XII. THE POLONAISES:—HEROIC HYMNS OF BATTLE.
How is one to reconcile "the want of manliness, moral and intellectual," which Hadow asserts is "the one great limitation of Chopin's province," with the power, splendor and courage of the Polonaises? Here are the cannon buried in flowers of Robert Schumann, here overwhelming evidences of versatility, virility and passion. Chopin blinded his critics and admirers alike; a delicate, puny fellow, he could play the piano on occasion like a devil incarnate. He, too, had his demon as well as Liszt, and only, as Ehlert puts it, "theoretical fear" of this spirit driving him over the cliffs of reason made him curb its antics. After all the couleur de rose portraits and lollipop miniatures made of him by pensive, poetic persons it is not possible to conceive Chopin as being irascible and almost brutal. Yet he was at times even this. "Beethoven was scarce more vehement and irritable," writes Ehlert. And we remember the stories of friends and pupils who have seen this slender, refined Pole wrestling with his wrath as one under the obsession of a fiend. It is no desire to exaggerate this side of his nature that impels this plain writing. Chopin left compositions that bear witness to his masculine side. Diminutive in person, bad-temper became him ill; besides, his whole education and tastes were opposed to scenes of violence. So this energy, spleen and raging at fortune found escape in some of his music, became psychical in its manifestations.
But, you may say, this is feminine hysteria, the impotent cries of an unmanly, weak nature. Read the E flat minor, the C minor, the A major, the F sharp minor and the two A flat major Polonaises! Ballades, Scherzi, Studies, Preludes and the great F minor Fantaisie are purposely omitted from this awing scheme. Chopin was weak in physique, but he had the soul of a lion. Allied to the most exquisite poetic sensibilities—one is reminded here of Balzac's "Ce beau genie est moins un musicien qu'une dine qui se rend sensible"—there was another nature, fiery, implacable. He loved Poland, he hated her oppressors. There is no doubt he idealized his country and her wrongs until the theme grew out of all proportion. Politically the Poles and Celts rub shoulders. Niecks points out that if Chopin was "a flattering idealist as a national poet, as a personal poet he was an uncompromising realist." So in the polonaises we find two distinct groups: in one the objective, martial side predominates, in the other is Chopin the moody, mournful and morose. But in all the Polish element pervades. Barring the mazurkas, these dances are the most Polish of his works. Appreciation of Chopin's wide diversity of temperament would have sparedthe world the false, silly, distorted portraits of him. He had the warrior in him, even if his mailed fist was seldom used. There are moments when he discards gloves and soft phrases and deals blows that reverberate with formidable clangor.
By all means read Liszt's gorgeous description of the Polonaise. Originating during the last half of the sixteenth century, it was at first a measured procession of nobles and their womankind to the sound of music. In the court of Henry of Anjou, in 1574, after his election to the Polish throne, the Polonaise was born, and throve in the hardy, warlike atmosphere. It became a dance political, and had words set to it. Thus came the Kosciuszko, the Oginski, the Moniuszko, the Kurpinski, and a long list written by composers with names ending in "ski." It is really a march, a processional dance, grave, moderate, flowing, and by no means stereotyped. Liszt tells of the capricious life infused into its courtly measures by the Polish aristocracy. It is at once the symbol of war and love, a vivid pageant of martial splendor, a weaving, cadenced, voluptuous dance, the pursuit of shy, coquettish woman by the fierce warrior.
The Polonaise is in three-four time, with the accent on the second beat of the bar. In simple binary form—ternary if a trio is added—this dance has feminine endings to all the principal cadences. The rhythmical cast of the bass is seldom changed. Despite its essentially masculine mould, it is given a feminine title; formerly it was called Polonais. Liszt wrote of it:
"In this form the noblest traditional feelings of ancient Poland are represented. The Polonaise is the true and purest type of Polish national character, as in the course of centuries it was developed, partly through the political position of the kingdom toward east and west, partly through an undefinable, peculiar, inborn disposition of the entire race. In the development of the Polonaise everything co-operated which specifically distinguished the nation from others. In the Poles of departed times manly resolution was united with glowing devotion to the object of their love. Their knightly heroism was sanctioned by high-soaring dignity, and even the laws of gallantry and the national costume exerted an influence over the turns of this dance. The Polonaises are the keystone in the development of this form. They belong to the most beautiful of Chopin inspirations. With their energetic rhythm they electrify, to the point of excited demonstration, even the sleepiest indifferentism. Chopin was born too late, and left his native hearth too early, to be initiated into the original character of the Polonaise as danced through his own observation. But what others imparted to him in regard to it was supplemented by his fancy and his nationality."
Chopin wrote fifteen Polonaises, the authenticity of one in G flat major being doubted by Niecks. This list includes the Polonaise for violoncello and piano, op. 3, and the Polonaise, op. 22, for piano and orchestra. This latter Polonaise is preceded by an andante spianato in G in six-eight time, and unaccompanied. It is a charming, liquid-toned, nocturne-like composition, Chopin in his most suave, his most placid mood: a barcarolle, scarcely a ripple of emotion, disturbs the mirrored calm of this lake. After sixteen bars of a crudely harmonized tutti comes the Polonaise in the widely remote key of E flat; it is brilliant, every note telling, the figuration rich and novel, the movement spirited and flowing. Perhaps it is too long and lacks relief. The theme on each re-entrance is varied ornamentally. The second theme, in C minor, has a Polish and poetic ring, while the coda is effective. This opus is vivacious, but not characterized by great depth. Crystalline, gracious, and refined, the piece is stamped "Paris," the elegant Paris of 1830. Composed in that year and published in July, 1836, it is dedicated to the Baronne D'Est. Chopin introduced it at a Conservatoire concert for the benefit of Habeneck, April 26, 1835. This, according to Niecks, was the only time he played the Polonaise with orchestral accompaniment. It was practically a novelty to New York when Rafael Joseffy played it here, superlatively well, in 1879.
The orchestral part seems wholly superfluous, for the scoring is not particularly effective, and there is a rumor that Chopin cannot be held responsible for it. Xaver Scharwenka made a new instrumentation that is discreet and extremely well sounding. With excellent tact he has managed the added accompaniment to the introduction, giving some thematic work of the slightest texture to the strings, and in the pretty coda to the wood-wind. A delicately managed allusion is made by the horns to the second theme of the nocturne in G. There are even five faint taps of the triangle, and the idyllic atmosphere is never disturbed. Scharwenka first played this arrangement at a Seidl memorial concert, in Chickering Hall, New York, April, 1898. Yet I cannot truthfully say the Polonaise sounds so characteristic as when played solo.
The C sharp minor Polonaise, op. 26, has had the misfortune of being sentimentalized to death. What can be more "appassionata" than the opening with its "grand rhythmical swing"? It is usually played by timid persons in a sugar-sweet fashion, although fff stares them in the face. The first three lines are hugely heroic, but the indignation soon melts away, leaving an apathetic humor; after the theme returns and is repeated we get a genuine love motif tender enough in all faith wherewith to woo a princess. On this the Polonaise closes, an odd ending for such a fiery opening.
In no such mood does No. 2 begin. In E flat minor it is variously known as the Siberian, the Revolt Polonaise. It breathes defiance and rancor from the start. What suppressed and threatening rumblings are there! Volcanic mutterings these:
[Musical score excerpt]
It is a sinister page, and all the more so because of the injunction to open with pianissimo. One wishes that the shrill, high G flat had been written in full chords as the theme suffers from a want of massiveness. Then follows a subsidiary, but the principal subject returns relentlessly. The episode in B major gives pause for breathing. It has a hint of Meyerbeer. But again with smothered explosions the Polonaise proper appears, and all ends in gloom and the impotent clanking of chains. It is an awe- provoking work, this terrible Polonaise in E flat minor, op. 26; it was published July, 1836, and is dedicated to M. J. Dessauer.
Not so the celebrated A major Polonaise, op. 40, Le Militaire. To Rubinstein this seemed a picture of Poland's greatness, as its companion in C minor is of Poland's downfall. Although Karasowski and Kleczynski give to the A flat major Polonaise the honor of suggesting a well-known story, it is really the A major that provoked it—so the Polish portrait painter Kwiatowski informed Niecks. The story runs, that after composing it, Chopin in the dreary watches of the night was surprised—terrified is a better word—by the opening of his door and the entrance of a long train of Polish nobles and ladies, richly robed, who moved slowly by him. Troubled by the ghosts of the past he had raised, the composer, hollow eyed, fled the apartment. All this must have been at Majorca, for op. 40 was composed or finished there. Ailing, weak and unhappy as he was, Chopin had grit enough to file and polish this brilliant and striking composition into its present shape. It is the best known and, though the most muscular of his compositions, it is the most played. It is dedicated to J. Fontana, and was published November, 1840. This Polonaise has the festive glitter of Weber.
The C minor Polonaise of the same set is a noble, troubled composition, large in accents and deeply felt. Can anything be more impressive than this opening?
[Musical score excerpt]
It is indeed Poland's downfall. The Trio in A flat, with its kaleidoscopic modulations, produces an impression of vague unrest and suppressed sorrow. There is loftiness of spirit and daring in it.
What can one say new of the tremendous F sharp minor Polonaise? Willeby calls it noisy! And Stanislaw Przybyszewski—whom Vance Thompson christened a prestidigious noctambulist-has literally stormed over it. It is barbaric, it is perhaps pathologic, and of it Liszt has said most eloquent things. It is for him a dream poem, the "lurid hour that precedes a hurricane" with a "convulsive shudder at the close." The opening is very impressive, the nerve-pulp being harassed by the gradually swelling prelude. There is defiant power in the first theme, and the constant reference to it betrays the composer's exasperated mental condition. This tendency to return upon himself, a tormenting introspection, certainly signifies a grave state. But consider the musical weight of the work, the recklessly bold outpourings of a mind almost distraught! There is no greater test for the poet-pianist than the F sharp minor Polonaise. It is profoundly ironical—what else means the introduction of that lovely mazurka, "a flower between two abysses"? This strange dance is ushered in by two of the most enigmatic pages of Chopin. The A major intermezzo, with its booming cannons and reverberating overtones, is not easily defensible on the score of form, yet it unmistakably fits in the picture. The mazurka is full of interrogation and emotional nuanciren. The return of the tempest is not long delayed. It bursts, wanes, and with the coda comes sad yearning, then the savage drama passes tremblingly into the night after fluid and wavering affirmations; a roar in F sharp and finally a silence that marks the cessation of an agitating nightmare. No "sabre dance" this, but a confession from the dark depths of a self-tortured soul. Op. 44 was published November, 1841, and is dedicated to Princesse de Beauvau. There are few editorial differences. In the eighteenth bar from the beginning, Kullak, in the second beat, fills out an octave. Not so in Klindworth nor in the original. At the twentieth bar Klindworth differs from the original as follows. The Chopin text is the upper one:
[Musical score excerpts]
The A flat Polonaise, op. 53, was published December, 1843, and is said by Karasowski to have been composed in 1840, after Chopin's return from Majorca. It is dedicated to A. Leo. This is the one Karasowski calls the story of Chopin's vision of the antique dead in an isolated tower of Madame Sand's chateau at Nohant. We have seen this legend disproved by one who knows. This Polonaise is not as feverish and as exalted as the previous one. It is, as Kleczynski writes, "the type of a war song." Named the Heroique, one hears in it Ehlert's "ring of damascene blade and silver spur." There is imaginative splendor in this thrilling work, with its thunder of horses' hoofs and fierce challengings. What fire, what sword thrusts and smoke and clash of mortal conflict! Here is no psychical presentation, but an objective picture of battle, of concrete contours, and with a cleaving brilliancy that excites the blood to boiling pitch. That Chopin ever played it as intended is incredible; none but the heroes of the keyboard may grasp its dense chordal masses, its fiery projectiles of tone. But there is something disturbing, even ghostly, in the strange intermezzo that separates the trio from the polonaise. Both mist and starlight are in it. Yet the work is played too fast, and has been nicknamed the "Drum" Polonaise, losing in majesty and force because of the vanity of virtuosi. The octaves in E major are spun out as if speed were the sole idea of this episode. Follow Kleczynski's advice and do not sacrifice the Polonaise to the octaves. Karl Tausig, so Joseffy and de Lenz assert, played this Polonaise in an unapproachable manner. Powerful battle tableau as it is, it may still be presented so as not to shock one's sense of the euphonious, of the limitations of the instrument. This work becomes vapid and unheroic when transferred to the orchestra.
The Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat, op. 61, given to the world September, 1846, is dedicated to Madame A. Veyret. One of three great Polonaises, it is just beginning to be understood, having been derided as amorphous, febrile, of little musical moment, even Liszt declaring that "such pictures possess but little real value to art. ... Deplorable visions which the artist should admit with extreme circumspection within the graceful circle of his charmed realm." This was written in the old-fashioned days, when art was aristocratic and excluded the "baser" and more painful emotions. For a generation accustomed to the realism of Richard Strauss, the Fantaisie-Polonaise seems vaporous and idealistic, withal new. It recalls one of those enchanted flasks of the magii from which on opening smoke exhales that gradually shapes itself into fantastic and fearsome figures. This Polonaise at no time exhibits the solidity of its two predecessors; its plasticity defies the imprint of the conventional Polonaise, though we ever feel its rhythms. It may be full of monologues, interspersed cadenzas, improvised preludes and short phrases, as Kullak suggests, yet there is unity in the composition, the units of structure and style. It was music of the future when Chopin composed; it is now music of the present, as much as Richard Wagner's. But the realism is a trifle clouded. Here is the duality of Chopin the suffering man and Chopin the prophet of Poland. Undimmed is his poetic vision—Poland will be free!— undaunted his soul, though oppressed by a suffering body. There are in the work throes of agony blended with the trumpet notes of triumph. And what puzzled our fathers—the shifting lights and shadows, the restless tonalities—are welcome, for at the beginning of this new century the chromatic is king. The ending of this Polonaise is triumphant, recalling in key and climaxing the A flat Ballade. Chopin is still the captain of his soul—and Poland will be free! Are Celt and Slav doomed to follow ever the phosphorescent lights of patriotism? Liszt acknowledges the beauty and grandeur of this last Polonaise, which unites the characteristics of superb and original manipulation of the form, the martial and the melancholic.
Opus 71, three posthumous Polonaises, given to the world by Julius Fontana, are in D minor, published in 1827, B flat major, 1828, and F minor, 1829. They are interesting to Chopinists. The influence of Weber, a past master in this form, is felt. Of the three the last in F minor is the strongest, although if Chopin's age is taken into consideration, the first, in D minor, is a feat for a lad of eighteen. I agree with Niecks that the posthumous Polonaise, without opus number, in G sharp minor, was composed later than 1822—the date given in the Breitkopf & Hartel edition. It is an artistic conception, and in "light winged figuration" far more mature than the Chopin of op. 71. Really a graceful and effective little composition of the florid order, but like his early music without poetic depth. The Warsaw "Echo Musicale," to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Chopin's death, published a special number in October, 1899, with the picture of a farmer named Krysiak, born in 1810, the year after the composer. Thereat Finck remarked that it is not a case of survival of the fittest! A fac-simile reproduction of a hitherto unpublished Polonaise in A flat, written at the age of eleven, is also included in this unique number. This tiny dance shows, it is said, the "characteristic physiognomy" of the composer. In reality this polacca is thin, a tentative groping after a form that later was mastered so magnificently by the composer. Here is the way it begins—the autograph is Chopin's:
[Musical score excerpt]
The Alla Polacca for piano and 'cello, op. 3, was composed in 1829, while Chopin was on a visit to Prince Radziwill. It is preceded by an introduction, and is dedicated to Joseph Merk, the 'cellist. Chopin himself pronounced it a brilliant salon piece. It is now not even that, for it sounds antiquated and threadbare. The passage work at times smacks of Chopin and Weber—a hint of the Mouvement Perpetuel—and the 'cello has the better of the bargain. Evidently written for my lady's chamber.
Two Polonaises remain. One, in B flat minor, was composed in 1826, on the occasion of the composer's departure for Reinerz. A footnote to the edition of this rather elegiac piece tells this. Adieu to Guillaume Kolberg, is the title, and the Trio in D flat is accredited to an air of "Gazza Ladra," with a sentimental Au Revoir inscribed. Kleczynski has revised the Gebethner & Wolff edition. The little cadenza in chromatic double notes on the last page is of a certainty Chopin. But the Polonaise in G flat major, published by Schott, is doubtful. It has a shallow ring, a brilliant superficiality that warrants Niecks in stamping it as a possible compilation. There are traces of the master throughout, particularly in the E flat minor Trio, but there are some vile progressions and an air of vulgarity surely not Chopin's. This dance form, since the death of the great composer, has been chiefly developed on the virtuoso side. Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, and even Bach—in his B minor suite for strings and flute- -also indulged in this form. Wagner, as a student, wrote a Polonaise for four hands, in D, and in Schumann's Papillons there is a charming specimen. Rubinstein composed a most brilliant and dramatic example in E flat in Le Bal. The Liszt Polonaises, all said and done, are the most remarkable in design and execution since Chopin. But they are more Hungarian than Polish.
XIII. MAZURKAS:—DANCES OF THE SOUL
"Coquetries, vanities, fantasies, inclinations, elegies, vague emotions, passions, conquests, struggles upon which the safety or favors of others depend, all, all meet in this dance."
Thus Liszt. De Lenz further quotes him: "Of the Mazurkas, one must harness a new pianist of the first rank to each of them." Yet Liszt told Niecks he did not care much for Chopin's Mazurkas. "One often meets in them with bars which might just as well be in another place. But as Chopin puts them perhaps nobody could have put them." Liszt, despite the rhapsodical praise of his friend, is not always to be relied upon. Capricious as Chopin, he had days when he disliked not only the Mazurkas, but all music. He confessed to Niecks that when he played a half hour for amusement it was Chopin he took up.
There is no more brilliant chapter than this Hungarian's on the dancing of the Mazurka by the Poles. It is a companion to his equally sensational description of the Polonaise. He gives a wild, whirling, highly-colored narrative of the Mazurka, with a coda of extravagant praise of the beauty and fascination of Polish women. "Angel through love, demon through fantasy," as Balzac called her. In none of the piano rhapsodies are there such striking passages to be met as in Liszt's overwrought, cadenced prose, prose modelled after Chateaubriand. Niema iak Polki— "nothing equals the Polish women" and their "divine coquetries;" the Mazurka is their dance—it is the feminine complement to the heroicand masculine Polonaise.
An English writer describes the dancing of the Mazurka in contemporary Russia:
In the salons of St. Petersburg, for instance, the guests actually dance; they do not merely shamble to and fro in a crowd, crumpling their clothes and ruffling their tempers, and call it a set of quadrilles. They have ample space for the sweeping movements and complicated figures of all the orthodox ball dances, and are generally gifted with sufficient plastic grace to carry them out in style. They carefully cultivate dances calling for a kind of grace which is almost beyond the reach of art. The mazurka is one of the finest of these, and it is quite a favorite at balls on the banks of the Neva. It needs a good deal of room, one or more spurred officers, and grace, grace and grace. The dash with which the partners rush forward, the clinking and clattering of spurs as heel clashes with heel in mid air, punctuating the staccato of the music, the loud thud of boots striking the ground, followed by their sibilant slide along the polished floor, then the swift springs and sudden bounds, the whirling gyrations and dizzy evolutions, the graceful genuflections and quick embraces, and all the other intricate and maddening movements to the accompaniment of one of Glinka's or Tschaikowsky's masterpieces, awaken and mobilize all the antique heroism, mediaeval chivalry and wild romance that lie dormant in the depths of men's being. There is more genuine pleasure in being the spectator of a soul thrilling dance like that than in taking an active part in the lifeless make-believes performed at society balls in many of the more Western countries of Europe.
Absolutely Slavonic, though a local dance of the province of Mazovia, the Mazurek or Mazurka, is written in three-four time, with the usual displaced accent in music of Eastern origin. Brodzinski is quoted as saying that in its primitive form the Mazurek is only a kind of Krakowiak, "less lively, less sautillant." At its best it is a dancing anecdote, a story told in a charming variety of steps and gestures. It is intoxicating, rude, humorous, poetic, above all melancholy. When he is happiest he sings his saddest, does the Pole. Hence his predilection for minor modes. The Mazurka is in three-four or three-eight time. Sometimes the accent is dotted, but this is by no means absolute. Here is the rhythm most frequently encountered, although Chopin employs variants and modifications. The first part of the bar has usually the quicker notes.
The scale is a mixture of major and minor—melodies are encountered that grew out of a scale shorn of a degree. Occasionally the augmented second, the Hungarian, is encountered, and skips of a third are of frequent occurrence. This, with progressions of augmented fourths and major sevenths, gives to the Mazurkas of Chopin an exotic character apart from their novel and original content. As was the case with the Polonaise, Chopin took the framework of the national dance, developed it, enlarged it and hung upon it his choicest melodies, his most piquant harmonies. He breaks and varies the conventionalized rhythm in a half hundred ways, lifting to the plane of a poem the heavy hoofed peasant dance. But in this idealization he never robs it altogether of the flavor of the soil. It is, in all its wayward disguises, the Polish Mazurka, and is with the Polonaise, according to Rubinstein, the only Polish-reflective music he has made, although "in all of his compositions we hear him relate rejoicingly of Poland's vanished greatness, singing, mourning, weeping over Poland's downfall and all that, in the most beautiful, the most musical, way." Besides the "hard, inartistic modulations, the startling progressions and abrupt changes of mood" that jarred on the old-fashioned Moscheles, and dipped in vitriol the pen of Rellstab, there is in the Mazurkas the greatest stumbling block of all, the much exploited rubato. Berlioz swore that Chopin could not play in time—which was not true—and later we shall see that Meyerbeer thought the same. What to the sensitive critic is a charming wavering and swaying in the measure—"Chopin leans about freely within his bars," wrote an English critic—for the classicists was a rank departure from the time beat. According to Liszt's description of the rubato "a wind plays in the leaves, Life unfolds and develops beneath them, but the tree remains the same—that is the Chopin rubato." Elsewhere, "a tempo agitated, broken, interrupted, a movement flexible, yet at the same time abrupt and languishing, and vacillating as the fluctuating breath by which it is agitated." Chopin was more commonplace in his definition: "Supposing," he explained, "that a piece lasts a given number of minutes; it may take just so long to perform the whole, but in detail deviations may differ."
The tempo rubato is probably as old as music itself. It is in Bach, it was practised by the old Italian singers. Mikuli says that no matter how free Chopin was in his treatment of the right hand in melody or arabesque, the left kept strict time. Mozart and not Chopin it was who first said: "Let your left hand be your conductor and always keep time." Halle, the pianist, once asserted that he proved Chopin to be playing four-four instead of three-four measure in a mazurka. Chopin laughingly admitted that it was a national trait. Halle was bewildered when he first heard Chopin play, for he did not believe such music could be represented by musical signs. Still he holds that this style has been woefully exaggerated by pupils and imitators. If a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue be played with metronomical rigidity it loses its quintessential flavor. Is it not time the ridiculous falsehoods about the Chopin rubato be exposed? Naturally abhorring anything that would do violence to the structural part of his compositions, Chopin was a very martinet with his pupils if too much license of tempo was taken. His music needs the greatest lucidity in presentation, and naturally a certain elasticity of phrasing. Rhythms need not be distorted, nor need there be absurd and vulgar haltings, silly and explosive dynamics. Chopin sentimentalized is Chopin butchered. He loathed false sentiment, and a man whose taste was formed by Bach and Mozart, who was nurtured by the music of these two giants, could never have indulged in exaggerated, jerky tempi, in meaningless expression. Come, let us be done with this fetish of stolen time, of the wonderful and so seldom comprehended rubato. If you wish to play Chopin, play him in curves; let there be no angularities of surface, of measure, but in the name of the Beautiful do not deliver his exquisitely balanced phrases with the jolting, balky eloquence of a cafe chantant singer. The very balance and symmetry of the Chopin phraseology are internal; it must be delivered in a flowing, waving manner, never square or hard, yet with every accent showing like the supple muscles of an athlete beneath his skin. Without the skeleton a musical composition is flaccid, shapeless, weak and without character. Chopin's music needs a rhythmic sense that to us, fed upon the few simple forms of the West, seems almost abnormal. The Chopin rubato is rhythm liberated from its scholastic bonds, but it does not mean anarchy, disorder. What makes this popular misconception all the more singular is the freedom with which the classics are now being interpreted. A Beethoven, and even a Mozart symphony, no longer means a rigorous execution, in which the measure is ruthlessly hammered out by the conductor, but the melodic and emotional curve is followed and the tempo fluctuates. Why then is Chopin singled out as the evil and solitary representative of a vicious time-beat? Play him as you play Mendelssohn and your Chopin has evaporated. Again play him lawlessly, with his accentual life topsy-turvied, and he is no longer Chopin—his caricature only. Pianists of Slavic descent alone understand the secret of the tempo rubato.
I have read in a recently started German periodical that to make the performance of Chopin's works pleasing it is sufficient to play them with less precision of rhythm than the music of other composers. I, on the contrary, do not know a single phrase of Chopin's works—including even the freest among them—in which the balloon of inspiration, as it moves through the air, is not checked by an anchor of rhythm and symmetry. Such passages as occur in the F minor Ballade, the B flat minor Scherzo—the middle part—the F minor Prelude, and even the A flat Impromptu, are not devoid of rhythm. The most crooked recitative of the F minor Concerto, as can be easily proved, has a fundamental rhythm not at all fantastic, and which cannot be dispensed with when playing with orchestra. ... Chopin never overdoes fantasy, and is always restrained by a pronounced aesthetical instinct. ... Everywhere the simplicity of his poetical inspiration and his sobriety saves us from extravagance and false pathos.
Kleczynski has this in his second volume, for he enjoyed the invaluable prompting of Chopin's pupil, the late Princess Marceline Czartoryska.
Niecks quotes Mme. Friederike Stretcher, nee Muller, a pupil, who wrote of her master: "He required adherence to the strictest rhythm, hated all lingering and lagging, misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos. 'Je vous prie de vous asseoir,' he said, on such an occasion, with gentle mockery. And it is just in this respect that people make such terrible mistakes in the execution of his works."
And now to the Mazurkas, which de Lenz said were Heinrich Heine's songs on the piano. "Chopin was a phoenix of intimacy with the piano. In his nocturnes and mazurkas he is unrivalled, downright fabulous."
No compositions are so Chopin-ish as the Mazurkas. Ironical, sad, sweet, joyous, morbid, sour, sane and dreamy, they illustrate what was said of their composer—"his heart is sad, his mind is gay." That subtle quality, for an Occidental, enigmatic, which the Poles call Zal, is in some of them; in others the fun is almost rough and roaring. Zal, a poisonous word, is a baleful compound of pain, sadness, secret rancor, revolt. It is a Polish quality and is in the Celtic peoples. Oppressed nations with a tendency to mad lyrism develop this mental secretion of the spleen. Liszt writes that "the Zal colors with a reflection now argent, now ardent the whole of Chopin's works. "This sorrow is the very soil of Chopin's nature. He so confessed when questioned by Comtesse d'Agoult. Liszt further explains that the strange word includes in its meanings—for it seems packed with them— "all the tenderness, all the humility of a regret borne with resignation and without a murmur;" it also signifies "excitement, agitation, rancor, revolt full of reproach, premeditated vengeance, menace never ceasing to threaten if retaliation should ever become possible, feeding itself meanwhile with a bitter if sterile hatred."
Sterile indeed must be such a consuming passion. Even where his patriotism became a lyric cry, this Zal tainted the source of Chopin's joy. It made him irascible, and with his powers of repression, this smouldering, smothered rage must have well nigh suffocated him, and in the end proved harmful alike to his person and to his art. As in certain phases of disease it heightened the beauty of his later work, unhealthy, feverish, yet beauty without doubt. The pearl is said to be a morbid secretion, so the spiritual ferment called Zal gave to Chopin's music its morbid beauty. It is in the B minor Scherzo but not in the A flat Ballade. The F minor Ballade overflows with it, and so does the F sharp minor Polonaise, but not the first Impromptu. Its dark introspection colors many of the preludes and mazurkas, and in the C sharp minor Scherzo it is in acrid flowering—truly fleurs du mal. Heine and Baudelaire, two poets far removed from the Slavic, show traces of the terrible drowsy Zal in their poetry. It is the collective sorrow and tribal wrath of a down-trodden nation, and the mazurkas for that reason have ethnic value. As concise, even as curt as the Preludes, they are for the most part highly polished. They are dancing preludes, and often tiny single poems of great poetic intensity and passionate plaint.
Chopin published during his lifetime forty-one Mazurkas in eleven cahiers of three, four and five numbers. Op. 6, four Mazurkas, and op. 7, five Mazurkas, were published December, 1832. Op. 6 is dedicated to Comtesse Pauline Plater; op. 7 to Mr. Johns. Op. 17, four Mazurkas, May 4, dedicated to Madame Lina Freppa; op. 24, four Mazurkas, November, 1835, dedicated to Comte de Perthuis; op. 30, four Mazurkas, December, 1837, dedicated to Princesse Czartoryska; op. 33, four Mazurkas, October, 1838, dedicated to Comtesse Mostowska; op. 41, four Mazurkas, December, 1840, dedicated to E. Witwicki; op. 50, three Mazurkas, November, 1841, dedicated to Leon Szmitkowski; op. 56, three Mazurkas, August, 1844, dedicated to Mile. C. Maberly; op. 59, three Mazurkas, April, 1846, no dedication, and op. 63, three Mazurkas, September, 1847, dedicated to Comtesse Czosnowska.
Besides there are op. 67 and 68 published by Fontana after Chopin's death, consisting of eight Mazurkas, and there are a miscellaneous number, two in A minor, both in the Kullak, Klindworth and Mikuli editions, one in F sharp major, said to be written by Charles Mayer—in Klindworth's—and four others, in G, B flat, D and C major. This makes in all fifty-six to be grouped and analyzed. Niecks thinks there is a well-defined difference between the Mazurkas as far as op. 41 and those that follow. In the latter he misses "savage beauties" and spontaneity. As Chopin gripped the form, as he felt more, suffered more and knew more, his Mazurkas grew broader, revealed more Weltschmerz, became elaborate and at times impersonal, but seldom lost the racial "snap" and hue. They are sonnets in their well-rounded mecanisme, and, as Schumann says, something new is to be found in each. Toward the last, a few are blithe and jocund, but they are the exceptions. In the larger ones the universal quality is felt, but to the detriment of the intimate, Polish characteristics. These Mazurkas are just what they are called, only some dance with the heart, others with the heels. Comprising a large and original portion of Chopin's compositions, they are the least known. Perhaps when they wander from the map of Poland they lose some of their native fragrance. Like hardy, simple wild flowers, they are mostly for the open air, the only out-of-doors music Chopin ever made. But even in the open, under the moon, the note of self- torture, of sophisticated sadness is not absent. Do not accuse Chopin, for this is the sign-manual of his race. The Pole suffers in song the joy of his sorrow.
The F sharp minor Mazurka of op. 6 begins with the characteristic triplet that plays such a role in the dance. Here we find a Chopin fuller fledged than in the nocturnes and variations, and probably because of the form. This Mazurka, first in publication, is melodious, slightly mournful but of a delightful freshness. The third section with the appoggiaturas realizes a vivid vision of country couples dancing determinedly. Who plays No. 2 of this set? It, too, has the "native wood note wild," with its dominant pedal bass, its slight twang and its sweet-sad melody in C sharp minor. There is hearty delight in the major, and how natural it seems. No. 3 in E is still on the village green, and the boys and girls are romping in the dance. We hear a drone bass—a favorite device of Chopin—and the chatter of the gossips, the bustle of a rural festival. The harmonization is rich, the rhythmic life vital. But in the following one in E flat minor a different note is sounded. Its harmonies are closer and there is sorrow abroad. The incessant circling around one idea, as if obsessed by fixed grief, is used here for the first, but not for the last time, by the composer.
Opus 7 drew attention to Chopin. It was the set that brought down the thunders of Rellstab, who wrote: "If Mr. Chopin had shown this composition to a master the latter would, it is to be hoped, have torn it and thrown it at his feet, which we hereby do symbolically." Criticism had its amenities in 1833. In a later number of "The Iris," in which a caustic notice appeared of the studies, op. 10, Rellstab printed a letter, signed Chopin, the authenticity of which is extremely doubtful. In it Chopin is made to call the critic "really a very bad man." Niecks demonstrates that the Polish pianist was not the writer. It reads like the effusion of some indignant, well meaning female friend.
The B flat major Mazurka which opens op. 7 is the best known of these dances. There is an expansive swing, a laissez-aller to this piece, with its air of elegance, that are very alluring. The rubato flourishes, and at the close we hear the footing of the peasant. A jolly, reckless composition that makes one happy to be alive and dancing. The next, which begins in A minor, is as if one danced upon one's grave; a change to major does not deceive, it is too heavy-hearted. No. 3, in F minor, with its rhythmic pronouncement at the start, brings us back to earth. The triplet that sets off the phrase has great significance. Guitar-like is the bass in its snapping resolution. The section that begins on the dominant of D flat is full of vigor and imagination; the left hand is given a solo. This Mazurka has the true ring.
The following one, in A flat, is a sequence of moods. Its assertiveness soon melts into tenderer hues, and in an episode in A we find much to ponder. No. 5, in C, consists of three lines. It is a sort of coda to the opus and full of the echoes of lusty happiness. A silhouette with a marked profile.
Opus 17, No. 1, in B flat, is bold, chivalric, and I fancy I hear the swish of the warrior's sabre. The peasant has vanished or else gapes through the open window while his master goes through the paces of a courtlier dance. We encounter sequential chords of the seventh, and their use, rhythmically framed as they are, gives a line of sternness to the dance. Niecks thinks that the second Mazurka might be called The Request, so pathetic, playful and persuasive is it. It is in E minor and has a plaintive, appealing quality. The G major part is very pretty. In the last lines the passion mounts, but is never shrill. Kullak notes that in the fifth and sixth bars there is no slur in certain editions. Klindworth employs it, but marks the B sforzando. A slur on two notes of the same pitch with Chopin does not always mean a tie. The A flat Mazurka, No. 3, is pessimistic, threatening and irritable. Though in the key of E major the trio displays a relentless sort of humor. The return does not mend matters. A dark page! In A minor the fourth is called by Szulc the Little Jew. Szulc, who wrote anecdotes of Chopin and collected them with the title of "Fryderyk Szopen," told the story to Kleczynski. It is this:
Chopin did not care for programme music, though more than one of his compositions, full of expression and character, may be included under that name. Who does not know the A minor Mazurka of op. 17, dedicated to Lena Freppa? Itwas already known in our country as the "Little Jew" before the departure of our artist abroad. It is one of the works of Chopin which are characterized by distinct humor. A Jew in slippers and a long robe comes out of his inn, and seeing an unfortunate peasant, his customer, intoxicated, tumbling about the road and uttering complaints, exclaims from his threshold, "What is this?" Then, as if by way of contrast to this scene, the gay wedding party of a rich burgess comes along on its way from church, with shouts of various kinds, accompanied in a lively manner by violins and bagpipes. The train passes by, the tipsy peasant renews his complaints—the complaints of a man who had tried to drown his misery in the glass. The Jew returns indoors, shaking his head and again asking, "What was this?"
The story strikes one as being both childish and commonplace. The Mazurka is rather doleful and there is a little triplet of interrogation standing sentinel at the fourth bar. It is also the last phrase. But what of that? I, too, can build you a programme as lofty or lowly as you please, but it will not be Chopin's. Niecks, for example, finds this very dance bleak and joyless, of intimate emotional experience, and with "jarring tones that strike in and pitilessly wake the dreamer." So there is no predicating the content of music except in a general way; the mood key may be struck, but in Chopin's case this is by no means infallible. If I write with confidence it is that begot of desperation, for I know full well that my version of the story will not be yours. The A minor Mazurka for me is full of hectic despair, whatever that may mean, and its serpentining chromatics and apparently suspended close—on the chord of the sixth—gives an impression of morbid irresolution modulating into a sort of desperate gayety. Its tonality accounts for the moods evoked, being indeterminate and restless.
Opus 24 begins with the G minor Mazurka, a favorite because of its comparative freedom from technical difficulties. Although in the minor mode there is mental strength in the piece, with its exotic scale of the augmented second, and its trio is hearty. In the next, in C, we find, besides the curious content, a mixture of tonalities—Lydian and mediaeval church modes. Here the trio is occidental. The entire piece leaves a vague impression of discontent, and the refrain recalls the Russian bargemen's songs utilized at various times by Tschaikowsky. Klindworth uses variants. There is also some editorial differences in the metronomic markings, Mikuli being, according to Kullak, too slow. Mention has not been made, as in the studies and preludes, of the tempi of the Mazurkas. These compositions are so capricious, so varied, that Chopin, I am sure, did not play any one of them twice alike. They are creatures of moods, melodic air plants, swinging to the rhythms of any vagrant breeze. The metronome is for the student, but metronome and rubato are, as de Lenz would have said, mutually exclusive.
The third Mazurka of op. 24 is in A flat. It is pleasing, not deep, a real dance with an ornamental coda. But the next! Ah! here is a gem, a beautiful and exquisitely colored poem. In B flat minor, it sends out prehensile filaments that entwine and draw us into the centre of a wondrous melody, laden with rich odors, odors that almost intoxicate. The figuration is tropical, and when the major is reached and those glancing thirty-seconds so coyly assail us we realize the seductive charm of Chopin. The reprise is still more festooned, and it is almost a relief when the little, tender unison begins with its positive chord assertions closing the period. Then follows a fascinating, cadenced step, with lights and shades, sweet melancholy driving before it joy and being routed itself, until the annunciation of the first theme and the dying away of the dance, dancers and the solid globe itself, as if earth had committed suicide for loss of the sun. The last two bars could have been written only by Chopin. They are ineffable sighs.
And now the chorus of praise begins to mount in burning octaves. The C minor Mazurka, op. 30, is another of those wonderful, heartfelt melodies of the master. What can I say of the deepening feeling at the con anima! It stabs with its pathos. Here is the poet Chopin, the poet who, with Burns, interprets the simple strains of the folk, who blinds us with color and rich romanticism like Keats and lifts us Shelley-wise to transcendental azure. And his only apparatus a keyboard. As Schumann wrote: "Chopin did not make his appearance by an orchestral army, as a great genius is accustomed to do; he only possesses a small cohort, but every soul belongs to him to the last hero."
Eight lines is this dance, yet its meanings are almost endless. No. 2, in B minor, is called The Cuckoo by Kleczynski. It is sprightly and with the lilt, notwithstanding its subtle progressions, of Mazovia. No. 3 in D flat is all animation, brightness and a determination to stay out the dance. The alternate major-minor of the theme is truly Polish. The graceful trio and canorous brilliancy of this dance make it a favored number. The ending is epigrammatic. It comes so suddenly upon us, our cortical cells pealing with the minor, that its very abruptness is witty. One can see Chopin making a mocking moue as he wrote it. Tschaikowsky borrowed the effect for the conclusion of the Chinoise in a miniature orchestral suite. The fourth of this opus is in C sharp minor. Again I feel like letting loose the dogs of enthusiasm. The sharp rhythms and solid build of this ample work give it a massive character. It is one of the big Mazurkas, and the ending, raw as it is—consecutive, bare-faced fifths and sevenths—compasses its intended meaning.
Opus 33 is a popular set. It begins with one in G sharp minor, which is curt and rather depressing. The relief in B major is less real than it seems—on paper. Moody, withal a tender-hearted Mazurka. No. 2, in D, is bustling, graceful and full of unrestrained vitality. Bright and not particularly profound, it was successfully arranged for voice by Viardot-Garcia. The third of the opus, in C, is the one described by de Lenz as almost precipitating a violent row between Chopin and Meyerbeer. He had christened it the Epitaph of the Idea.
"Two-four," said Meyerbeer, after de Lenz played it. "Three- four," answered Chopin, flushing angrily. "Let me have it for a ballet in my new opera and I'll show you," retorted Meyerbeer. "It's three-four," scolded Chopin, and played it himself. De Lenz says they parted coolly, each holding to his opinion. Later, in St. Petersburg, Meyerbeer met this gossip and told him that he loved Chopin. "I know no pianist, no composer for the piano like him." Meyerbeer was wrong in his idea of the tempo. Though Chopin slurs the last beat, it is there, nevertheless. This Mazurka is only four lines long and is charming, as charming as the brief specimen in the Preludes. The next Mazurka is another famous warhorse. In B minor, it is full of veiled coquetries, hazardous mood transitions, growling recitatives and smothered plaints. The continual return to the theme gives rise to all manner of fanciful programmes. One of the most characteristic is by the Polish poet Zelenski, who, so Kleczynski relates, wrote a humorous poem on this mazurka. For him it is a domestic comedy in which a drunken peasant and his much abused wife enact a little scene. Returning home the worse for wear he sings "Oj ta dana"— "Oh dear me"—and rumbles in the bass in a figure that answers the treble. His wife reproaching him, he strikes her. Here we are in B flat. She laments her fate in B major. Then her husband shouts: "Be quiet, old vixen." This is given in the octaves, a genuine dialogue, the wife tartly answering: "Shan't be quiet." The gruff grumbling in the bass is heard, an imitation of the above, when suddenly the man cries out, the last eight bars of the composition: "Kitty, Kitty come—do come here, I forgive you," which is decidedly masculine in its magnanimity.
If one does not care for the rather coarse realism of this reading Kleczynski offers the poem of Ujejeski, called The Dragoon. A soldier flatters a girl at the inn. She flies from him, and her lover, believing she has deceived him, despairingly drowns himself. The ending, with its "Ring, ring, ring the bell there! Horses carry me to the depths," has more poetic contour than the other. Without grafting any libretto on it, this Mazurka is a beautiful tone-piece in itself. Its theme is delicately mournful and the subject, in B major, simply entrancing in its broad, flowing melody.
In C sharp minor, op. 41, is a Mazurka that is beloved of me. Its scale is exotic, its rhythm convincing, its tune a little saddened by life, but courage never fails. This theme sounds persistently, in the middle voices, in the bass, and at the close in full harmonies, unisons, giving it a startling effect. Octaves take it up in profile until it vanishes. Here is the very apotheosis of rhythm. No. 2, in E minor, is not very resolute of heart. It was composed, so Niecks avers, at Palma, when Chopin's health fully accounts for the depressed character of the piece, for it is sad to the point of tears. Of op. 41 he wrote to Fontana from Nohant in 1839, "You know I have four new Mazurkas, one from Palma, in E minor; three from here, in B major, A flat major and C sharp minor. They seem to me pretty, as the youngest children usually do when the parents grow old." No. 3 is a vigorous, sonorous dance. No. 4, over which the editors deviate on the serious matter of text, in A flat, is for the concert room, and is allied to several of his gracious Valses. Playful and decorative, but not profound in feeling.
Opus 50, the first in G major, is healthy and vivacious. Good humor predominates. Kullak notes that in some editions it closes pianissimo, which seems a little out of drawing. No. 2 is charming. In A flat, it is a perfect specimen of the aristocratic Mazurka. The D flat Trio, the answering episode in B flat minor, and the grace of the return make this one to be studied and treasured. De Lenz finds Bach-ian influences in the following, in C sharp minor: "It begins as though written for the organ, and ends in an exclusive salon; it does him credit and is worked out more fully than the others. Chopin was much pleased when I told him that in the construction of this Mazurka the passage from E major to F major was the same as that in the Agatha aria in 'Freischutz.'" De Lenz refers to the opening Bach-like mutations. The texture of this dance is closer and finer spun than any we have encountered. Perhaps spontaneity is impaired, mais que voulez vous? Chopin was bound to develop, and his Mazurkas, fragile and constricted as is the form, were sure to show a like record of spiritual and intellectual growth.
Opus 56, in B major, is elaborate, even in its beginning. There is decoration in the ritornelle in E flat and one feels the absence of a compensating emotion, despite the display of contrapuntal skill. Very virtuoso-like, but not so intimate as some of the others. Karasowski selects No. 2 in C as an illustration. "It is as though the composer had sought for the moment to divert himself with narcotic intoxication only to fall back the more deeply into his original gloom." There is the peasant in the first bars in C, but the A minor and what follows soon disturb the air of bonhomie. Theoretical ease is in the imitative passages; Chopin is now master of his tools. The third Mazurka of op. 56 is in C minor. It is quite long and does not give the impression of a whole. With the exception of a short break in B major, it is composed with the head, not the heart, nor yet the heels.
Not unlike, in its sturdy affirmation, the one in C sharp minor, op. 41, is the next Mazurka, in A minor, op. 59. That Chopin did not repeat himself is an artistic miracle. A subtle turn takes us off the familiar road to some strange glade, wherein the flowers are rare in scent and odor. This Mazurka, like the one that follows, has a dim resemblance to others, yet there is always a novel point of departure, a fresh harmony, a sudden melody or an unexpected ending. Hadow, for example, thinks the A flat of this opus the most beautiful of them all. In it he finds legitimately used the repetition in various shapes of a single phrase. To me this Mazurka seems but an amplification, an elaboration of the lovely one in the same key, op. 50, No. 2. The double sixths and more complicated phraseology do not render the later superior to the early Mazurka, yet there is no gainsaying the fact that this is a noble composition. But the next, in F sharp minor, despite its rather saturnine gaze, is stronger in interest, if not in workmanship. While it lacks Niecks' beautes sauvages, is it not far loftier in conception and execution than op. 6, in F sharp minor? The inevitable triplet appears in the third bar, and is a hero throughout. Oh, here is charm for you! Read the close of the section in F sharp major. In the major it ends, the triplet fading away at last, a mere shadow, a turn on D sharp, but victor to the last. Chopin is at the summit of his invention. Time and tune, that wait for no man, are now his bond slaves. Pathos, delicacy, boldness, a measured melancholy and the art of euphonious presentiment of all these, and many factors more, stamp this Mazurka a masterpiece.
Niecks believes there is a return of the early freshness and poetry in the last three Mazurkas, op. 63. "They are, indeed, teeming with interesting matter," he writes. "Looked at from the musician's point of view, how much do we not see novel and strange, beautiful and fascinating withal? Sharp dissonances, chromatic passing notes, suspensions and anticipations, displacement of accent, progressions of perfect fifths—the horror of schoolmen—sudden turns and unexpected digressions that are so unaccountable, so out of the line of logical sequence, that one's following the composer is beset with difficulties. But all this is a means to an end, the expression of an individuality with its intimate experiences. The emotional content of many of these trifles—trifles if considered only by their size—is really stupendous." Spoken like a brave man and not a pedant!
Full of vitality is the first number of op. 63. In B major, it is sufficiently various in figuration and rhythmical life to single it from its fellows. The next, in F minor, has a more elegiac ring. Brief and not difficult of matter or manner is this dance. The third, of winning beauty, is in C sharp minor—surely a pendant to the C sharp minor Valse. I defy anyone to withstand the pleading, eloquent voice of this Mazurka. Slender in technical configuration, yet it impressed Louis Ehlert so much that he was impelled to write: "A more perfect canon in the octave could not have been written by one who had grown gray in the learned arts."
The four Mazurkas, published posthumously in 1855, that comprise op. 67 were composed by Chopin at various dates. To the first, in G, Klindworth affixes 1849 as the year of composition. Niecks gives a much earlier date, 1835. I fancy the latter is correct, as the piece sounds like one of Chopin's more youthful efforts. It is jolly and rather superficial. The next, in G minor, is familiar. It is very pretty, and its date is set down by Niecks as 1849, while Klindworth gives 1835. Here again Niecks is correct, although I suspect that Klindworth transposed his figures accidentally. No. 3, in C, was composed in 1835. On this both biographer and editor agree. It is certainly an early effusion of no great value, although a good dancing tune. No. 4 A minor, of this opus, composed in 1846, is more mature, but in no wise remarkable.
Opus 68, the second of the Fontana set, was composed in 1830. The first, in C, is commonplace; the one in A minor, composed in 1827, is much better, being lighter and well made; the third, in F major, 1830, weak and trivial, and the fourth, in F minor, 1849, interesting because it is said by Julius Fontana to be Chopin's last composition. He put it on paper a short time before his death, but was too ill to try it at the piano. It is certainly morbid in its sick insistence in phrase repetition, close harmonies and wild departure—in A—from the first figure. But it completes the gloomy and sardonic loop, and we wish, after playing this veritable song of the tomb, that we had parted from Chopin in health, not disease. This page is full of the premonitions of decay. Too weak and faltering to be febrile, Chopin is here a debile, prematurely exhausted young man. There are a few accents of a forced gayety, but they are swallowed up in the mists of dissolution—the dissolution of one of the most sensitive brains ever wrought by nature. Here we may echo, without any savor of Liszt's condescension or de Lenz's irony: "Pauvre Frederic!"
Klindworth and Kullak have different ideas concerning the end of this Mazurka. Both are correct. Kullak, Klindworth and Mikuli include in their editions two Mazurkas in A minor. Neither is impressive. One, the date of composition unknown, is dedicated "a son ami Emile Gaillard;" the other first appeared in a musical publication of Schotts' about 1842 or 1843—according to Niecks. Of this set I prefer the former; it abounds in octaves and ends with a long trill There is in the Klindworth edition a Mazurka, the last in the set, in the key of F sharp. It is so un-Chopinish and artificial that the doubts of the pianist Ernst Pauer were aroused as to its authenticity. On inquiry—Niecks quotes from the London monthly "Musical Record," July 1, 1882—Pauer discovered that the piece was identical with a Mazurka by Charles Mayer. Gotthard being the publisher of the alleged Chopin Mazurka, declared he bought the manuscript from a Polish countess- -possibly one of the fifty in whose arms Chopin died—and that the lady parted with Chopin's autograph because of her dire poverty. It is, of course, a clear case of forgery.
Of the four early Mazurkas, in G major and B flat major—dating from 1825—D major—composed in 1829-30, but remodelled in 1832— and C major—of 1833—the latter is the most characteristic. The G major is of slight worth. As Niecks remarks, it contains a harmonic error. The one in B flat starts out with a phrase that recalls the A minor Mazurka, numbered 45 in the Breitkopf & Hartel edition. This B flat Mazurka, early as it was composed, is, nevertheless, pretty. There are breadth and decision in the C major Mazurka. The recasting improves the D major Mazurka. Its trio is lifted an octave and the doubling of notes throughout gives more weight and richness.
"In the minor key laughs and cries, dances and mourns the Slav," says Dr. J. Schucht in his monograph on Chopin. Chopin here reveals not only his nationality, but his own fascinating and enigmatic individuality. Within the tremulous spaces of this immature dance is enacted the play of a human soul, a soul that voices the sorrow and revolt of a dying race, of a dying poet. They are epigrammatic, fluctuating, crazy, and tender, these Mazurkas, and some of them have a soft, melancholy light, as if shining through alabaster—true corpse light leading to a morass of doubt and terror. But a fantastic, dishevelled, debonair spirit is the guide, and to him we abandon ourselves in these precise and vertiginous dances.
XIV. CHOPIN THE CONQUEROR
The Scherzi of Chopin are of his own creation; the type as illustrated by Beethoven and Mendelssohn had no meaning for him. Whether in earnest or serious jest, Chopin pitched on a title that is widely misleading when the content is considered. The Beethoven Scherzo is full of a robust sort of humor. In it he is seldom poetical, frequently given to gossip, and at times he hints at the mystery of life. The demoniacal element, the fierce jollity that mocks itself, the almost titanic anger of Chopin would not have been regarded by the composer of the Eroica Symphony as adapted to the form. The Pole practically built up a new musical structure, boldly called it a Scherzo, and, as in the case of the Ballades, poured into its elastic mould most disturbing and incomparable music.
Chopin seldom compasses sublimity. His arrows are tipped with fire, yet they do not fly far. But in some of his music he skirts the regions where abide the gods. In at least one Scherzo, in one Ballade, in the F minor Fantaisie, in the first two movements of the B flat minor Sonata, in several of the Eludes, and in one of the Preludes, he compasses grandeur. Individuality of utterance, beauty of utterance, and the eloquence we call divine are his; criticism then bows its questioning brows before this anointed one. In the Scherzi Chopin is often prophet as well as poet. He fumes and frets, but upon his countenance is che precious fury of the sibyls. We see the soul that suffers from secret convulsions, but forgive the writhing for the music made. These four Scherzi are psychical records, confessions committed to paper of outpourings that never could have passed the lips. From these alone we may almost reconstruct the real Chopin, the inner Chopin, whose conventional exterior so ill prepared the world for the tragic issues of his music.
The first Scherzo is a fair model. There are a few bars of introduction—the porch, as Niecks would call it—a principal subject, a trio, a short working-out section, a skilful return to the opening theme, and an elaborate coda. This edifice, not architecturally flawless, is better adapted to the florid beauties of Byzantine treatment than to the severe Hellenic line. Yet Chopin gave it dignity, largeness and a classic massiveness. The interior is romantic, is modern, personal, but the facade shows gleaming minarets, the strangely builded shapes of the Orient. This B minor Scherzo has the acid note of sorrow and revolt, yet the complex figuration never wavers. The walls stand firm despite the hurricane blowing through and around them. Ehlert finds this Scherzo tornadic. It is gusty, and the hurry and over-emphasis do not endear it to the pianist. The first pages are filled with wrathful sounds, there is much tossing of hands and cries to heaven, calling down its fire and brimstone. A climax mounts to a fine frenzy until the lyric intermezzo in B is reached. Here love chants with honeyed tongues. The widely dispersed figure of the melody has an entrancing tenderness. But peace does not long prevail against the powers of Eblis, and infernal is the Wilde Jagd of the finale. After shrillest of dissonances, a chromatic uproar pilots the doomed one across this desperate Styx.
What Chopin's programme was we can but guess. He may have outlined the composition in a moment of great ebullition, a time of soul laceration arising from a cat scratch or a quarrel with Maurice Sand in the garden over the possession of the goat cart.
The Klindworth edition is preferable. Kullak follows his example in using the double note stems in the B major part. He gives the A sharp in the bass six bars before the return of the first motif. Klindworth, and other editions, prescribe A natural, which is not so effective. This Scherzo might profit by being played without the repeats. The chromatic interlocked octaves at the close are very striking.
I find at times—as my mood changes—something almost repellant in the B minor Scherzo. It does not present the frank physiognomy of the second Scherzo, op. 31, in B flat minor. Ehlert cries that it was composed in a blessed hour, although de Lenz quotes Chopin as saying of the opening, "It must be a charnel house." The defiant challenge of the beginning has no savor of the scorn and drastic mockery of its fore-runner. We are conscious that tragedy impends, that after the prologue may follow fast catastrophe. Yet it is not feared with all the portentous thunder of its index. Nor are we deceived. A melody of winning distinction unrolls before us. It has a noble tone, is of a noble type. Without relaxing pace it passes and drops like a thunderbolt into the bowels of the earth. Again the story is told, and tarrying not at all we are led to a most delectable spot in the key of A major. This trio is marked by genius. Can anything be more bewitching than the episode in C sharp minor merging into E major, with the overflow at the close? The fantasy is notable for variety of tonality, freedom in rhythmical incidents and genuine power. The coda is dizzy and overwhelming. For Schumann this Scherzo is Byronic in tenderness and boldness. Karasowski speaks of its Shakespearian humor, and indeed it is a very human and lovable piece of art. It holds richer, warmer, redder blood than the other three and like the A flat Ballade, is beloved of the public. But then it is easier to understand.
Opus 39, the third Scherzo in C sharp minor, was composed or finished at Majorca and is the most dramatic of the set. I confess to see no littleness in the polished phrases, though irony lurks in its bars and there is fever in its glance—a glance full of enigmatic and luring scorn. I heartily agree with Hadow, who finds the work clear cut and of exact balance. And noting that Chopin founded whole paragraphs "either on a single phrase repeated in similar shapes or on two phrases in alternation"—a primitive practice in Polish folksongs—he asserts that "Beethoven does not attain the lucidity of his style by such parallelism of phraseology," but admits that Chopin's methods made for "clearness and precision...may be regarded as characteristic of the national manner." A thoroughly personal characteristic too.
There is virile clangor in the firmly struck octaves of the opening pages. No hesitating, morbid view of life, but rank, harsh assertiveness, not untinged with splenetic anger. The chorale of the trio is admirably devised and carried out. Its piety is a bit of liturgical make-believe. The contrasts here are most artistic—sonorous harmonies set off by broken chords that deliciously tinkle. There is a coda of frenetic movement and the end is in major, a surprising conclusion when considering all that has gone before. Never to become the property of the profane, the C sharp minor Scherzo, notwithstanding its marked asperities and agitated moments, is a great work of art. Without the inner freedom of its predecessor, it is more sober and self- contained than the B minor Scherzo.
The fourth Scherzo, op. 54, is in the key of E. Built up by a series of cunning touches and climaxes and without the mood depth or variety of its brethren, it is more truly a Scherzo than any of them. It has tripping lightness and there is sunshine imprisoned behind its open bars. Of it Schumann could not ask, "How is gravity to clothe itself if jest goes about in dark veils?" Here, then, is intellectual refinement and jesting of a superior sort. Niecks thinks it fragmentary. I find the fairy- like measures delightful after the doleful mutterings of some of the other Scherzi. There is the same "spirit of opposition," but of arrogance none. The C sharp minor theme is of lyric beauty, the coda with its scales, brilliant. It seems to be banned by classicists and Chopin worshippers alike. The agnostic attitude is not yet dead in the piano playing world.
Rubinstein most admired the first two Scherzi. The B minor has been criticised for being too much in the etude vein. But with all their shortcomings these compositions are without peer in the literature of the piano.
They were published and dedicated as follows: Op. 20, February, 1835, to M. T. Albrecht; op. 31, December, 1837, Comtesse de Furstenstein; op. 39, October, 1840, Adolph Gutmann, and op. 54, December, 1843, Mile, de Caraman. De Lenz relates that Chopin dedicated the C sharp minor Scherzo to his pupil Gutmann, because this giant, with a prize fighter's fist, could "knock a hole in the table" with a certain chord for the left hand—sixth measure from the beginning—and adds quite naively: "Nothing more was ever heard of this Gutmann—he was a discovery of Chopin's." Chopin died in this same Gutmann's arms, and, despite de Lenz, Gutmann was in evidence until his death as a "favorite pupil."
And now we have reached the grandest—oh, banal and abused word— of Chopin's compositions, the Fantaisie in F minor, op. 49. Robert Schumann, after remarking that the cosmopolitan must "sacrifice the small interests of the soil on which he was born," notices that Chopin's later works "begin to lose something of their especial Sarmatian physiognomy, to approach partly more nearly the universal ideal cultivated by the divine Greeks which we find again in Mozart." The F minor Fantaisie has hardly the Mozartian serenity, but parades a formal beauty—not disfigured by an excess of violence, either personal or patriotic, and its melodies, if restless by melancholy, are of surprising nobility and dramatic grandeur. Without including the Beethoven Sonatas, not strictly born of the instrument, I do not fear to maintain that this Fantaisie is one of the greatest of piano pieces. Never properly appreciated by pianists, critics, or public, it is, after more than a half century of neglect, being understood at last. It was published November, 1843, and probably composed at Nohant, as a letter of the composer indicates. The dedication is to Princesse C. de Souzzo—these interminable countesses and princesses of Chopin! For Niecks, who could not at first discern its worth, it suggests a Titan in commotion. It is Titanic; the torso of some Faust-like dream, it is Chopin's Faust. A macabre march, containing some dangerous dissonances, gravely ushers us to ascending staircases of triplets, only to precipitate us to the very abysses of the piano. That first subject, is it not almost as ethically puissant and passionate as Beethoven in his F minor Sonata? Chopin's lack of tenaciousness is visible here. Beethoven would have built a cathedral on such a foundational scheme, but Chopin, ever prodigal in his melody making, dashes impetuously to the A flat episode, that heroic love chant, erroneously marked dolce and played with the effeminacies of a salon. Three times does it resound in this strange Hall of Glancing Mirrors, yet not once should it be caressed. The bronze fingers of a Tausig are needed. Now are arching the triplets to the great, thrilling song, beginning in C minor, and then the octaves, in contrary motion, split wide asunder the very earth. After terrific chordal reverberations there is the rapid retreat of vague armies, and once again is begun the ascent of the rolling triplets to inaccessible heights, and the first theme sounds in C minor. The modulation lifts to G flat, only to drop to abysmal depths. What mighty, desperate cause is being espoused? When peace is presaged in the key of B, is this the prize for which strive these agonized hosts? Is some forlorn princess locked behind these solemn, inaccessible bars? For a few moments there is contentment beyond all price. Then the warring tribe of triplets recommence, after clamorous G flat octaves reeling from the stars to the sea of the first theme. Another rush into D flat ensues, the song of C minor reappears in F minor, and the miracle is repeated. Oracular octaves quake the cellarage of the palace, the warriors hurry by, their measured tramp is audible after they vanish, and the triplets obscure their retreat with chromatic vapors. Then an adagio in this fantastic old world tale—the curtain prepares to descend—a faint, sweet voice sings a short, appealing cadenza, and after billowing A flat arpeggios, soft, great hummocks of tone, two giant chords are sounded, and the Ballade of Love and War is over. Who conquers? Is the Lady with the Green Eyes and Moon White Face rescued? Or is all this a De Quincey's Dream Fugue translated into tone—a sonorous, awesome vision? Like De Quincey, it suggests the apparition of the empire of fear, the fear that is secretly felt with dreams, wherein the spirit expands to the drummings of infinite space.
Alas! for the validity of subjective criticism. Franz Liszt told Vladimir de Pachmann the programme of the Fantaisie, as related to him by Chopin. At the close of one desperate, immemorial day, the pianist was crooning at the piano, his spirits vastly depressed. Suddenly came a knocking at his door, a Poe-like, sinister tapping, which he at once rhythmically echoed upon the keyboard, his phono-motor centre being unusually sensitive. The first two bars of the Fantaisie describe these rappings, just as the third and fourth stand for Chopin's musical invitation, entrez, entrez! This is all repeated until the doors wide open swinging admit Liszt, George Sand, Madame Camille Pleyel nee Mock, and others. To the solemn measures of the march they enter, and range themselves about Chopin, who after the agitated triplets begins his complaint in the mysterious song in F minor. But Sand, with whom he has quarrelled, falls before him on her knees and pleads for pardon. Straightway the chant merges into the appealing A flat section—this sends skyward my theory of its interpretation—and from C minor the current becomes more tempestuous until the climax is reached and to the second march the intruders rapidly vanish. The remainder of the work, with the exception of the Lento Sostenuto in B—where it is to be hoped Chopin's perturbed soul finds momentary peace—is largely repetition and development. This far from ideal reading is an authoritative one, coming as it does from Chopin by way of Liszt. I console myself for its rather commonplace character with the notion that perhaps in the re-telling the story has caught some personal cadenzas of the two historians. In any case I shall cling to my own version.
The F minor Fantaisie will mean many things to many people. Chopin has never before maintained so artistically, so free from delirium, such a level of strong passion, mental power and exalted euphony. It is his largest canvas, and though there are no long-breathed periods such as in the B flat minor Scherzo, the phraseology is amply broad, without padding of paragraphs. The rapt interest is not relaxed until the final bar. This transcendental work more nearly approaches Beethoven in its unity, its formal rectitude and its brave economy of thematic material.
While few men have dared to unlock their hearts thus, Chopin is not so intimate here as in the mazurkas. But the pulse beats ardently in the tissues of this composition. As art for art, it is less perfect; the gain is on the human side. Nearing his end Chopin discerned, with ever widening, ever brighter vision, the great heart throb of the universe. Master of his material, if not of his mortal tenement, he passionately strove to shape his dreams into abiding sounds. He did not always succeed, but his victories are the precious prizes of mankind. One is loath to believe that the echo of Chopin's magic music can ever fall upon unheeding ears. He may become old-fashioned, but, like Mozart, he will remain eternally beautiful.
Frederic Chopin as a Man and Musician, by Frederick Niecks. London, Novello, Ewer & Co.
Frederic Chopin, by Franz Liszt. London, W. Reeves.
Life and Letters of Frederic Chopin, by Moritz Karasowski, translated from the Russian by Emily Hill. London, W. Reeves.
Chopin and Other Musical Essays, by Henry T. Finck. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons.
The Works of Frederic Chopin and their Proper Interpretation, by Jean Kleczynski, translated by A. Whittingham. London, W. Reeves.
Chopin's Greater Works, by Jean Kleczynski, translated with additions by Natalie Janotha. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons.
Frederic Francois Chopin, by Charles Willeby. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
Frederic Chopin, by Joseph Bennett. Novello, Ewer & Co.
F. Chopin, la Tradicion de su Musica, por Eduardo Gariel. City of Mexico, 1894.
Frederic Chopin, sa Vie et ses OEuvres, par Madame A. Audley. Paris, E. Plon et Cie.
F. Chopin, Essai de Critique musicale, par H. Barbedette. Friedrich Chopin und seine Werke, von Dr. J. Schucht. Leipzig, C. F. Kahnt.
Friedrich Chopin's Leben und Werke, von A. Niggli. Leipzig, Breitkopf & Hartel.
Chopin, by Francis Hueffer, in Musical Studies. Edinburgh, A. & C. Black.
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Les Musiciens Polonais, par Albert Sowinski. Paris, Le Clerc.
Les Trois Romans de Frederic Chopin, par le Comte Wodinski. Paris, Calman Levy.
Une Contemporaine, par M. Brault.
Histoire de ma Vie et Correspondance, par George Sand. Paris, Calman Levy.
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G. Sand, par Stefane-Pol, from Trois Grandes Figures, preface by D'Armand Silvestre. Paris, Ernest Flammarian.
George Sand, sa Vie et ses OEuvres, par Wladimir Kardnine. Paris, Ollendorf.
Deux Eleves de Chopin, par Adolphe Brisson.
The Beautiful in Music, by Dr. Eduard Hanslick. Translated by Gustave Cohen. Novello, Ewer & Co., London and New York.
How Music Developed, by W. J. Henderson. New York, Frederick A. Stokes Co.
Wagner and His Works, by Henry T. Finck. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons.
By the Way, by William F. Apthorp. Boston, Copeland & Day.
A Study of Wagner, by Ernest Newman. New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Folk-Music Studies, by H. E. Krehbiel. New York Tribune, August, 1899.
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The New Spirit, by Havelock Ellis. London, Walter Scott, Ltd.
Flaubert, par Emile Faguet. Paris, Hachette et Cie.
Reisebilder, by Heinrich Heine.
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The Man of Genius, by Cesare Lombroso. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons.
The Musical Courier, New York. Files from 1889 to 1900.
Chopin's Works, by Rutland Boughton, in London Musical Standard.
Chopin, by Stanislas Count Tarnowski. Translated from the Polish by Natalie Janotha. 1899.
The School of Giorgione, An Essay by Walter Pater.
Chopin and the Sick Men, by John F. Runciman, in London Saturday Review, September 9, 1899.
Frederick Chopin, by Edward Dannreuther from Famous Composers and their Works. Boston, J. B. Millet Company.
Primitive Music, by Wallaschek.
Zur Psychologie des Individuums, Chopin und Nietzsche, by Stanislaw Przybyszewski. Berlin, W. Fontaine & Co., 1892.
Musical Interpretation, by Adolph Carpe. Leipzig, London and Paris, Bosworth & Co., Boston, B. F. Wood Music Co.
Pianistes Celebres, par Francois Marmontel.
Frederyka Chopina, in Echo Musicale, Warsaw, Poland, October 15, 1899.
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The World as Will and Idea, by Arthur Schopenhauer.
The Case of Richard Wagner, by Friedrich Nietzsche. New York, Macmillan Co.
With the Immortals, by Marion Crawford. References to Chopin.
Preface to Isidor Philipp's Exercises Quotidiens tires des OEuvres de Chopin, by Georges Mathias. Paris, J. Hamelle.
Pianoforte Study, by Alexander McArthur.
Chopin Ein Gedenkblatt, by August Spanuth, New York Staats- Zeitung, October 15, 1899.
The Pianoforte Sonata, by J. B. Shedlock, London, Methuen & Co.
A History of Pianoforte Playing and Pianoforte Literature, by C. F. Weitzmann, translated by Dr. Th. Baker. New York, G. Schirmer.
Der Letze Virtuoso, by C. F. Weitzmann. Leipzig, Kahnt.
Chopin—and Some Others, in London Musical News, October 14, 1899.
Chopin, in A History of the Pianoforte and Pianoforte Players, by Oscar Bie. New York, E. P. Dutton & Co.
Chopin, in Rubinstein's Die Meister des Klaviers. New York, Schuberth.
Chopin, in Berliner Tageblatt, by Dr. Leopold Schmidt.
Chopin Juzgada por Schumann, in Gaceta Musical, City of Mexico.
The Chopin Rubato and so-called Chopin Fingering, by John Kautz, in The Musical Record, Boston, 1898.
Franz Liszt, by Lina Ramann. Breitkopf & Hartel.
Preface to Mikuli Edition by Carl Mikuli.
The AEsthetics of Pianoforte Playing, by Adolf Kullak. New York, G. Schirmer.
Chopin und die Frauen, by Eugen Isolani. Berliner Courier, October 17, 1899.
Chopin, by W. J. Henderson in The New York Times, October 29, 1899.
A Note on Chopin, by L. A. Corbeille, and Chopin, An Irresponsibility, by "Israfel," in The Dome, October, 1899, London, Unicorn Press.
Chopin and the Romantics, by John F. Runciman in The Saturday Review (London), February 10,1900.
Chopiniana: in the February, 1900, issue of the London Monthly Musical Record, including some new letters of Chopin's.
La maladie de Chopin (d'apres des documents inedits), par Cabanes. Chronique medicale, Paris, 1899, vi., No. 21, 673- 685.
Also recollections in letters and diaries of Moscheles, Hiller, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Henselt, Schumann, Rubinstein, Mathias, Legouve, Tarnowski, Grenier and others.
The author begs to acknowledge the kind suggestions and assistance of Rafael Joseffy, Vladimir de Pachmann, Moriz Rosenthal, Jaraslow de Zielinski, Edwin W. Morse, Edward E. Ziegler and Ignace Jan Paderewski.
BOOKS BY JAMES HUNEKER
What Maeterlinck wrote:
Maurice Maeterlinck wrote thus of James Huneker: "Do you know that 'Iconoclasts' is the only book of high and universal critical worth that we have had for years—to be precise, since Georg Brandes. It is at once strong and fine, supple and firm, indulgent and sure."