titus Woyciechowski.

Je Vends des Scapulaires is a tune in Herold and Halevy’s “Ludovic.” Chopin varied it in his op. 12. This rondo in B flat is the weakest of Chopin’s muse. It is Chopin and water, and Gallic eau sucree at that. The piece is written tastefully, is not difficult, but woefully artificial. Published in 1833, it was dedicated to Miss Emma Horsford. In May, 1851, appeared the Variations in E, without an opus number. They are not worth the trouble. Evidently composed before Chopin’s op. 1 and before 1830, they are musically light, although written by one who already knew the keyboard. The last, a valse, is the brightest of the set. The theme is German.

The Fantaisie, op 13, in A, on Polish airs, preceded by an introduction in F sharp minor, is dedicated to the pianist J. P.  Pixis. It was published in April, 1834. It is Chopin brilliant.  Its orchestral background does not count for much, but the energy, the color and Polish character of the piece endeared it to the composer. He played it often, and as Kleczynski asks, “Are these brilliant passages, these cascades of pearly notes, these bold leaps the sadness and the despair of which we hear? Is it not rather youth exuberant with intensity and life? Is it not happiness, gayety, love for the world and men? The melancholy notes are there to bring out, to enforce the principal ideas. For instance, in the Fantaisie, op. 13, the theme of Kurpinski moves and saddens us; but the composer does not give time for this impression to become durable; he suspends it by means of a long trill, and then suddenly by a few chords and with a brilliant prelude leads us to a popular dance, which makes us mingle with the peasant couples of Mazovia. Does the finale indicate by its minor key the gayety of a man devoid of hope—as the Germans say?” Kleczynski then tells us that a Polish proverb, “A fig for misery,” is the keynote of a nation that dances furiously to music in the minor key. “Elevated beauty, not sepulchral gayety,” is the character of Polish, of Chopin’s music. This is a valuable hint. There are variations in the Fantaisie which end with a merry and vivacious Kujawiak.

The F minor Fantaisie will be considered later. Neither by its magnificent content, construction nor opus number (49) does it fall into this chapter.

The Allegro de Concert in A, op. 46, was published in November, 1841, and dedicated to Mlle. Friederike Muller, a pupil of Chopin. It has all the characteristics of a concerto, and is indeed a truncated one—much more so than Schumann’s F minor Sonata, called Concert Sans Orchestre. There are tutti in the Chopin work, the solo part not really beginning until the eighty-seventh bar. But it must not be supposed that these long introductory passages are ineffective for the player. The Allegro is one of Chopin’s most difficult works. It abounds in risky skips, ambuscades of dangerous double notes, and the principal themes are bold and expressive. The color note is strikingly adapted for public performance, and perhaps Schumann was correct in believing that Chopin had originally sketched this for piano and orchestra. Niecks asks if this is not the fragment of a concerto for two pianos, which Chopin, in a letter written at Vienna, December 21, 1830, said he would play in public with his friend Nidecki, if he succeeded in writing it to his satisfaction. And is there any significance in the fact that Chopin, when sending this manuscript to Fontana, probably in the summer of 1841, calls it a concerto?

While it adds little to Chopin’s reputation, it has the potentialities of a powerful and more manly composition than either of the two concertos. Jean Louis Nicode has given it an orchestral garb, besides arranging it for two pianos. He has added a developing section of seventy bars. This version was first played in New York a decade ago by Marie Geselschap, a Dutch pianist, under the direction of the late Anton Seidl. The original, it must be acknowledged, is preferable.

The Bolero, op. 19, has a Polonaise flavor. There is but little Spanish in its ingredients. It is merely a memorandum of Chopin’s early essays in dance forms. It was published in 1834, four years before Chopin’s visit to Spain. Niecks thinks it an early work.  That it can be made effective was proven by Emil Sauer. It is for fleet-fingered pianists, and the principal theme has the rhythmical ring of the Polonaise, although the most Iberian in character. It is dedicated to Comtesse E. de Flahault. In the key of A minor, its coda ends in A major. Willeby says it is in C major!

The Tarantella is in A flat, and is numbered op. 43. It was published in 1841 (?), and bears no dedication. Composed at Nohant, it is as little Italian as the Bolero is Spanish.  Chopin’s visit to Italy was of too short a duration to affect him, at least in the style of dance. It is without the necessary ophidian tang, and far inferior to Heller and Liszt’s efforts in the constricted form. One finds little of the frenzy ascribed to it by Schumann in his review. It breathes of the North, not the South, and ranks far below the A flat Impromptu in geniality and grace.

The C minor Funeral March, composed, according to Fontana, in 1829, sounds like Mendelssohn. The trio has the processional quality of a Parisian funeral cortege. It is modest and in no wise remarkable. The three Ecossaises, published as op. 73, No.  3, are little dances, schottisches, nothing more. No. 2 in G is highly popular in girls’ boarding schools.

The Grand Duo Concertant for ‘cello and piano is jointly composed by Chopin and Franchomme on themes from “Robert le Diable.” It begins in E and ends in A major, and is without opus number.  Schumann thinks “Chopin sketched the whole of it, and that Franchomme said ‘Yes’ to everything.” It is for the salon of 1833, when it was published. It is empty, tiresome and only slightly superior to compositions of the same sort by De Beriot and Osborne. Full of rapid elegancies and shallow passage work, this duo is certainly a piece d’occasion—the occasion probably being the need of ready money.

The seventeen Polish songs were composed between 1824 and 1844.  In the psychology of the Lied Chopin was not happy. Karasowski writes that many of the songs were lost and some of them are still sung in Poland, their origin being hazy. The Third of May is cited as one of these. Chopin had a habit of playing songs for his friends, but neglected putting some of them on paper. The collected songs are under the opus head 74. The words are by his friends, Stephen Witwicki, Adam Mickiewicz, Bogdan Zaleski and Sigismond Krasinski. The first in the key of A, the familiar Maiden’s Wish, has been brilliantly paraphrased by Liszt. This pretty mazurka is charmingly sung and played by Marcella Sembrich in the singing lesson of “The Barber of Seville.” There are several mazurkas in the list. Most of these songs are mediocre.  Poland’s Dirge is an exception, and so is Horsemen Before the Battle. “Was ein junges Madchen liebt” has a short introduction, in which the reminiscence hunter may find a true bit of “Meistersinger” color. Simple in structure and sentiment, the Chopin lieder seem almost rudimentary compared to essays in this form by Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Brahms and Tschaikowsky.

A word of recommendation may not be amiss here regarding the technical study of Chopin. Kleczynski, in his two books, gives many valuable hints, and Isidor Philipp has published a set of Exercises Quotidiens, made up of specimens in double notes, octaves and passages taken from the works. Here skeletonized are the special technical problems. In these Daily Studies, and his edition of the Etudes, are numerous examples dealt with practically. For a study of Chopin’s ornaments, Mertke has discussed at length the various editorial procedure in the matter of attacking the trill in single and double notes, also the easiest method of executing the flying scud and vapors of the fioriture. This may be found in No. 179 of the Edition Steingraber. Philipp’s collection is published in Paris by J.  Hamelle, and is prefixed by some interesting remarks of Georges Mathias. Chopin’s portrait in 1833, after Vigneron, is included.

One composition more is to be considered. In 1837 Chopin contributed the sixth variation of the march from “I Puritani.”

These variations were published under the title: “Hexameron:

Morceau de Concert. Grandes Variations de bravoure sur la marche des Puritans de Bellini, composees pour le concert de Madame la Princesse Belgiojoso au benefice des pauvres, par MM. Liszt, Thalberg, Pixis, H. Herz, Czerny et Chopin.” Liszt wrote an orchestral accompaniment, never published. His pupil, Moriz Rosenthal, is the only modern virtuoso who plays the Hexameron in his concerts, and play it he does with overwhelming splendor.  Chopin’s contribution in E major is in his sentimental, salon mood. Musically, it is the most impressive of this extraordinary mastodonic survival of the “pianistic” past.

The newly published Fugue—or fugato—in A minor, in two voices, is from a manuscript in the possession of Natalie Janotha, who probably got it from the late Princess Czartoryska, a pupil of the composer. The composition is ineffective, and in spots ugly— particularly in the stretta—and is no doubt an exercise during the working years with Elsner. The fact that in the coda the very suspicious octave pedal-point and trills may be omitted—so the editorial note urns—leads one to suspect that out of a fragment Janotha has evolved, Cuvier-like, an entire composition. Chopin as fugue-maker does not appear in a brilliant light. Is the Polish composer to become a musical Hugh Conway? Why all these disjecta membra of a sketch-book?

In these youthful works may be found the beginnings of the greater Chopin, but not his vast subjugation of the purely technical to the poetic and spiritual. That came later. To the devout Chopinist the first compositions are so many proofs of the joyful, victorious spirit of the man whose spleen and pessimism have been wrongfully compared to Leopardi’s and Baudelaire’s.  Chopin was gay, fairly healthy and bubbling over with a pretty malice. His first period shows this; it also shows how thorough and painful the processes by which he evolved his final style.



Original text by James Huneker, edited and revised by D. J. McAdam - this text © 2005.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.


Daniel McAdam's Guide to Music