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.
In all the editions, Riemann's excepted, there is no doubt left as to the alternations of metres. Here are the first few bars of Von Billow's, which is normal phrasing:
[Musical score excerpt]
Read Riemann's version of these bars:
[Musical score excerpt]
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?
[Musical score excerpt]
[Musical score excerpt]
The difference is more imaginary than real, for the stems of the accented notes give us the binary metre. But the illustration serves to show how Dr. Riemann is disposed to refine upon the gold of Chopin.
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."
Doubtless, but consider: man's years are but threescore and ten!
The phrasing of the various editions examined do not vary much. Riemann is excepted, who has his say in this fashion, at the beginning:
[Musical score excerpt]
More remarkable still is the diversity of opinion regarding the first three bass chord groups in the fifteenth bar from the close: the bottom notes in the Von Bulow and Klindworth editions are B flat and two A naturals, and in the Riemann, Kullak and Mikuli editions the notes are two B flats and one A natural. The former sounds more varied, but we may suppose the latter to be correct because of Mikuli. Here is the particular bar, as given by Riemann:
[Musical score excerpt]
Yet this exquisite flight into the blue, this nocturne which should be played before sundown, excited the astonishment of Mendelssohn, the perplexed wrath of Moscheles and the contempt of Rellstab, editor of the "Iris," who wrote in that journal in 1834 of the studies in op. 10:—
"Those who have distorted fingers may put them right by practising these studies; but those who have not, should not play them, at least not without having a surgeon at hand." What incredible surgery would have been needed to get within the skull of this narrow critic any savor of the beauty of these compositions! In the years to come the Chopin studies will be played for their music, without any thought of their technical problems.
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. His idea of the enunciation of the first theme is peculiar:
[Musical score excerpt]
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. He has views of his own, both as to fingering and phrasing:
[Musical score excerpt]
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.
"The third voice is the chief one, and after it the first, because they determine the melodic and harmonic contents":
[Musical score excerpt of 'four different voices']
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. Here are the first bars. The idea is clearly expressed:
[Musical score excerpt]
Best of all is the careful accentuation, and at a place indicated in no other edition that I have examined. With the arrival of the thirty-second notes, Riemann punctuates the theme this way:
[Musical score excerpt]
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 illuding. 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. Riemann uses a sixteenth, thus:
[Musical score excerpt]
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. Kullak concludes his notes thus:
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. It is for double chromatic thirds:
[Musical score excerpt]
You will now be presented with a battalion of authorities, so that you may see at a glance the various efforts to climb those slippery chromatic heights. Here is Mikuli:
[Musical score excerpt]
Kullak's is exactly the same as above. It is the so-called Chopin fingering, as contrasted with the so-called Czerny fingering— though in reality Clementi's, as Mr. John Kautz contends. "In the latter the third and fifth fingers fall upon C sharp and E and F sharp and A in the right hand, and upon C and E flat and G and B flat in the left." Klindworth also employs the Chopin fingering. Von Bulow makes this statement: "As the peculiar fingering adopted by Chopin for chromatic scales in thirds appears to us to render their performance in legatissimo utterly unattainable on our modern instruments, we have exchanged it, where necessary, for the older method of Hummel. Two of the greatest executive artists of modern times, Alexander Dreyschock and Carl Tausig, were, theoretically and practically, of the same opinion. It is to be conjectured that Chopin was influenced in his method of fingering by the piano of his favorite makers, Pleyel and Wolff, of Paris—who, before they adopted the double echappement, certainly produced instruments with the most pliant touch possible—and therefore regarded the use of the thumb in the ascending scale on two white keys in succession—the semitones EF and BC—as practicable. On the grand piano of the present day we regard it as irreconcilable with conditions of crescendo legato." This Chopin fingering in reality derives directly from Hummel. See his "Piano School."
So he gives this fingering:
[Musical score excerpt] He also suggests the following phrasing for the left hand. This is excellent:
[Musical score excerpt]
Riemann not only adopts new fingering for the double note scale, but also begins the study with the trill on first and third, second and fourth, instead of the usual first and fourth, second and fifth fingers, adopted by the rest. This is his notion of the run in chromatic thirds:
[Musical score excerpt]
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 Tellefsen's edition and Klindworth's give these differences:
[Musical score excerpt]
Mikuli, Von Bulow and Kullak place the legato bow over the first three notes of the group. Riemann, of course, is different:
[Musical score excerpt]
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. Thus Mikuli's—which is normal:
[Musical score excerpt]
Klindworth fingers this passage more ingeniously, but phrases it about the same, omitting the sextolet mark. Kullak retains it. Von Bulow makes his phrase run in this fashion:
[Musical score excerpt]
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. This is the way it looks on paper at the beginning:
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.
VII. MOODS IN MINIATURE:—THE PRELUDES.
The Preludes bear the opus number 28 and are dedicated to J. C. Kessler, a composer of well-known piano studies. It is only the German edition that bears his name, the French and English being inscribed by Chopin "a son ami Pleyel." As Pleyel advanced the pianist 2,000 francs for the Preludes he had a right to say: "These are my Preludes." Niecks is authority for Chopin's remark: "I sold the Preludes to Pleyel because he liked them." This was in 1838, when Chopin's health demanded a change of climate. He wished to go to Majorca with Madame Sand and her children, and had applied for money to the piano maker and publisher, Camille Pleyel. He received but five hundred francs in advance, the balance being paid on delivery of the manuscript.
The Preludes were published in 1839, yet there is internal evidence which proves that most of them had been composed before the trip to the Balearic Islands. This will upset the very pretty legend of music making at the monastery of Valdemosa. Have we not all read with sweet credulity the eloquent pages in George Sand in which the storm is described that overtook the novelist and her son Maurice? After terrible trials, dangers and delays, they reached their home and found Chopin at the piano. Uttering a cry, he arose and stared at the pair. "Ah! I knew well that you were dead." It was the sixth prelude, the one in B minor, that he played, and dreaming, as Sand writes, that "he saw himself drowned in a lake; heavy, ice cold drops of water fell at regular intervals upon his breast; and when I called his attention to those drops of water which were actually falling upon the roof, he denied having heard them. He was even vexed at what I translated by the term, imitative harmony. He protested with all his might, and he was right, against the puerility of these imitations for the ear. His genius was full of mysterious harmonies of nature."
Yet this prelude was composed previous to the Majorcan episode. "The Preludes," says Niecks, "consist—to a great extent, at least—of pickings from the composer's portfolios, of pieces, sketches and memoranda written at various times and kept to be utilized when occasion might offer."
Gutmann, Chopin's pupil, who nursed him to the last, declared the Preludes to have been composed before he went away with Madame Sand, and to Niecks personally he maintained that he had copied all of them. Niecks does not credit him altogether, for there are letters in which several of the Preludes are mentioned as being sent to Paris, so he reaches the conclusion that "Chopin's labors at Majorca on the Preludes were confined to selecting, filing and polishing." This seems to be a sensible solution.
Robert Schumann wrote of these Preludes: "I must signalize them as most remarkable. I will confess I expected something quite different, carried out in the grand style of his studies. It is almost the contrary here; these are sketches, the beginning of studies, or, if you will, ruins, eagles' feathers, all strangely intermingled. But in every piece we find in his own hand, 'Frederic Chopin wrote it.' One recognizes him in his pauses, in his impetuous respiration. He is the boldest, the proudest poet soul of his time. To be sure the book also contains some morbid, feverish, repellant traits; but let everyone look in it for something that will enchant him. Philistines, however, must keep away."
It was in these Preludes that Ignaz Moscheles first comprehended Chopin and his methods of execution. The German pianist had found his music harsh and dilettantish in modulation, but Chopin's originality of performance—"he glides lightly over the keys in a fairy-like way with his delicate fingers"—quite reconciled the elder man to this strange music.
To Liszt the Preludes seem modestly named, but "are not the less types of perfection in a mode created by himself, and stamped like all his other works with the high impress of his poetic genius. Written in the commencement of his career, they are characterized by a youthful vigor not to be found in some of his subsequent works, even when more elaborate, finished and richer in combinations; a vigor which is entirely lost in his latest productions, marked by an overexcited sensibility, a morbid irritability, and giving painful intimations of his own state of suffering and exhaustion."
Liszt, as usual, erred on the sentimental side. Chopin, being essentially a man of moods, like many great men, and not necessarily feminine in this respect, cannot always be pinned down to any particular period. Several of the Preludes are very morbid—I purposely use this word—as is some of his early music, while he seems quite gay just before his death.
"The Preludes follow out no technical idea, are free creations on a small basis, and exhibit the musician in all his versatility," says Louis Ehlert. "No work of Chopin's portrays his inner organization so faithfully and completely. Much is embryonic. It is as though he turned the leaves of his fancy without completely reading any page. Still, one finds in them the thundering power of the Scherzi, the half satirical, half coquettish elegance of the Mazurkas, and the southern, luxuriously fragrant breath of the Nocturnes. Often it is as though they were small falling stars dissolved into tones as they fall."
Jean Kleczynski, who is credited with understanding Chopin, himself a Pole and a pianist, thinks that "people have gone too far in seeking in the Preludes for traces of that misanthropy, of that weariness of life to which he was prey during his stay in the Island of Majorca...Very few of the Preludes present this character of ennui, and that which is the most marked, the second one, must have been written, according to Count Tarnowski, a long time before he went to Majorca. ... What is there to say concerning the other Preludes, full of good humor and gaiety—No. 18, in E flat; No. 21, in B flat; No. 23, in F, or the last, in D minor? Is it not strong and energetic, concluding, as it does, with three cannon shots?"
Willeby in his "Frederic Francois Chopin" considers at length the Preludes. He agrees in the main with Niecks, that certain of these compositions were written at Valdemosa—Nos. 4, 6, 9, 13, 20 and 21—and that "Chopin, having sketches of others with him, completed the whole there, and published them under one opus number. ... The atmosphere of those I have named is morbid and azotic; to them there clings a faint flavor of disease, a something which is overripe in its lusciousness and febrile in its passion. This in itself inclines me to believe they were written at the time named."
This is all very well, but Chopin was faint and febrile in his music before he went to Majorca, and the plain facts adduced by Gutmann and Niecks cannot be passed over. Henry James, an old admirer of Madame Sand, admits her utter unreliability, and so we may look upon her evidence as romantic but by no means infallible. The case now stands: Chopin may have written a few of the Preludes at Majorca, filed them, finished them, but the majority of them were in his portfolio in 1837 and 1838. Op. 45, a separate Prelude in C sharp minor, was published in December, 1841. It was composed at Nohant in August of that year. It is dedicated to Mme. la Princesse Elizabeth Czernicheff, whose name, as Chopin confesses in a letter, he knows not how to spell.
Theodore Kullak is curt and pedagogic in his preface to the Preludes. He writes:
Chopin's genius nowhere reveals itself more charmingly than within narrowly bounded musical forms. The Preludes are, in their aphoristic brevity, masterpieces of the first rank. Some of them appear like briefly sketched mood pictures related to the nocturne style, and offer no technical hindrance even to the less advanced player. I mean Nos. 4, 6, 7, 9, 15 and 20. More difficult are Nos. 17, 25 and 11, without, however, demanding eminent virtuosity. The other Preludes belong to a species of character-etude. Despite their brevity of outline they are on a par with the great collections op. 10 and op. 25. In so far as it is practicable—special cases of individual endowments not being taken into consideration—I would propose the following order of succession: Begin with Nos. 1, 14, 10, 22, 23, 3 and 18. Very great bravura is demanded by Nos. 12, 8, 16 and 24. The difficulty of the other Preludes, Nos. 2, 5, 13, 19 and 21, lies in the delicate piano and legato technique, which, on account of the extended positions, leaps and double notes, presupposes a high degree of development.
This is eminently a common sense grouping. The first prelude, which, like the first etude, begins in C, has all the characteristics of an impromptu. We know the wonderful Bach Preludes, which grew out of a free improvisation to the collection of dance forms called a suite, and the preludes which precede his fugues. In the latter Bach sometimes exhibits all the objectivity of the study or toccata, and often wears his heart in full view. Chopin's Preludes—the only preludes to be compared to Bach's—are largely personal, subjective, and intimate. This first one is not Bach-ian, yet it could have been written by no one but a devout Bach student. The pulsating, passionate, agitated, feverish, hasty qualities of the piece are modern; so is the changeful modulation. It is a beautiful composition, rising to no dramatic heights, but questioning and full of life. Klindworth writes in triplet groups, Kullak in quintolets. Breitkopf & Hartel do not. Dr. Hugo Riemann, who has edited a few of the Preludes, phrases the first bars thus:
Desperate and exasperating to the nerves is the second prelude in A minor. It is an asymmetric tune. Chopin seldom wrote ugly music, but is this not ugly, forlorn, despairing, almost grotesque, and discordant? It indicates the deepest depression in its sluggish, snake-like progression. Willeby finds a resemblance to the theme of the first nocturne. And such a theme! The tonality is vague, beginning in E minor. Chopin's method of thematic parallelism is here very clear. A small figure is repeated in descending keys until hopeless gloom and depraved melancholy are reached in the closing chords. Chopin now is morbid, here are all his most antipathetic qualities. There is aversion to life—in this music he is a true lycanthrope. A self- induced hypnosis, a mental, an emotional atrophy are all present.
Kullak divides the accompaniment, difficult for small hands, between the two. Riemann detaches the eighth notes of the bass figures, as is his wont, for greater clearness. Like Klindworth, he accents heavily the final chords. He marks his metronome 50 to the half note. All the editions are lento with alla breve.
That the Preludes are a sheaf of moods, loosely held together by the rather vague title, is demonstrated by the third, in the key of G. The rippling, rain-like figure for the left hand is in the nature of a study. The melody is delicate in sentiment, Gallic in its esprit. A true salon piece, this prelude has no hint of artificiality. It is a precise antithesis to the mood of the previous one. Graceful and gay, the G major prelude is a fair reflex of Chopin's sensitive and naturally buoyant nature. It requires a light hand and nimble fingers. The melodic idea requires no special comment. Kullak phrases it differently from Riemann and Klindworth. The latter is the preferable. Klindworth gives 72 to the half note as his metronomic marking, Riemann only 60—which is too slow—while Klindworth contents himself by marking a simple Vivace. Regarding the fingering one may say that all tastes are pleased in these three editions. Klindworth's is the easiest. Riemann breaks up the phrase in the bass figure, but I cannot see the gain on the musical side.
Niecks truthfully calls the fourth prelude in E minor "a little poem, the exquisitely sweet, languid pensiveness of which defies description. The composer seems to be absorbed in the narrow sphere of his ego, from which the wide, noisy world is for the time shut out." Willeby finds this prelude to be "one of the most beautiful of these spontaneous sketches; for they are no more than sketches. The melody seems literally to wail, and reaches its greatest pitch of intensity at the stretto." For Karasowski it is a "real gem, and alone would immortalize the name of Chopin as a poet." It must have been this number that impelled Rubinstein to assert that the Preludes were the pearls of his works. In the Klindworth edition, fifth bar from the last, the editor has filled in the harmonies to the first six notes of the left hand, added thirds, which is not reprehensible, although uncalled for. Kullak makes some new dynamic markings and several enharmonic changes. He also gives as metronome 69 to the quarter. This tiny prelude contains wonderful music. The grave reiteration of the theme may have suggested to Peter Cornelius his song "Ein Ton." Chopin expands a melodic unit, and one singularly pathetic. The whole is like some canvas by Rembrandt, Rembrandt who first dramatized the shadow in which a single motif is powerfully handled; some sombre effect of echoing light in the profound of a Dutch interior. For background Chopin has substituted his soul; no one in art, except Bach or Rembrandt, could paint as Chopin did in this composition. Its despair has the antique flavor, and there is a breadth, nobility and proud submission quite free from the tortured, whimpering complaint of the second prelude. The picture is small, but the subject looms large in meanings.
The fifth prelude in D is Chopin at his happiest. Its arabesque pattern conveys a most charming content; and there is a dewy freshness, a joy in life, that puts to flight much of the morbid tittle-tattle about Chopin's sickly soul. The few bars of this prelude, so seldom heard in public, reveal musicianship of the highest order. The harmonic scheme is intricate; Klindworth phrases the first four bars so as to bring out the alternate B and B flat. It is Chopin spinning his finest, his most iridescent web.
The next prelude, the sixth, in B minor, is doleful, pessimistic. As George Sand says: "It precipitates the soul into frightful depression." It is the most frequently played—and oh! how meaninglessly—prelude of the set; this and the one in D flat. Classical is its repression of feeling, its pure contour. The echo effect is skilfully managed, monotony being artfully avoided. Klindworth rightfully slurs the duple group of eighths; Kullak tries for the same effect by different means. The duality of the voices should be clearly expressed. The tempo, marked in both editions, lento assai, is fast. To be precise, Klindworth gives 66 to the quarter.
The plaintive little mazurka of two lines, the seventh prelude, is a mere silhouette of the national dance. Yet in its measures is compressed all Mazovia. Klindworth makes a variant in the fourth bar from the last, a G sharp instead of an F sharp. It is a more piquant climax, perhaps not admissible to the Chopin purist. In the F sharp minor prelude No. 7, Chopin gives us a taste of his grand manner. For Niecks the piece is jerky and agitated, and doubtless suggests a mental condition bordering on anxiety; but if frenzy there is, it is kept well in check by the exemplary taste of the composer. The sadness is rather elegiac, remote, and less poignant than in the E minor prelude. Harmonic heights are reached on the second page—surely Wagner knew these bars when he wrote "Tristan and Isolde"—while the ingenuity of the figure and avoidance of a rhythmical monotone are evidences of Chopin's feeling for the decorative. It is a masterly prelude. Klindworth accents the first of the bass triplets, and makes an unnecessary enharmonic change at the sixth and seventh lines.
There is a measure of grave content in the ninth prelude in E. It is rather gnomic, and contains hints of both Brahms and Beethoven. It has an ethical quality, but that may be because of its churchly rhythm and color.
The C sharp minor prelude, No. 10, must be the "eagle wings" of Schumann's critique. There is a flash of steel gray, deepening into black, and then the vision vanishes as though some huge bird aloft had plunged down through blazing sunlight, leaving a color- echo in the void as it passed to its quarry. Or, to be less figurative, this prelude is a study in arpeggio, with double notes interspersed, and is too short to make more than a vivid impression.
No. II in B is all too brief. It is vivacious, dolce indeed, and most cleverly constructed. Klindworth gives a more binding character to the first double notes. Another gleam of the Chopin sunshine.
Storm clouds gather in the G sharp minor, the twelfth prelude, so unwittingly imitated by Grieg in his Menuetto of the same key, and in its driving presto we feel the passionate clench of Chopin's hand. It is convulsed with woe, but the intellectual grip, the self-command are never lost in these two pages of perfect writing. The figure is suggestive, and there is a well defined technical problem, as well as a psychical character. Disputed territory is here: the editors do not agree about the twelfth and eleventh bars from the last. According to Breitkopf & Hartel the bass octaves are E both times. Mikuli gives G sharp the first time instead of E; Klindworth, G sharp the second time; Riemann, E, and also Kullak. The G sharp seems more various.
In the thirteenth prelude, F sharp major, here is lovely atmosphere, pure and peaceful. The composer has found mental rest. Exquisitely poised are his pinions for flight, and in the piu lento he wheels significantly and majestically about in the blue. The return to earth is the signal for some strange modulatory tactics. It is an impressive close. Then, almost without pause, the blood begins to boil in this fragile man's veins. His pulse beat increases, and with stifled rage he rushes into the battle. It is the fourteenth prelude in the sinister key of E flat minor, and its heavy, sullen-arched triplets recalls for Niecks the last movement of the B flat minor Sonata; but there is less interrogation in the prelude, less sophistication, and the heat of conflict over it all. There is not a break in the clouds until the beginning of the fifteenth, the familiar prelude in D flat.
This must be George Sand's: "Some of them create such vivid impressions that the shades of dead monks seem to rise and pass before the hearer in solemn and gloomy funereal pomp." The work needs no programme. Its serene beginning, lugubrious interlude, with the dominant pedal never ceasing, a basso ostinato, gives color to Kleczynski's contention that the prelude in B minor is a mere sketch of the idea fully elaborated in No. 15. "The foundation of the picture is the drops of rain falling at regular intervals"—the echo principle again—"which by their continual patter bring the mind to a state of sadness; a melody full of tears is heard through the rush of the rain; then passing to the key of C sharp minor, it rises from the depths of the bass to a prodigious crescendo, indicative of the terror which nature in its deathly aspect excites in the heart of man. Here again the form does not allow the ideas to become too sombre; notwithstanding the melancholy which seizes you, a feeling of tranquil grandeur revives you." To Niecks, the C sharp minor portion affects one as in an oppressive dream: "The re-entrance of the opening D flat, which dispels the dreadful nightmare, comes upon one with the smiling freshness of dear, familiar nature."
The prelude has a nocturnal character. It has become slightly banal from frequent repetition, likewise the C sharp minor study in opus 25. But of its beauty, balance and exceeding chastity there can be no doubt. The architecture is at once Greek and Gothic.
The sixteenth prelude in the relative key of B flat minor is the boldest of the set. Its scale figures, seldom employed by Chopin, boil and glitter, the thematic thread of the idea never being quite submerged. Fascinating, full of perilous acclivities and sudden treacherous descents, this most brilliant of preludes is Chopin in riotous spirits. He plays with the keyboard: it is an avalanche, anon a cascade, then a swift stream, which finally, after mounting to the skies, descends to an abyss. Full of imaginative lift, caprice and stormy dynamics, this prelude is the darling of the virtuoso. Its pregnant introduction is like a madly jutting rock from which the eagle spirit of the composer precipitates itself.
In the twenty-third bar there is curious editorial discrepancy. Klindworth uses an A natural in the first of the four groups of sixteenths, Kullak a B natural; Riemann follows Kullak. Nor is this all. Kullak in the second group, right hand, has an E flat, Klindworth a D natural. Which is correct? Klindworth's texture is more closely chromatic and it sounds better, the chromatic parallelism being more carefully preserved. Yet I fancy that Kullak has tradition on his side.
The seventeenth prelude Niecks finds Mendelssohn-ian. I do not. It is suave, sweet, well developed, yet Chopin to the core, and its harmonic life surprisingly rich and novel. The mood is one of tranquillity. The soul loses itself in early autumnal revery while there is yet splendor on earth and in the skies. Full of tonal contrasts, this highly finished composition is grateful to the touch. The eleven booming A flats on the last page are historical. Klindworth uses a B flat instead of a G at the beginning of the melody. It is logical, but is it Chopin?
The fiery recitatives of No. 18 in F minor are a glimpse of Chopin, muscular and not hectic. In these editions you will find three different groupings of the cadenzas. It is Riemann's opportunity for pedagogic editing, and he does not miss it. In the first long breathed group of twenty-two sixteenth notes he phrases as shown on the following page.
It may be noticed that Riemann even changes the arrangement of the bars. This prelude is dramatic almost to an operatic degree. Sonorous, rather grandiloquent, it is a study in declamation, the declamation of the slow movement in the F minor concerto. Schumann may have had the first phrase in his mind when he wrote his Aufschwung. This page of Chopin's, the torso of a larger idea, is nobly rhetorical.
[Musical score excerpt]
What piano music is the nineteenth prelude in E flat! Its widely dispersed harmonies, its murmuring grace and June-like beauty, are they not Chopin, the Chopin we best love? He is ever the necromancer, ever invoking phantoms, but with its whirring melody and furtive caprice this particular shape is an alluring one. And difficult it is to interpret with all its plangent lyric freedom.
No. 2O in C minor contains in its thirteen bars the sorrows of a nation. It is without doubt a sketch for a funeral march, and of it George Sand must have been thinking when she wrote that one prelude of Chopin contained more music than all the trumpetings of Meyerbeer.
Of exceeding loveliness is the B flat major prelude, No. 21. It is superior in content and execution to most of the nocturnes. In feeling it belongs to that form. The melody is enchanting. The accompaniment figure shows inventive genius. Klindworth employs a short appoggiatura, Kullak the long, in the second bar. Judge of what is true editorial sciolism when I tell you that Riemann—who evidently believes in a rigid melodic structure—has inserted an E flat at the end of bar four, thus maiming the tender, elusive quality of Chopin's theme. This is cruelly pedantic. The prelude arrests one in ecstasy; the fixed period of contemplation of the saint or the hypnotized sets in, and the awakening is almost painful. Chopin, adopting the relative minor key as a pendant to the picture in B flat, thrills the nerves by a bold dissonance in the next prelude, No. 22. Again, concise paragraphs filled with the smoke of revolt and conflict The impetuosity of this largely moulded piece in G minor, its daring harmonics,—read the seventeenth and eighteenth bars,—and dramatic note make it an admirable companion to the Prelude in F minor. Technically it serves as an octave study for the left hand.
In the concluding bar, but one, Chopin has in the F major Prelude attempted a most audacious feat in harmony. An E flat in the bass of the third group of sixteenths leaves the whole composition floating enigmatically in thin air. It deliciously colors the close, leaving a sense of suspense, of anticipation which is not tonally realized, for the succeeding number is in a widely divorced key. But it must have pressed hard the philistines. And this prelude, the twenty-third, is fashioned out of the most volatile stuff. Aerial, imponderable, and like a sun-shot spider web oscillating in the breeze of summer, its hues change at every puff. It is in extended harmonics and must be delivered with spirituality. The horny hand of the toilsome pianist would shatter the delicate, swinging fantasy of the poet. Kullak points out a variant in the fourteenth bar, G instead of B natural being used by Riemann. Klindworth prefers the latter.
We have reached the last prelude of op. 28. In D minor, it is sonorously tragic, troubled by fevers and visions, and capricious, irregular and massive in design. It may be placed among Chopin's greater works: the two Etudes in C minor, the A minor, and the F sharp minor Prelude. The bass requires an unusual span, and the suggestion by Kullak, that the thumb of the right hand may eke out the weakness of the left is only for the timid and the small of fist. But I do not counsel following his two variants in the fifth and twenty-third bars. Chopin's text is more telling. Like the vast reverberation of monstrous waves on the implacable coast of a remote world is this prelude. Despite its fatalistic ring, its note of despair is not dispiriting. Its issues are larger, more impersonal, more elemental than the other preludes. It is a veritable Appassionata, but its theatre is cosmic and no longer behind the closed doors of the cabinet of Chopin's soul. The Seelenschrei of Stanislaw Przybyszewski is here, explosions of wrath and revolt; not Chopin suffers, but his countrymen. Kleczynski speaks of the three tones at the close. They are the final clangor of oppressed, almost overthrown, reason. After the subject reappears in C minor there is a shift to D flat, and for a moment a point of repose is gained, but this elusive rest is brief. The theme reappears in the tonic and in octaves, and the tension becomes too great; the accumulated passion discharges and dissolves in a fierce gust of double chromatic thirds and octaves. Powerful, repellant, this prelude is almost infernal in its pride and scorn. But in it I discern no vestige of uncontrolled hysteria. It is well-nigh as strong, rank and human as Beethoven. The various editorial phraseology is not of much moment. Riemann uses thirty-second notes for the cadenzas, Kullak eighths and Klindworth sixteenths.
Niecks writes of the Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 45, that it "deserves its name better than almost any one of the twenty-four; still I would rather call it improvisata. It seems unpremeditated, a heedless outpouring, when sitting at the piano in a lonely, dreary hour, perhaps in the twilight. The quaver figure rises aspiringly, and the sustained parts swell out proudly. The piquant cadenza forestalls in the progression of diminished chords favorite effects of some of our more modern composers. The modulation from C sharp minor to D major and back again—after the cadenza—is very striking and equally beautiful."
Elsewhere I have called attention to the Brahmsian coloring of this prelude. Its mood is fugitive and hard to hold after capture. Recondite it is and not music for the multitude.
Niecks does not think Chopin created a new type in the Preludes. "They are too unlike each other in form and character." Yet notwithstanding the fleeting, evanescent moods of the Preludes, there is designedly a certain unity of feeling and contrasted tonalities, all being grouped in approved Bach-ian manner. This may be demonstrated by playing them through at a sitting, which Arthur Friedheim, the Russian virtuoso, did in a concert with excellent effect. As if wishing to exhibit his genius in perspective, Chopin carved these cameos with exceeding fineness, exceeding care. In a few of them the idea overbalances the form, but the greater number are exquisite examples of a just proportion of manner and matter, a true blending of voice and vision. Even in the more microscopic ones the tracery, echoing like the spirals in strange seashells, is marvellously measured. Much in miniature are these sculptured Preludes of the Polish poet.
VIII. IMPROMPTUS AND VALSES
To write of the four Impromptus in their own key of unrestrained feeling and pondered intention would not be as easy as recapturing the first "careless rapture" of the lark. With all the freedom of an improvisation the Chopin impromptu has a well defined form. There is structural impulse, although the patterns are free and original. The mood-color is not much varied in three, the first, third and fourth, but in the second there is a ballade-like quality that hints of the tragic. The A flat Impromptu, op. 29, is, if one is pinned down to the title, the happiest named of the set. Its seething, prankish, nimble, bubbling quality is indicated from the start; the D natural in the treble against the C and E flat—the dominant—in the bass is a most original effect, and the flowing triplets of the first part of this piece give a ductile, gracious, high-bred character to it. The chromatic involutions are many and interesting. When the F minor part is reached the ear experiences the relief of a strongly contrasted rhythm. The simple duple measure, so naturally ornamented, is nobly, broadly melodious. After the return of the first dimpling theme there is a short coda, a chiaroscura, and then with a few chords the composition goes to rest. A bird flew that way! Rubato should be employed, for, as Kleczynski says, "Here everything totters from foundation to summit, and everything is, nevertheless, so beautiful and so clear." But only an artist with velvety fingers should play this sounding arabesque.