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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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.