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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
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with Mozart, Beethoven, and Rossini."

But aside from these select spirits and a small circle of aristocratic admirers, mostly Poles, Chopin was not understood by the Paris public. At first he could not even make his living there, and was in consequence on the point of emigrating to America when a friend dragged him to a soirée at Rothschild's, where his playing was so much admired that he was at once engaged as a teacher by several ladies present. In a very short time he became the fashionable teacher in aristocratic circles, where his refined manners made him personally liked. As he refused to take any but talented pupils, teaching was not so irksome to him as it might have been. Nevertheless one cannot but marvel at the obtuseness of the Parisians who put into the utilitarian harness an artist who might have enchanted them every evening with a concert, had their taste been more cultivated. He did play once, when he first arrived, but the receipts did not even meet the expenses, and the audience received his work so coldly that his artistic sensibilities were wounded, and he did not again appear in public for fourteen years. Occasionally he played for the select aristocratic circles into which he had been introduced; but even here he did not often meet with the genuine appreciation and sympathy which the artist craves. "Whoever could read in his face," says Liszt, "could see how often he felt convinced that among all these handsome, well-dressed gentlemen, among all the perfumed, elegant ladies, not one understood him."

As for the French critics they seem to have been as obtuse as their German colleagues. To give only one instance: M. Fétis, author of the well-known musical dictionary, states in his article on Chopin, that this composer is overrated to-day, and his popularity largely due to the fact that he is fashionable. And in his article on Heller, he asserts, more pointedly still, that "the time will undoubtedly come when the world will recognize that Heller, much more than Chopin, is the modern poet of the pianoforte." In this opinion Fétis probably stands alone; but many who have not studied Chopin's deepest works carefully, are still convinced that the pianoforte compositions of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schumann, are of greater importance than Chopin's. So far am I from sharing this opinion that if I had to choose between never again hearing a pianoforte piece by any or all of those composers, or never again hearing a Chopin composition, I should decide in favor of Chopin. Some years ago I expressed my conviction, in The Nation, that Chopin is as distinctly superior to all other piano composers as Wagner is to all other opera composers. A distinguished Cincinnati musician, Mr. Otto Singer, was horrified at this statement, and wrote in The Courier, of that city, that it could only have been made by "a patriotically inclined Frenchman or a consumptive inhabitant of Poland;" adding that "he would readily yield up possession of quite a number of Chopin's bric-à-brac for Schumann's single 'Warum.'" I am neither a patriotic Frenchman nor a consumptive Pole, and I am a most ardent admirer of Schumann; nevertheless I uphold my former opinion, and my chief object in this essay is to endeavor to justify it.

All authorities, in the first place, admit that Chopin created an entirely new style of playing the pianoforte. Many have pointed out the peculiarities of this style—the use of extended and scattered chords, the innovations in fingering which facilitate legato playing, the spray of dainty little ornamental notes, the use of the capricious tempo rubato, and so on. But it has not been made sufficiently clear by any writer how it was that Chopin became the Wagner of the pianoforte, so to speak, by revealing for the first time the infinite possibilities of varied and beautiful tone-colors inherent in that instrument. To understand this point fully, it is necessary to bear in mind a few facts regarding the history of the pianoforte.

The name of pianoforte was given about a century and a half ago to an instrument constructed by the Italian Cristofori, who devised a mechanism for striking the strings with hammers. In the older instruments—the clarichords and harpsichords—the strings were either snapped by means of crow's quills, or pushed with a tangent. The new hammer action not only brought a better tone out of the string, but enabled the pianist to play any note loud or soft at pleasure; hence the name piano-forte. But the pianoforte itself required many years before all its possibilities of tone-production were discovered. The instruments used by Mozart still had a thin short tone, and there was no pedal for prolonging it, except a clumsy one worked with the knee—a circumstance which greatly influenced Mozart's style, and is largely responsible for the fact that his pianoforte works are hardly ever played to-day in the concert hall. For, as the tone could not be sustained, it was customary in Mozart's time to hide its meagre frame by means of a great profusion of runs and trills, and other ornaments, with which even the slow movements were disfigured. Under the circumstances, these ornaments were justifiable to some extent, but to-day they seem not only in bad taste, but entirely superfluous, because our improved instruments have a much greater power of sustaining tones.

Czerny, the famous piano teacher, touched in his autobiography on the peculiarities of Mozart's style. Beethoven, who gave Czerny some lessons on the piano, made him pay particular attention to the legato, "of which," says Czerny, "he was so unrivalled a master, but which at that time—the Mozart period, when the short staccato touch was in fashion—all other pianists thought impossible. Beethoven told me afterwards," he continues, "that he had often heard Mozart, whose style from his use of the clavecin, the pianoforte being in his time in its infancy, was not at all adapted to the newer instrument. I have known several persons who had received instruction from Mozart, and their playing corroborated this statement."

In view of these facts, we can understand why Beethoven did not like Mozart's pianoforte works as well as those of Clementi, in which there was more cantabile, and which required more fulness of tone in the execution; and we can understand why even so conservative a critic as Louis Ehlert should exclaim, apropos of Chopin's "entirely new pianoforte life," "How uninteresting is the style of any previous master (excepting Beethoven) compared with his! What a litany of gone-by, dead-alive forms! What a feelingless, prosaic jingle! If anyone should, without a grimace, assure me sincerely that he can play pianoforte pieces by Clementi, Dussek, Hummel, and Ries, with real enjoyment even now, I will esteem him as an excellent man—yes, a very honest one; but I will not drink wine with him."

Were it not for what I have ventured to call the fetish of Jumboism, I am convinced that Professor Ehlert would have written Mozart's name in this last sentence in place of Clementi's. By excepting Beethoven alone from the list of "uninteresting" composers preceding Chopin, he implicitly condemns Mozart; but he does not dare to do so explicitly, although such a confession would not have affected Mozart's greatness in other departments of music, which is undeniable. Indeed, if Professor Ehlert had been perfectly sincere I am not quite sure that he would have excepted Beethoven's sonatas. Although they teem with great and beautiful ideas, these sonatas are not really adapted to the intrinsic nature of the pianoforte, and hence fail to arouse the enthusiasm of those whose taste has been formed by

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