There is more limpidezza, more pure grace of line in the first Impromptu than in the second in F sharp, op. 36. Here symmetry is abandoned, as Kullak remarks, but the compensation of intenser emotional issues is offered. There is something sphinx-like in the pose of this work. Its nocturnal beginning with the carillon- like bass—a bass that ever recalls to me the faint, buried tones of Hauptmann's "Sunken Bell," the sweetly grave close of the section, the faint hoof-beats of an approaching cavalcade, with the swelling thunders of its passage, surely suggests a narrative, a programme. After the D major episode there are two bars of anonymous modulation—these bars creak on their hinges— and the first subject reappears in F, then climbs to F sharp, thence merges into a glittering melodic organ-point, exciting, brilliant, the whole subsiding into an echo of earlier harmonies. The final octaves are marked fortissimo which always seems brutal. Yet its logic lies in the scheme of the composer. Perhaps he wished to arouse us harshly from his dreamland, as was his habit while improvising for friends—a glissando would send them home shivering after an evening of delicious reverie.
Niecks finds this Impromptu lacking the pith of the first. To me it is of more moment than the other three. It is irregular and wavering in outline, the moods are wandering and capricious, yet who dares deny its power, its beauty? In its use of accessory figures it does not reveal so much ingenuity, but just because the "figure in the carpet" is not so varied in pattern, its passion is all the deeper. It is another Ballade, sadder, more meditative of the tender grace of vanished days.
The third Impromptu in G flat, op. 51, is not often played. It may be too difficult for the vandal with an average technique, but it is neither so fresh in feeling nor so spontaneous in utterance as its companions. There is a touch of the faded, blase, and it is hardly healthy in sentiment. Here are some ophidian curves in triplets, as in the first Impromptu, but with interludes of double notes, in coloring tropical and rich to morbidity. The E flat minor trio is a fine bit of melodic writing. The absence of simplicity is counterbalanced by greater freedom of modulation and complexity of pattern. The impromptu flavor is not missing, and there is allied to delicacy of design a strangeness of sentiment—that strangeness which Edgar Poe declared should be a constituent element of all great art.
The Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, op. 66, was published by Fontana in 1855, and is one of the few posthumous works of Chopin worthy of consideration. It was composed about 1834. A true Impromptu, but the title of Fantaisie given by Fontana is superfluous. The piece presents difficulties, chiefly rhythmical. Its involuted first phrases suggest the Bellini-an fioriture so dear to Chopin, but the D flat part is without nobility. Here is the same kind of saccharine melody that makes mawkish the trio in the "Marche Funebre." There seems no danger that this Fantaisie- Impromptu will suffer from neglect, for it is the joy of the piano student, who turns its presto into a slow, blurred mess of badly related rhythms, and its slower movement into a long drawn sentimental agony; but in the hands of a master the C sharp minor Impromptu is charming, though not of great depth.
The first Impromptu, dedicated to Mlle. la Comtesse de Lobau, was published December, 1837; the second, May, 1840; the third, dedicated to Madame la Comtesse Esterhazy, February, 1843. Not one of these four Impromptus is as naive as Schubert's; they are more sophisticated and do not smell of nature and her simplicities.
Of the Chopin Valses it has been said that they are dances of the soul and not of the body. Their animated rhythms, insouciant airs and brilliant, coquettish atmosphere, the true atmosphere of the ballroom, seem to smile at Ehlert's poetic exaggeration. The valses are the most objective of the Chopin works, and in few of them is there more than a hint of the sullen, Sargasson seas of the nocturnes and scherzi. Nietzsche's la Gaya Scienza—the Gay Science—is beautifully set forth in the fifteen Chopin valses. They are less intimate, in the psychic sense, but exquisite exemplars of social intimacy and aristocratic abandon. As Schumann declared, the dancers of these valses should be at least countesses. There is a high-bred reserve despite their intoxication, and never a hint of the brawling peasants of Beethoven, Grieg, Brahms, Tschaikowsky, and the rest. But little of Vienna is in Chopin. Around the measures of this most popular of dances he has thrown mystery, allurement, and in them secret whisperings and the unconscious sigh. It is going too far not to dance to some of this music, for it is putting Chopin away from the world he at times loved. Certain of the valses may be danced: the first, second, fifth, sixth, and a few others. The dancing would be of necessity more picturesque and less conventional than required by the average valse, and there must be fluctuations of tempo, sudden surprises and abrupt languors. The mazurkas and polonaises are danced to-day in Poland, why not the valses? Chopin's genius reveals itself in these dance forms, and their presentation should be not solely a psychic one. Kullak, stern old pedagogue, divides these dances into two groups, the first dedicated to "Terpsichore," the second a frame for moods. Chopin admitted that he was unable to play valses in the Viennese fashion, yet he has contrived to rival Strauss in his own genre. Some of these valses are trivial, artificial, most of them are bred of candlelight and the swish of silken attire, and a few are poetically morbid and stray across the border into the rhythms of the mazurka. All of them have been edited to death, reduced to the commonplace by vulgar methods of performance, but are altogether sprightly, delightful specimens of the composer's careless, vagrant and happy moods.
Kullak utters words of warning to the "unquiet" sex regarding the habitual neglect of the bass. It should mean something in valse tempo, but it usually does not. Nor need it be brutally banged; the fundamental tone must be cared for, the subsidiary harmonies lightly indicated. The rubato in the valses need not obtrude itself as in the mazurkas.
Opus 18, in E flat, was published in June, 1834, and dedicated to Mile. Laura Harsford. It is a true ballroom picture, spirited and infectious in rhythms. Schumann wrote rhapsodically of it. The D flat section has a tang of the later Chopin. There is bustle, even chatter, in this valse, which in form and content is inferior to op. 34, No. I, A flat. The three valses of this set were published December, 1838. There are many editorial differences in the A flat Valse, owing to the careless way it was copied and pirated. Klindworth and Kullak are the safest for dynamic markings. This valse may be danced as far as its dithyrhambic coda. Notice in this coda as in many other places the debt Schumann owes Chopin for a certain passage in the Preambule of his "Carneval."
The next Valse in A minor has a tinge of Sarmatian melancholy, indeed, it is one of Chopin's most desponding moods. The episode in C rings of the mazurka, and the A major section is of exceeding loveliness; Its coda is characteristic. This valse is a favorite, and who need wonder? The F major Valse, the last of this series, is a whirling, wild dance of atoms. It has the perpetuum mobile quality, and older masters would have prolonged its giddy arabesques into pages of senseless spinning. It is quite long enough as it is. The second theme is better, but the appoggiatures are flippant. It buzzes to the finish. Of it is related that Chopin's cat sprang upon his keyboard and in its feline flight gave him the idea of the first measures. I suppose as there is a dog valse, there had to be one for the cat.
But as Rossini would have said, "Ca sent de Scarlatti!"
The A minor Valse was, of the three, Chopin's favorite. When Stephen Heller told him this too was his beloved valse, Chopin was greatly pleased, inviting the Hungarian composer, Niecks relates, to luncheon at the Cafe Riche.
Not improvised in the ballroom as the preceding, yet a marvellous epitome is the A flat Valse, op. 42, published July, 1840. It is the best rounded specimen of Chopin's experimenting with the form. The prolonged trill on E flat, summoning us to the ballroom, the suggestive intermingling of rhythms, duple and triple, the coquetry, hesitation, passionate avowal and the superb coda, with its echoes of evening—have not these episodes a charm beyond compare? Only Schumann in certain pages of his "Carneval" seizes the secret of young life and love, but his is not so finished, so glowing a tableau.
Regarding certain phrasing of this valse Moriz Rosenthal wrote to the London "Musical Standard":
In Music there is Liberty and Fraternity, but seldom Equality, and in music Social Democracy has no voice. Notes have a right to the Aftertone (Nachton), and this right depends upon their role in the key. The Vorhalt (accented passing note) will always have an accent. On this point Riemann must without question be considered right. Likewise the feeling player will mark those notes that introduce the transition to another key. We will consider now our example and set down my accents:
[Musical score excerpt]
In the first bar we have the tonic chord of its major key as bass, and are thus not forced to any accent. In the second bar we have the dominant harmony in the bass, and in the treble, C, which falls upon the down beat as Vorhalt to the next tone (B flat), so it must be accented. Also in the fourth bar the B flat is Vorhalt to the B flat, and likewise requires an accent. In bars 6, 7 and 8 the notes, A flat, B flat and C, are without doubt the characteristic ones of the passage, and the E flat has in each case only a secondary significance.
That a genius like Chopin did not indicate everything accurately is quite explainable. He flew where we merely limp after. Moreover, these accents must be felt rather than executed, with softest touch, and as tenderly as possible.
The D flat Valse—"le valse du petit chien"—is of George Sand's own prompting. One evening at her home in the Square d'Orleans, she was amused by her little pet dog, chasing its tail. She begged Chopin, her little pet pianist, to set the tail to music. He did so, and behold the world is richer for this piece. I do not dispute the story. It seems well grounded, but then it is so ineffably silly! The three valses of this op. 64 were published September, 1847, and are respectively dedicated to the Comtesse Delphine Potocka, the Baronne Nathaniel de Rothschild and the Baronne Bronicka.
I shall not presume to speak of the execution of the D flat Valse; like the rich, it is always with us. It is usually taken at a meaningless, rapid gait. I have heard it played by a genuine Chopin pupil, M. Georges Mathias, and he did not take it prestissimo. He ran up the D flat scale, ending with a sforzato at the top, and gave a variety of nuance to the composition. The cantabile is nearly always delivered with sloppiness of sentiment. This valse has been served up in a highly indigestible condition for concert purposes by Tausig, Joseffy—whose arrangement was the first to be heard here—Theodore Ritter, Rosenthal and Isidor Philipp.
The C sharp minor Valse is the most poetic of all. The first theme has never been excelled by Chopin for a species of veiled melancholy. It is a fascinating, lyrical sorrow, and what Kullak calls the psychologic motivation of the first theme in the curving figure of the second does not relax the spell. A space of clearer skies, warmer, more consoling winds are in the D flat interlude, but the spirit of unrest, ennui returns. The elegiac imprint is unmistakable in this soul dance. The A flat Valse which follows is charming. It is for superior souls who dance with intellectual joy, with the joy that comes of making exquisite patterns and curves. Out of the salon and from its brilliantly lighted spaces the dancers do not wander, do not dance into the darkness and churchyard, as Ehlert imagines of certain other valses.
The two valses in op. 69, three valses, op. 70, and the two remaining valses in E minor and E major, need not detain us. They are posthumous. The first of op. 69 in F minor was composed in 1836; the B minor in 1829; G flat, op. 70, in 1835; F minor in 1843, and D flat major, 1830. The E major and E minor were composed in 1829. Fontana gave these compositions to the world. The F minor Valse, op. 69, No. 1, has a charm of its own. Kullak prints the Fontana and Klindworth variants. This valse is suavely melancholy, but not so melancholy as the B minor of the same opus. It recalls in color the B minor mazurka. Very gay and sprightly is the G flat Valse, op. 70, No. I. The next in F minor has no special physiognomy, while the third in D flat contains, as Niecks points out, germs of the op. 42 and the op. 34 Valses. It recalls to me the D flat study in the supplementary series. The E minor Valse, without opus, is beloved. It is very graceful and not without sentiment. The major part is the early Chopin. The E major Valse is published in the Mikuli edition. It is commonplace, hinting of its composer only in places. Thus ends the collection of valses, not Chopin's most signal success in art, but a success that has dignified and given beauty to this conventional dance form.
IX. NIGHT AND ITS MELANCHOLY MYSTERIES:—THE NOCTURNES
Here is the chronology of the nocturnes: Op. 9, three nocturnes, January, 1833; op. 15, three nocturnes, January, 1834; op. 27, two nocturnes, May, 1836; op. 32, two nocturnes, December, 1837; op. 37, two nocturnes, May, 1840; op. 48, two nocturnes, November, 1841; op. 55, two nocturnes, August, 1844; op. 62, two nocturnes, September, 1846. In addition there is a nocturne written in 1828 and published by Fontana, with the opus number 72, No. 2, and the lately discovered one in C sharp minor, written when Chopin was young and published in 1895. This completes the nocturne list, but following Niecks' system of formal grouping I include the Berceuse and Barcarolle as full fledged specimens of nocturnes.
John Field has been described as the forerunner of Chopin. The limpid style of this pupil and friend of Clementi, his beautiful touch and finished execution, were certainly admired and imitated by the Pole. Field's nocturnes are now neglected—so curious are Time's caprices—and without warrant, for not only is Field the creator of the form, but in both his concertos and nocturnes he has written charming, sweet and sane music. He rather patronized Chopin, for whose melancholy pose he had no patience. "He has a talent of the hospital," growled Field in the intervals between his wine drinking, pipe smoking and the washing of his linen—the latter economical habit he contracted from Clementi. There is some truth in his stricture. Chopin, seldom exuberantly cheerful, is morbidly sad and complaining in many of the nocturnes. The most admired of his compositions, with the exception of the valses, they are in several instances his weakest. Yet he ennobled the form originated by Field, giving it dramatic breadth, passion and even grandeur. Set against Field's naive and idyllic specimens, Chopin's efforts are often too bejewelled for true simplicity, too lugubrious, too tropical—Asiatic is a better word—and they have the exotic savor of the heated conservatory, and not the fresh scent of the flowers reared in the open by the less poetic Irishman. And, then, Chopin is so desperately sentimental in some of these compositions. They are not altogether to the taste of this generation; they seem to be suffering from anaemia. However, there are a few noble nocturnes; and methods of performance may have much to answer for the sentimentalizing of some others. More vigor, a quickening of the time-pulse, and a less languishing touch will rescue them from lush sentiment. Chopin loved the night and its soft mysteries as much as did Robert Louis Stevenson, and his nocturnes are true night pieces, some with agitated, remorseful countenance, others seen in profile only, while many are whisperings at dusk. Most of them are called feminine, a term psychologically false. The poetic side of men of genius is feminine, and in Chopin the feminine note was over emphasized—at times it was almost hysterical—particularly in these nocturnes.
The Scotch have a proverb: "She wove her shroud, and wore it in her lifetime." In the nocturnes the shroud is not far away. Chopin wove his to the day of his death, and he wore it sometimes but not always, as many think.
One of the most elegiac of his nocturnes is the first in B flat minor. It is one of three, op. 9, dedicated to Mme. Camille Pleyel. Of far more significance than its two companions, it is, for some reason, neglected. While I am far from agreeing with those who hold that in the early Chopin all his genius was completely revealed, yet this nocturne is as striking as the last, for it is at once sensuous and dramatic, melancholy and lovely. Emphatically a mood, it is best heard on a gray day of the soul, when the times are out of joint; its silken tones will bring a triste content as they pour out upon one's hearing. The second section in octaves is of exceeding charm. As a melody it has all the lurking voluptuousness and mystic crooning of its composer. There is flux and reflux throughout, passion peeping out in the coda.
The E flat nocturne is graceful, shallow of content, but if it is played with purity of touch and freedom from sentimentality it is not nearly so banal as it usually seems. It is Field-like, therefore play it as did Rubinstein, in a Field-like fashion.
Hadow calls attention to the "remote and recondite modulations" in the twelfth bar, the chromatic double notes. For him they only are one real modulation, "the rest of the passage is an iridescent play of color, an effect of superficies, not an effect of substance." It was the E flat nocturne that unloosed Rellstab's critical wrath in the "Iris." Of it he wrote: "Where Field smiles, Chopin makes a grinning grimace; where Field sighs, Chopin groans; where Field shrugs his shoulders, Chopin twists his whole body; where Field puts some seasoning into the food, Chopin empties a handful of cayenne pepper. In short, if one holds Field's charming romances before a distorting, concave mirror, so that every delicate impression becomes a coarse one, one gets Chopin's work. We implore Mr. Chopin to return to nature."
Rellstab might have added that while Field was often commonplace, Chopin never was. Rather is to be preferred the sound judgment of J. W. Davison, the English critic and husband of the pianist, Arabella Goddard. Of the early works he wrote:
Commonplace is instinctively avoided in all the works of Chopin—a stale cadence or a trite progression—a hum-drum subject or a worn-out passage—a vulgar twist of the melody or a hackneyed sequence—a meagre harmony or an unskilful counterpoint—may in vain be looked for throughout the entire range of his compositions, the prevailing characteristics of which are a feeling as uncommon as beautiful; a treatment as original as felicitous; a melody and a harmony as new, fresh, vigorous and striking as they are utterly unexpected and out of the original track. In taking up one of the works of Chopin you are entering, as it were, a fairyland untrodden by human footsteps—a path hitherto unfrequented but by the great composer himself.
Gracious, even coquettish, is the first part of the B major Nocturne of this opus. Well knit, the passionate intermezzo has the true dramatic Chopin ring. It should be taken alla breve. The ending is quite effective.
I do not care much for the F major Nocturne, op. 15, No. I. The opus is dedicated to Ferdinand Hiller. Ehlert speaks of "the ornament in triplets with which he brushes the theme as with the gentle wings of a butterfly," and then discusses the artistic value of the ornament which may be so profitably studied in the Chopin music. "From its nature, the ornament can only beautify the beautiful." Music like Chopin's, "with its predominating elegance, could not forego ornament. But he surely did not purchase it of a jeweller; he designed it himself, with a delicate hand. He was the first to surround a note with diamond facets and to weave the rushing floods of his emotions with the silver beams of the moonlight. In his nocturnes there is a glimmering as of distant stars. From these dreamy, heavenly gems he has borrowed many a line. The Chopin nocturne is a dramatized ornament. And why may not Art speak for once in such symbols? In the much admired F sharp major Nocturne the principal theme makes its appearance so richly decorated that one cannot avoid imagining that his fancy confined itself to the Arabesque form for the expression of its poetical sentiments. Even the middle part borders upon what I should call the tragic style of ornament. The ground thought is hidden behind a dense veil, but a veil, too, can be an ornament."
In another place Ehlert thinks that the F sharp major Nocturne seems inseparable from champagne and truffles. It is certainly more elegant and dramatic than the one in F major, which precedes it. That, with the exception of the middle part in F minor, is weak, although rather pretty and confiding. The F sharp Nocturne is popular. The "doppio movemento" is extremely striking and the entire piece is saturated with young life, love and feelings of good will to men. Read Kleczynski. The third nocturne of the three is in G minor, and contains some fine, picturesque writing. Kullak does not find in it aught of the fantastic. The languid, earth-weary voice of the opening and the churchly refrain of the chorale, is not this fantastic contrast! This nocturne contains in solution all that Chopin developed later in a nocturne of the same key. But I think the first stronger—its lines are simpler, more primitive, its coloring less complicated, yet quite as rich and gloomy. Of it Chopin said: "After Hamlet," but changed his mind. "Let them guess for themselves," was his sensible conclusion. Kullak's programme has a conventional ring. It is the lament for the beloved one, the lost Lenore, with the consolation of religion thrown in. The "bell-tones" of the plain chant bring to my mind little that consoles, although the piece ends in the major mode. It is like Foe's "Ulalume." A complete and tiny tone poem, Rubinstein made much of it. In the fourth bar and for three bars there is a held note F, and I heard the Russian virtuoso, by some miraculous means, keep this tone prolonged. The tempo is abnormally slow, and the tone is not in a position where the sustaining pedal can sensibly help it. Yet under Rubinstein's fingers it swelled and diminished, and went singing into D, as if the instrument were an organ. I suspected the inaudible changing of fingers on the note or a sustaining pedal. It was wonderfully done.
The next nocturne, op. 27, No. I, brings us before a masterpiece. With the possible exception of the C minor Nocturne, this one in the sombre key of C sharp minor is the great essay in the form. Kleczynski finds it "a description of a calm night at Venice, where, after a scene of murder, the sea closes over a corpse and continues to serve as a mirror to the moonlight." This is melodramatic. Willeby analyzes it at length with the scholarly fervor of an English organist. He finds the accompaniment to be "mostly on a double pedal," and remarks that "higher art than this one could not have if simplicity of means be a factor of high art." The wide-meshed figure of the left hand supports a morbid, persistent melody that grates on the nerves. From the piu mosso the agitation increases, and here let me call to your notice the Beethoven-ish quality of these bars, which continue until the change of signature. There is a surprising climax followed by sunshine and favor in the D flat part, then after mounting dissonances a bold succession of octaves returns to the feverish plaint of the opening. Kullak speaks of a resemblance to Meyerbeer's song, Le Moine. The composition reaches exalted states. Its psychological tension is so great at times as to border on a pathological condition. There is unhealthy power in this nocturne, which is seldom interpreted with sinister subtlety. Henry T. Finck rightfully thinks it "embodies a greater variety of emotion and more genuine dramatic spirit on four pages than many operas on four hundred."
The companion picture in D flat, op. 27, No. 2, has, as Karasowski writes, "a profusion of delicate fioriture." It really contains but one subject, and is a song of the sweet summer of two souls, for there is obvious meaning in the duality of voices. Often heard in the concert room, this nocturne gives us a surfeit of sixths and thirds of elaborate ornamentation and monotone of mood. Yet it is a lovely, imploring melody, and harmonically most interesting. A curious marking, and usually overlooked by pianists, is the crescendo and con forza of the cadenza. This is obviously erroneous. The theme, which occurs three times, should first be piano, then pianissimo, and lastly forte. This opus is dedicated to the Comtesse d'Appony.
The best part of the next nocturne,—B major, op. 32, No. I, dedicated to Madame de Billing—is the coda. It is in the minor and is like the drum-beat of tragedy. The entire ending, a stormy recitative, is in stern contrast to the dreamy beginning. Kullak in the first bar of the last line uses a G; Fontana, F sharp, and Klindworth the same as Kullak. The nocturne that follows in A flat is a reversion to the Field type, the opening recalling that master's B flat Nocturne. The F minor section of Chopin's broadens out to dramatic reaches, but as an entirety this opus is a little tiresome. Nor do I admire inordinately the Nocturne in G minor, op. 37, No. 1. It has a complaining tone, and the choral is not noteworthy. This particular part, so Chopin's pupil Gutmann declared, is taken too slowly, the composer having forgotten to mark the increased tempo. But the Nocturne in G, op. 37, No. 2, is charming. Painted with Chopin's most ethereal brush, without the cloying splendors of the one in D flat, the double sixths, fourths and thirds are magically euphonious. The second subject, I agree with Karasowski, is the most beautiful melody Chopin ever wrote. It is in true barcarolle vein; and most subtle are the shifting harmonic hues. Pianists usually take the first part too fast, the second too slowly, transforming this poetic composition into an etude. As Schumann wrote of this opus:
"The two nocturnes differ from his earlier ones chiefly through greater simplicity of decoration and more quiet grace. We know Chopin's fondness in general for spangles, gold trinkets and pearls. He has already changed and grown older; decoration he still loves, but it is of a more judicious kind, behind which the nobility of the poetry shimmers through with all the more loveliness: indeed, taste, the finest, must be granted him."
Both numbers of this opus are without dedication. They are the offspring of the trip to Majorca.
Niecks, writing of the G major Nocturne, adjures us "not to tarry too long in the treacherous atmosphere of this Capua—it bewitches and unmans." Kleczynski calls the one in G minor "homesickness," while the celebrated Nocturne in C minor "is the tale of a still greater grief told in an agitated recitando; celestial harps"—ah! I hear the squeak of the old romantic machinery—"come to bring one ray of hope, which is powerless in its endeavor to calm the wounded soul, which...sends forth to heaven a cry of deepest anguish." It doubtless has its despairing movement, this same Nocturne in C minor, op. 48, No. I, but Karasowski is nearer right when he calls it "broad and most imposing with its powerful intermediate movement, a thorough departure from the nocturne style." Willeby finds it "sickly and labored," and even Niecks does not think it should occupy a foremost place among its companions. The ineluctable fact remains that this is the noblest nocturne of them all. Biggest in conception it seems a miniature music drama. It requires the grand manner to read it adequately, and the doppio movemento is exciting to a dramatic degree. I fully agree with Kullak that too strict adherence to the marking of this section produces the effect of an "inartistic precipitation" which robs the movement of clarity. Kleczynski calls the work The Contrition of a Sinner and devotes several pages to its elucidation. De Lenz chats most entertainingly with Tausig about it. Indeed, an imposing march of splendor is the second subject in C. A fitting pendant is this work to the C sharp minor Nocturne. Both have the heroic quality, both are free from mawkishness and are of the greater Chopin, the Chopin of the mode masculine.
Niecks makes a valuable suggestion: "In playing these nocturnes— op. 48—there occurred to me a remark of Schumann's, when he reviewed some nocturnes by Count Wielhorski. He said that the quick middle movements which Chopin frequently introduced into his nocturnes are often weaker than his first conceptions; meaning the first portions of his nocturnes. Now, although the middle part in the present instances are, on the contrary, slower movements, yet the judgment holds good; at least with respect to the first nocturne, the middle part of which has nothing to recommend it but a full, sonorous instrumentation, if I may use this word in speaking of one instrument. The middle part of the second—D flat, molto piu lento—however, is much finer; in it we meet again, as we did in some other nocturnes, with soothing, simple chord progressions. When Gutmann studied the C sharp minor Nocturne with Chopin, the master told him that the middle section- -the molto piu lento in D flat major—should be played as a recitative. 'A tyrant commands'—the first two chords—he said, 'and the other asks for mercy.'"
Of course Niecks means the F sharp minor, not the C sharp minor Nocturne, op. 48, No. 2, dedicated, with the C minor, to Mlle. L. Duperre.
Opus 55, two nocturnes in F minor and E flat major, need not detain us long. The first is familiar. Kleczynski devotes a page or more to its execution. He seeks to vary the return of the chief subject with nuances—as would an artistic singer the couplets of a classic song. There are "cries of despair" in it, but at last a "feeling of hope." Kullak writes of the last measures: "Thank God—the goal is reached!" It is the relief of a major key after prolonged wanderings in the minor. It is a nice nocturne, neat in its sorrow, yet not epoch-making. The one following has "the impression of an improvisation." It has also the merit of being seldom heard. These two nocturnes are dedicated to Mlle. J. W. Stirling.
Opus 62 brings us to a pair in B major and E major inscribed to Madame de Konneritz. The first, the Tuberose Nocturne, is faint with a sick, rich odor. The climbing trellis of notes, that so unexpectedly leads to the tonic, is charming and the chief tune has charm, a fruity charm. It is highly ornate, its harmonies dense, the entire surface overrun with wild ornamentation and a profusion of trills. The piece—the third of its sort in the key of B—is not easy. Mertke gives the following explication of the famous chain trills:
[Musical score excerpt]
Although this nocturne is luxuriant in style, it deserves warmer praise than is accorded it. Irregular as its outline is, its troubled lyrism is appealing, is melting, and the A flat portion, with its hesitating, timid accents, has great power of attraction. The E major Nocturne has a bardic ring. Its song is almost declamatory and not at all sentimental—unless so distorted—as Niecks would have us imagine. The intermediate portion is wavering and passionate, like the middle of the F sharp major Nocturne. It shows no decrease in creative vigor or lyrical fancy. The Klindworth version differs from the original, as an examination of the following examples will show, the upper being Chopin's:
[Musical score excerpt]
The posthumous nocturne in E minor, composed in 1827, is weak and uninteresting. Moreover, it contains some very un-Chopin-like modulations. The recently discovered nocturne in C sharp minor is hardly a treasure trove. It is vague and reminiscent The following note was issued by its London publishers, Ascherberg & Co.:
The first question, suggested by the announcement of a new posthumous composition of Chopin's, will be "What proof is there of its authenticity?" To musicians and amateurs who cannot recognize the beautiful Nocturne in C sharp minor as indeed the work of Chopin, it may in the first place be pointed out that the original manuscript (of which a facsimile is given on the title-page) is in Chopin's well-known handwriting, and, secondly, that the composition, which is strikingly characteristic, was at once accepted as the work of Chopin by the distinguished composer and pianist Balakireff, who played it for the first time in public at the Chopin Commemoration Concert, held in the autumn of 1894 at Zelazowa Wola, and afterward at Warsaw. This nocturne was addressed by Chopin to his sister Louise, at Warsaw, in a letter from Paris, and was written soon after the production of the two lovely piano concertos, when Chopin was still a very young man. It contains a quotation from his most admired Concerto in F minor, and a brief reference to the charming song known as the Maiden's Wish, two of his sister's favorite melodies. The manuscript of the nocturne was supposed to have been destroyed in the sacking of the Zamojski Palace, at Warsaw, toward the end of the insurrection of 1863, but it was discovered quite recently among papers of various kinds in the possession of a Polish gentleman, a great collector, whose son offered Mr. Polinski the privilege of selecting from such papers. His choice was three manuscripts of Chopin's, one of them being this nocturne. A letter from Mr. Polinski on the subject of this nocturne is in the possession of Miss Janotha.
Is this the nocturne of which Tausig spoke to his pupil Joseffy as belonging to the Master's "best period," or did he refer to the one in E minor?
The Berceuse, op. 57, published June, 1845, and dedicated to Mlle. Elise Gavard, is the very sophistication of the art of musical ornamentation. It is built on a tonic and dominant bass— the triad of the tonic and the chord of the dominant seventh. A rocking theme is set over this basso ostinato and the most enchanting effects are produced. The rhythm never alters in the bass, and against this background, the monotone of a dark, gray sky, the composer arranges an astonishing variety of fireworks, some florid, some subdued, but all delicate in tracery and design. Modulations from pigeon egg blue to Nile green, most misty and subtle modulations, dissolve before one's eyes, and for a moment the sky is peppered with tiny stars in doubles, each independently tinted. Within a small segment of the chromatic bow Chopin has imprisoned new, strangely dissonant colors. It is a miracle; and after the drawn-out chord of the dominant seventh and the rain of silvery fire ceases one realizes that the whole piece is a delicious illusion, but an ululation in the key of D flat, the apotheosis of pyrotechnical colorature.
Niecks quotes Alexandre Dumas fils, who calls the Berceuse "muted music," but introduces a Turkish bath comparison, which crushes the sentiment. Mertke shows the original and Klindworth's reading of a certain part of the Berceuse, adding a footnote to the examples:
[Two musical score excerpts from Op. 57, one from the original version, one from Klindworth's edition]
[Footnote: Das tr (flat) der Originale (Scholtz tr natural-flat) zeigt, dass Ch. den Triller mit Ganzton und nach Mikuli den Trilleranfang mit Hauptton wollte.] The Barcarolle, op. 60, published September, 1846, is another highly elaborated work. Niecks must be quoted here: "One day Tausig, the great piano virtuoso, promised W. de Lenz to play him Chopin's Barcarolle, adding, 'That is a performance which must not be undertaken before more than two persons. I shall play you my own self. I love the piece, but take it rarely.' Lenz got the music, but it did not please him—it seemed to him a long movement in the nocturne style, a Babel of figuration on a lightly laid foundation. But he found that he had made a mistake, and, after hearing it played by Tausig, confessed that the virtuoso had infused into the 'nine pages of enervating music, of one and the same long-breathed rhythm, so much interest, so much motion, so much action,' that he regretted the long piece was not longer."
Tausig's conception of the barcarolle was this: "There are two persons concerned in the affair; it is a love scene in a discrete gondola; let us say this mise-en-scene is the symbol of a lover's meeting generally."
"This is expressed in thirds and sixths; the dualism of two notes—persons—is maintained throughout; all is two-voiced, two- souled. In this modulation in C sharp major—superscribed dolce sfogato—there are kiss and embrace! This is evident! When, after three bars of introduction, the theme, 'lightly rocking in the bass solo,' enters in the fourth, this theme is nevertheless made use of throughout the whole fabric only as an accompaniment, and ON this the cantilena in two parts is laid; we have thus a continuous, tender dialogue."
The Barcarolle is a nocturne painted on a large canvas, with larger brushes. It has Italian color in spots—Schumann said that, melodically, Chopin sometimes "leans over Germany into Italy"—and is a masterly one in sentiment, pulsating with amorousness. To me it sounds like a lament for the splendors, now vanished, of Venice the Queen. In bars 8, 9, and 10, counting backward, Louis Ehlert finds obscurities in the middle voices. It is dedicated to the Baronne de Stockhausen.
The nocturnes—including the Berceuse and Barcarolle—should seldom be played in public and not the public of a large hall. Something of Chopin's delicate, tender warmth and spiritual voice is lost in larger spaces. In a small auditorium, and from the fingers of a sympathetic pianist, the nocturnes should be heard, that their intimate, night side may be revealed. Many are like the music en sourdine of Paul Verlaine in his "Chanson D'Automne" or "Le Piano que Baise une Main Frele." They are essentially for the twilight, for solitary enclosures, where their still, mysterious tones—"silent thunder in the leaves" as Yeats sings— become eloquent and disclose the poetry and pain of their creator.
X. THE BALLADES:—FAERY DRAMAS
W. H. Hadow has said some pertinent things about Chopin in "Studies in Modern Music." Yet we cannot accept unconditionally his statement that "in structure Chopin is a child playing with a few simple types, and almost helpless as soon as he advances beyond them; in phraseology he is a master whose felicitous perfection of style is one of the abiding treasures of the art."
Chopin then, according to Hadow, is no "builder of the lofty rhyme," but the poet of the single line, the maker of the phrase exquisite. This is hardly comprehensive. With the more complex, classical types of the musical organism Chopin had little sympathy, but he contrived nevertheless to write two movements of a piano sonata that are excellent—the first half of the B flat minor Sonata. The idealized dance forms he preferred; the Polonaise, Mazurka and Valse were already there for him to handle, but the Ballade was not. Here he is not imitator, but creator. Not loosely-jointed, but compact structures glowing with genius and presenting definite unity of form and expression, are the ballades—commonly written in six-eight and six-four time. "None of Chopin's compositions surpasses in masterliness of form and beauty and poetry of contents his ballades. In them he attains the acme of his power as an artist," remarks Niecks.
I am ever reminded of Andrew Lang's lines, "the thunder and surge of the Odyssey," when listening to the G minor Ballade, op. 23. It is the Odyssey of Chopin's soul. That 'cello-like largo with its noiseless suspension stays us for a moment in the courtyard of Chopin's House Beautiful. Then, told in his most dreamy tones, the legend begins. As in some fabulous tales of the Genii this Ballade discloses surprising and delicious things. There is the tall lily in the fountain that nods to the sun. It drips in cadenced monotone and its song is repeated on the lips of the slender-hipped girl with the eyes of midnight—and so might I weave for you a story of what I see in the Ballade and you would be aghast or puzzled. With such a composition any programme could be sworn to, even the silly story of the Englishman who haunted Chopin, beseeching him to teach him this Ballade. That Chopin had a programme, a definite one, there can be no doubt; but he has, wise artist, left us no clue beyond Mickiewicz's, the Polish bard Lithuanian poems. In Leipzig, Karasowski relates, that when Schumann met Chopin, the pianist confessed having "been incited to the creation of the ballades by the poetry" of his fellow countryman. The true narrative tone is in this symmetrically constructed Ballade, the most spirited, most daring work of Chopin, according to Schumann. Louis Ehlert says of the four Ballades: "Each one differs entirely from the others, and they have but one thing in common—their romantic working out and the nobility of their motives. Chopin relates in them, not like one who communicates something really experienced; it is as though he told what never took place, but what has sprung up in his inmost soul, the anticipation of something longed for. They may contain a strong element of national woe, much outwardly expressed and inwardly burning rage over the sufferings of his native land; yet they do not carry with a positive reality like that which in a Beethoven Sonata will often call words to our lips." Which means that Chopin was not such a realist as Beethoven? Ehlert is one of the few sympathetic German Chopin commentators, yet he did not always indicate the salient outlines of his art. Only the Slav may hope to understand Chopin thoroughly. But these Ballades are more truly touched by the universal than any other of his works. They belong as much to the world as to Poland.
The G minor Ballade after "Konrad Wallenrod," is a logical, well knit and largely planned composition. The closest parallelism may be detected in its composition of themes. Its second theme in E flat is lovely in line, color and sentiment. The return of the first theme in A minor and the quick answer in E of the second are evidences of Chopin's feeling for organic unity. Development, as in strict cyclic forms, there is not a little. After the cadenza, built on a figure of wavering tonality, a valse-like theme emerges and enjoys a capricious, butterfly existence. It is fascinating. Passage work of an etherealized character leads to the second subject, now augmented and treated with a broad brush. The first questioning theme is heard again, and with a perpendicular roar the presto comes upon us. For two pages the dynamic energy displayed by the composer is almost appalling. A whirlwind I have called it elsewhere. It is a storm of the emotions, muscular in its virility. I remember de Pachmann—a close interpreter of certain sides of Chopin—playing this coda piano, pianissimo and prestissimo. The effect was strangely irritating to the nerves, and reminded me of a tornado seen from the wrong end of an opera glass. According to his own lights the Russian virtuoso was right: his strength was not equal to the task, and so, imitating Chopin, he topsy-turvied the shading. It recalled Moscheles' description of Chopin's playing: "His piano is so softly breathed forth that he does not require any strong forte to produce the wished for contrast."
This G minor Ballade was published in June, 1836, and is dedicated to Baron Stockhausen. The last bar of the introduction has caused some controversy. Gutmann, Mikuli and other pupils declare for the E flat; Klindworth and Kullak use it. Xaver Scharwenka has seen fit to edit Klindworth, and gives a D natural in the Augener edition. That he is wrong internal testimony abundantly proves. Even Willeby, who personally prefers the D natural, thinks Chopin intended the E flat, and quotes a similar effect twenty-eight bars later. He might have added that the entire composition contains examples—look at the first bar of the valse episode in the bass. As Niecks thinks, "This dissonant E flat may be said to be the emotional keynote of the whole poem. It is a questioning thought that, like a sudden pain, shoots through mind and body."
There is other and more confirmatory evidence. Ferdinand Von Inten, a New York pianist, saw the original Chopin manuscript at Stuttgart. It was the property of Professor Lebert (Levy), since deceased, and in it, without any question, stands the much discussed E flat. This testimony is final. The D natural robs the bar of all meaning. It is insipid, colorless.
Kullak gives 60 to the half note at the moderato. On the third page, third bar, he uses F natural in the treble. So does Klindworth, although F sharp may be found in some editions. On the last page, second bar, first line, Kullak writes the passage beginning with E flat in eighth notes, Klindworth in sixteenths. The close is very striking, full of the splendors of glancing scales and shrill octave progressions. "It would inspire a poet to write words to it," said Robert Schumann.
"Perhaps the most touching of all that Chopin has written is the tale of the F major Ballade. I have witnessed children lay aside their games to listen thereto. It appears like some fairy tale that has become music. The four-voiced part has such a clearness withal, it seems as if warm spring breezes were waving the lithe leaves of the palm tree. How soft and sweet a breath steals over the senses and the heart!"
And how difficult it seems to be to write of Chopin except in terms of impassioned prose! Louis Ehlert, a romantic in feeling and a classicist in theory, is the writer of the foregoing. The second Ballade, although dedicated to Robert Schumann, did not excite his warmest praise. "A less artistic work than the first," he wrote, "but equally fantastic and intellectual. Its impassioned episodes seem to have been afterward inserted. I recollect very well that when Chopin played this Ballade for me it finished in F major; it now closes in A minor." Willeby gives its key as F minor. It is really in the keys of F major—A minor. Chopin's psychology was seldom at fault. A major ending would have crushed this extraordinary tone-poem, written, Chopin admits, under the direct inspiration of Adam Mickiewicz's "Le Lac de Willis." Willeby accepts Schumann's dictum of the inferiority of this Ballade to its predecessor. Niecks does not. Niecks is quite justified in asking how "two such wholly dissimilar things can be compared and weighed in this fashion."
In truth they cannot. "The second Ballade possesses beauties in no way inferior to those of the first," he continues. "What can be finer than the simple strains of the opening section! They sound as if they had been drawn from the people's store-house of song. The entrance of the presto surprises, and seems out of keeping with what precedes; but what we hear after the return of tempo primo—the development of those simple strains, or rather the cogitations on them—justifies the presence of the presto. The second appearance of the latter leads to an urging, restless coda in A minor, which closes in the same key and pianissimo with a few bars of the simple, serene, now veiled first strain."
Rubinstein bore great love for this second Ballade. This is what it meant for him: "Is it possible that the interpreter does not feel the necessity of representing to his audience—a field flower caught by a gust of wind, a caressing of the flower by the wind; the resistance of the flower, the stormy struggle of the wind; the entreaty of the flower, which at last lies there broken; and paraphrased—the field flower a rustic maiden, the wind a knight."
I can find "no lack of affinity" between the andantino and presto. The surprise is a dramatic one, withal rudely vigorous. Chopin's robust treatment of the first theme results in a strong piece of craftmanship. The episodical nature of this Ballade is the fruit of the esoteric moods of its composer. It follows a hidden story, and has the quality—as the second Impromptu in F sharp—of great, unpremeditated art. It shocks one by its abrupt but by no means fantastic transitions. The key color is changeful, and the fluctuating themes are well contrasted. It was written at Majorca while the composer was only too noticeably disturbed in body and soul.
Presto con fuoco Chopin marks the second section. Kullak gives 84 to the quarter, and for the opening 66 to the quarter. He also wisely marks crescendos in the bass at the first thematic development. He prefers the E—as does Klindworth—nine bars before the return of the presto. At the eighth bar, after this return, Kullak adheres to the E instead of F at the beginning of the bar, treble clef. Klindworth indicates both. Nor does Kullak follow Mikuli in using a D in the coda. He prefers a D sharp, instead of a natural. I wish the second Ballade were played oftener in public. It is quite neglected for the third in A flat, which, as Ehlert says, has the voice of the people.
This Ballade, the "Undine" of Mickiewicz, published November, 1841, and dedicated to Mlle. P. de Noailles, is too well known to analyze. It is the schoolgirls' delight, who familiarly toy with its demon, seeing only favor and prettiness in its elegant measures. In it "the refined, gifted Pole, who is accustomed to move in the most distinguished circles of the French capital, is pre-eminently to be recognized." Thus Schumann. Forsooth, it is aristocratic, gay, graceful, piquant, and also something more. Even in its playful moments there is delicate irony, a spiritual sporting with graver and more passionate emotions. Those broken octaves which usher in each time the second theme, with its fascinating, infectious, rhythmical lilt, what an ironically joyous fillip they give the imagination!
"A coquettish grace—if we accept by this expression that half unconscious toying with the power that charms and fires, that follows up confession with reluctance—seems the very essence of Chopin's being."
"It becomes a difficult task to transcribe the easy transitions, full of an irresistible charm, with which he portrays Love's game. Who will not recall the memorable passage in the A flat Ballade, where the right hand alone takes up the dotted eighths after the sustained chord of the sixth of A flat? Could a lover's confusion be more deliciously enhanced by silence and hesitation?" Ehlert above evidently sees a ballroom picture of brilliancy, with the regulation tender avowal. The episodes of this Ballade are so attenuated of any grosser elements that none but psychical meanings should be read into them.
The disputed passage is on the fifth page of the Kullak edition, after the trills. A measure is missing in Kullak, who, like Klindworth, gives it in a footnote. To my mind this repetition adds emphasis, although it is a formal blur. And what an irresistible moment it is, this delightful territory, before the darker mood of the C sharp minor part is reached! Niecks becomes enthusiastic over the insinuation and persuasion of this composition: "the composer showing himself in a fundamentally caressing mood." The ease with which the entire work is floated proves that Chopin in mental health was not daunted by larger forms. There is moonlight in this music, and some sunlight, too. The prevailing moods are coquetry and sweet contentment.
Contrapuntal skill is shown in the working out section. Chopin always wears his learning lightly; it does not oppress us. The inverted dominant pedal in the C sharp minor episode reveals, with the massive coda, a great master. Kullak suggests some variants. He uses the transient shake in the third bar, instead of the appoggiatura which Klindworth prefers. Klindworth attacks the trill on the second page with the upper tone—A flat. Kullak and Mertke, in the Steingraber edition, play the passage in this manner: [Musical score excerpt from the original version of the Op. 47. Ballade]
Here is Klindworth:
[Musical score excerpt of the same passage in Klindworth's edition]
Of the fourth and glorious Ballade in F minor dedicated to Baronne C. de Rothschild I could write a volume. It is Chopin in his most reflective, yet lyric mood. Lyrism is the keynote of the work, a passionate lyrism, with a note of self-absorption, suppressed feeling—truly Slavic, this shyness!—and a concentration that is remarkable even for Chopin. The narrative tone is missing after the first page, a rather moody and melancholic pondering usurping its place. It is the mood of a man who examines with morbid, curious insistence the malady that is devouring his soul. This Ballade is the companion of the Fantaisie-Polonaise, but as a Ballade "fully worthy of its sisters," to quote Niecks. It was published December, 1843. The theme in F minor has the elusive charm of a slow, mournful valse, that returns twice, bejewelled, yet never overladen. Here is the very apotheosis of the ornament; the figuration sets off the idea in dazzling relief. There are episodes, transitional passage work, distinguished by novelty and the finest art. At no place is there display for display's sake. The cadenza in A is a pause for breath, rather a sigh, before the rigorously logical imitations which presage the re-entrance of the theme. How wonderfully the introduction comes in for its share of thoughtful treatment. What a harmonist! And consider the D flat scale runs in the left hand; how suave, how satisfying is this page. I select for especial admiration this modulatory passage:
[Musical score excerpt]
And what could be more evocative of dramatic suspense than the sixteen bars before the mad, terrifying coda! How the solemn splendors of the half notes weave an atmosphere of mystic tragedy! This soul-suspension recalls Maeterlinck. Here is the episode:
[Musical score excerpt]
A story of de Lenz that lends itself to quotation is about this piece:
Tausig impressed me deeply in his interpretation of Chopin's Ballade in F minor. It has three requirements: The comprehension of the programme as a whole,—for Chopin writes according to a programme, to the situations in life best known to, and understood by himself; and in an adequate manner; the conquest of the stupendous difficulties in complicated figures, winding harmonies and formidable passages.
Tausig fulfilled these requirements, presenting an embodiment of the signification and the feeling of the work. The Ballade— andante con moto, six-eighths—begins in the major key of the dominant; the seventh measure comes to a stand before a fermata on C major. The easy handling of these seven measures Tausig interpreted thus: 'The piece has not yet begun;' in his firmer, nobly expressive exposition of the principal theme, free from sentimentality—to which one might easily yield—the grand style found due scope. An essential requirement in an instrumental virtuoso is that he should understand how to breathe, and how to allow his hearers to take breath—giving them opportunity to arrive at a better understanding. By this I mean a well chosen incision—the cesura, and a lingering— "letting in air," Tausig cleverly called it—which in no way impairs rhythm and time, but rather brings them into stronger relief; a LINGERING which our signs of notation cannot adequately express, because it is made up of atomic time values. Rub the bloom from a peach or from a butterfly—what remains will belong to the kitchen, to natural history! It is not otherwise with Chopin; the bloom consisted in Tausig's treatment of the Ballade.
He came to the first passage—the motive among blossoms and leaves—a figurated recurrence to the principal theme is in the inner parts—its polyphonic variant. A little thread connects this with the chorale-like introduction of the second theme. The theme is strongly and abruptly modulated, perhaps a little too much so. Tausig tied the little thread to a doppio movimento in two-four time, but thereby resulted sextolets, which threw the chorale into still bolder relief. Then followed a passage a tempo, in which the principal theme played hide and seek. How clear it all became as Tausig played it! Of technical difficulties he knew literally nothing; the intricate and evasive parts were as easy as the easiest—I might say easier!
I admired the short trills in the left hand, which were trilled out quite independently, as if by a second player; the gliding ease of the cadence marked dolcissimo. It swung itself into the higher register, where it came to a stop before A major, just as the introduction stopped before C major. Then, after the theme has once more presented itself in a modified form—variant—it comes under the pestle of an extremely figurate coda, which demands the study of an artist, the strength of a robust man—the most vigorous pianistic health, in a word! Tausig overcame this threatening group of terrific difficulties, whose appearance in the piece is well explained by the programme, without the slightest effect. The coda, in modulated harp tones, came to a stop before a fermata which corresponded to those before mentioned, in order to cast anchor in the haven of the dominant, finishing with a witches' dance of triplets, doubled in thirds. This piece winds up with extreme bravura.
The "lingering" mentioned by de Lenz is tempo rubato, so fatally misunderstood by most Chopin players. De Lenz in a note quotes Meyerbeer as saying—Meyerbeer, who quarrelled with Chopin about the rhythm of a mazurka—"Can one reduce women to notation? They would breed mischief, were they emancipated from the measure."
There is passion, refined and swelling, in the curves of this most eloquent composition. It is Chopin at the supreme summit of his art, an art alembicated, personal and intoxicating. I know of nothing in music like the F minor Ballade. Bach in the Chromatic Fantasia—be not deceived by its classical contours, it is music hot from the soul—Beethoven in the first movement of the C sharp minor Sonata, the arioso of the Sonata op. 110, and possibly Schumann in the opening of his C major Fantaisie, are as intimate, as personal as the F minor Ballade, which is as subtly distinctive as the hands and smile of Lisa Gioconda. Its inaccessible position preserves it from rude and irreverent treatment. Its witchery is irresistible.
XI. CLASSICAL CURRENTS
Guy de Maupassant put before us a widely diverse number of novels in a famous essay attached to the definitive edition of his masterpiece, "Pierre et Jean," and puzzlingly demanded the real form of the novel. If "Don Quixote" is one, how can "Madame Bovary" be another? If "Les Miserables" is included in the list, what are we to say to Huysmans' "La Bas"?
Just such a question I should like to propound, substituting sonata for novel. If Scarlatti wrote sonatas, what is the Appassionata? If the A flat Weber is one, can the F minor Brahms be called a sonata? Is the Haydn form orthodox and the Schumann heterodox? These be enigmas to make weary the formalists. Come, let us confess, and in the open air: there is a great amount of hypocrisy and cant in this matter. We can, as can any conservatory student, give the recipe for turning out a smug specimen of the form, but when we study the great examples, it is just the subtle eluding of hard and fast rules that distinguishes the efforts of the masters from the machine work of apprentices and academic monsters. Because it is no servile copy of the Mozart Sonata, the F sharp minor of Brahms is a piece of original art. Beethoven at first trod in the well blazed path of Haydn, but study his second period, and it sounds the big Beethoven note. There is no final court of appeal in the matter of musical form, and there is none in the matter of literary style. The history of the sonata is the history of musical evolution. Every great composer, Schubert included, added to the form, filed here, chipped away there, introduced lawlessness where reigned prim order—witness the Schumann F sharp minor Sonata—and then came Chopin.
The Chopin sonata has caused almost as much warfare as the Wagner music drama. It is all the more ludicrous, for Chopin never wrote but one piano sonata that has a classical complexion: in C minor, op. 4, and it was composed as early as 1828. Not published until July, 1851, it demonstrates without a possibility of doubt that the composer had no sympathy with the form. He tried so hard and failed so dismally that it is a relief when the second and third sonatas are reached, for in them there are only traces of formal beauty and organic unity. But then there is much Chopin, while little of his precious essence is to be tasted in the first sonata.
Chopin wrote of the C minor Sonata: "As a pupil I dedicated it to Elsner," and—oh, the irony of criticism!—it was praised by the critics because not so revolutionary as the Variations, op. 2. This, too, despite the larghetto in five-four time. The first movement is wheezing and all but lifeless. One asks in astonishment what Chopin is doing in this gallery. And it is technically difficult. The menuetto is excellent, its trio being a faint approach to Beethoven in color. The unaccustomed rhythm of the slow movement is irritating. Our young Chopin does not move about as freely as Benjamin Godard in the scherzo of his violin and piano sonata in the same bizarre rhythm. Niecks sees naught but barren waste in the finale. I disagree with him. There is the breath of a stirring spirit, an imitative attempt that is more diverting than the other movements. Above all there is movement, and the close is vigorous, though banal. The sonata is the dullest music penned by Chopin, but as a whole it hangs together as a sonata better than its two successors. So much for an attempt at strict devotion to scholastic form.
From this schoolroom we are transported in op. 35 to the theatre of larger life and passion. The B flat minor Sonata was published May, 1840. Two movements are masterpieces; the funeral march that forms the third movement is one of the Pole's most popular compositions, while the finale has no parallel in piano music. Schumann says that Chopin here "bound together four of his maddest children," and he is not astray. He thinks the march does not belong to the work. It certainly was written before its companion movements. As much as Hadow admires the first two movements, he groans at the last pair, though they are admirable when considered separately.
These four movements have no common life. Chopin says he intended the strange finale as a gossiping commentary on the march. "The left hand unisono with the right hand are gossiping after the march." Perhaps the last two movements do hold together, but what have they in common with the first two? Tonality proves nothing. Notwithstanding the grandeur and beauty of the grave, the power and passion of the scherzo, this Sonata in B flat minor is not more a sonata than it is a sequence of ballades and scherzi. And again we are at the de Maupassant crux. The work never could be spared; it is Chopin mounted for action and in the thick of the fight. The doppio movimento is pulse-stirring—a strong, curt and characteristic theme for treatment. Here is power, and in the expanding prologue flashes more than a hint of the tragic. The D flat Melody is soothing, charged with magnetism, and urged to a splendid fever of climax. The working out section is too short and dissonantal, but there is development, perhaps more technical than logical—I mean by this more pianistic than intellectually musical—and we mount with the composer until the B flat version of the second subject is reached, for the first subject, strange to say, does not return. From that on to the firm chords of the close there is no misstep, no faltering or obscurity. Noble pages have been read, and the scherzo is approached with eagerness. Again there is no disappointment. On numerous occasions I have testified my regard for this movement in warm and uncritical terms. It is simply unapproachable, and has no equal for lucidity, brevity and polish among the works of Chopin, except the Scherzo in C sharp minor; but there is less irony, more muscularity, and more native sweetness in this E flat minor Scherzo. I like the way Kullak marks the first B flat octave. It is a pregnant beginning. The second bar I have never heard from any pianist save Rubinstein given with the proper crescendo. No one else seems to get it explosive enough within the walls of one bar. It is a true Rossin-ian crescendo. And in what a wild country we are landed when the F sharp minor is crashed out! Stormy chromatic double notes, chords of the sixth, rush on with incredible fury, and the scherzo ends on the very apex of passion. A Trio in G flat is the song of songs, its swaying rhythms and phrase-echoings investing a melody at once sensuous and chaste. The second part and the return to the scherzo are proofs of the composer's sense of balance and knowledge of the mysteries of anticipation. The closest parallelisms are noticeable, the technique so admirable that the scherzo floats in mid-air—Flaubert's ideal of a miraculous style.
And then follows that deadly Marche Funebre! Ernest Newman, in his remarkable "Study of Wagner," speaks of the fundamental difference between the two orders of imagination, as exemplified by Beethoven and Chopin on the one side, Wagner on the other. This regarding the funeral marches of the three. Newman finds Wagner's the more concrete imagination; the "inward picture" of Beethoven, and Chopin "much vaguer and more diffused." Yet Chopin is seldom so realistic; here are the bell-like basses, the morbid coloring. Schumann found "it contained much that is repulsive," and Liszt raves rhapsodically over it; for Karasowski it was the "pain and grief of an entire nation," while Ehlert thinks "it owes its renown to the wonderful effect of two triads, which in their combination possess a highly tragical element. The middle movement is not at all characteristic. Why could it not at least have worn second mourning? After so much black crepe drapery one should not at least at once display white lingerie!" This is cruel.
The D flat Trio is a logical relief after the booming and glooming of the opening. That it is "a rapturous gaze into the beatific regions of a beyond," as Niecks writes, I am not prepared to say. We do know, however, that the march, when isolated, has a much more profound effect than in its normal sequence. The presto is too wonderful for words. Rubinstein, or was it originally Tausig who named it "Night winds sweeping over the churchyard graves"? Its agitated, whirring, unharmonized triplets are strangely disquieting, and can never be mistaken for mere etude passage work. The movement is too sombre, its curves too full of half-suppressed meanings, its rush and sub-human growling too expressive of something that defies definition. Schumann compares it to a "sphinx with a mocking smile." To Henri Barbadette "C'est Lazare grattant de ses ongles la pierre de son tombeau," or, like Mendelssohn, one may abhor it, yet it cannot be ignored. It has Asiatic coloring, and to me seems like the wavering outlines of light-tipped hills seen sharply en silhouette, behind which rises and falls a faint, infernal glow. This art paints as many differing pictures as there are imaginations for its sonorous background; not alone the universal solvent, as Henry James thinks, it bridges the vast, silent gulfs between human souls with its humming eloquence. This sonata is not dedicated.
The third Sonata in B minor, op. 58, has more of that undefinable "organic unity," yet, withal, it is not so powerful, so pathos- breeding or so compact of thematic interest as its forerunner. The first page, to the chromatic chords of the sixth, promises much. There is a clear statement, a sound theme for developing purposes, the crisp march of chord progressions, and then—the edifice goes up in smoke. After wreathings and curlings of passage work, and on the rim of despair, we witness the exquisite budding of the melody in D. It is an aubade, a nocturne of the morn—if the contradictory phrase be allowed. There is morning freshness in its hue and scent, and, when it bursts, a parterre of roses. The close of the section is inimitable. All the more sorrow at what follows: wild disorder and the luxuriance called tropical. When B major is compassed we sigh, for it augurs us a return of delight. The ending is not that of a sonata, but a love lyric. For Chopin is not the cool breadth and marmoreal majesty of blank verse. He sonnets to perfection, but the epical air does not fill his nostrils.
Vivacious, charming, light as a harebell in the soft breeze is the Scherzo in E flat. It has a clear ring of the scherzo and harks back to Weber in its impersonal, amiable hurry. The largo is tranquilly beautiful, rich in its reverie, lovely in its tune. The trio is reserved and hypnotic. The last movement, with its brilliancy and force, is a favorite, but it lacks weight, and the entire sonata is, as Niecks writes, "affiliated, but not cognate." It was published June, 1845, and is dedicated to Comtesse E. de Perthuis.
So these sonatas of Chopin are not sonatas at all, but, throwing titles to the dogs, would we forego the sensations that two of them evoke? There is still another, the Sonata in G minor, op. 65, for piano and 'cello. It is dedicated to Chopin's friend, August Franchomme, the violoncellist. Now, while I by no means share Finck's exalted impression of this work, yet I fancy the critics have dealt too harshly with it. Robbed of its title of sonata—though sedulously aping this form—it contains much pretty music. And it is grateful for the 'cello. There is not an abundant literature for this kingly instrument, in conjunction with the piano, so why flaunt Chopin's contribution? I will admit that he walks stiffly, encased in his borrowed garb, but there is the andante, short as it is, an effective scherzo and a carefully made allegro and finale. Tonal monotony is the worst charge to be brought against this work.
The trio, also in G minor, op. 8, is more alluring. It was published March, 1833, and dedicated to Prince Anton Radziwill. Chopin later, in speaking of it to a pupil, admitted that he saw things he would like to change. He regretted not making it for viola, instead of violin, 'cello and piano.
It was worked over a long time, the first movement being ready in 1833. When it appeared it won philistine praise, for its form more nearly approximates the sonata than any of his efforts in the cyclical order, excepting op. 4. In it the piano receives better treatment than the other instruments; there are many virtuoso passages, but again key changes are not frequent or disparate enough to avoid a monotone. Chopin's imagination refuses to become excited when working in the open spaces of the sonata form. Like creatures that remain drab of hue in unsympathetic or dangerous environment, his music is transformed to a bewildering bouquet of color when he breathes native air. Compare the wildly modulating Chopin of the ballades to the tame- pacing Chopin of the sonatas, trio and concertos! The trio opens with fire, the scherzo is fanciful, and the adagio charming, while the finale is cheerful to loveliness. It might figure occasionally on the programmes of our chamber music concerts, despite its youthful puerility.
There remain the two concertos, which I do not intend discussing fully. Not Chopin at his very best, the E minor and F minor concertos are frequently heard because of the chances afforded the solo player. I have written elsewhere at length of the Klindworth, Tausig and Burmeister versions of the two concertos. As time passes I see no reason for amending my views on this troublous subject. Edgar S. Kelly holds a potent brief for the original orchestration, contending that it suits the character of the piano part. Rosenthal puts this belief into practice by playing the older version of the E minor with the first long tutti curtailed. But he is not consistent, for he uses the Tausig octaves at the close of the rondo. While I admire the Tausig orchestration, these particlar octaves are hideously cacaphonic. The original triplet unisons are so much more graceful and musical.
The chronology of the concertos has given rise to controversy. The trouble arose from the F minor Concerto, it being numbered op. 21, although composed before the one in E minor. The former was published April, 1836; the latter September, 1833. The slow movement of the F minor Concerto was composed by Chopin during his passion for Constantia Gladowska. She was "the ideal" he mentions in his letters, the adagio of this concerto. This larghetto in A flat is a trifle too ornamental for my taste, mellifluous and serene as it is. The recitative is finely outlined. I think I like best the romanze of the E minor Concerto. It is less flowery. The C sharp minor part is imperious in its beauty, while the murmuring mystery of the close mounts to the imagination. The rondo is frolicksome, tricky, genial and genuine piano music. It is true the first movement is too long, too much in one set of keys, and the working-out section too much in the nature of a technical study. The first movement of the F minor far transcends it in breadth, passion and musical feeling, but it is short and there is no coda. Richard Burmeister has supplied the latter deficiency in a capitally made cadenza, which Paderewski plays. It is a complete summing up of the movement. The mazurka-like finale is very graceful and full of pure, sweet melody. This concerto is altogether more human than the E minor.
Both derive from Hummel and Field. The passage work is superior in design to that of the earlier masters, the general character episodical,—but episodes of rare worth and originality. As Ehlert says, "Noblesse oblige—and thus Chopin felt himself compelled to satisfy all demands exacted of a pianist, and wrote the unavoidable piano concerto. It was not consistent with his nature to express himself in broad terms. His lungs were too weak for the pace in seven league boots, so often required in a score. The trio and 'cello sonata were also tasks for whose accomplishment Nature did not design him. He must touch the keys by himself without being called upon to heed the players sitting next him. He is at his best when without formal restraint, he can create out of his inmost soul."
"He must touch the keys by himself!" There you have summed up in a phrase the reason Chopin never succeeded in impressing his individuality upon the sonata form and his playing upon the masses. His was the lonely soul. George Sand knew this when she wrote, "He made an instrument speak the language of the infinite. Often in ten lines that a child might play he has introduced poems of unequalled elevation, dramas unrivalled in force and energy. He did not need the great material methods to find expression for his genius. Neither saxophone nor ophicleide was necessary for him to fill the soul with awe. Without church organ or human voice he inspired faith and enthusiasm."
It might be remarked here that Beethoven, too, aroused a wondering and worshipping world without the aid of saxophone or ophicleide. But it is needless cruelty to pick at Madame Sand's criticisms. She had no technical education, and so little appreciation of Chopin's peculiar genius for the piano that she could write, "The day will come when his music will be arranged for orchestra without change of the piano score;" which is disaster-breeding nonsense. We have sounded Chopin's weakness when writing for any instrument but his own, when writing in any form but his own.
The E minor Concerto is dedicated to Frederick Kalkbrenner, the F minor to the Comtesse Deiphine Potocka. The latter dedication demonstrates that he could forget his only "ideal" in the presence of the charming Potocka! Ah! these vibratile and versatile Poles!
Robert Schumann, it is related, shook his head wearily when his early work was mentioned. "Dreary stuff," said the composer, whose critical sense did not fail him even in so personal a question. What Chopin thought of his youthful music may be discovered in his scanty correspondence. To suppose that the young Chopin sprang into the arena a fully equipped warrior is one of those nonsensical notions which gains currency among persons unfamiliar with the law of musical evolution. Chopin's musical ancestry is easily traced; as Poe had his Holley Chivers, Chopin had his Field. The germs of his second period are all there; from op. 1 to opus 22 virtuosity for virtuosity's sake is very evident. Liszt has said that in every young artist there is the virtuoso fever, and Chopin being a pianist did not escape the fever of the footlights. He was composing, too, at a time when piano music was well nigh strangled by excess of ornament, when acrobats were kings, when the Bach Fugue and Beethoven Sonata lurked neglected and dusty in the memories of the few. Little wonder, then, we find this individual, youthful Pole, not timidly treading in the path of popular composition, but bravely carrying his banner, spangled, glittering and fanciful, and outstripping at their own game all the virtuosi of Europe. His originality in this bejewelled work caused Hummel to admire and Kalkbrenner to wonder. The supple fingers of the young man from Warsaw made quick work of existing technical difficulties. He needs must invent some of his own, and when Schumann saw the pages of op. 2 he uttered his historical cry. Today we wonder somewhat at his enthusiasm. It is the old story—a generation seeks to know, a generation comprehends and enjoys, and a generation discards.
Opus 1, a Rondo in C minor, dedicated to Madame de Linde, saw the light in 1825, but it was preceded by two polonaises, a set of variations, and two mazurkas in G and B flat major. Schumann declared that Chopin's first published work was his tenth, and that between op. 1 and 2 there lay two years and twenty works. Be this as it may, one cannot help liking the C minor Rondo. In the A flat section we detect traces of his F minor Concerto. There is lightness, joy in creation, which contrast with the heavy, dour quality of the C minor Sonata, op. 4. Loosely constructed, in a formal sense, and too exuberant for his strict confines, this op. 1 is remarkable, much more remarkable, than Schumann's Abegg variations.
The Rondo a la Mazur, in F, is a further advance. It is dedicated to Comtesse Moriolles, and was published in 1827 (?). Schumann reviewed it in 1836. It is sprightly, Polish in feeling and rhythmic life, and a glance at any of its pages gives us the familiar Chopin impression—florid passage work, chords in extensions and chromatic progressions. The Concert Rondo, op. 14, in F, called Krakowiak, is built on a national dance in two-four time, which originated in Cracovia. It is, to quote Niecks, a modified polonaise, danced by the peasants with lusty abandon. Its accentual life is usually manifested on an unaccented part of the bar, especially at the end of a section or phrase. Chopin's very Slavic version is spirited, but the virtuoso predominates. There is lushness in ornamentation, and a bold, merry spirit informs every page. The orchestral accompaniment is thin. Dedicated to the Princesse Czartoryska, it was published June, 1834. The Rondo, op. 16, with an Introduction, is in great favor at the conservatories, and is neat rather than poetical, although the introduction has dramatic touches. It is to this brilliant piece, with its Weber-ish affinities, that Richard Burmeister has supplied an orchestral accompaniment.
The remaining Rondo, posthumously published as op. 73, and composed in 1828, was originally intended, so Chopin writes in 1828, for one piano. It is full of fire, but the ornamentation runs mad, and no traces of the poetical Chopin are present. He is preoccupied with the brilliant surfaces of the life about him. His youthful expansiveness finds a fair field in these variations, rondos and fantasias.
Schumann's enthusiasm over the variations on "La ci darem la mano" seems to us a little overdone. Chopin had not much gift for variation in the sense that we now understand variation. Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms—one must include Mendelssohn's Serious Variations—are masters of a form that is by no means structurally simple or a reversion to mere spielerei, as Finck fancies. Chopin plays with his themes prettily, but it is all surface display, all heat lightning. He never smites, as does Brahms with his Thor hammer, the subject full in the middle, cleaving it to its core. Chopin is slightly effeminate in his variations, and they are true specimens of spielerei, despite the cleverness of design in the arabesques, their brilliancy and euphony. Op. 2 has its dazzling moments, but its musical worth is inferior. It is written to split the ears of the groundlings, or rather to astonish and confuse them, for the Chopin dynamics in the early music are never very rude. The indisputable superiority to Herz and the rest of the shallow-pated variationists caused Schumann's passionate admiration. It has, however, given us an interesting page of music criticism. Rellstab, grumpy old fellow, was near right when he wrote of these variations that "the composer runs down the theme with roulades, and throttles and hangs it with chains of shakes." The skip makes its appearance in the fourth variation, and there is no gainsaying the brilliancy and piquant spirit of the Alla Polacca. Op. 2 is orchestrally accompanied, an accompaniment that may be gladly dispensed with, and dedicated by Chopin to the friend of his youth, Titus Woyciechowski.
Je Vends des Scapulaires is a tune in Herold and Halevy's "Ludovic." Chopin varied it in his op. 12. This rondo in B flat is the weakest of Chopin's muse. It is Chopin and water, and Gallic eau sucree at that. The piece is written tastefully, is not difficult, but woefully artificial. Published in 1833, it was dedicated to Miss Emma Horsford. In May, 1851, appeared the Variations in E, without an opus number. They are not worth the trouble. Evidently composed before Chopin's op. 1 and before 1830, they are musically light waisted, although written by one who already knew the keyboard. The last, a valse, is the brightest of the set. The theme is German.
The Fantaisie, op 13, in A, on Polish airs, preceded by an introduction in F sharp minor, is dedicated to the pianist J. P. Pixis. It was published in April, 1834. It is Chopin brilliant. Its orchestral background does not count for much, but the energy, the color and Polish character of the piece endeared it to the composer. He played it often, and as Kleczynski asks, "Are these brilliant passages, these cascades of pearly notes, these bold leaps the sadness and the despair of which we hear? Is it not rather youth exuberant with intensity and life? Is it not happiness, gayety, love for the world and men? The melancholy notes are there to bring out, to enforce the principal ideas. For instance, in the Fantaisie, op. 13, the theme of Kurpinski moves and saddens us; but the composer does not give time for this impression to become durable; he suspends it by means of a long trill, and then suddenly by a few chords and with a brilliant prelude leads us to a popular dance, which makes us mingle with the peasant couples of Mazovia. Does the finale indicate by its minor key the gayety of a man devoid of hope—as the Germans say?" Kleczynski then tells us that a Polish proverb, "A fig for misery," is the keynote of a nation that dances furiously to music in the minor key. "Elevated beauty, not sepulchral gayety," is the character of Polish, of Chopin's music. This is a valuable hint. There are variations in the Fantaisie which end with a merry and vivacious Kujawiak.
The F minor Fantaisie will be considered later. Neither by its magnificent content, construction nor opus number (49) does it fall into this chapter.
The Allegro de Concert in A, op. 46, was published in November, 1841, and dedicated to Mlle. Friederike Muller, a pupil of Chopin. It has all the characteristics of a concerto, and is indeed a truncated one—much more so than Schumann's F minor Sonata, called Concert Sans Orchestre. There are tutti in the Chopin work, the solo part not really beginning until the eighty- seventh bar. But it must not be supposed that these long introductory passages are ineffective for the player. The Allegro is one of Chopin's most difficult works. It abounds in risky skips, ambuscades of dangerous double notes, and the principal themes are bold and expressive. The color note is strikingly adapted for public performance, and perhaps Schumann was correct in believing that Chopin had originally sketched this for piano and orchestra. Niecks asks if this is not the fragment of a concerto for two pianos, which Chopin, in a letter written at Vienna, December 21, 1830, said he would play in public with his friend Nidecki, if he succeeded in writing it to his satisfaction. And is there any significance in the fact that Chopin, when sending this manuscript to Fontana, probably in the summer of 1841, calls it a concerto?
While it adds little to Chopin's reputation, it has the potentialities of a powerful and more manly composition than either of the two concertos. Jean Louis Nicode has given it an orchestral garb, besides arranging it for two pianos. He has added a developing section of seventy bars. This version was first played in New York a decade ago by Marie Geselschap, a Dutch pianist, under the direction of the late Anton Seidl. The original, it must be acknowledged, is preferable.
The Bolero, op. 19, has a Polonaise flavor. There is but little Spanish in its ingredients. It is merely a memorandum of Chopin's early essays in dance forms. It was published in 1834, four years before Chopin's visit to Spain. Niecks thinks it an early work. That it can be made effective was proven by Emil Sauer. It is for fleet-fingered pianists, and the principal theme has the rhythmical ring of the Polonaise, although the most Iberian in character. It is dedicated to Comtesse E. de Flahault. In the key of A minor, its coda ends in A major. Willeby says it is in C major!
The Tarantella is in A flat, and is numbered op. 43. It was published in 1841 (?), and bears no dedication. Composed at Nohant, it is as little Italian as the Bolero is Spanish. Chopin's visit to Italy was of too short a duration to affect him, at least in the style of dance. It is without the necessary ophidian tang, and far inferior to Heller and Liszt's efforts in the constricted form. One finds little of the frenzy ascribed to it by Schumann in his review. It breathes of the North, not the South, and ranks far below the A flat Impromptu in geniality and grace.
The C minor Funeral March, composed, according to Fontana, in 1829, sounds like Mendelssohn. The trio has the processional quality of a Parisian funeral cortege. It is modest and in no wise remarkable. The three Ecossaises, published as op. 73, No. 3, are little dances, schottisches, nothing more. No. 2 in G is highly popular in girls' boarding schools.
The Grand Duo Concertant for 'cello and piano is jointly composed by Chopin and Franchomme on themes from "Robert le Diable." It begins in E and ends in A major, and is without opus number. Schumann thinks "Chopin sketched the whole of it, and that Franchomme said 'Yes' to everything." It is for the salon of 1833, when it was published. It is empty, tiresome and only slightly superior to compositions of the same sort by De Beriot and Osborne. Full of rapid elegancies and shallow passage work, this duo is certainly a piece d'occasion—the occasion probably being the need of ready money.
The seventeen Polish songs were composed between 1824 and 1844. In the psychology of the Lied Chopin was not happy. Karasowski writes that many of the songs were lost and some of them are still sung in Poland, their origin being hazy. The Third of May is cited as one of these. Chopin had a habit of playing songs for his friends, but neglected putting some of them on paper. The collected songs are under the opus head 74. The words are by his friends, Stephen Witwicki, Adam Mickiewicz, Bogdan Zaleski and Sigismond Krasinski. The first in the key of A, the familiar Maiden's Wish, has been brilliantly paraphrased by Liszt. This pretty mazurka is charmingly sung and played by Marcella Sembrich in the singing lesson of "The Barber of Seville." There are several mazurkas in the list. Most of these songs are mediocre. Poland's Dirge is an exception, and so is Horsemen Before the Battle. "Was ein junges Madchen liebt" has a short introduction, in which the reminiscence hunter may find a true bit of "Meistersinger" color. Simple in structure and sentiment, the Chopin lieder seem almost rudimentary compared to essays in this form by Schubert, Schumann, Franz, Brahms and Tschaikowsky.
A word of recommendation may not be amiss here regarding the technical study of Chopin. Kleczynski, in his two books, gives many valuable hints, and Isidor Philipp has published a set of Exercises Quotidiens, made up of specimens in double notes, octaves and passages taken from the works. Here skeletonized are the special technical problems. In these Daily Studies, and his edition of the Etudes, are numerous examples dealt with practically. For a study of Chopin's ornaments, Mertke has discussed at length the various editorial procedure in the matter of attacking the trill in single and double notes, also the easiest method of executing the flying scud and vapors of the fioriture. This may be found in No. 179 of the Edition Steingraber. Philipp's collection is published in Paris by J. Hamelle, and is prefixed by some interesting remarks of Georges Mathias. Chopin's portrait in 1833, after Vigneron, is included.
One composition more is to be considered. In 1837 Chopin contributed the sixth variation of the march from "I Puritani." These variations were published under the title: "Hexameron: Morceau de Concert. Grandes Variations de bravoure sur la marche des Puritans de Bellini, composees pour le concert de Madame la Princesse Belgiojoso au benefice des pauvres, par MM. Liszt, Thalberg, Pixis, H. Herz, Czerny et Chopin." Liszt wrote an orchestral accompaniment, never published. His pupil, Moriz Rosenthal, is the only modern virtuoso who plays the Hexameron in his concerts, and play it he does with overwhelming splendor. Chopin's contribution in E major is in his sentimental, salon mood. Musically, it is the most impressive of this extraordinary mastodonic survival of the "pianistic" past.
The newly published Fugue—or fugato—in A minor, in two voices, is from a manuscript in the possession of Natalie Janotha, who probably got it from the late Princess Czartoryska, a pupil of the composer. The composition is ineffective, and in spots ugly— particularly in the stretta—and is no doubt an exercise during the working years with Elsner. The fact that in the coda the very suspicious octave pedal-point and trills may be omitted—so the editorial note urns—leads one to suspect that out of a fragment Janotha has evolved, Cuvier-like, an entire composition. Chopin as fugue-maker does not appear in a brilliant light. Is the Polish composer to become a musical Hugh Conway? Why all these disjecta membra of a sketch-book?
In these youthful works may be found the beginnings of the greater Chopin, but not his vast subjugation of the purely technical to the poetic and spiritual. That came later. To the devout Chopinist the first compositions are so many proofs of the joyful, victorious spirit of the man whose spleen and pessimism have been wrongfully compared to Leopardi's and Baudelaire's. Chopin was gay, fairly healthy and bubbling over with a pretty malice. His first period shows this; it also shows how thorough and painful the processes by which he evolved his final style.