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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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id="Page_40" class="x-ebookmaker-pageno" title="[40]"/>variable tempo rubato, and it is to them that Chopin's works largely owe their exotic, poetic color. As they open up new possibilities of emotional expression, they have been eagerly appropriated by other composers and have leavened all modern music. To Chopin, therefore, chiefly belongs the honor of having emancipated music from the monotony of the Western European dance-beat by means of the tempo rubato in its varied aspects.

But, it was not merely in the accent of the dance forms, that he introduced an agreeable innovation; he was one of the giants who helped to create a new epoch in art, by breaking these old forms altogether, and substituting new ones better suited to modern tastes. And here we come across one of the most ludicrous misconceptions which have been fostered concerning Chopin by shallow critics, and which brings us back again for a moment to the question of Jumboism. I do not know whether he was a German or a French critic who first wrote that Chopin, although great in short pieces, was not great enough to master the sonata form. Once in print, this silly opinion was repeated parrot-like by scores of other critics. How silly it is may be inferred from the fact that such third-rate composerlings as Herz and Hummel were able to write sonatas of the most approved pattern—and that, in fact, any person with the least musical talent can learn in a few years to write sonatas that are absolutely correct as regards form. And yet we are asked to believe that Chopin, one of the most profound and original musical thinkers the world has ever seen, could not write a correct sonata! Risum teneatis amici! Chopin not able to master the sonata form? The fact is, the sonata form could not master him. He felt instinctively that it was too artificial to serve as a vehicle for the expression of poetic thought; and his thoroughly original genius therefore created the more plastic and malleable shorter forms which have since been adopted by composers the world over. The few sonatas which Chopin wrote do not deviate essentially from the orthodox structure, but one feels constantly that he was hampered in his movements by the artificial structure. Though they are full of genius, like everything he composed, he did not write them con amore. Concentration is one of Chopin's principal characteristics, and the sonata favors diffuseness. Too much thematic beating out is the bane of the sonata. A few bars of gold are worth more than many square yards of gold leaf; and Chopin's bars are solid gold. Moreover, there is no organic unity between the different parts of the sonata, whatever may have been said to the contrary. The essentially artificial character of the sonata is neatly illustrated by a simile used by Dr. Hanslick in speaking of Chopin. "This composer," he said, "although highly and peculiarly gifted, was never able to unite the fragrant flowers which he scattered by handfuls, into beautiful wreaths." Dr. Hanslick intends this as censure. I regard it as the greatest compliment he could have paid him. A wreath may be very pretty in its way, but it is artificial. The flowers are crushed and their fragrance does not blend. How much lovelier is a single violet or orchid in the fields, unhampered by strings and wires, and connected solely with its stalk and the surrounding green leaves. Many of Chopin's compositions are so short that they can hardly be likened unto flowers, but only to buds. Yet is not a rosebud a thousand times more beautiful than a full-blown rose?

One more consideration. The psychology of the sonata form is false. Men and women do not feel happy for ten minutes as in the opening allegro of a sonata, then melancholy for another ten minutes, as in the following adagio, then frisky, as in the scherzo, and finally, fiery and impetuous for ten minutes as in the finale. The movements of our minds are seldom so systematic as this. Sad and happy thoughts and moods chase one another incessantly and irregularly, as they do in the compositions of Chopin, which, therefore, are much truer echoes of our modern romantic feelings than the stiff and formal classical sonatas. And thus it is, that Chopin's habitual neglect of the sonata form, instead of being a defect, reveals his rare artistic subtlety and grandeur. It was natural that a Pole should vindicate for music this emotional freedom of movement, for the Slavic mind is especially prone to constant changes of mood. Nevertheless, as soon as Chopin had shown the way, other composers followed eagerly in the new path, and in the present day the sonata may be regarded as obsolete. Few contemporary composers have written more than one or two—merely in order to show that they can do so if they want to; and even Brahms, the high priest of the conservatives, has, in his later period, devoted himself more and more exclusively to shorter modern forms in his pianoforte music.

Strictly speaking, Chopin was not the first who tried to get away from the sonata. Beethoven, though he remained faithful to it, felt its fetters, as is shown by his numerous poetic licenses. Schubert wrote "Moments Musicals," Mendelssohn, "Songs without Words," Weber, Polonaises, and Field, Nocturnes. But these were merely straws which indicated in which direction Chopin's genius would sweep the field and clear the musical atmosphere. His polonaises and nocturnes are vastly superior to those of Weber and Field; and his poetic preludes, his romantic ballads, his lovely berçeuse, his amorous mazurkas, are new types in art which have often been imitated but never equalled. Only in one field did Chopin have a dangerous rival among his predecessors, namely, in the Waltz. Weber's "Invitation to the Dance" is the source of the modern idealized waltz, because it was not written for the feet alone, but also for the heart and the imagination. Like Chopin's waltzes, it contains chivalrous passages, amorous episodes, and subtle changes of movement. And it seems as if the fact that there was less room for formal and emotional innovations in the waltz than in the other forms, had somewhat affected Chopin's imagination. For, although the most popular of his works, his waltzes are, with a few exceptions in which the rubato prevails, less characteristic than his other pieces. Nevertheless, they are charming, every one of them. But they are fairy dances—mortals are too clumsy to keep time to them.

Next to the waltzes in popularity come the polonaises; and they fully deserve their popularity. Liszt has given us a charming description of the polonaise as it was formerly danced in Chopin's native country. It was less a dance than a promenade in which courtly pomps and aristocratic splendor were on exhibition. It was a chivalrous but not an amorous dance, precedence being given to age and rank, before youth and beauty. And whereas, in other dances, the place of honor is always given to the fair sex, in the polonaise the men are in the foreground. In a word, the polonaise represents, both in its subject and the style of music, the masculine side of Chopin's genius.

The feminine side is chiefly embodied in the mazurkas and the nocturnes. It has been said that the highest genius must combine masculine with feminine traits, and it is a remarkable fact that the works of two of the most spontaneous composers—Chopin and Schubert—are often characterized by an exquisite feminine tenderness and grace; as if, seeing that women have not done their duty as composers, they had tried to introduce the feminine spirit in music. Yet it is unfair to place too much emphasis on this side of their genius. In their bolder moments, Chopin and Schubert are thoroughly masculine.

It seems strange at first sight that the mazurkas,

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