Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician - Volume 1

Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician - Volume 1

FREDERICK CHOPIN AS A MAN AND MUSICIAN - VOLUME 1 FREDERICK NIECKS Third Edition (1902) TABLE OF CONTENTS PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION (1888) PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION (1890) PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION (1902) PROEM: POLAND AND THE POLES CHAPTERS I-XIX PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION While the novelist has absolute freedom to follow his artistic instinct and intelligence the biographer is fettered by the subject-matter with which he proposes to deal. The former may hopefully pursue an ideal the latter must rest satisfied with a compromise between the desirable and the necessary. No doubt it is possible to thoroughly digest all the requisite material and then present it in a perfect beautiful form. But this can only be done at a terrible loss at a sacrifice of truth and trustworthiness. My guiding principle has been to place before the reader the facts collected by me as well as the conclusions at which I arrived. This will enable him to see the subject in all its bearings with all its pros and cons and to draw his own conclusions should mine not obtain his approval. Unless an author proceeds in this way the reader never knows how far he may trust him how far the evidence justifies his judgment. For-- not to speak of cheats and fools--the best informed are apt to make assertions unsupported or insufficiently supported by facts and the wisest cannot help seeing things through the coloured spectacles of their individuality. The foregoing remarks are intended to explain my method not to excuse carelessness of literary workmanship. Whatever the defects of the present volumes may be--and no doubt they are both great and many--I have laboured to the full extent of my humble abilities to group and present my material perspicuously and to avoid diffuseness and rhapsody those besetting sins of writers on music. The first work of some length having Chopin for its subject was Liszt's "Frederic Chopin" which after appearing in 1851 in the Paris journal "La France musicale" came out in book-form still in French in 1852 (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Hartel.--Translated into English by M. W. Cook and published by William Reeves London 1877). George Sand describes it as "un peu exuberant de style mais rempli de bonnes choses et de tres-belles pages." These words however do in no way justice to the book: for on the one hand the style is excessively and not merely a little exuberant; and on the other hand the "good things" and "beautiful pages" amount to a psychological study of Chopin and an aesthetical study of his works which it is impossible to over- estimate. Still the book is no biography. It records few dates and events and these few are for the most part incorrect. When in 1878 the second edition of F. Chopin was passing through the press Liszt remarked to me:-- "I have been told that there are wrong dates and other mistakes in my book and that the dates and facts are correctly given in Karasowski's biography of Chopin [which had in the meantime been published]. But though I often thought of reading it I have not yet done so. I got my information from Paris friends on whom I believed I might depend. The Princess Wittgenstein [who then lived in Rome but in 1850 at Weimar and is said to have had a share in the production of the book] wished me to make some alterations in the new edition. I tried to please her but when she was still dissatisfied I told her to add and alter whatever she liked." From this statement it is clear that Liszt had not the stuff of a biographer in him. And whatever value we may put on the Princess Wittgenstein's additions and alterations they did not touch the vital faults of the work which as a French critic remarked was a symphonie funebre rather than a biography. The next book we have to notice M. A. Szulc's Polish Fryderyk Chopin i Utwory jego Muzyczne (Posen 1873) is little more than a chaotic unsifted collection of notices criticisms anecdotes &c. from Polish German and French books and magazines. In 1877 Moritz Karasowski a native of Warsaw and since 1864 a member of the Dresden orchestra published his Friedrich Chopin: sein Leben seine Werke und seine Briefe (Dresden: F. Ries.--Translated into English by E. Hill under the title Frederick Chopin: His Life Letters and Work" and published by William Reeves London in 1879). This was the first serious attempt at a biography of Chopin. The author reproduced in the book what had been brought to light in Polish magazines and other publications regarding Chopin's life by various countrymen of the composer among whom he himself was not the least notable. But the most valuable ingredients are no doubt the Chopin letters which the author obtained from the composer's relatives with whom he was acquainted. While gratefully acknowledging his achievements I must not omit to indicate his shortcomings--his unchecked partiality for and boundless admiration of his hero; his uncritical acceptance and fanciful embellishments of anecdotes and hearsays; and the extreme paucity of his information concerning the period of Chopin's life which begins with his settlement in Paris. In 1878 appeared a second edition of the work distinguished from the first by a few additions and many judicious omissions the original two volumes being reduced to one. But of more importance than the second German edition is the first Polish edition "Fryderyk Chopin: Zycie Listy Dziela two volumes (Warsaw: Gebethner and Wolff 1882) which contains a series of till then unpublished letters from Chopin to Fontana. Of Madame A. Audley's short and readable "Frederic Chopin sa vie et ses oeuvres" (Paris: E. Plon et Cie. 1880) I need only say that for the most part it follows Karasowski and where it does not is not always correct. Count Wodzinski's "Les trois Romans de Frederic Chopin" (Paris: Calmann Levy 1886)--according to the title treating only of the composer's love for Constantia Gladkowska Maria Wodzinska and George Sand but in reality having a wider scope--cannot be altogether ignored though it is more of the nature of a novel than of a biography. Mr Joseph Bennett who based his "Frederic Chopin" (one of Novello's Primers of Musical Biography) on Liszt's and Karasowski's works had in the parts dealing with Great Britain the advantage of notes by Mr. A.J. Hipkins who inspired also to some extent at least Mr. Hueffer in his essay Chopin ("Fortnightly Review" September 1877; and reprinted in "Musical Studies"--Edinburgh: A. & C. Black 1880). This ends the list of biographies with any claims to originality. There are however many interesting contributions to a biography of Chopin to be found in works of various kinds. These shall be mentioned in the course of my narrative; here I will point out only the two most important ones--namely George Sand's "Histoire de ma Vie" first published in the Paris newspaper "La Presse" (1854) and subsequently in book-form; and her six volumes of "Correspondance" 1812-1876 (Paris: Calmann Levy 1882-1884). My researches had for their object the whole life of Chopin and his historical political artistical social and personal surroundings but they were chiefly directed to the least known and most interesting period of his career--his life in France and his visits to Germany and Great Britain. My chief sources of information are divisible into two classes--newspapers magazines pamphlets correspondences and books; and conversations I held with and letters I received from Chopin's pupils friends and acquaintances. Of his pupils my warmest thanks are due to Madame Dubois (nee Camille O'Meara) Madame Rubio (nee Vera de Kologrivof) Mdlle. Gavard Madame Streicher (nee Friederike Muller) Adolph Gutmann M. Georges Mathias Brinley Richards and Lindsay Sloper; of friends and acquaintances to Liszt Ferdinand Hiller Franchomme Charles Valentin Alkan Stephen Heller Edouard Wolff Mr. Charles Halle Mr. G. A. Osborne T. Kwiatkowski Prof. A. Chodzko M. Leonard Niedzwiecki (gallice Nedvetsky) Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt Mr. A. J. Hipkins and Dr. and Mrs. Lyschinski. I am likewise greatly indebted to Messrs. Breitkopf and Hartel Karl Gurckhaus (the late proprietor of the firm of Friedrich Kistner) Julius Schuberth Friedrich Hofmeister Edwin Ashdown Richault & Cie and others for information in connection with the publication of Chopin's works. It is impossible to enumerate all my obligations--many of my informants and many furtherers of my labours will be mentioned in the body of the book; many however and by no means the least helpful will remain unnamed. To all of them I offer the assurance of my deep-felt gratitude. Not a few of my kind helpers alas! are no longer among the living; more than ten years have gone by since I began my researches and during that time Death has been reaping a rich harvest. The Chopin letters will no doubt be regarded as a special feature of the present biography. They may I think be called numerous if we consider the master's dislike to letter-writing. Ferdinand Hiller--whose almost unique collection of letters addressed to him by his famous friends in art and literature is now and will be for years to come under lock and key among the municipal archives at Cologne--allowed me to copy two letters by Chopin one of them written conjointly with Liszt. Franchomme too granted me the privilege of copying his friend's epistolary communications. Besides a number of letters that have here and there been published I include further a translation of Chopin's letters to Fontana which in Karasowski's book (i.e. the Polish edition) lose much of their value owing to his inability to assign approximately correct dates to them. The space which I give to George Sand is I think justified by the part she plays in the life of Chopin. To meet the objections of those who may regard my opinion of her as too harsh I will confess that I entered upon the study of her character with the impression that she had suffered much undeserved abuse and that it would be incumbent upon a Chopin biographer to defend her against his predecessors and the friends of the composer. How entirely I changed my mind the sequel will show. In conclusion a few hints as to the pronunciation of Polish words which otherwise might puzzle the reader uninitiated in the mysteries of that rarely-learned language. Aiming more at simplicity than at accuracy one may say that the vowels are pronounced somewhat like this: a as in "arm" aL like the nasal French "on" e as in "tell" e/ with an approach to the French "e/" (or to the German "u [umlaut]" and "o [umlaut]") eL like the nasal French "in" i as in "pick" o as in "not" o/ with an approach to the French "ou" u like the French ou and y with an approach to the German "i" and "u." The following consonants are pronounced as in English: b d f g (always hard) h k I m n p s t and z. The following single and double consonants differ from the English pronunciation: c like "ts" c/ softer than c j like "y" l/ like "ll" with the tongue pressed against the upper row of teeth n/ like "ny" (i.e. n softened by i) r sharper than in English w like "v" z/ softer than z z. and rz like the French "j" ch like the German guttural "ch" in "lachen" (similar to "ch" in the Scotch "loch") cz like "ch" in "cherry" and sz like "sh" in "sharp." Mr. W. R. Morfill ("A Simplified Grammar of the Polish Language") elucidates the combination szcz frequently to be met with by the English expression "smasht china" where the italicised letters give the pronunciation. Lastly family names terminating in take a instead of i when applied to women. April 1888. PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION. The second edition differs from the first by little more than the correction of some misprints and a few additions. These latter are to be found among the Appendices. The principal addition consists of interesting communications from Madame Peruzzi a friend of Chopin's still living at Florence. Next in importance come Madame Schumann's diary notes bearing on Chopin's first visit to Leipzig. The remaining additions concern early Polish music the first performances of Chopin's works at the Leipzig Gewandhaus his visit to Marienbad (remarks by Rebecca Dirichlet) the tempo rubato and his portraits. To the names of Chopin's friends and acquaintances to whom I am indebted for valuable assistance those of Madame Peruzzi and Madame Schumann have therefore to be added. My apologies as well as my thanks are due to Mr. Felix Moscheles who kindly permitted a fac-simile to be made from a manuscript in his possession a kindness that ought to have been acknowledged in the first edition. I am glad that a second edition affords me an opportunity to repair this much regretted omission. The manuscript in question is an "Etude" which Chopin wrote for the "Methode des Methodes de Piano" by F. J. Fetis and I. Moscheles the father of Mr. Felix Moscheles. This concludes what I have to say about the second edition but I cannot lay down the pen without expressing my gratitude to critics and public for the exceedingly favourable reception they have given to my book. October 1890. PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION. BESIDES minor corrections the present edition contains the correction of the day and year of Frederick Francis Chopin's birth which have been discovered since the publication of the second edition of this work. According to the baptismal entry in the register of the Brochow parish church he who became the great pianist and immortal composer was born on February 22 1810. This date has been generally accepted in Poland and is to be found on the medal struck on the occasion of the semi- centenary celebration of the master's death. Owing to a misreading of musicus for magnificus in the published copy of the document its trustworthiness has been doubted elsewhere but I believe without sufficient cause. The strongest argument that could be urged against the acceptance of the date would be the long interval between birth and baptism which did not take place till late in April and the consequent possibility of an error in the registration. This however could only affect the day and perhaps the month not the year. It is certainly a very curious circumstance that Fontana a friend of Chopin's in his youth and manhood Karasowski at least an acquaintance if not an intimate friend of the family (from whom he derived much information) Fetis a contemporary lexicographer and apparently Chopin's family and even Chopin himself did not know the date of the latter's birth. Where the character of persons and works of art are concerned nothing is more natural than differences of opinion. Bias and inequality of knowledge sufficiently account for them. For my reading of the character of George Sand I have been held up as a monster of moral depravity; for my daring to question the exactitude of Liszt's biographical facts I have been severely sermonised; for my inability to regard Chopin as one of the great composers of songs and continue uninterruptedly in a state of ecstatic admiration I have been told that the publication of my biography of the master is a much to be deplored calamity. Of course the moral monster and author of the calamity cannot pretend to be an unbiassed judge in the case; but it seems to him that there may be some exaggeration and perhaps even some misconception in these accusations. As to George Sand I have not merely made assertions but have earnestly laboured to prove the conclusions at which I reluctantly arrived. Are George Sand's pretentions to self- sacrificing saintliness and to purely maternal feelings for Musset Chopin and others to be accepted in spite of the fairy- tale nature of her "Histoire" and the misrepresentations of her "Lettres d'un Voyageur" and her novels "Elle et lui" and "Lucrezia Floriani"; in spite of the adverse indirect testimony of some of her other novels and the adverse direct testimony of her "Correspondance"; and in spite of the experiences and firm beliefs of her friends Liszt included? Let us not overlook that charitableness towards George Sand implies uncharitableness towards Chopin place. Need I say anything on the extraordinary charge made against me--namely that in some cases I have preferred the testimony of less famous men to that of Liszt? Are genius greatness and fame the measures of trustworthiness? As to Chopin the composer of songs the case is very simple. His pianoforte pieces are original tone-poems of exquisite beauty; his songs though always acceptable and sometimes charming are not. We should know nothing of them and the composer if of his works they alone had been published. In not publishing them himself Chopin gave us his own opinion an opinion confirmed by the singers in rarely performing them and by the public in little caring for them. In short Chopin's songs add nothing to his fame. To mention them in one breath with those of Schubert and Schumann or even with those of Robert Franz and Adolf Jensen is the act of an hero-worshipping enthusiast not of a discriminating critic. On two points often commented upon by critics I feel regret although not repentance--namely on any "anecdotic iconoclasm" where fact refuted fancy and on my abstention from pronouncing judgments where the evidence was inconclusive. But how can a conscientious biographer help this ungraciousness and inaccommodativeness? Is it not his duty to tell the truth and nothing but the truth in order that his subject may stand out unobstructed and shine forth unclouded? In conclusion two instances of careless reading. One critic after attributing a remark of Chopin's to me exclaims: "The author is fond of such violent jumps to conclusions." And an author most benevolently inclined towards me enjoyed the humour of my first "literally ratting" George Sand and then saying that I "abstained from pronouncing judgment because the complete evidence did not warrant my doing so." The former (in vol. i.) had to do with George Sand's character; the latter (in vol. ii.) with the moral aspect of her connection with Chopin. An enumeration of the more notable books dealing with Chopin published after the issue of the earlier editions of the present book will form an appropriate coda to this preface--"Frederic Francois Chopin" by Charles Willeby; "Chopin and Other Musical Essays" by Henry T. Finck; "Studies in Modern Music" (containing an essay on Chopin) by W. H. Hadow; "Chopin's Greater Works" by Jean Kleczynski translated by Natalie Janotha; and "Chopin: the Man and his Music" by James Huneker. Edinburgh February 1902. PROEM. POLAND AND THE POLES. THE works of no composer of equal importance bear so striking a national impress as those of Chopin. It would however be an error to attribute this simply and solely to the superior force of the Polish musician's patriotism. The same force of patriotism in an Italian Frenchman German or Englishman would not have produced a similar result. Characteristics such as distinguish Chopin's music presuppose a nation as peculiarly endowed constituted situated and conditioned as the Polish--a nation with a history as brilliant and dark as fair and hideous as romantic and tragic. The peculiarities of the peoples of western Europe have been considerably modified if not entirely levelled by centuries of international intercourse; the peoples of the eastern part of the Continent on the other hand have until recent times kept theirs almost intact foreign influences penetrating to no depth affecting indeed no more than the aristocratic few and them only superficially. At any rate the Slavonic races have not been moulded by the Germanic and Romanic races as these latter have moulded each other: east and west remain still apart--strangers if not enemies. Seeing how deeply rooted Chopin's music is in the national soil and considering how little is generally known about Poland and the Poles the necessity of paying in this case more attention to the land of the artist's birth and the people to which he belongs than is usually done in biographies of artists will be admitted by all who wish to understand fully and appreciate rightly the poet- musician and his works. But while taking note of what is of national origin in Chopin's music we must be careful not to ascribe to this origin too much. Indeed the fact that the personal individuality of Chopin is as markedly differentiated as exclusively self-contained as the national individuality of Poland is oftener overlooked than the master's national descent and its significance with regard to his artistic production. And now having made the reader acquainted with the raison d'etre of this proem I shall plunge without further preliminaries in medias res. The palmy days of Poland came to an end soon after the extinction of the dynasty of the Jagellons in 1572. So early as 1661 King John Casimir warned the nobles whose insubordination and want of solidity whose love of outside glitter and tumult he deplored that unless they remedied the existing evils reformed their pretended free elections and renounced their personal privileges the noble kingdom would become the prey of other nations. Nor was this the first warning. The Jesuit Peter Skarga (1536--1612) an indefatigable denunciator of the vices of the ruling classes told them in 1605 that their dissensions would bring them under the yoke of those who hated them deprive them of king and country drive them into exile and make them despised by those who formerly feared and respected them. But these warnings remained unheeded and the prophecies were fulfilled to the letter. Elective kingship pacta conventa [Footnote: Terms which a candidate for the throne had to subscribe on his election. They were of course dictated by the electors--i.e. by the selfish interest of one class the ...