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قراءة كتاب Chopin and Other Musical Essays

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Chopin and Other Musical Essays

Chopin and Other Musical Essays

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 2

art, is to be found in what, for want of a better term, may be called æsthetic Jumboism. When the late lamented Jumbo was in New York he attracted so much attention that his colleagues, although but little inferior in size, had "no show" whatever. Everybody crowded around Jumbo, stuffing him with bushels of oranges and apples, while the other elephants were entirely ignored. As elephants are intelligent animals, is it not probable that Pilot, the next in size to Jumbo, went mad and had to be shot because he was jealous of the exclusive attentions bestowed on his rival? In æsthetics, this Jumboism, this exaggerated desire for mammoth dimensions, seems to be a trait of the human mind which it is difficult to eradicate. It is a suggestive fact that the morbid, sham æstheticism which prevailed in England a few years ago, chose for its symbol the uncouth sunflower. And many who know that a sunflower is less beautiful and fragrant than a violet, will nevertheless, on visiting a picture gallery, give most of their attention to the large canvases, though the smaller ones may be infinitely more beautiful. It cannot be said that the critics of art or literature follow the popular disposition to measure genius with a yard-stick; but in music there seems to be a general tendency to do this. Liszt remarks, apropos, in his work on Chopin: "The value of the sketches made by Chopin's extremely delicate pencil has not yet been acknowledged and emphasized sufficiently. It has become customary in our days to regard as great composers only those who have written at least half a dozen operas, as many oratorios, and several symphonies."

Even Schumann, and Elsner, Chopin's teacher, seem to have been affected a little by this irrational way of looking at music. Schumann, in a complimentary notice of Chopin's nocturnes, expresses his regrets that the composer should confine himself so strictly to the pianoforte, whereas he might have influenced the development of music in all its branches. He adds, however, on second thought, that "to be a poet one need not have written ponderous volumes; one or two poems suffice to make a reputation, and Chopin has written such." Elsner who was unusually liberal in his views of art, and who discovered and valued his pupil's originality long before Schumann did, nevertheless bowed before the fetish of Jumboism in so far as to write to Chopin in Paris that he was anxious, before he departed this Vale of Tears, to hear an opera from his pen, both for his benefit, and for the glory of his country. Chopin took this admonition to heart sufficiently to ask a friend to prepare for him a libretto; but that is as far as the project ever went. Chopin must have felt instinctively that his individual style of miniature painting would be as ineffective on the operatic stage, where bold, al fresco painting is required, as his soft and dreamy playing would have been had he taken his piano from the parlor and placed it in a meadow.

Besides Chopin's abhorrence of musical warfare and his avoidance of the larger and more imposing forms of the opera, symphony, and oratorio, there were other causes which retarded the recognition of his transcendent genius. The unprecedented originality of his style, and the distinct national coloring of his compositions, did not meet with a sympathetic appreciation in Germany and Vienna, when he first went there to test his musical powers. Some of the papers indeed had a good word for him, but, as in the case of Liszt and later of Rubinstein, it was rather for the pianist than for the composer. On his first visit to Vienna he was greatly petted, and he found it easy to get influential friends who took care that his concerts should be a success, because he played for their benefit, asking no pecuniary recompense. But when, some years later, he repeated his visit, and tried to play for his own pecuniary benefit, the influential friends were invisible, and the concert actually resulted in a deficit.

Chopin's letters contain unmistakable evidence of the fact that, with some exceptions, the Germans did not understand his compositions. At his first concert in Vienna, he writes, "The first allegro in the F minor concerto (not intelligible to all) was indeed rewarded with 'Bravo!' but I believe this was rather because the audience wished to show that they appreciated serious music than because they were able to follow and appreciate such music." And regarding the fantasia on Polish airs he says that it completely missed its mark: "There was indeed some applause by the audience, but obviously only to show the pianist that they were not bored." The ultra-Germans, he writes in another letter, did not appear to be quite satisfied; and he relates that one of these, on being asked, in his presence, how he liked the concert, at once changed the subject of conversation, obviously in order not to hurt his feelings. In a third letter, in which he gives his parents an account of his concert in Breslau, in 1830, he says that, "With the exception of Schnabel, whose face was beaming with pleasure, and who patted me on the shoulder every other moment, none of the other Germans knew exactly what to make of me;" and he adds, with his delicious irony, that "the connoisseurs could not exactly make out whether my compositions really were good or only seemed so."

Criticisms culled from contemporary newspaper notices and other sources emphasize the fact that the Germans were at that time blind to the transcendent merits of Chopin's genius. The professional critics, after their usual manner, found fault with the very things which we to-day admire most in him—the exotic originality of the style, and the delightful Polish local color in which all his fabrics are "dyed in the wool," as it were. How numerous these adverse criticisms were, may best be inferred from the frequency with which Schumann defended Chopin in his musical paper and sneered at his detractors. "It is remarkable," he writes, "that in the very droughty years preceding 1830, in which one should have thanked Heaven for every straw of superior quality, criticism, which it is true, always lags behind unless it emanates from creative minds, persisted in shrugging its shoulders at Chopin's compositions—nay, that one of them had the impudence to say that all they were good for was to be torn to pieces." In another article, after speaking in the most enthusiastic terms of Chopin's trio, in which "every note is music and life," he exclaims, "Wretched Berlin critic, who has no understanding for these things, and never will have—poor fellow!" And seven years later, in 1843, he writes, with fine contempt for his critical colleagues, that "for the typical reviewers Chopin never did write, anyway." And this, be it remembered, was only six years before Chopin's death.

Not a few of the composers and composerlings of the period joined the professional critics in their depreciation of Chopin's works. Field called his "a talent of the sick chamber." Moscheles, while admitting Chopin's originality, and the value of his pianistic achievements, confessed that he disliked his "harsh, inartistic, incomprehensible modulations," which often appeared "artificial and forced" to him—these same modulations which to-day transport us into the seventh heaven of delight! Mendelssohn's attitude toward Chopin was somewhat vacillating. He defended him in a letter against his sister's criticisms, and assured her that if she had heard some of Chopin's compositions "as he himself played them" for him, she too would have been delighted. He adds that Chopin had just completed "a most graceful little nocturne," of which he remembered much, and was going to play it for his brother Paul. Nevertheless, he did not recommend the pupils at the Leipsic Conservatory to study