[This is taken from James Huneker's Chopin: The Man and His Music.]
October 20, 1829, Frederic Chopin, aged twenty, wrote to his friend Titus Woyciechowski, from Warsaw: “I have composed a study in my own manner;” and November 14, the same year: “I have written some studies; in your presence I would play them well.”
Thus, quite simply and without booming of cannon or brazen proclamation by bell, did the great Polish composer announce an event of supreme interest and importance to the piano-playing world. Niecks thinks these studies were published in the summer of 1833, July or August, and were numbered op. 10. Another set of studies, op. 25, did not find a publisher until 1837, although some of them were composed at the same time as the previous work; a Polish musician who visited the French capital in 1834 heard Chopin play the studies contained in op. 25. The C minor study, op. 10, No. 12, commonly known as the Revolutionary, was born at Stuttgart, September, 1831, “while under the excitement caused by the news of the taking of Warsaw by the Russians, on September 8, 1831.” These dates are given so as to rout effectually any dilatory suspicion that Liszt influenced Chopin in the production of his masterpieces. Lina Ramann, in her exhaustive biography of Franz Liszt, openly declares that Nos. 9 and 12 of op. 10 and Nos. 11 and 12 of op. 25 reveal the influence of the Hungarian virtuoso. Figures prove the fallacy of her assertion. The influence was the other way, as Liszt’s three concert studies show—not to mention other compositions. When Chopin arrived in Paris his style had been formed, he was the creator of a new piano technique.
The three studies known as Trois Nouvelles Etudes, which appeared in 1840 in Moscheles and Fetis Method of Methods were published separately afterward. Their date of composition we do not know.
Many are the editions of Chopin’s studies, but after going over the ground, one finds only about a dozen worthy of study and consultation. Karasowski gives the date of the first complete edition of the Chopin works as 1846, with Gebethner & Wolff, Warsaw, as publishers. Then, according to Niecks, followed Tellefsen, Klindworth—Bote & Bock—Scholtz—Peters—Breitkopf & Hartel, Mikuli, Schuberth, Kahnt, Steingraber—better known as Mertke’s—and Schlesinger, edited by the great pedagogue Theodor Kullak. Xaver Scharwenka has edited Klindworth for the London edition of Augener & Co. Mikuli criticised the Tellefsen edition, yet both men had been Chopin pupils. This is a significant fact and shows that little reliance can be placed on the brave talk about tradition. Yet Mikuli had the assistance of a half dozen of Chopin’s “favorite” pupils, and, in addition, Ferdinand Hiller. Herman Scholtz, who edited the works for Peters, based his results on careful inspection of original French, German and English editions, besides consulting M. Georges Mathias, a pupil of Chopin. If Fontana, Wolff, Gutmann, Mikuli and Tellefsen, who copied from the original Chopin manuscripts under the supervision of the composer, cannot agree, then upon what foundation are reared the structures of the modern critical editions? The early French, German and Polish editions are faulty, indeed useless, because of misprints and errata of all kinds. Every succeeding edition has cleared away some of these errors, but only in Karl Klindworth has Chopin found a worthy, though not faultless, editor. His edition is a work of genius and was called by Von Bulow “the only model edition.” In a few sections others, such as Kullak, Dr. Hugo Riemann and Hans von Bulow, may have outstripped him, but as a whole his editing is amazing for its exactitude, scholarship, fertility in novel fingerings and sympathetic insight in phrasing. This edition appeared at Moscow from 1873 to 1876.
The twenty-seven studies of Chopin have been separately edited by Riemann and Von Bulow.
Let us narrow our investigations and critical comparisons to Klindworth, Von Bulow, Kullak and Riemann. Carl Reinecke’s edition of the studies in Breitkopf & Hartel’s collection offers nothing new, neither do Mertke, Scholtz and Mikuli. The latter one should keep at hand because of the possible freedom from impurities in his text, but of phrasing or fingering he contributes little. It must be remembered that with the studies, while they completely exhibit the entire range of Chopin’s genius, the play’s the thing after all. The poetry, the passion of the Ballades and Scherzi wind throughout these technical problems like a flaming skein. With the modern avidity for exterior as well as interior analysis, Mikuli, Reinecke, Mertke and Scholtz evidence little sympathy. It is then from the masterly editing of Kullak, Von Bulow, Riemann and Klindworth that I shall draw copiously. They have, in their various ways, given us a clue to their musical individuality, as well as their precise scholarship. Klindworth is the most genially intellectual, Von Bulow the most pedagogic, and Kullak is poetic, while Riemann is scholarly; the latter gives more attention to phrasing than to fingering. The Chopin studies are poems fit for Parnassus, yet they also serve a very useful purpose in pedagogy. Both aspects, the material and the spiritual, should be studied, and with four such guides the student need not go astray.
In the first study of the first book, op. 10, dedicated to Liszt, Chopin at a leap reached new land. Extended chords had been sparingly used by Hummel and Clementi, but to take a dispersed harmony and transform it into an epical study, to raise the chord of the tenth to heroic stature—that could have been accomplished by Chopin only. And this first study in C is heroic. Theodore Kullak writes of it: “Above a ground bass proudly and boldly striding along, flow mighty waves of sound. The etude—whose technical end is the rapid execution of widely extended chord figurations exceeding the span of an octave—is to be played on the basis of forte throughout. With sharply dissonant harmonies the forte is to be increased to fortissimo, diminishing again with consonant ones. Pithy accents! Their effect is enhanced when combined with an elastic recoil of the hand.”
The irregular, black, ascending and descending staircases of notes strike the neophyte with terror. Like Piranesi’s marvellous aerial architectural dreams, these dizzy acclivities and descents of Chopin exercise a charm, hypnotic, if you will, for eye as well as ear. Here is the new technique in all its nakedness, new in the sense of figure, design, pattern, web, new in a harmonic way. The old order was horrified at the modulatory harshness, the young sprigs of the new, fascinated and a little frightened. A man who could explode a mine that assailed the stars must be reckoned with. The nub of modern piano music is in the study, the most formally reckless Chopin ever penned. Kullak gives Chopin’s favorite metronome sign, 176 to the quarter, but this editor rightly believes that “the majestic grandeur is impaired,” and suggests 152 instead. The gain is at once apparent. Indeed Kullak, a man of moderate pulse, is quite right in his strictures on the Chopin tempi, tempi that sprang from the expressively light mechanism of the prevailing pianos of Chopin’s day. Von Bulow declares that “the requisite suppleness of the hand in gradual extension and rapid contraction will be most quickly attained if the player does not disdain first of all to impress on the individual fingers the chord which is the foundation of each arpeggio;” a sound pedagogic point. He also inveighs against the disposition to play the octave basses arpeggio. In fact, those basses are the argument of the play; they must be granitic, ponderable and powerful. The same authority calls attention to a misprint C, which he makes B flat, the last note treble in the twenty-ninth bar. Von Bulow gives the Chopin metronomic marking.
It remained for Riemann to make some radical changes. This learned and worthy doctor astonished the musical world a few years by his new marks of phrasing in the Beethoven symphonies. They topsy-turvied the old bowing. With Chopin, new dynamic and agogic accents are rather dangerous, at least to the peace of mind of worshippers of the Chopin fetish. Riemann breaks two bars into one. It is a finished period for him, and by detaching several of the sixteenths in the first group, the first and fourth, he makes the accent clearer,--at least to the eye. He indicates alla breve with 88 to the half. In later studies examples will be given of this phrasing, a phrasing that becomes a mannerism with the editor. He offers no startling finger changes. The value of his criticism throughout the volume seems to be in the phrasing, and this by no means conforms to accepted notions of how Chopin should be interpreted. I intend quoting more freely from Riemann than from the others, but not for the reason that I consider him as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in the desirable land of the Chopin fitudes, rather because his piercing analysis lays bare the very roots of these shining examples of piano literature. Klindworth contents himself with a straightforward version of the C major study, his fingering being the clearest and most admirable. The Mikuli edition makes one addition: it is a line which binds the last note of the first group to the first of the second. The device is useful, and occurs only on the upward flights of the arpeggio.
This study suggests that its composer wished to begin the exposition of his wonderful technical system with a skeletonized statement. It is the tree stripped of its bark, the flower of its leaves, yet, austere as is the result, there is compensating power, dignity and unswerving logic. This study is the key with which Chopin unlocked—not his heart, but the kingdom of technique. It should be played, for variety, unisono, with both hands, omitting, of course, the octave bass.
Von Bulow writes cannily enough, that the second study in A minor being chromatically related to Moscheles’ etude, op. 70, No. 3, that piece should prepare the way for Chopin’s more musical composition. In different degrees of tempo, strength and rhythmic accent it should be practised, omitting the thumb and first finger. Mikuli’s metronome is 144 to the quarter, Von Bulow’s, 114; Klindworth’s, the same as Mikuli, and Riemann is 72 to the half, with an alla breve. The fingering in three of these authorities is almost identical. Riemann has ideas of his own, both in the phrasing and figuration.
Von Bulow orders “the middle harmonies to be played throughout distinctly, and yet transiently”—in German, “fluchtig.” In fact, the entire composition, with its murmuring, meandering, chromatic character, is a forerunner to the whispering, weaving, moonlit effects in some of his later studies. The technical purpose is clear, but not obtrusive. It is intended for the fourth and fifth finger of the right hand, but given in unison with both hands it becomes a veritable but laudable torture for the thumb of the left. With the repeat of the first at bar 36 Von Bulow gives a variation in fingering. Kullak’s method of fingering is this:
“Everywhere that two white keys occur in succession the fifth finger is to be used for C and F in the right hand, and for F and E in the left.” He has also something to say about holding “the hand sideways, so that the back of the hand and arm form an angle. “This question of hand position, particularly in Chopin, is largely a matter of individual formation. No two hands are alike, no two pianists use the same muscular movements. Play along the easiest line of resistance.
We now have reached a study, the third, in which the more intimately known Chopin reveals himself. This one in E is among the finest flowering of the composer’s choice garden. It is simpler, less morbid, sultry and languorous, therefore saner, than the much bepraised study in C sharp minor, No. 7, op. 25. Niecks writes that this study “may be counted among Chopin’s loveliest compositions.” It combines “classical chasteness of contour with the fragrance of romanticism.” Chopin told his faithful Gutmann that “he had never in his life written another such melody,” and once when hearing it raised his arms aloft and cried out: “Oh, ma patrie!”
I cannot vouch for the sincerity of Chopin’s utterance for as Runciman writes: “They were a very Byronic set, these young men; and they took themselves with ludicrous seriousness.”
Von Bulow calls it a study in expression—which is obvious—and thinks it should be studied in company with No. 6, in E flat minor. This reason is not patent. Emotions should not be hunted in couples and the very object of the collection, variety in mood as well as mechanism, is thus defeated. But Von Bulow was ever an ardent classifier. Perhaps he had his soul compartmentized. He also attempts to regulate the rubato—this is the first of the studies wherein the rubato’s rights must be acknowledged. The bars are even mentioned 32, 33, 36 and 37, where tempo license may be indulged. But here is a case which innate taste and feeling must guide. You can no more teach a real Chopin rubato— not the mawkish imitation,--than you can make a donkey comprehend Kant. The metronome is the same in all editions, 100 to the eighth.
Kullak rightly calls this lovely study “ein wunderschones, poetisches Tonstuck,” more in the nocturne than study style. He gives in the bravura-like cadenza, an alternate for small hands, but small hands should not touch this piece unless they can grapple the double sixths with ease. Klindworth fingers the study with great care. The figuration in three of the editions is the same, Mikuli separating the voices distinctly. Riemann exercises all his ingenuity to make the beginning clear to the eye.
What a joy is the next study, No. 4! How well Chopin knew the value of contrast in tonality and sentiment! A veritable classic is this piece, which, despite its dark key color, C sharp minor as a foil to the preceding one in E, bubbles with life and spurts flame. It reminds one of the story of the Polish peasants, who are happiest when they sing in the minor mode. Kullak calls this “a bravura study for velocity and lightness in both hands. Accentuation fiery!” while Von Bulow believes that “the irresistible interest inspired by the spirited content of this truly classical and model piece of music may become a stumbling block in attempting to conquer the technical difficulties.” Hardly. The technics of this composition do not lie beneath the surface. They are very much in the way of clumsy fingers and heavy wrists. Presto 88 to the half is the metronome indication in all five editions. Klindworth does not comment, but I like his fingering and phrasing best of all. Riemann repeats his trick of breaking a group, detaching a note for emphasis; although he is careful to retain the legato bow. One wonders why this study does not figure more frequently on programmes of piano recitals. It is a fine, healthy technical test, it is brilliant, and the coda is very dramatic. Ten bars before the return of the theme there is a stiff digital hedge for the student. A veritable lance of tone is this study, if justly poised.
Riemann has his own ideas of the phrasing of the following one, the fifth and familiar “Black Key” etude.
Von Bulow would have grown jealous if he had seen this rather fantastic phrasing. It is a trifle too finical, though it must be confessed looks pretty. I like longer breathed phrasing. The student may profit by this analysis. The piece is indeed, as Kullak says, “full of Polish elegance.” Von Bulow speaks rather disdainfully of it as a Damen-Salon Etude. It is certainly graceful, delicately witty, a trifle naughty, arch and roguish, and it is delightfully invented. Technically, it requires smooth, velvet-tipped fingers and a supple wrist. In the fourth bar, third group, third note of group, Klindworth and Riemann print E flat instead of D flat. Mikuli, Kullak and Von Bulow use the D flat. Now, which is right? The D flat is preferable. There are already two E flats in the bar. The change is an agreeable one. Joseffy has made a concert variation for this study. The metronome of the original is given at 116 to the quarter.
A dark, doleful nocturne is No. 6, in E flat minor. Niecks praises it in company with the preceding one in E. It is beautiful, if music so sad may be called beautiful, and the melody is full of stifled sorrow. The study figure is ingenious, but subordinated to the theme. In the E major section the piece broadens to dramatic vigor. Chopin was not yet the slave of his mood. There must be a psychical programme to this study, some record of a youthful disillusion, but the expression of it is kept well within chaste lines. The Sarmatian composer had not yet unlearned the value of reserve. The Klindworth reading of this troubled poem is the best though Kullak used Chopin’s autographic copy. There is no metronomic sign in this autograph. Tellefsen gives 69 to the quarter; Klindworth, 60; Riemann, 69; Mikuli, the same; Von Bulow and Kullak, 60. Kullak also gives several variante from the text, adding an A flat to the last group in bar II. Riemann and the others make the same addition. The note must have been accidentally omitted from the Chopin autograph.
We emerge into a clearer, more bracing atmosphere in the C major study, No. 7. It is a genuine toccata, with moments of tender twilight, serving a distinct technical purpose—the study of double notes and changing on one key—and is as healthy as the toccata by Robert Schumann. Here is a brave, an undaunted Chopin, a gay cavalier, with the sunshine shimmering about him. There are times when this study seems like light dripping through the trees of a mysterious forest; with the delicato there are Puck-like rustlings, and all the while the pianist without imagination is exercising wrist and ringers in a technical exercise! Were ever Beauty and Duty so mated in double harness? Pegasus pulling a cloud charged with rain over an arid country! For study, playing the entire composition with a wrist stroke is advisable. It will secure clear articulation, staccato and finger-memory. Von Bulow phrases the study in groups of two, Kullak in sixes, Klindworth and Mikuli the same, while Riemann in alternate twos, fours and sixes. One sees his logic rather than hears it. Von Bulow plastically reproduces the flitting, elusive character of the study far better than the others.
It is quite like him to suggest to the panting and ambitious pupil that the performance in F sharp major, with the same fingering as the next study in F, No. 8, would be beneficial. It certainly would. By the same token, the playing of the F minor Sonata, the Appassionata of Beethoven, in the key of F sharp minor, might produce good results. This was another crotchet of Wagner’s friend and probably was born of the story that Beethoven transposed the Bach fugues in all keys. The same is said of Saint-Saens.
In his notes to the F major study Theodor Kullak expatiates at length upon his favorite idea that Chopin must not be played according to his metronomic markings. The original autograph gives 96 to the half, the Tellefsen edition 88, Klindworth 80, Von Bulow 89, Mikuli 88, and Riemann the same. Kullak takes the slower tempo of Klindworth, believing that the old Herz and Czerny ideals of velocity are vanished, that the shallow dip of the keys in Chopin’s day had much to do with the swiftness and lightness of his playing. The noble, more sonorous tone of a modern piano requires greater breadth of style and less speedy passage work. There can be no doubt as to the wisdom of a broader treatment of this charming display piece. How it makes the piano sound—what a rich, brilliant sweep it secures! It elbows the treble to its last euphonious point, glitters and crests itself, only to fall away as if the sea were melodic and could shatter and tumble into tuneful foam! The emotional content is not marked. The piece is for the fashionable salon or the concert hall. One catches at its close the overtones of bustling plaudits and the clapping of gloved palms. Ductility, an aristocratic ease, a delicate touch and fluent technique will carry off this study with good effect. Technically it is useful; one must speak of the usefulness of Chopin, even in these imprisoned, iridescent soap bubbles of his. On the fourth line and in the first bar of the Kullak version, there is a chord of the dominant seventh in dispersed position that does not occur in any other edition. Yet it must be Chopin or one of his disciples, for this autograph is in the Royal Library at Berlin. Kullak thinks it ought to be omitted, moreover he slights an E flat, that occurs in all the other editions situated in the fourth group of the twentieth bar from the end.
The F minor study, No. 9, is the first one of those tone studies of Chopin in which the mood is more petulant than tempestuous. The melody is morbid, almost irritating, and yet not without certain accents of grandeur. There is a persistency in repetition that foreshadows the Chopin of the later, sadder years. The figure in the left hand is the first in which a prominent part is given to that member. Not as noble and sonorous a figure as the one in the C minor study, it is a distinct forerunner of the bass of the D minor Prelude. In this F minor study the stretch is the technical object. It is rather awkward for close-knit fingers. The best fingering is Von Bulow’s. It is 5, 3, 1, 4, 1, 3 for the first figure. All the other editions, except Riemann’s, recommend the fifth finger on F, the fourth on C. Von Billow believes that small hands beginning with his system will achieve quicker results than by the Chopin fingering. This is true. Riemann phrases the study with a multiplicity of legato bows and dynamic accents. Kullak prefers the Tellefsen metronome 80, rather than the traditional 96. Most of the others use 88 to the quarter, except Riemann, who espouses the more rapid gait of 96. Klindworth, with his 88, strikes a fair medium.
The verdict of Von Bulow on the following study in A flat, No. 10, has no uncertainty of tone in its proclamation:
He who can play this study in a really finished manner may congratulate himself on having climbed to the highest point of the pianist’s Parnassus, as it is perhaps the most difficult piece of the entire set. The whole repertory of piano music does not contain a study of perpetuum mobile so full of genius and fancy as this particular one is universally acknowledged to be, except perhaps Liszt’s Feux Follets. The most important point would appear to lie not so much in the interchange of the groups of legato and staccato as in the exercise of rhythmic contrasts—the alternation of two and three part metre (that is, of four and six) in the same bar. To overcome this fundamental difficulty in the art of musical reproduction is the most important thing here, and with true zeal it may even be accomplished easily.
Kullak writes: “Harmonic anticipations; a rich rhythmic life originating in the changing articulation of the twelve-eights in groups of three and two each. ... This etude is an exceedingly piquant composition, possessing for the hearer a wondrous, fantastic charm, if played with the proper insight.” The metronomic marking is practically the same in all editions, 152 to the quarter notes. The study is one of the most charming of the composer. There is more depth in it than in the G flat and F major studies, and its effectiveness in the virtuoso sense is unquestionable. A savor of the salon hovers over its perfumed measures, but there is grace, spontaneity and happiness. Chopin must have been as happy as his sensitive nature would allow when he conceived this vivacious caprice.
Riemann is conducive to clear-sighted phrasing, and will set the student thinking, but the general effect of accentuation is certainly different. All the editors quoted agree with Von Bulow, Klindworth and Kullak. But if this is a marked specimen of Riemann, examine his reading of the phrase wherein Chopin’s triple rhythm is supplanted by duple. Thus Von Bulow—and who will dare cavil?
Kullak dilates upon a peculiarity of Chopin: the dispersed position of his underlying harmonies. This in a footnote to the eleventh study of op. 10. Here one must let go the critical valve, else strangle in pedagogics. So much has been written, so much that is false, perverted sentimentalism and unmitigated cant about the nocturnes, that the wonder is the real Chopin lover has not rebelled. There are pearls and diamonds in the jewelled collection of nocturnes, many are dolorous, few dramatic, and others are sweetly insane and songful. I yield to none in my admiration for the first one of the two in G minor, for the psychical despair in the C sharp minor nocturne, for that noble drama called the C minor nocturne, for the B major, the Tuberose nocturne; and for the E, D flat and G major nocturnes, it remains unabated. But in the list there is no such picture painted, a Corot if ever there was one, as this E flat study.
Its novel design, delicate arabesques—as if the guitar had been dowered with a soul—and the richness and originality of its harmonic scheme, gives us pause to ask if Chopin’s invention is not almost boundless. The melody itself is plaintive; a plaintive grace informs the entire piece. The harmonization is far more wonderful, but to us the chord of the tenth and more remote intervals, seem no longer daring; modern composition has devilled the musical alphabet into the very caverns of the grotesque, yet there are harmonies in the last page of this study that still excite wonder. The fifteenth bar from the end is one that Richard Wagner might have made. From that bar to the close, every group is a masterpiece.
Remember, this study is a nocturne, and even the accepted metronomic markings in most editions, 76 to the quarter, are not too slow; they might even be slower. Allegretto and not a shade speedier! The color scheme is celestial and the ending a sigh, not unmixed with happiness. Chopin, sensitive poet, had his moments of peace, of divine content—lebensruhe. The dizzy appoggiatura leaps in the last two bars set the seal of perfection upon this unique composition.
Touching upon the execution, one may say that it is not for small hands, nor yet for big fists. The former must not believe that any “arrangements” or simplified versions will ever produce the aerial effect, the swaying of the tendrils of tone, intended by Chopin. Very large hands are tempted by their reach to crush the life out of the study in not arpeggiating it. This I have heard, and the impression was indescribably brutal. As for fingering, Mikuli, Von Bulow, Kullak, Riemann and Klindworth all differ, and from them must most pianists differ. Your own grasp, individual sense of fingering and tact will dictate the management of technics. Von Bulow gives a very sensible pattern to work from, and Kullak is still more explicit. He analyzes the melody and, planning the arpeggiating with scrupulous fidelity, he shows why the arpeggiating “must be affected with the utmost rapidity, bordering upon simultaneousness of harmony in the case of many chords.” Kullak has something to say about the grace notes and this bids me call your attention to Von Bulow’s change in the appoggiatura at the last return of the subject. A bad misprint is in the Von Bulow edition: it is in the seventeenth bar from the end, the lowest note in the first bass group and should read E natural, instead of the E flat that stands.
Von Bulow does not use the arpeggio sign after the first chord. He rightly believes it makes unclear for the student the subtleties of harmonic changes and fingering. He also suggests— quite like the fertile Hans Guido—that “players who have sufficient patience and enthusiasm for the task would find it worth their while to practise the arpeggi the reverse way, from top to bottom; or in contrary motion, beginning with the top note in one hand and the bottom note in the other. A variety of devices like this would certainly help to give greater finish to the task.”
Now the young eagle begins to face the sun, begins to mount on wind-weaving pinions. We have reached the last study of op. 10, the magnificent one in C minor. Four pages suffice for a background upon which the composer has flung with overwhelming fury the darkest, the most demoniac expressions of his nature. Here is no veiled surmise, no smothered rage, but all sweeps along in tornadic passion. Karasowski’s story may be true regarding the genesis of this work, but true or not, it is one of the greatest dramatic outbursts in piano literature. Great in outline, pride, force and velocity, it never relaxes its grim grip from the first shrill dissonance to the overwhelming chordal close. This end rings out like the crack of creation. It is elemental. Kullak calls it a “bravura study of the very highest order for the left hand. It was composed in 1831 in Stuttgart, shortly after Chopin had received tidings of the taking of Warsaw by the Russians, September 8, 1831.” Karasowski wrote: “Grief, anxiety and despair over the fate of his relatives and his dearly-beloved father filled the measure of his sufferings. Under the influence of this mood he wrote the C minor Etude, called by many the Revolutionary Etude. Out of the mad and tempestuous storm of passages for the left hand the melody rises aloft, now passionate and anon proudly majestic, until thrills of awe stream over the listener, and the image is evoked of Zeus hurling thunderbolts at the world.”
Niecks thinks it “superbly grand,” and furthermore writes: “The composer seems fuming with rage; the left hand rushes impetuously along and the right hand strikes in with passionate ejaculations.” Von Bulow said: “This C minor study must be considered a finished work of art in an even higher degree than the study in C sharp minor.” All of which is pretty, but not enough to the point.
Von Bulow fingers the first passage for the left hand in a very rational manner; Klindworth differs by beginning with the third instead of the second finger, while Riemann—dear innovator— takes the group: second, first, third, and then, the fifth finger on D, if you please! Kullak is more normal, beginning with the third. Here is Riemann’s phrasing and grouping for the first few bars. Notice the half note with peculiar changes of fingering at the end. It gives surety and variety. Von Bulow makes the changes ring on the second and fifth, instead of third and fifth, fingers. Thus Riemann: [Musical score excerpt]
In the above the accustomed phrasing is altered, for in all other editions the accent falls upon the first note of each group. In Riemann the accentuation seems perverse, but there is no question as to its pedagogic value. It may be ugly, but it is useful though I should not care to hear it in the concert room. Another striking peculiarity of the Riemann phrasing is his heavy accent on the top E flat in the principal passage for the left hand. He also fingers what Von Bulow calls the “chromatic meanderings,” in an unusual manner, both on the first page and the last.
Mikuli places a legato bow over the first three octaves—so does Kullak—Von Bulow only over the last two, which gives a slightly different effect, while Klindworth does the same as Kullak. The heavy dynamic accents employed by Riemann are unmistakable. They signify the vital importance of the phrase at its initial entrance. He does not use it at the repetition, but throughout both dynamic and agogic accents are unsparingly used, and the study seems to resound with the sullen booming of a park of artillery. The working-out section, with its anticipations of “Tristan and Isolde,” is phrased by all the editors as it is never played. Here the technical figure takes precedence over the law of the phrase, and so most virtuosi place the accent on the fifth finger, regardless of the pattern. This is as it should be. In Klindworth there is a misprint at the beginning of the fifteenth bar from the end in the bass. It should read B natural, not B flat. The metronome is the same in all editions, 160 to the quarter, but speed should give way to breadth at all hazards. Von Bulow is the only editor, to my knowledge, who makes an enharmonic key change in this working-out section. It looks neater, sounds the same, but is it Chopin? He also gives a variant for public performance by transforming the last run in unisono into a veritable hurricane by interlocked octaves. The effect is brazen. Chopin needs no such clangorous padding in this etude, which gains by legitimate strokes the most startling contrasts.
The study is full of tremendous pathos; it compasses the sublime, and in its most torrential moments the composer never quite loses his mental equipoise. He, too, can evoke tragic spirits, and at will send them scurrying back to their dim profound. It has but one rival in the Chopin studies—No. 12, op. 25, in the same key.
Opus 25, twelve studies by Frederic Chopin, are dedicated to Madame la Comtesse d’Agoult. The set opens with the familiar study in A flat, so familiar that I shall not make further ado about it except to say that it is delicious, but played often and badly. All that modern editing can do since Miluki is to hunt out fresh accentuation. Von Bullow is the worst sinner in this respect, for he discovers quaint nooks and dells for his dynamics undreamed of by the composer. His edition should be respectfully studied and, when mastered, discarded for a more poetic interpretation. Above all, poetry, poetry and pedals. Without pedalling of the most varied sort this study will remain as dry as a dog-gnawed bone. Von Bulow says the “figure must be treated as a double triplet—twice three and not three times two—as indicated in the first two bars.” Klindworth makes the group a sextolet. Von Bulow has set forth numerous directions in fingering and phrasing, giving the exact number of notes in the bass trill at the end. Kullak uses the most ingenious fingering. Look at the last group of the last bar, second line, third page. It is the last word in fingering. Better to end with Robert Schumann’s beautiful description of this study, as quoted by Kullak:
In treating of the present book of Etudes, Robert Schumann, after comparing Chopin to a strange star seen at midnight, wrote as follows: “Whither his path lies and leads, or how long, how brilliant its course is yet to be, who can say? As often, however, as it shows itself, there is ever seen the same deep dark glow, the same starry light and the same austerity, so that even a child could not fail to recognize it. But besides this, I have had the advantage of hearing most of these Etudes played by Chopin himself, and quite a la Chopin did he play them!”
Of the first one especially he writes: “Imagine that an aeolian harp possessed all the musical scales, and that the hand of an artist were to cause them all to intermingle in all sorts of fantastic embellishments, yet in such a way as to leave everywhere audible a deep fundamental tone and a soft continuously-singing upper voice, and you will get the right idea of his playing. But it would be an error to think that Chopin permitted every one of the small notes to be distinctly heard. It was rather an undulation of the A flat major chord, here and there thrown aloft anew by the pedal. Throughout all the harmonies one always heard in great tones a wondrous melody, while once only, in the middle of the piece, besides that chief song, a tenor voice became prominent in the midst of chords. After the Etude a feeling came over one as of having seen in a dream a beatific picture which when half awake one would gladly recall.”
After these words there can be no doubt as to the mode of delivery. No commentary is required to show that the melodic and other important tones indicated by means of large notes must emerge from within the sweetly whispering waves, and that the upper tones must be combined so as to form a real melody with the finest and most thoughtful shadings.
The twenty-fourth bar of this study in A major is so Lisztian that Liszt must have benefited by its harmonies.
“And then he played the second in the book, in F minor, one in which his individuality displays itself in a manner never to be forgotten. How charming, how dreamy it was! Soft as the song of a sleeping child.” Schumann wrote this about the wonderful study in F minor, which whispers, not of baleful deeds in a dream, as does the last movement of the B flat minor sonata, but is—“the song of a sleeping child.” No comparison could be prettier, for there is a sweet, delicate drone that sometimes issues from childish lips, having a charm for ears not attuned to grosser things.
This must have been the study that Chopin played for Henrietta Voigt at Leipsic, September 12, 1836. In her diary she wrote:
“The over excitement of his fantastic manner is imparted to the keen eared. It made me hold my breath. Wonderful is the ease with which his velvet fingers glide, I might almost say fly, over the keys. He has enraptured me—in a way which hitherto had been unknown to me. What delighted me was the childlike, natural manner which he showed in his demeanor and in his playing.” Von Bulow believes the interpretation of this magical music should be without sentimentality, almost without shading—clearly, delicately and dreamily executed. “An ideal pianissimo, an accentless quality, and completely without passion or rubato.” There is little doubt this was the way Chopin played it. Liszt is an authority on the subject, and M. Mathias corroborates him. Regarding the rhythmical problem to be overcome, the combination of two opposing rhythms, Von Bulow indicates an excellent method, and Kullak devotes part of a page to examples of how the right, then the left, and finally both hands, are to be treated. Kullak furthermore writes: “Or, if one will, he may also betake himself in fancy to a still, green, dusky forest, and listen in profound solitude to the mysterious rustling and whispering of the foliage. What, indeed, despite the algebraic character of the tone-language, may not a lively fancy conjure out of, or, rather, into, this etude! But one thing is to be held fast: it is to be played in that Chopin-like whisper of which, among others, Mendelssohn also affirmed that for him nothing more enchanting existed.” But enough of subjective fancies. This study contains much beauty, and every bar rules over a little harmonic kingdom of its own. It is so lovely that not even the Brahms’ distortion in double notes or the version in octaves can dull its magnetic crooning. At times so delicate is its design that it recalls the faint fantastic tracery made by frost on glass. In all instances save one it is written as four unbroken quarter triplets in the bar—right hand. Not so Riemann.
Jean Kleczynski’s interesting brochure, “The Works of Frederic Chopin and Their Proper Interpretation,” is made up of three lectures delivered at Warsaw. While the subject is of necessity foreshortened, he says some practical things about the use of the pedals in Chopin’s music. He speaks of this very study in F minor and the enchanting way Rubinstein and Essipowa ended it—the echo-like effects on the four C’s, the pedal floating the tone. The pedals are half the battle in Chopin playing. ONE CAN NEVER PLAY CHOPIN BEAUTIFULLY ENOUGH. Realistic treatment dissipates his dream palaces, shatters his aerial architecture. He may be played broadly, fervently, dramatically but coarsely, never. I deprecate the rose-leaf sentimentalism in which he is swathed by nearly all pianists. “Chopin is a sigh, with something pleasing in it,” wrote some one, and it is precisely this notion which has created such havoc among his interpreters. But if excess in feeling is objectionable, so too is the “healthy” reading accorded his works by pianists with more brawn than brain. The real Chopin player is born and can never be a product of the schools.
Schumann thinks the third study in F less novel in character, although “here the master showed his admirable bravura powers.” “But,” he continues,” they are all models of bold, indwelling, creative force, truly poetic creations, though not without small blots in their details, but on the whole striking and powerful. Yet, if I give my complete opinion, I must confess that his earlier collection seems more valuable to me. Not that I mean to imply any deterioration, for these recently published studies were nearly all written at the same time as the earlier ones, and only a few were composed a little while ago—the first in A flat and the last magnificent one in C minor, both of which display great mastership.”
One may be permitted to disagree with Schumann, for op. 25 contains at least two of Chopin’s greater studies—A minor and C minor. The most valuable point of the passage quoted is the clenching of the fact that the studies were composed in a bunch. That settles many important psychological details. Chopin had suffered much before going to Paris, had undergone the purification and renunciation of an unsuccessful love affair, and arrived in Paris with his style fully formed—in his case the style was most emphatically the man.
Kullak calls the study in F “a spirited little caprice, whose kernel lies in the simultaneous application of four different little rhythms to form a single figure in sound, which figure is then repeated continuously to the end. In these repetitions, however, changes of accentuation, fresh modulations, and piquant antitheses, serve to make the composition extremely vivacious and effective.” He pulls apart the brightly colored petals of the thematic flower and reveals the inner chemistry of this delicate growth. Four different voices are distinguished in the kernel.
Kullak and Mikuli dot the C of the first bar. Klindworth and Von Bulow do not. As to phrasing and fingering I pin my faith to Riemann. His version is the most satisfactory.
The melody, of course in profile, is in the ghth [sic: eighth] notes. This gives meaning to the decorative pattern of the passage. And what charm, buoyancy, and sweetness there is in this caprice! It has the tantalizing, elusive charm of a humming bird in full flight. The human element is almost eliminated. We are in the open, the sun blazes in the blue, and all is gay, atmospheric, and light. Even where the tone deepens, where the shadows grow cooler and darker in the B major section, there is little hint of preoccupation with sadness. Subtle are the harmonic shifts, admirable the ever changing devices of the figuration. Riemann accents the B, the E, A, B flat, C and F, at the close—perilous leaps for the left hand, but they bring into fine relief the exquisite harmonic web. An easy way of avoiding the tricky position in the left hand at this spot—thirteen bars from the close—is to take the upper C in bass with the right hand thumb and in the next bar the upper B in bass the same way. This minimizes the risk of the skip, and it is perfectly legitimate to do this—in public at least. The ending, to be “breathed” away, according to Kullak, is variously fingered. He also prescribes a most trying fingering for the first group, fourth finger on both hands. This is useful for study, but for performance the third finger is surer. Von Bulow advises the player to keep the “upper part of the body as still as possible, as any haste of movement would destroy the object in view, which is the acquisition of a loose wrist.” He also suggests certain phrasing in bar seventeen, and forbids a sharp, cutting manner in playing the sforzati at the last return of the subject. Kullak is copious in his directions, and thinks the touch should be light and the hand gliding, and in the B major part “fiery, wilful accentuation of the inferior beats.” Capricious, fantastic, and graceful, this study is Chopin in rare spirits. Schumann has the phrase—the study should be executed with “amiable bravura.” There is a misprint in the Kullak edition: at the beginning of the thirty-second notes an A instead of an F upsets the tonality, besides being absurd.
Of the fourth study in A minor there is little to add to Theodor Kullak, who writes:
“In the broadest sense of the word, every piece of music is an etude. In a narrower sense, however, we demand of an etude that it shall have a special end in view, promote facility in something, and lead to the conquest of some particular difficulty, whether of technics, of rhythm, expression or delivery.” (Robert Schumann, Collected Writings, i., 201.) The present study is less interesting from a technical than a rhythmical point of view. While the chief beats of the measure (1st, 3d, 5th and 7th eighths) are represented only by single tones (in the bass part), which are to a certain extent “free and unconcerned, and void of all encumbrance,” the inferior parts of the measure (2d, 4th, 6th and 8th eighths) are burdened with chords, the most of which, moreover, are provided with accents in opposition to the regular beats of the measure. Further, there is associated with these chords, or there may be said to grow out of them, a cantilene in the upper voice, which appears in syncopated form opposite to the strong beats of the bass. This cantilene begins on a weak beat, and produces numerous suspensions, which, in view of the time of their entrance, appear as so many retardations and delayals of melodic tones.
All these things combine to give the composition a wholly peculiar coloring, to render its flow somewhat restless and to stamp the etude as a little characteristic piece, a capriccio, which might well be named “Inquietude.”
As regards technics, two things are to be studied: the staccato of the chords and the execution of the cantilena. The chords must be formed more by pressure than by striking. The fingers must support themselves very lightly upon the chord keys and then rise again with the back of the hand in the most elastic manner. The upward movement of the hand must be very slight. Everything must be done with the greatest precision, and not merely in a superficial manner. Where the cantilena appears, every melodic tone must stand apart from the tones of the accompaniment as if in “relief.” Hence the fingers for the melodic tones must press down the keys allotted to them with special force, in doing which the back of the hand may be permitted to turn lightly to the right (sideward stroke), especially when there is a rest in the accompaniment. Compare with this etude the introduction to the Capriccio in B minor, with orchestra, by Felix Mendelssohn, first page. Aside from a few rallentando places, the etude is to be played strictly in time.
I prefer the Klindworth editing of this rather sombre, nervous composition, which may be merely an etude, but it also indicates a slightly pathologic condition. With its breath-catching syncopations and narrow emotional range, the A minor study has nevertheless moments of power and interest. Riemann’s phrasing, while careful, is not more enlightening than Klindworth’s. Von Bulow says: “The bass must be strongly marked throughout—even when piano—and brought out in imitation of the upper part.” Singularly enough, his is the only edition in which the left hand arpeggios at the close, though in the final bar “both hands may do so.” This is editorial quibbling. Stephen Heller remarked that this study reminded him of the first bar of the Kyrie—rather the Requiem Aeternam of Mozart’s Requiem.
It is safe to say that the fifth study in E minor is less often heard in the concert room than any one of its companions. I cannot recall having heard it since Annette Essipowa gave that famous recital during which she played the entire twenty-seven studies. Yet it is a sonorous piano piece, rich in embroideries and general decorative effect in the middle section. Perhaps the rather perverse, capricious and not altogether amiable character of the beginning has caused pianists to be wary of introducing it at a recital. It is hugely effective and also difficult, especially if played with the same fingering throughout, as Von Bulow suggests. Niecks quotes Stephen Heller’s partiality for this very study. In the “Gazette Musicale,” February 24, 1839, Heller wrote of Chopin’s op. 25:
What more do we require to pass one or several evenings in as perfect a happiness as possible? As for me, I seek in this collection of poesy—this is the only name appropriate to the works of Chopin—some favorite pieces which I might fix in my memory, rather than others. Who could retain everything? For this reason I have in my notebook quite particularly marked the numbers four, five and seven of the present poems. Of these twelve much loved studies—every one of which has a charm of its own—the three numbers are those I prefer to all the rest.
The middle part of this E minor study recalls Thalberg. Von Bulow cautions the student against “the accenting of the first note with the thumb—right hand—as it does not form part of the melody, but only comes in as an unimportant passing note.” This refers to the melody in E. He also writes that the addition of the third in the left hand, Klindworth edition, needs no special justification. I discovered one marked difference in the Klindworth edition. The leap in the left hand—first variant of the theme, tenth bar from beginning—is preceded by an appoggiatura, E natural. The jump is to F sharp, instead of G, as in the Mikuli, Kullak and Riemann editions. Von Bulow uses the F sharp, but without the ninth below. Riemann phrases the piece so as to get the top melody, B, E and G, and his stems are below instead of above, as in Mikuli and Von Bulow. Kullak dots the eighth note.
Kullak writes that the figure 184 is not found on the older metronomes. This is not too fast for the capriccio, with its pretty and ingenious rhythmical transformations. As regards the execution of the 13Oth bar, Von Bulow says: “The acciaccature— prefixes—are to be struck simultaneously with the other parts, as also the shake in bar 134 and following bars; this must begin with the upper auxiliary note.” These details are important.
Despite all the little transformations of the motive member which forms the kernel, its recognizability remains essentially unimpaired. Meanwhile out of these little metamorphoses there is developed a rich rhythmic life, which the performer must bring out with great precision. If in addition, he possesses a fine feeling for what is graceful, coquettish, or agreeably capricious, he will understand how to heighten still further the charm of the chief part, which, as far as its character is concerned, reminds one of Etude, op. 25, No. 3.
The secondary part, in major, begins. Its kernel is formed of a beautiful broad melody, which, if soulfully conceived and delivered, will sing its way deep into the heart of the listener. For the accompaniment in the right hand we find chord arpeggiations in triplets, afterward in sixteenths, calmly ascending and descending, and surrounding the melody as with a veil. They are to be played almost without accentuation.
It was Louis Ehlert who wrote of the celebrated study in G sharp minor op. 25, No. 6: “Chopin not only versifies an exercise in thirds; he transforms it into such a work of art that in studying it one could sooner fancy himself on Parnassus than at a lesson. He deprives every passage of all mechanical appearance by promoting it to become the embodiment of a beautiful thought, which in turn finds graceful expression in its motion.”
And indeed in the piano literature no more remarkable merging of matter and manner exists. The means justifies the end, and the means employed by the composer are beautiful, there is no other word to describe the style and architectonics of this noble study. It is seldom played in public because of its difficulty. With the Schumann Toccata, the G sharp minor study stands at the portals of the delectable land of Double Notes. Both compositions have a common ancestry in the Czerny Toccata, and both are the parents of such a sensational offspring as Balakirew’s “Islamey.” In reading through the double note studies for the instrument it is in the nature of a miracle to come upon Chopin’s transfiguration of such a barren subject. This study is first music, then a technical problem. Where two or three pianists are gathered together in the name of Chopin, the conversation is bound to formulate itself thus: “How do you finger the double chromatic thirds in the G sharp minor study?” That question answered, your digital politics are known. You are classified, ranged. If you are heterodox you are eagerly questioned; if you follow Von Bulow and stand by the Czerny fingering, you are regarded as a curiosity. As the interpretation of the study is not taxing, let us examine the various fingerings. First, a fingering given by Leopold Godowsky.
For the rest the study must be played like the wind, or, as Kullak says: “Apart from a few places and some accents, the Etude is to be played almost throughout in that Chopin whisper. The right hand must play its thirds, especially the diatonic and chromatic scales, with such equality that no angularity of motion shall be noticeable where the fingers pass under or over each other. The left hand, too, must receive careful attention and special study. The chord passages and all similar ones must be executed discreetly and legatissimo. Notes with double stems must be distinguished from notes with single stems by means of stronger shadings, for they are mutually interconnected.”
Von Bulow calls the seventh study, the one in C sharp minor, a nocturne—a duo for ‘cello and flute. He ingeniously smooths out the unequal rhythmic differences of the two hands, and justly says the piece does not work out any special technical matter. This study is the most lauded of all. Yet I cannot help agreeing with Niecks, who writes of it—he oddly enough places it in the key of E: “A duet between a He and a She, of whom the former shows himself more talkative and emphatic than the latter, is, indeed, very sweet, but, perhaps, also somewhat tiresomely monotonous, as such tete-a-tetes naturally are to third parties.”
For Chopin’s contemporaries this was one of his greatest efforts. Heller wrote: “It engenders the sweetest sadness, the most enviable torments, and if in playing it one feels oneself insensibly drawn toward mournful and melancholy ideas, it is a disposition of the soul which I prefer to all others. Alas! how I love these sombre and mysterious dreams, and Chopin is the god who creates them.” In this etude Kleczynski thinks there are traces of weariness of life, and quotes Orlowski, Chopin’s friend,” He is only afflicted with homesickness.” Willeby calls this study the most beautiful of them all. For me it is both morbid and elegiac. There is nostalgia in it, the nostalgia of a sick, lacerated soul. It contains in solution all the most objectionable and most endearing qualities of the master. Perhaps we have heard its sweet, highly perfumed measures too often. Its interpretation is a matter of taste. Kullak has written the most ambitious programme for it. Here is a quotation from Albert R. Parsons’ translation in Schirmer’s edition of Kullak.
Throughout the entire piece an elegiac mood prevails. The composer paints with psychologic truthfulness a fragment out of the life of a deeply clouded soul. He lets a broken heart, filled with grief, proclaim its sorrow in a language of pain which is incapable of being misunderstood. The heart has lost— not something, but everything. The tones, however, do not always bear the impress of a quiet, melancholy resignation. More passionate impulses awaken, and the still plaint becomes a complaint against cruel fate. It seeks the conflict, and tries through force of will to burst the fetters of pain, or at least to alleviate it through absorption in a happy past. But in vain! The heart has not lost something—it has lost everything. The musical poem divides into three, or if one views the little episode in B major as a special part, into four parts (strophes), of which the last is an elaborated repetition of the first with a brief closing part appended. The whole piece is a song, or, better still, an aria, in which two principal voices are to be brought out; the upper one is in imitation of a human voice, while the lower one must bear the character throughout of an obligato violoncello. It is well known that Chopin was very fond of the violoncello and that in his piano compositions he imitated the style of passages peculiar to that instrument. The two voices correspond closely, supplementing and imitating each other reciprocally. Between the two a third element exists: an accompaniment of eighths in uniform succession without any significance beyond that of filling out the harmony. This third element is to be kept wholly subordinate. The little, one-voiced introduction in recitative style which precedes the aria reminds one vividly of the beginning of the Ballade in G minor, op. 23.
The D flat study, No. 8, is called by Von Bulow “the most useful exercise in the whole range of etude literature. It might truly be called ‘l’indispensable du pianiste,’ if the term, through misuse, had not fallen into disrepute. As a remedy for stiff fingers and preparatory to performing in public, playing it six times through is recommended, even to the most expert pianist.” Only six times! The separate study of the left hand is recommended. Kullak finds this study “surprisingly euphonious, but devoid of depth of content.” It is an admirable study for the cultivation of double sixths. It contains a remarkable passage of consecutive fifths that set the theorists by the ears. Riemann manages to get some new editorial comment upon it.
The nimble study, No. 9, which bears the title of “The Butterfly,” is in G flat Von Bulow transposes it enharmonically to F sharp, avoiding numerous double flats. The change is not laudable. He holds anything but an elevated opinion of the piece, classing it with a composition of the Charles Mayer order. This is unjust; the study if not deep is graceful and certainly very effective. It has lately become the stamping ground for the display of piano athletics. Nearly all modern virtuosi pull to pieces the wings of this gay little butterfly. They smash it, they bang it, and, adding insult to cruelty, they finish it with three chords, mounting an octave each time, thus giving a conventional character to the close—the very thing the composer avoids. Much distorted phrasing is also indulged in.
The metronomic markings are about the same in all editions.
Asiatic wildness, according to Von Bulow, pervades the B minor study, op. 25, No. 10, although Willeby claims it to be only a study in octaves “for the left hand”! Von Bulow furthermore compares it, because of its monophonic character, to the Chorus of Dervishes in Beethoven’s “Ruins of Athens.” Niecks says it is “a real pandemonium; for a while holier sounds intervene, but finally hell prevails.” The study is for Kullak “somewhat far fetched and forced in invention, and leaves one cold, although it plunges on wildly to the end.” Von Bulow has made the most complete edition. Klindworth strengthens the first and the seventh eighth notes of the fifth bar before the last by filling in the harmonics of the left hand. This etude is an important one, technically; because many pianists make little of it that does not abate its musical significance, and I am almost inclined to group it with the last two studies of this opus. The opening is portentous and soon becomes a driving whirlwind of tone. Chopin has never penned a lovelier melody than the one in B—the middle section of this etude—it is only to be compared to the one in the same key in the B minor Scherzo, while the return to the first subject is managed as consummately as in the E flat minor Scherzo, from op. 35. I confess to being stirred by this B minor study, with its tempo at a forced draught and with its precipitous close. There is a lushness about the octave melody; the tune may be a little overripe, but it is sweet, sensuous music, and about it hovers the hush of a rich evening in early autumn.
And now the “Winter Wind”—the study in A minor, op. 25, No. 11.
Here even Von Bulow becomes enthusiastic:
“It must be mentioned as a particular merit of this, the longest and, in every respect, the grandest of Chopin’s studies, that, while producing the greatest fulness of sound imaginable, it keeps itself so entirely and utterly unorchestral, and represents piano music in the most accurate sense of the word. To Chopin is due the honor and credit of having set fast the boundary between piano and orchestral music, which through other composers of the romantic school, especially Robert Schumann, has been defaced and blotted out, to the prejudice and damage of both species.”
Kullak is equally as warm in his praise of it:
One of the grandest and most ingenious of Chopin’s etudes, and a companion piece to op. 10, No. 12, which perhaps it even surpasses. It is a bravura study of the highest order; and is captivating through the boldness and originality of its passages, whose rising and falling waves, full of agitation, overflow the entire keyboard; captivating through its harmonic and modulatory shadings; and captivating, finally, through a wonderfully invented little theme which is drawn like a “red thread” through all the flashing and glittering waves of tone, and which, as it were, prevents them from scattering to all quarters of the heavens. This little theme, strictly speaking only a phrase of two measures, is, in a certain sense, the motto which serves as a superscription for the etude, appearing first one voiced, and immediately afterward four voiced. The slow time (Lento) shows the great importance which is to be attached to it. They who have followed thus far and agree with what has been said cannot be in doubt concerning the proper artistic delivery. To execute the passages quite in the rapid time prescribed one must possess a finished technique. Great facility, lightness of touch, equality, strength and endurance in the forte passages, together with the clearest distinctness in the piano and pianissimo—all of this must have been already achieved, for the interpreter must devote his whole attention to the poetic contents of the composition, especially to the delivery of the march-like rhythms, which possess a life of their own, appearing now calm and circumspect, and anon bold and challenging. The march-like element naturally requires strict playing in time.
This study is magnificent, and moreover it is music.
In bar fifteen Von Bulow makes B natural the second note of the last group, although all other editions, except Klindworth, use a B flat. Von Bulow has common sense on his side. The B flat is a misprint. The same authority recommends slow staccato practice, with the lid of the piano closed. Then the hurly-burly of tone will not intoxicate the player and submerge his critical faculty.
Each editor has his notion of the phrasing of the initial sixteenths.
As regards grouping, Riemann follows Von Bulow, but places his accents differently.
The canvas is Chopin’s largest—for the idea and its treatment are on a vastly grander scale than any contained in the two concertos. The latter are after all miniatures, precious ones if you will, joined and built with cunning artifice; in neither work is there the resistless overflow of this etude, which has been compared to the screaming of the winter blasts. Ah, how Chopin puts to flight those modern men who scheme out a big decorative pattern and then have nothing wherewith to fill it! He never relaxes his theme, and its fluctuating surprises are many. The end is notable for the fact that scales appear. Chopin very seldom uses scale figures in his studies. From Hummel to Thalberg and Herz the keyboard had glittered with spangled scales. Chopin must have been sick of them, as sick of them as of the left-hand melody with arpeggiated accompaniment in the right, a la Thalberg. Scales had been used too much, hence Chopin’s sparing employment of them. In the first C sharp minor study, op. 10, there is a run for the left hand in the coda. In the seventh study, same key, op. 25, there are more. The second study of op. 10, in A minor, is a chromatic scale study; but there are no other specimens of the form until the mighty run at the conclusion of this A minor study.
It takes prodigious power and endurance to play this work, prodigious power, passion and no little poetry. It is open air music, storm music, and at times moves in processional splendor. Small souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should avoid it.
The prime technical difficulty is the management of the thumb. Kullak has made a variant at the end for concert performance. It is effective. The average metronomic marking is sixty-nine to the half.
Kullak thinks the twelfth and last study of op. 25 in C minor “a grand, magnificent composition for practice in broken chord passages for both hands, which requires no comment.” I differ from this worthy teacher. Rather is Niecks more to my taste: “No. 12, C minor, in which the emotions rise not less high than the waves of arpeggios which symbolize them.”
Von Bulow is didactic:
The requisite strength for this grandiose bravura study can only be attained by the utmost clearness, and thus only by a gradually increasing speed. It is therefore most desirable to practise it piano also by way of variety, for otherwise the strength of tone might easily degenerate into hardness, and in the poetic striving after a realistic portrayal of a storm on the piano the instrument, as well as the piece, would come to grief.
The pedal is needful to give the requisite effect, and must change with every new harmony; but it should only be used in the latter stages of study, when the difficulties are nearly mastered.
We have our preferences. Mine in op. 25 is the C minor study, which, like the prelude in D minor, is “full of the sound of great guns.” Willeby thinks otherwise. On page 81 in his life of Chopin he has the courage to write: “Had Professor Niecks applied the term monotonous to No. 12 we should have been more ready to indorse his opinion, as, although great power is manifested, the very ‘sameness’ of the form of the arpeggio figure causes a certain amount of monotony to be felt. “The C minor study is, in a degree, a return to the first study in C. While the idea in the former is infinitely nobler, more dramatic and tangible, there is in the latter naked, primeval simplicity, the larger eloquence, the elemental puissance. Monotonous? A thousand times no! Monotonous as is the thunder and spray of the sea when it tumbles and roars on some sullen, savage shore. Beethov-ian, in its ruggedness, the Chopin of this C minor study is as far removed from the musical dandyisms of the Parisian drawing rooms as is Beethoven himself. It is orchestral in intention and a true epic of the piano.
Riemann places half notes at the beginning of each measure, as a reminder of the necessary clinging of the thumbs. I like Von Bulow’s version the best of all. His directions are most minute. He gives the Liszt method of working up the climax in octave triplets. How Liszt must have thundered through this tumultuous work! Before it all criticism should be silenced that fails to allow Chopin a place among the greatest creative musicians. We are here in the presence of Chopin the musician, not Chopin the composer for piano.
In 1840, Trois Nouvelles Etudes, by Frederic Chopin, appeared in the “Methode des Methodes pour le piano,” by F. J. Fetis and I. Moscheles. It was odd company for the Polish composer. “Internal evidence seems to show,” writes Niecks, “that these weakest of the master’s studies—which, however, are by no means uninteresting and certainly very characteristic—may be regarded more than op. 25 as the outcome of a gleaning.”
The last decade has added much to the artistic stature of these three supplementary studies. They have something of the concision of the Preludes. The first is a masterpiece. In F minor the theme in triplet quarters, broad, sonorous and passionate, is unequally pitted against four-eight notes in the bass. The technical difficulty to be overcome is purely rhythmic, and Kullak takes pains to show how it may be overcome. It is the musical, the emotional content of the study that fascinates. The worthy editor calls it a companion piece to the F minor study in op. 25. The comparison is not an apt one. Far deeper is this new study, and although the doors never swing quite open, we divine the tragic issues concealed.
Beautiful in a different way is the A flat study which follows. Again the problem is a rhythmical one, and again the composer demonstrates his exhaustless invention and his power of evoking a single mood, viewing all its lovely contours and letting it melt away like dream magic. Full of gentle sprightliness and lingering sweetness is this study. Chopin has the hypnotic quality more than any composer of the century, Richard Wagner excepted. After you have enjoyed playing this study read Kullak and his “triplicity in biplicity.” It may do you good, and it will not harm the music.
In all the editions save one that I have seen the third study in D flat begins on A flat, like the famous Valse in D flat. The exception is Klindworth, who starts with B flat, the note above. The study is full of sunny, good humor, spiritualized humor, and leaves the most cheering impression after its performance. Its technical object is a simultaneous legato and staccato. The result is an idealized Valse in allegretto tempo, the very incarnation of joy, tempered by aristocratic reserve. Chopin never romps, but he jests wittily, and always in supremely good taste. This study fitly closes his extraordinary labors in this form, and it is as if he had signed it “F. Chopin, et ego in Arcady.”
Among the various editions let me recommend Klindworth for daily usage, while frequent reference to Von Bulow, Riemann and Kullak cannot fail to prove valuable, curious and interesting.
Of the making of Chopin editions there is seemingly no end. In 1894 I saw in manuscript some remarkable versions of the Chopin Studies by Leopold Godowsky. The study in G sharp minor was the first one published and played in public by this young pianist Unlike the Brahms derangements, they are musical but immensely difficult. Topsy-turvied as are the figures, a Chopin, even if lop-sided, hovers about, sometimes with eye-brows uplifted, sometimes with angry, knitted forehead and not seldom amused to the point of smiling. You see his narrow shoulders, shrugged in the Polish fashion as he examines the study in double-thirds transposed to the left hand! Curiously enough this transcription, difficult as it is, does not tax the fingers as much as a bedevilment of the A minor, op. 25, No. 4, which is extremely difficult, demanding color discrimination and individuality of finger.
More breath-catching, and a piece at which one must cry out: “Hats off, gentlemen! A tornado!” is the caprice called “Badinage.” But if it is meant to badinage, it is no sport for the pianist of everyday technical attainments. This is formed of two studies. In the right hand is the G flat study, op. 25, No. 9, and in the left the black key study, op. 10, No. 5. The two go laughing through the world like old friends; brother and sister they are tonally, trailing behind them a cloud of iridescent glory. Godowsky has cleverly combined the two, following their melodic curves as nearly as is possible. In some places he has thickened the harmonies and shifted the “black key” figures to the right hand. It is the work of a remarkable pianist.
The same study G flat, op. 10, No. 5, is also treated separately, the melody being transferred to the treble. The Butterfly octaves, in another study, are made to hop nimbly along in the left hand, and the C major study, op. 10, No. 7, Chopin’s Toccata, is arranged for the left hand, and seems very practical and valuable. Here the adapter has displayed great taste and skill, especially on the third page. The pretty musical idea is not destroyed, but viewed from other points of vantage. Op. 10, No. 2, is treated like a left hand study, as it should be. Chopin did not always give enough work to the left hand, and the first study of this opus in C is planned on brilliant lines for both hands. Ingenious is the manipulation of the seldom played op. 25, No. 5, in E minor. As a study in rhythms and double notes it is very welcome. The F minor study, op. 25, No. 2, as considered by the ambidextrous Godowsky, is put in the bass, where it whirrs along to the melodic encouragement of a theme of the paraphraser’s own, in the right. This study has suffered the most of all, for Brahms, in his heavy, Teutonic way, set it grinding double sixths, while Isidor Philipp, in his “Studies for the Left Hand,” has harnessed it to sullen octaves. This Frenchman, by the way, has also arranged for left hand alone the G sharp minor, the D flat double sixths, the A minor—“Winter Wind”—studies, the B flat minor prelude, and, terrible to relate, the last movement of the Chopin B flat minor Sonata.
Are the Godowsky transcriptions available? Certainly. In ten years—so rapid is the technical standard advancing—they will be used in the curriculum of students. Whether he has treated Chopin with reverence I leave my betters to determine. What has reverence to do with the case, anyhow? Plato is parsed in the schoolroom, and Beethoven taught in conservatories! Therefore why worry over the question of Godowsky’s attitude! Besides, he is writing for the next generation—presumably a generation of Rosenthals.
And now, having passed over the salt and stubbly domain of pedagogics, what is the dominant impression gleaned from the twenty-seven Chopin studies? Is it not one of admiration, tinged with wonder at such a prodigal display of thematic and technical invention? Their variety is great, the aesthetic side is nowhere neglected for the purely mechanical, and in the most poetic of them stuff may be found for delicate fingers. Astounding, canorous, enchanting, alembicated and dramatic, the Chopin studies are exemplary essays in emotion and manner. In them is mirrored all of Chopin, the planetary as well as the secular Chopin. When most of his piano music has gone the way of all things fashioned by mortal hands, these studies will endure, will stand for the nineteenth century as Beethoven crystallized the eighteenth, Bach the seventeenth centuries in piano music. Chopin is a classic.
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