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Frederic Chopin: Profiles of the Man and the…

Frederic Chopin: Profiles of the Man and the Musician (1966)

by Alan Walker

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Frederic Chopin:
Profiles of the Man and the Musician

Edited by Alan Walker

Barrie & Jenkins, Paperback, 1979.

8vo. [xviii]+332 pp. Preface to the First (October, 1965) and the Second (May, 1978) Edition by the editor. Alphabetical and Chronological Catalogues of Works [pp. 281-299]. Register of Persons [pp. 301-317].

First published, 1966.
Reprinted with new Register of Persons, 1979.


Editorial Note
Notes on Contributors

Arthur Hedley
Chopin: The Man

Arthur Hutchings
The Historical Background

Alan Rawsthorne
Ballades, Fantasy and Scherzos

Paul Hamburger
Mazurkas, Waltzes, Polonaises

Robert Collet
Studies, Preludes, Impromptus

Peter Gould
Concertos and Sonatas

Lennox Berkeley
Nocturnes, Berceuse, Barcarolle

Bernard Jacobson
The Songs

Humphrey Searle
Miscellaneous Works

Alan Walker
Chopin and Musical Structure: an analytical approach

Paul Badura-Skoda
Chopin's Influence

A Biographical Summary
General Catalogue of Chopin's Works
Chronological Table of Chopin's Works
Register of Persons
Index of Music Examples
General Index


Since my main stimulus to acquire this book was the completely fascinating experience with the similar volume about Liszt edited by Alan Walker, it is only fair to say that the Chopin counterpart did not live up to the high expectations I had. On the whole, the essays here are far more technical and much less illuminating about Chopin and his music. Whether this is due to the fact that Chopin is by definition a more abstract and less controversial a subject than Liszt, or simply this set of contributors is inferior, is debatable. But perhaps it is not a coincidence that, apart from Alan Walker himself, the best essays are those by the only two writers (Arthur Hedley and Humphrey Searle) who also were among the group of Lisztians.

Of course I have to make it clear in the beginning that all my comments refer only to the non-technical parts of the book - and these are firmly in the minority. As made quite clear by the editor too, in his beautiful preface, this is a book written, and to be read, by musicians. Chopin's fairly small oeuvre has given the opportunity of discussing virtually everything he composed. In most cases these are incomprehensible for the lay reader. Being lamentably ignorant of musical theory and notation, I have to restrict myself only to what I can understand. An accomplished pianist would certainly profit infinitely more from these pages.

As far as Alan Walker is concerned, apart perhaps from the choice of contributors, his editorial work is of the usual supremely high quality. I simply love this man's writing: it is marvellously well-structured and meaningful, yet seldom dry and virtually never obscure. Mr Walker's preface is a minor masterpiece. He explains with his usual candour that his aim was to collect here writers and musicians whose starting point is their positive reaction to Chopin's music and personality. The impartial writer, Mr Walker tells us with delicious bluntness, is "the enemy to us all." You cannot be impartial about music: you either like it or you don't. And if the latter is the case, you have no business writing about it. This is Alan Walker's editorial credo, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

Apart from many helpful footnotes with cross references or alternative opinions - like every great editor, this one not only tolerates difference of opinion, but he encourages it - Mr Walker has written one absorbing, if severely technical, essay and, for the Second Edition, he has supplied a spellbinding Register of Persons.

Just like there are pianists who can play even the C major scale in a unique way, so are there writers who make anything, not just worth reading, but absolutely compelling as well. If you contemplate acquiring this book, by all means do get the Second Edition; otherwise you would be deprived of this most delightful Register of Persons. It is so rich in stimulating content that I cannot resist addressing a number of points. In a way, for me as a layman, this is the most fascinating part of the book. Here are some salient points that made me laugh or think.

Never one to mince words, Alan Walker doesn't spare the few among Chopin's pupils who later came to regard themselves rather grandly as "authorities" on everything connected with the Polish composer. It is rather unfortunate that those few among Chopin's pupils who had any talent at all - for the great majority were extremely talentless young ladies* - should have remained in history as chief sources of misconceptions. Adolphe Gutmann (1819-82) and Carl Mikuli (1821-97) are the most spectacular examples in this category. The latter, indeed, was the one who first launched the now famous, and perplexing according to Mr Walker, description of Chopin's rubato: "the left hand kept strict time, no matter how free the melody of arabesques of the right." The editor makes no bones that these fellows are no longer regarded as reliable sources about Chopin and the scholar "moves cautiously" in their company.

Speaking of contemporary sources, the entry for one Moritz Karasowski (1823-92) makes a most charming read. For this was, apparently, Chopin's first biographer. (Liszt's book was published earlier, but it is so unsuccessful an attempt, that to describe it as a biography would be very misleading.) The remarkable thing about Karasowksi's Life of Frederic Chopin (1879) is that he had an unrestricted access to Chopin's personal correspondence. Unfortunately his work was interrupted by the Polish insurrection in 1863. He handed the priceless documents back to the family with the work of transcription only half finished and, soon afterwards and together with lots of Chopin relics, these were destroyed when the house of one of Chopin's sisters was ransacked. Thus nowadays Karasowksi is the source of many things that can no longer be verified independently and the scholar is wise to be wary in this case, too.

Speaking of biographical conundrums as regards Chopin, Delfina Potocka (1807-77) must be mentioned; not for nothing does she enjoy one of the longest entries in the Register. This is as good as a novel. Apparently somewhere in the middle of the last century, after the Second World War, a sensational bunch of love letters from Chopin to Delfina, and in Polish at that, came to light and suggested that their relationship was a passionate love affair, rather than the timid friendship which was the official version at the time. However, these letters border on the pornographic and present Chopin in highly uncharacteristic light. After quite a scandal for years, including a special conference of the Chopin Institute in Warsaw in 1961, dedicated entirely to the "Chopin-Potocka" letters, it now seems more probable that these notorious documents were complete forgeries, most probably by one Mme Pauline Czernicka, a mentally disturbed creature who possessed the typescript of the letters (the originals having conveniently disappeared without a trace) - and who celebrated the 100th anniversary from Chopin's death by committing suicide.

But it is not all that gloomy. One of the most amusing entries is that about the notoriously malicious German critic Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860), the fellow who's supposed to have given Beethoven's Op. 27 No. 2 the eternal nickname "Moonlight". At one time Ludwig went straight to the prison, for three months, having carried his satire of an eminent diplomat a little too far. As far as Chopin was concerned, Rellstab was hardly more merciful, at least early in his career. He advised sarcastically pianists not to practise the Studies Op. 10 without a surgeon standing by, and the Nocturnes Op. 9 he described as John Field in a "distorting concave mirror". Rellstab even had the audacity to publish a "reply" to such rubbish that purported to be from Chopin himself! Finally, however, Rellstab recognised Chopin's genius and stopped with the nonsense.

Almost as amusing is Mr Walker's discussion of Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855). As expected, the editor dismisses the numerous conjectures which of his poems inspired which of Chopin's ballades as highly improbable. But the amazing thing is that Mickiewicz at one time abandoned poetry for politics, until he finally sunk into "morbid mysticism, preached a visionary millennium, and lost touch with political reality." By far the most extraordinary thing about Poland's arguably greatest national poet, however, is that he must have been a man of incredibly limited insight into the others. While living in Paris he chastised Chopin for not writing a national opera! Such colossal misunderstanding, even from a contemporary point of view, is difficult to understand. Chopin's curt response can't be bettered: "Leave me to my piano, c'est mon affaire."

The most important thing about this stupendous Register of Persons is that it gives lots of valuable information, in Alan Walker's concise style, about Chopin's relationships with every person of some importance in his life. Examples are numerous. The great French tenor Adolphe Nouritt, a witty and elegant man with classical education, rather unusual combination for a stage actor, was heard by Chopin a number of times in the opera - until the poor fellow committed a suicide in Naples, aged 37. The rather complicated relationships of Chopin with Schumann and, above all, with George Sand are also succinctly examined, from the former's famous review "Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!" which lauched Chopin in 1831 to the final break with the authoress, after series of scandals, in 1847, only two years before Chopin's tragically untimely death at 39. Chopin's friendships with Liszt and Delacroix, strained in the first case and warm in the second, also profit from Mr Walker's erudition and eloquence. So, too, does the entry of Karl Filtsch, Chopin's only outstanding pupil who died but 15 years old, his promise unfulfilled. Liszt's remark, who at the time was making his now legendary career as a virtuoso, that when this young man started touring he would "shut the shop" is well-known, but there is another anecdote here which, if true, shows that Karl's precocity must have been quite extraordinary:

After one particularly telling performance of the Nocturne, [in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1] Karl was asked 'Why don't you play it the same way as Chopin?' To which he replied: 'I can't play with someone else's feelings.' Even Chopin, according to Joseph Filtsch, [Karl's brother] was stupefied by this bold and original answer.

Chopin's two more youthful, and less famous, love affairs with Maria Wodzinska (1819-96) and Constantia Gladkowska (1810-89) also contain a number of fascinating details, some of them widely known, others worth knowing but rather obscure. One may be tempted to think that there was some curse over Chopin and the early objects to his passion. To Maria he was indeed even engaged, but for some still unclear reason - his declining health or their aristocratic conceit, or both perhaps - the great composer was gently dumped. Maria married twice, but her first marriage ended with a divorce and her second one with the death of her husband - from consumption. That Maria was to Chopin far more than a passing flirtation speaks the heartrending fact that he kept all her letters. They were found only after his death, packed together and inscribed "My grief".

As for Constantia, that happened back in Warsaw. Frederic was 19 and idolized her virtuously from a distance. The rest is best left in Alan Walker's words:

The one-sided relationship quietly expired after Chopin left Poland later that year [1829]. Before his departure Constantia wrote in his album: 'Remember! Never forget that we in Poland love you... in foreign lands they may appreciate you and reward you better, but they cannot love you more.' Years later Chopin took his pencil and added: 'Oh yes they can!'

In later years Constantia became blind. When, as an elderly woman, Karasowski's
Life of Chopin (1877) was read to her she was astonished to hear how much she had meant to the young composer.

Alan Walker's essay plays with many a concept which he introduced in his book A Study in Musical Analysis (1962). Many of these notions are unusually thought-provoking: background unity as a dividing line between masterpiece and mediocrity; the art of composition as the art of diversification of one initial idea; the role of the musical unconscious in the process of composing; the difference between description and analysis; things like that. As usual with Mr Walker, he doesn't bother with trifles, but rather goes directly to the fundamental issues - and he is extremely stirring. Unfortunately, his essay is one of those most richly decorated with musical examples; no fewer than 47 of them, in fact. Nevertheless, it contains quite a few points of interest even for musically ignorant folk. For my part, I have found Mr Walker's musings over Chopin's Second and Third Sonatas rather provocative, not the least because both works represent quite a challenge for anybody searching for unity. Let's have a look at them. (Chopin's First Sonata, a juvenile attempt to please his teacher, Joseph Elsner, is today of historical interest only.)

When somebody starts telling me that Chopin was the salon composer par excellence, who composed nothing but perfumed and saccharine miniatures, I send the fellow listening to his Second Sonata, Op. 35. Now that's a shattering work if there ever was one! From the opening Grave (''grave'' that is, only pronounced differently) until the perplexing, to say the least, finale. In between there is a Mephistophelean Scherzo worthy of Liszt's demonic pen and one of the most famous Funeral Marches ever composed. All of the first three parts do contain tender passages of sublime beauty, entirely Chopinesque in character, yet they all finally dissolve into some of the darkest and most violent music ever produced by human mind. Mr Walker was well aware that searching for unity in this sonata is a formidable challenge, going very much against history:

Finished in 1839, this noble structure was well in advance of its time. It is interesting how many musicians, some of them eminent, failed at first to comprehend it fully. So extreme are its tension-generating contrasts that for long the sonata was considered not to hang together. Schumann observed that Chopin here 'bound together four of his maddest children'. He considered that the Funeral March (composed two years before the other movements) did not belong to the Sonata at all. Sir Henry Hadow went even further. According to him, the last two movements have nothing whatsoever to do with the first two. Mendelssohn was bewildered by the finale.

But Mr Walker is neither bewildered by the finale nor confused by the earlier separate composition of the Funeral March. As regards the latter, one of Mr Walker's most interesting observations - if quite a bit beyond my understanding - is that the opening motif is actually that of the first movement's first subject in strict retrograde motion**. From the lay point of view, I find most illuminating Mr Walker's literal translation of the elusive "Doppio Movimento" in the tempo indication of the first movement (it simply means "double the speed") and, above all, his appreciation of performances that flatly contradict Chopin's original text. Now this is the stuff musical critics should be made of:

Pianists: it was Anton Rubinstein who began the tradition of conceiving this movement as the arrival and departure of funeral cortege, building up the music from pianissimo to fortissimo and back again. Busoni followed this interpretation. So, too, did Rachmaninoff, whose recording of the sonata made this approach famous. While it is in flat contradiction of Chopin's own dynamic markings, and while purists consequently condemn it, I personally admit to a secret liking for it. I have not forgotten that this is the age of musicology and that the urtext is the thing. But it is high time that our musicologists began to discriminate between textual departures that are musical and those which are not. I have yet to meet the masterpiece that can only be played in one particular way.

(Isn't there something perverse about musicology? Trying to turn music, an art after all, into science. In other words, trying to rob it from its most precious asset: subjectivity. Never mind.)

Of course the chief problem of Mr Walker when dealing with background unity in Chopin's Second Sonata is the finale. Now how does one explain that? Even the fastest tempi in the first three parts can't make them shorter than 5-6 minutes each, at least. But even the slowest tempi can't extend the finale over one and a half minute. No themes. No development. No visible structure of any kind. The finale, in fact, reminds one of a prelude, rather than of a sonata movement. Indeed, the striking similarity with the 14th prelude from Chopin's Op. 28 has often been remarked upon; it is much too obvious to be coincidental and is quite audible even for the lay ears. It's a fact that both works were composed at more or less the same time. Could it be that it was the disastrous Majorca holiday, where Chopin experienced perhaps the first of many total collapses of his health that sent him hallucinating on the border between life and death, which inspired the composition of such singularly mirthless music as the Second Sonata? Perhaps. However all that may be, Mr Walker's passage on the notorious finale is worth quoting:

The finale is without precedent in the entire literature of the keyboard. It is futuristically athematic from beginning to end - no wonder Mendelssohn disliked it - and its continuous whirl of stark-sounding octaves reminded Anton Rubinstein of 'night winds sweeping over church-yard graves.'

Harmonically, the movement is poised on the brink of atonality - an astonishing achievement for a 29-year-old in 1839. [...] Passages such as this reveal Chopin as one of the 'displaced persons' of musical history - a twentieth-century composer forced by a freak of nature to wander through the nineteenth.

Interestingly enough, Mr Walker never mentions Chopin's own devastating description that the part is just two gossiping hands. My own and very lame "explanation" of this perplexing one-minute-or-so long whirlwind of notes is that I always feel so emotionally drained, so completely exhausted, after the first three parts, that any other finale would just sound out of place.

Chopin's Third Sonata is, at first glance, more unified a work. Yet it contains "at least ten sharply differentiated themes which a lesser composer might well have failed to integrate." Since I have never found Chopin's Third Sonata especially satisfying, I am truly sorry that I am completely unable to understand Mr Walker's technical analysis here. Among his most provocative historical nuances there is one arresting question: why B minor? Not a single piano sonata by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven or Schubert shares this tonality. So why did Chopin choose it? This even Alan Walker could not answer with any acceptable degree of certainty, but he is convinced that the subject why some keys are "far less composer-prone" might make a fascinating historical study, even in "our own keyless age".

From the contributions of the other contributors, the more general essays are of particular interest, especially because some of them are written by such fine writers as Arthur Hedley and Humphrey Searle.

Arthur Hedley (d. 1970) is boldly described in the Notes on Contributors as "leading Chopin authority", apparently having made a lifelong study of his oeuvre in the course of which he had acquired quite a collection of original manuscripts. He has contributed a fine biographical portrait here that justifies his formidable reputation. Mr Hedley's description of Chopin as a "bafflingly complex individual" reminds me of Harold Schonberg's charming notion that there was "something feline in Chopin".

In a nutshell, Mr Hedley makes an excellent case that Chopin's music, with all its passion and drama, reflects the man quite accurately***. This is to be expected, of course, but it is really nice to see some arguments in favour of it, meanwhile also destroying quite a few myths about the great Polish composer. Thus Chopin was far from the effeminate dandy in George Sand's pocket, as we are often asked to believe. In fact, Chopin had quite a talent to have his own way, including with George, and he could be maliciously sarcastic on occasion. He was a great mimic and not nearly such a prude as often described. The notorious dandy status, one of the notions most often associated with Chopin and one of the most misunderstood ones, was something far more than mere exterior elegance. In fact, Mr Hedley argues convincingly, this was essentially a striving for perfection in everything: clothes, manners, speech, thinking, playing, composing. Nor, surprisingly perhaps, was Chopin such a fierce nationalist, more Polish than the Polish, as sometimes suggested, though his patriotism was no doubt great. In short, extraordinary and enigmatic man, coming to life most vividly in his incomparable music.

Part of Mr Hedley's essay towards the end is subtitled "The Interpretation of Chopin" and it deals with some clues about the interpretation of Chopin's works as based on his personality, or at least what is known about it. To Mr Hedley's credit, he condemns harshly the once popular practice of changing Chopin's original texts in a most mindless manner, to say nothing of playing his works in the coy, effeminate and demure way once fashionable. Mr Hedley mentions several remarkable examples of omitted or added bars, thickened chords, changed harmonies and other monstrosities which even famous pianists, such as de Pachman, Hoffman or Moisewitsch, were not averse to. Mr Hedley is rather amusing about the motives of the first of these gentlemen: "More nice, more melodious, you know", cheerfully explained Pachmann. The author, in short, argues that since Chopin's original texts were results of painstaking labour, such promiscuous editing is to be condemned.

So, for that matter, are the often preposterous titles given to many a Chopin's work by presumptuous publishers and who not. It should never be forgotten that all those ''Heroic'' polonaises, ''Brilliant'' waltzes, ''Revolutionary'' and ''Winter Wind'' studies, ''Raindrop'' preludes, etc. were never named by Chopin. In fact, such inanity was condemned by him. Fortunately Frederic was dead at the time when Karl Tausig himself, Liszt's most outstanding pupil, argued that the Barcarolle cannot be anything else but a duet for two lovers on a gondolla with a kiss at bar 78! The stupefyingly moronic ''programs'' for the preludes propagated by Hans von Bülow, famous for his intellectual approach to great music, are mercifully omitted by Mr Hedley.

It is definitely a sad thing that such a fine writer as the eminent Lisztian Humphrey Searle has been given the most ungrateful chapter, dealing in his excellent style only with minor and, for the most part, quite forgotten compositions. But there is one important exception: Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op. 22, one of the finest examples of Chopin's early virtuosity, and its preceding "Andante Spianato", composed but a few years later, yet by the mature Chopin already. Very much to Mr Searle's credit he defends the piece, clearly stating that many critics have been "unduly harsh to it". (Indeed, even Mr Hedley allows himself some disparaging remarks about this wonderfully effective work.) I am always getting annoyed when this piece is contemptuously dismissed as "early Chopin", or even "salon music". That the Brilliant polonaise doesn't quite have the scope and power of Chopin's later creations in the genre is true, but neither is it much inferior to them. And what of that haunting lyrical episode in the middle of the polonaise? This can easily stand comparison with anything by the mature Chopin.

Since Chopin's Op. 22 has a special place in my heart, I may be allowed one minor complaint about the book as regards different versions of this remarkable work. The Grande Polonaise was originally written for piano and orchestra (remember the final credits of Roman Polanski's The Pianist?), but on record a version for solo piano is much more often encountered. I was wondering if it was Chopin who made this version, or it was someone else who did it later, but I couldn't find any information about that in the book. It is true that the matter is not so important, since the orchestra in the original is quite reduced, but there are one or two stirring passages - like the transition between the Andante and Polonaise - which are "orchestrated" on the piano in a most effective way. Never mind.

Mr Hutchings' essay is the only one without any musical examples and I was looking very much forward to reading it. I was bitterly disappointed. Instead of perceptive analysis of the then young Romantic movement, and why not Chopin's mysterious aloofness to it as well, and of his wide circle of acquaintances in Paris among whom were names like Delacroix, Bellini and Liszt, instead all that and more Mr Hutchings' essay bogs down into describing the urban niceties of Vienna and Paris during Chopin's residence there. It is very interesting, to be sure, but I can't help feeling that in relation to Chopin there are far more fascinating historical details to dwell upon. Just about the most compelling thing in Mr Hutchings' essays is a fairly extensive discussion about Chopin's piano preferences in terms of manufacturers. Not a particularly exhilarating subject, I'm afraid.

Paul Badura-Skoda is the only internationally renowned pianist among the writers. Sadly, his essay is severely technical and therefore intelligible for musicians only. I suppose it has some substance in it, as Mr Badura-Skoda explores Chopin's quite advanced harmonic language and how it might have influenced so un-Chopinesque composers such as Wagner, Bruckner and even Prokofieff.

The rest of the essays are all dedicated to detailed discussions of Chopin's works by genres. Their quality, from the lay point of view, is quite a mixed bag.

Mr Berkeley's essay, for instance, is a wonderful overview of Chopin's so often so grossly underestimated nocturnes. The method is, I think, the perfect one: opus by opus discussion, following Chopin's development in the genre in the contexts of both his life and his times. The essay makes a most enjoyable read, even though there is not much room for dramatic transformations: from his first published nocturnes, the three pieces in Op. 9, Chopin already was a mature master, far above John Field from whom he borrowed nothing more than the name and the very basic structure of these pieces (heavenly theme in the right hand, gentle accompaniment in the left one). Many of Mr Berkeley's points are subtle yet arresting. For instance, the impressive middle section in Op. 9 No. 3, so different from the first two pieces of the same opus (one of which, the famous Op. 9 No. 2, has in fact no middle section at all), foreshadows some of Chopin's most tempestuous music which he later used in the middle sections of several nocturnes, as if to bring us back to reality after wandering through Dreamland.

One of Mr Berkeley's most interesting historical touches is about my favourite nocturne, the one from the beginning of The Pianist, usually referred to as "Nocturne in C sharp minor, op. posth.", or "Lento con gran espressione". Amazingly, Chopin was but 20 when he composed the piece (1830) and it remained unpublished until long after his death (1875, 26 years after the consumption had sent Frederick to the grave). Even more amazingly, some later published versions show some strange deviations from what Chopin originally wrote: a variant with quotation from his Second Concerto, apparently prepared for his sister. This issue is also addressed by Mr Hedley in his essay, together with the thorny problem of the nine Chopin opuses (66-74) published posthumously by Fontana in 1855 and how much, if at all, edited nobody really knows.

Other essays use the same method also, but rather less successfully. Sad example is Mr Rawsthorne who had the awesome responsibility to deal with some of Chopin's most ambitious, most personal and most unique works. Alas, neither his overview nor the passages for the separate pieces are on par with Mr Berkeley's writing. On the whole, Mr Rawsthorne is given to long, very long in fact, descriptions which are fairly non-technical and can for the most part be followed even by the layman. I am sorry to say that I have found them highly un-illuminating.

The other chief method in such writings is the thematic one. This is employed by Mr Hamburger, for example, but the result is quite a mess. Accomplished pianists may, perhaps, find something interesting in his extensive technical dissections, but I was left completely at sea as to what Chopin achieved in the genres of the mazurka, the polonaise and the waltz. Too bad. I have many personal favourites among these.

Third possible method for writing this type of essay is a long historical introduction followed by chronological survey of the works in question. This stratagem is employed with moderate success by Mr Collet. For some obscure reason he insists on discussing every composer who wrote any preludes or etudes after Chopin, and he predictably ends with a pretty perfunctory result. In addition to dull chanting about the separate pieces, no fewer than 52 of them, and a considerable neglect of the impromptus, Mr Collet has the dubious distinction of one gross prejudice as well. In the beginning of his essay, despite the highly subjective nature of the matter which he clearly recognises, he insists that it may be "cogently argued" that the studies and preludes, as groups, are Chopin's most "permanently significant of all his works". As I see it, the most "cogent argument" in this case is the fact that these are the works that Mr Collet had to deal with.

To finish with the essays in this rather impressive volume, I have to mention one other prejudice, one that is subversively weaved into the main text and one that disturbs me much. This is the tendency of several writers for Liszt's bashing. Well, if anything, Chopin's greatness is certainly authentic enough not to need such childish upholding. I understand that this was first published in 1966, in a largely anti-Romantic (anti-Lisztian that is) climate, but what a difference with the volume Mr Walker edited only four years later! The greatest disappointment came from the most unexpected place: Mr Hedley, who, moreover, was a contributor to the Liszt volume as well. Speculating about Chopin's assuming, unconsciously, a social mask to protect his real and vulnerable self, Mr Hedley comes with this stupefying sentence:

In his study of Liszt, Ernest Newman has shown how Liszt consciously created for himself a mask, the 'Saint Francis' that met the public eye, under which was hidden a very different man.

It is nothing short of scandalous that as late as 1966, 32 years after it was first published, Newman's character assassination should be regarded as a "study". For my part, this questions very seriously Mr Hedley's integrity, to say nothing of his biographical portrait which, due to space limitations, presents mostly conclusions but very few pieces of any evidence. How am I to know that Mr Hedley didn't misrepresent Chopin as badly as Newman did Liszt? There are at least two reasons to believe that this is not the case: 1) Mr Hedley's attitude is balanced and critical, certainly, but on the whole very sympathetic as well; and 2) he was widely regarded at the time as the leading Chopin scholar, whereas Newman has never enjoyed anything like that - not in relation to Liszt at any rate; Wagner is another matter.

There are few other references to Liszt which are somewhat bafflingly disparaging, even though, I am pleased to say, none of them rely on Newman's invective or come close to his malice. Yet one of Mr Rawsthorne's arguments in favour of the perfect structure of Chopin's ballades is that Liszt's Legendes are badly constructed. With a very poor imitation of humour, Mr Rawsthorne proceeds to inform us what "seems to him" about the two Saint Francises, the one from Paola who walked on water and the one from Assisi who preached to the birds. The former lacks introduction, so "the holy man must have been half-way across the Straits of Messina before the piece began", and the latter has so long an introduction that "the birds, presumably, are preaching to Saint Francis, rather than the other way round". One wonders where such silliness came from.

(I don't even want to elaborate on Mr Collet's equally preposterous notion that if he had to compile a list of Liszt's "twenty-five most musically satisfying works", he would include only three of the Transcendental Studies, even though all of them are "fascinating pianistically" - a cold praise if I've ever heard one. Such passages are not just irrelevant but worse. They are stupid.)

The only other major fault of the book I can think of is that Chopin the Man is rather neglected in favour of Chopin the Musician. Mr Hedley's essays is obviously an exception and so, to a smaller degree, are the pieces by Messrs Walker, Searle, Hutchings and Berkeley. The rest of the contributors, however, often get obsessed with the music a trifle too much, apparently forgetting that it was composed by a most fascinating man. It must be mentioned that this was not one of the book's aims, as made clear by the editor in his preface. The music was supposed to be the most important thing, but not exclusively so. The end result, however, is somewhat different.

All in all, so far as I can read it, the book makes for a fascinating, if flawed, experience. By way of conclusion, few words about the additional materials. As eloquently testified by the already discussed Register of Persons, there are some precious gems here.

The Biographical Summary, written by Mr Hedley himself, is useful but a little too concise. There are entries for almost every year of Chopin's life, listing major events and compositions, but most of these would have been all the better for some extension.

The catalogues of works are quite priceless. Together with the Register of Persons and Mr Hedley's essay, they are probably the most compelling part for the lay reader. Both catalogues contain a wealth of information: opus numbers, years of composition and publication, dedications, Chopin's age at the time of composition, and of course numerous keys. The catalogues are quite comprehensive and, I suspect, very little if at all dated. There are not many things among the contents of modern budget price box sets that you won't be able to find here - in fact, the opposite is more likely. From Chopin's first polonaises, composed at the age of seven, all the way to his last Op. 65, the posthumous Opp. 66 to 74**** as published/edited by Julian Fontana and quite a number of "opusless" pieces, the catalogues have the fascination of a great map of the Ancient world, with all its endless wars and mighty civilisations.


* I am reminded of ''Impromptu'' (1991), a lovely movie about Chopin (Hugh Grant) and George Sand (Judy Davies) which combines the historical and the fanciful in a most ingenious way. One of the most memorable, and most hilarious, moments was a young lady playing for Chopin his own study Op. 10 No. 4 in an absolutely atrocious manner, with the great composer, rather stunned, uttering some platitudes afterwards. The chances are that this sad comedy is historically accurate.

** The inquisitive reader, especially if he is a trained musician, is well-advised to peruse thoughtfully Mr Walker's A Study in Musical Analysis for detailed explanations on 'O', 'I', 'R' and 'RI', namely Original, Inverted, Retrograde and Retrograde Inverted forms of a basic idea.

*** One cannot but appreciate Horowitz's memorable statement in an interview that on paper Chopin has never weighed 90 pounds. No matter how gentle because of his illness his playing may have been late in his life, Chopin's large scale works (ballades, scherzi, polonaises, sonatas) greatly benefit from robust, masculine and, as evident from Horowitz's recordings, even neurotic approach.

**** Among these posthumous opuses, which consist mostly of very early works, there are some pieces which are almost never performed or recorded, but there also are some which have acquired quite a popularity. A case in point is the marvellous Nocturne Op. 72 No. 1, beautifully described by Mr Berkeley who rightly wonders, as do I, that Chopin was but 17 years old when he penned this genuine masterpiece.

Another ultra-hyper-mega-superpopular Chopin composition among his posthumous opuses is the so called Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, composed in 1835 when - at the age of 25! - Chopin had already fully matured. The dazzling outer parts, the extremely beautiful middle one, and the unforgettable appearance of the main theme in the left hand towards the end do make one wondering why Chopin never publish it during his lifetime. Many writers, such as Mr Badura-Skoda, think that he was simply not satisfied with it. But that doesn't hold water: even later in his life Chopin did publish, and presumably was satisfied with, pieces greatly inferior to this lovely impromtpu (e.g. Alegro de Concert, Op. 46, one of the very few examples of ''salon music'' among Chopin's mature creations). In a footnote, Mr Walker frankly disagrees with Mr Badura-Skoda, supporting Mr Hedley's hypothesis that the piece was a gift to Baroness d'Este, its dedicatee, and thus it was inappropriate to publish it.

Appendix: On Chopin's Oeuvre

Chopin's oeuvre is one of the most unique in music history and, as perceptively remarked by Mr Hedley, a fine illustration of Goethe's famous aphorism that only within limitations is the true genius revealed. I know of no other composer who consciously limited himself so exclusively to a single instrument. That Chopin was perfectly right to do that speaks the astonishing proportion of his works which are still - and will no doubt remain until the end of our existence - in the standard repertoire.

I don't know if anybody has ever made such a study, but I wouldn't be surprised if, of all great composers, Chopin turned out to be the one with the highest percentage in the standard repertoire compared to his total output. Consider how many of his 74 opuses are not performed with great frequency, to say nothing of numerous recordings. Ten? Perhaps fifteen? Twenty at most! There is material for an interesting study here. But that will have to wait.

Using the thematic catalogue in the book, I list here Chopin's nearly complete works (except few pieces for two pianos) by genre, including posthumously published works without opus numbers; unless otherwise stated, all years are those of composition; keys are omitted unless strictly necessary for identification. I think such list amply testifies to both Chopin's unique dedication to the piano and his quite unprecedentedly high ratio of popular works. Please note that in this special case I use the adjective "popular" as synonymous of "great".

I. Works for Solo Piano
The separation to "large scale works" and "miniatures" is largely fictional and entirely for the sake of clarity. Also, we should keep in mind Alan Walker's wise words that smallness and shortness are not the same thing at all. In other words, a two-minute prelude may be just as great a masterpiece as a twenty-minutes sonata.

I. 1. Large scale works
4 Ballades (1835-42), Opp. 23, 38, 47, 52
4 Scherzi (1832-42), Opp. 20, 31, 39, 54
3 Sonatas (1828-44), Opp. 4, 35, 58
1 Fantasy (1841), Op. 49
1 Barcarolle (1845-46), Op. 60
16 Polonaises
- 10 with opus number (1825-46), Opp. 26(2), 40(2), 44, 53, 61 (Polonaise-Fantaisie), 71(3)
- 6 without opus number (1817-29): in G minor, B flat major, A flat major, G sharp minor, B flat minor, G flat major

I. 2. Miniatures
I. 2. 1. 27 Studies
- 12 Studies (1829-32), Op. 12
- 12 Studies (1832-36), Op. 25
- "Trois Nouvelles Etudes" (1839, no opus number)
I. 2. 2. 21 Nocturnes
- 19 with opus number (1827-46), Opp. 9(3), 15(3), 27(2), 32(2), 37(2), 48(2), 55(2), 62(2), 71(3).
- 2 without opus number: in C sharp minor (1830, Lento con gran espressione) and in C minor (1837)
I. 2. 3. 57 Mazurkas
[Few early versions of pieces later revised are omitted.]
- 49 with opus number (1824-49), Opp. 6(4), 7(5), 17(4), 24(4), 30(4), 33(4), 41(4), 50(3), 56(3), 59(3), 63(3), 67(4), 68(4)
- 8 without opus numbers (1820-40): in D major, G major (1826), B flat major, G major (1829), C major, A flat major, A minor (2 pieces, both 1840)
I. 2. 4. 26 Preludes
- 24 Preludes, Op. 28 (1836-39)
- Prelude in A flat major (1834, without opus number)
- Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45 (1841)
I. 2. 5. 20 Waltzes
- 13 with opus number (1829-47), Opp. 18, 34(3), 42, 64(3), 69(2), 70(3)
- 7 without opus number (1827-48): in A flat major, E flat major (1829-30), A minor, B major, E major, E flat major (1840 "Sostenuto"), E minor
I. 2. 6. Variations
- on Der Schweizerbub (German national air, 1826)
- on a theme of Paganini ("Souvenir de Paganini", 1829)
- on a theme by Herold, Op. 12 ("Ronde" from Ludovic, 1833)
- for the Hexameron (a set of six variations by different composers on the March from Bellini's Puritani di Scozia, 1837, minor contribution by Chopin)
I. 2. 7. Miscellaneous
- Andante Spianato (1834), Op. 22 [preceding the Grande Polonaise Brilliante for piano and orchestra]
- Allegro de Concert (1841), Op. 46
- Andantino in G minor, Op. 74 No. 2 (arrangement of Chopin's song "Spring")
- Berceuse (1844), Op. 57
- Bolero (1833), Op. 19
- Tarantella (1841), Op. 43
- Canon at the octave in F minor (1839, unpublished)
- Cantabile in B flat major (1834)
- Contredanse in G flat major (1827)
- 4 Rondos (1825-32), Opp. 1, 5 (a la Mazur), 16, 73
- Moderato in E major ("Albumleaf", 1843)
- Largo in E flat major (1837)
- 3 Ecossaises (1826), Op. 72 No. 3
- 3 Impromptus (1837-42), Opp. 29, 36, 51
- Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835), Op. 66
- Fugue in A minor (1841-42)
- Military March (1817)
- Funeral March (1827), Op. 72 No. 2

II. Works for Piano and Orchestra
- Concerto No. 1 in E minor (1830), Op. 11
- Concerto No. 2 in F minor (1829-30), Op. 21
- Grande Polonaise Brilliante (1830-31), Op. 22
- Variations on "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni (1827), Op. 2
- Grand Fantasia on Polish Airs (1828), Op. 13
- Great Concert Rondo Krakowiak (1828), Op. 14

III. Chamber Works
- 17 Polish Songs, Op. 74 (1829-45, published in 1857)
- 2 Songs (1830-40, published in 1910)
- Piano Trio (1828-29), Op. 8
- Polonaise for Piano and Cello (1829), Op. 3
- Introduction for Piano and Cello (1830, to the Polonaise above)
- Grand Duo for Piano and Cello on themes from Meyerbeer's Rober le Diable (1832)
- Sonata for Piano and Cello (1845-46), Op. 65 [the last opus number used by Chopin]
- Variations for Flute and Piano on Rossini's La Cenerentola (1824) ( )
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