Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happy birthday, Fryderyk, may your music live forever!

Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin (in French, Frederic Francois Chopin) was born on this day in 1810 -- he was to die after only 39 short years on October 17, 1849. Helen has written elsewhere about her beloved musical pantheon that included, in addition to Chopin, only Beethoven and Verdi. Here I have gathered four interesting and perceptive observations about Chopin.
[Concerning the illustrations: The top one is the famous portrait painted in 1838 by Chopin's friend, Eugene Delacroix -- the bottom one is the only known photograph of Chopin (commonly mistaken for a daguerreotype), believed to have been taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in 1849.]


A distinguished English amateur pianist described Chopin at a salon:
Imagine a delicate man of extreme refinement of mien and manner, sitting at the piano and playing with no sway of the body and scarcely any movement of the arms, depending entirely upon his narrow feminine hand and slender fingers. The wide arpeggios in the left hand, maintained in a continuous stream of tone by the strict legato and fine and constant use of the damper pedal, formed a harmonious substructure for a wonderfully poetic cantabile. His delicate pianissimo, the ever-changing modifications of tone and time (tempo rubato) were of indescribable effect. Even in energetic passages he scarcely ever exceeded an ordinary mezzoforte.

One of his students, Friederike Muller, wrote the following in her diary about Chopin's playing style: His playing was always noble and beautiful; his tones sang, whether in full forte or softest piano. He took infinite pains to teach his pupils this legato, cantabile style of playing. His most severe criticism was "He—or she—does not know how to join two notes together." He also demanded the strictest adherence to rhythm. He hated all lingering and dragging, misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos ... and it is precisely in this respect that people make such terrible errors in playing his works.

Artur Rubenstein said of Chopin: Chopin was a genius of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences. When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall there is a happy sigh of recognition. All over the world men and women know his music. They love it. They are moved by it. Yet it is not "Romantic music" in the Byronic sense. It does not tell stories or paint pictures. It is expressive and personal, but still a pure art. Even in this abstract atomic age, where emotion is not fashionable, Chopin endures. His music is the universal language of human communication. When I play Chopin I know I speak directly to the hearts of people!

Ernest Hutcheson, in his The Literature of the Piano, has this to say: Chopin's greatest distinction, the quality in which he outpointed all others, lay undoubtedly in the astonishing originality and appropriateness of his writing for the piano. He divined the soul of the instrument, and his every phrase, technical pattern, and ornament sounds inevitably proper to the chosen medium. ... The utter originality of Chopin's genius has never been questioned. He had no predecessor and no successor. ... Chopin came and departed like a comet from remote space.


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