Frederick Niecks

Frederick Nicks, Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician, London (Novello and Co., Ltd.) 31902, 2 vols.

(II, pp. 174÷190)



s Chopin rarely played in public and could not make a comfortable living by his compositions, there remained nothing for him but to teach, which, indeed, he did till his strength forsook him. But so far from regarding teaching as a burden, says his pupil Mikuli, he devoted himself to it with real pleasure. Of course, a teacher can only take pleasure in teaching when he has pupils of the right sort. This advantage, however, Chopin may have enjoyed to a greater extent than most masters, for according to all accounts it was difficult to be received as a pupil—he by no means gave lessons to anyone who asked for them. As long as he was in fair health, he taught during the season from four to five hours a day, in later years only, or almost only, at home. His fee for a lesson was twenty francs, which were deposited by the pupil on the mantelpiece.

Was Chopin a good teacher? His pupils without exception most positively affirm it. But outsiders ask: How is it, then, that so great a virtuoso has not trained players who have made the world ring with their fame? Mr. Hallé, whilst pointing out the fact that Chopin's pupils have not distinguished themselves, did not wish to decide whether this was owing to a deficiency in the master or to some other cause. Liszt, in speaking to me on this subject, simply remarked: “Chopin was unfortunate in his pupils—none of them has become a player of any importance, although some of his noble pupils played very well.” If we compare Liszt's pianistic offspring with Chopin's, the difference is indeed striking. But here we have to keep in mind several considerations—Chopin taught for a shorter period than Liszt; most of his pupils, unlike Liszt's, were amateurs; and he may not have met /[p. 175] with the stuff out of which great virtuosos are made. That Chopin was unfortunate in his pupils may be proved by the early death of several very promising ones. Charles Filtsch, born at Hermannstadt, Transylvania (Hungary), about 1830, of whom Liszt and Lenz spoke so highly (see Chapter XXVI.), died on May 11, 1845, at Venice,(28/03/2011 11.44.47b) after having in 1843 made a sensation in London and Vienna, both by the poetical and technical qualities of his playing. In London “little Filtsch” played at least twice in public (on June 14 at the St. James's Theatre between two plays, and on July 4 at a matinée of his own at the Hanover Square Rooms), repeatedly in private, and had also the honour to appear before the Queen at Buckingham Palace. J. W. Davison relates in his preface to Chopin's mazurkas and waltzes (Boosey & Co.) a circumstance which proves the young virtuoso's musicianship. “Engaged to perform Chopin's second concerto in public, the orchestral parts not being obtainable, Filtsch, nothing dismayed, wrote out the whole of them from memory.” Another short-lived great talent was Paul Gunsberg.[c] “This young man,” Madame Dubois informed me, “was endowed with an extraordinary organisation. Chopin had made of him an admirable executant. He died of consumption, otherwise he would have become celebrated.” I do not know in which year Gunsberg died. He was still alive on May 11, 1855. For on that day he played with his fellow-pupil Tellefsen, at a concert given by the latter in Paris, a duet of Schumann's. A third pupil of Chopin prematurely snatched away by death was Caroline Hartmann, the daughter of a manufacturer, born at Munster, near Colmar, in 1808.[d] She came to Paris in 1833, and died the year after—of love for Chopin, as Edward Wolff told me. Other authorities, however, ascribe the sad effect to a less romantic cause. They say that through persevering study under the direction of Chopin and Liszt she became an excellent pianist, but that the hard work brought on a chest complaint to which she succumbed on July 30, 1834. The Gazette Musicale of August 17, 1834, which notices her death, describes her as a pupil of Liszt, Chopin, and Pixis, without commenting on her abilities. Spohr admired her as a child.

[p. 176] But if Chopin has not turned out virtuosos of the calibre of Tausig and Hans von Bülow, he has nevertheless formed many very clever pianists. It would serve no purpose except that of satisfying idle curiosity to draw up a list of all the master's ascertainable pupils. Those who wish, however, to satisfy this idle curiosity can do so to some extent by scanning the dedications of Chopin's works, as the names therein to be found—with a few and mostly obvious exceptions—are those of pupils. The array of princesses, countesses, &c., will, it is to be hoped, duly impress the investigator. Let us hear what the illustrious master Marmontel has to say on this subject:—

Among the pianist-composers who have had the immense advantage of taking lessons from Chopin, to impregnate themselves with his style and manner, we must cite Gutmann, Lysberg, and our dear colleague G. Mathias. The Princesses de Chimay, Czartoryska, the Countesses Esterhazy, Branicka, Potocka, de Kalergis, d'Est; Mdlles. Müller and de Noailles were his cherished disciples [disciples affectionnées]. Madame Dubois, nee O'Meara, is also one of his favourite pupils [éléves de prédilection], and numbers among those whose talent has best preserved the characteristic traditions and procedures [procédés] of the master.[e]

Two of Chopin's amateur and a few more of his professional pupils ought to be briefly noticed here—first and chiefly of the amateurs, the Princess Marcelline Czartoryska, who has sometimes played in public for charitable purposes, and of whom it has often been said that she is the most faithful transmitter of her master's style. Would the praise which is generally lavished upon her have been so enthusiastic if the lady had been a professional pianist instead of a princess? The question is ungracious in one who has not had the pleasure of hearing her, but not unnaturally suggests itself. Be this as it may, that she is, or was, a good player, who as an intimate friend and countrywoman thoroughly entered into the spirit of her master's music, seems beyond question.[1]

G. Chouquet reminded me not to [p. 177] omit to mention among Chopin's pupils Madame Peruzzi, the wife of the ambassador of the Duke of Tuscany to the court of Louis Philippe:—

This virtuosa [wrote to me the late keeper of the Musee of the Paris Conservatoire] had no less talent than the Princess Marcelline Czartoryska. I heard her at Florence in 1852, and I can assure you that she played Chopin's music in the true style and with all the unpublished traits of the master. She was of Russian origin.

But enough of amateurs. Mdlle. Friederike Müller, now for many years married to the Viennese pianoforte-maker J. B. Streicher, is regarded by many as the most, and is certainly one of the most gifted of Chopin's favourite pupils.[2] That the composer dedicated to her his Allegro de Concert, Op. 46, may be regarded as a mark of his love and esteem for her. Carl Mikuli found her assistance of great importance in the preparation of his edition of Chopin's works, as she had received lessons from the master for several years, and, moreover, had had many opportunities of hearing him on other occasions. The same authority refers to Madame Dubois (née O'Meara)[3] and to Madame Rubio (née Vera de Kologrivof) as to “two extremely excellent pianists [höchst ausgezeichnete [p. 178] Pianistinnen] whose talent enjoyed the advantage of the master's particular care.” The latter lady was taught by Chopin from 1842 to 1849, and in the last years of his life assisted him, as we shall see, by taking partial charge of some of his pupils. Madame Dubois, who studied under Kalkbrenner from the age of nine to thirteen, became then a pupil of Chopin, with whom she remained five years. It was very difficult to obtain his consent to take another pupil, but the influence of M. Albrecht, a common friend of her father's and Chopin's, stood her in good stead. Although I heard her play only one or two of her master's minor pieces, and under very unfavourable circumstances too—namely, at the end of the teaching season and in a tropical heat—I may say that her suave touch, perfect legato, and delicate sentiment seemed to me to bear out the above-quoted remark of M. Marmontel. Madame Dubois, who is one of the most highly-esteemed teachers of the piano in Paris, used to play till recently in public, although less frequently in later than in earlier years. And here I must extract a passage from Madame Girardin's letter of March 7, 1847, in Vol. IV. of Le Vicomte de Launay, where, after describing Mdlle. O'Meara's beauty, more especially her Irish look—“that mixture of sadness and serenity, of profound tenderness and shy dignity, which you never find in the proud and brilliant looks which you admire in the women of other nations”—she says:—

We heard her a few hours ago; she played in a really superior way the beautiful Concerto of Chopin in E flat minor [of course E minor]; she was applauded with enthusiasm.[4] All we can say to give you an idea of Mdlle. O'Meara's playing is that there is in her playing all that is in her look, and in addition to it an admirable method, and excellent fingering. Her success has been complete; in hearing her, statesmen were moved... and the young ladies, those who are good musicians, forgave her prettiness.

As regards Chopin's male pupils, we have to note George Mathias (born at Paris in 1826), the well-known professor of the piano at the Paris Conservatoire,[5] and still more widely-[p. 179]known composer of more than half-a-hundred important works (sonatas, trios, concertos, symphonic compositions, pianoforte pieces, songs, &c.), who enjoyed the master's teaching from 1839 to 1844; Lysberg (1821-1873), whose real name was Charles Samuel Bovy, for many years professor of the piano at the Conservatoire of his native town, Geneva, and a very fertile composer of salon pieces for the piano (composer also of a one-act comic opera, La Fille du Carillonneur), distinguished by “much poetic feeling, an extremely careful form, an original colouring, and in which one often seems to see pass a breath of Weber or Chopin”;[6] the Norwegian Thomas Dyke Acland Tellefsen (1823-1874), a teacher of the piano in Paris and author of an edition of Chopin's works; Carl Mikuli (born at Czernowitz in 1821), since 1858 artistic director of the Galician Musical Society (conservatoire, concerts, &c.), and author of an edition of Chopin's works; and Adolph Gutmann, the master's favourite pupil par excellence, of whom we must speak somewhat more at length. Karasowski makes also mention of Casimir Wernik, who died at St. Petersburg in 1859, and of Gustav Schumann, a teacher of the piano at Berlin, who, however, was only during the winter of 1840-1841 with the Polish master. For Englishmen the fact of the late Brinley Richards and Lindsay Sloper having been pupils of Chopin—the one for a short, the other for a longer period—will be of special interest.

Adolph Gutmann was a boy of fifteen when in 1834 his father brought him to Paris to place him under Chopin. The latter, however, did not at first feel inclined to accept the proposed trust; but on hearing the boy play he conceived so high an idea of his capacities that he agreed to undertake his artistic education. Chopin seems to have always retained a thorough belief in his muscular pupil, although some of his great pianist friends thought this belief nothing but a strange delusion. There are also piquant anecdotes told by fellow-pupils with the purpose of showing that [p. 180] Chopin did not care very much for him. For instance, the following: Some one asked the master how his pupil was getting on, “Oh, he makes very good chocolate,” was the answer. Unfortunately, I cannot speak of Gutmann's playing from experience, for although I spent eight days with him, it was on a mountain-top in the Tyrol, where there were no pianos. But Chopin's belief in Gutmann counts with me for something, and so does Moscheles' reference to him as Chopin's “excellent pupil”; more valuable, I think, than either is the evidence of Dr. A. C. Mackenzie, who at my request visited Gutmann several times in Florence and was favourably impressed by his playing, in which he noticed especially beauty of tone combined with power. As far as I can make out Gutmann planned only once, in 1846, a regular concert-tour, being furnished for it by Chopin with letters of introduction to the highest personages in Berlin, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg. Through the intervention of the Countess Rossi (Henriette Sontag), he was invited to play at a court-concert at Charlottenburg in celebration of the King's birthday.[7] But the day after the concert he was seized with such home-sickness that he returned forthwith to Paris, where he made his appearance to the great astonishment of Chopin. The reader may perhaps be interested in what a writer in the Gazette Musicale said about Chopin's favourite pupil on March 24, 1844:—

M. Gutmann is a pianist with a neat but somewhat cold style of playing; he has what one calls fingers, and uses them with much dexterity. His manner of proceeding is rather that of Thalberg than of the clever professor who has given him lessons. He afforded pleasure to the lovers of the piano [amateurs de piano] at the musical soirée which he gave last Monday at M. Erard's. Especially his fantasia on the Freischütz was applauded.

Of course, the expression of any individual opinion is no conclusive proof. Gutmann was so successful as a teacher and in a way also as a composer (his compositions, I may [p. 181] say in passing, were not in his master's but in a light salon style) that at a comparatively early period of his life he was able to retire from his profession. After travelling for some time he settled at Florence, where he invented the art, or, at least, practised the art which he had previously invented, of painting with oil-colours on satin. He died at Spezzia on October 27, 1882.[8]

Whatever interest the reader may have taken in this survey of Chopin's pupils, he is sure to be more deeply interested by the account of the master's manner and method of teaching. Such an account, which would be interesting in the case of any remarkable virtuoso who devoted himself to instruction, is so in a higher degree in that of Chopin: first, because it may help us to solve the question why so unique a virtuoso did not form a single eminent concert-player; secondly, because it throws still further light on his character as a man and artist; and thirdly, because, as Mikuli thinks may be asserted without exaggeration, “only Chopin's pupils knew the pianist in the fullness of his unrivalled height.” The materials at my disposal are abundant and not less trustworthy than abundant. My account is based chiefly on the communications made to me by a number of the master's pupils—notably, Madame Dubois, Madame Rubio, M. Mathias, and Gutmann—and on Mikuli's excellent preface to his edition of Chopin' s works. When I have drawn upon other sources, I have not done so without previous examination and verification. I may add that I shall use as far as possible the ipsissima verba of my informants:—

As to Chopin's method of teaching [wrote to me M. Mathias], it was absolutely of the old legato school, of the school of Clementi and Cramer. Of course, he had enriched it by a great variety of touch [p. 182] [d'une grande variété dans l'attaque de la touche]; he obtained a wonderful variety of tone and nuances of tone; in passing I may tell you that he had an extraordinary vigour, but only by flashes [ce ne pouvait être que par éclairs].

The Polish master, who was so original in many ways, differed from his confrères even in the way of starting his pupils. With him the normal position of the hand was not that above the keys c, d, e, f, g (i.e., above five white keys), but that above the keys e, f#, g#, a#, b (i.e., above two white keys and three black keys, the latter lying between the former). The hand had to be thrown lightly on the keyboard so as to rest on these keys, the object of this being to secure for it not only an advantageous, but also a graceful position[9]:—

Chopin [Madame Dubois informed me] made his pupils begin with the B major scale, very slowly, without stiffness. Suppleness was his great object. He repeated, without ceasing, during the lesson: "Easily, easily" [facilement, facilement]. Stiffness exasperated him.

How much stiffness and jerkiness exasperated him may be judged from what Madame Zaleska related to M. Kleczyński. A pupil having played somewhat carelessly the arpeggio at the beginning of the first study (in A flat major) of the second book of Clementi's Préludes et Exercices, the master jumped from his chair and exclaimed: "What is that? Has a dog been barking?" [Qu'est-ce ? Est-ce un chien qui vient d'aboyer ?] The rudeness of this exclamation will, no doubt, surprise. But polite as Chopin generally was, irritation often got the better of him, more especially in later years when bad health troubled him. Whether he ever went the length of throwing the music from the desk and [p. 183] breaking chairs, as Karasowski says, I do not know and have not heard confirmed by any pupil. Madame Rubio, however, informed me that Chopin was very irritable, and when teaching amateurs used to have always a packet of pencils about him which, to vent his anger, he silently broke into bits. Gutmann told me that in the early stages of his discipleship Chopin sometimes got very angry, and stormed and raged dreadfully; but immediately was kind and tried to soothe his pupil when he saw him distressed and weeping.

To be sure [writes Mikuli], Chopin made great demands on the talent and diligence of the pupil. Consequently, there were often des leçons orageuses, as it was called in the school idiom, and many a beautiful eye left the high altar of the Cite d'Orleans, Rue St. Lazare, bedewed with tears, without, on that account, ever bearing the dearly-beloved master the least grudge. For was not the severity which was not easily satisfied with anything, the feverish vehemence with which the master wished to raise his disciples to his own stand-point, the ceaseless repetition of a passage till it was understood, a guarantee that he had at heart the progress of the pupil? A holy artistic zeal burnt in him then, every word from his lips was incentive and inspiring. Single lessons often lasted literally for hours at a stretch, till exhaustion overcame master and pupil.

Indeed, the pupils were so far from bearing their master the least grudge that, to use M. Marmontel's words, they had more for him than admiration: a veritable idolatry. But it is time that after this excursion—which hardly calls for an excuse—we return to the more important part of our subject, the master's method of teaching.

What concerned Chopin most at the commencement of his instruction [writes Mikuli] was to free the pupil from every stiffness and convulsive, cramped movement of the hand, and to give him thus the first condition of a beautiful style of playing, souplesse (suppleness), and with it independence of the fingers. He taught indefatigably that the exercises in question were no mere mechanical ones, but called for the intelligence and the whole will of the pupil, on which account twenty and even forty thoughtless repetitions (up to this time the arcanum of so many schools) do no good at all, still less the practising during which, according to Kalkbrenner's advice, one may occupy one's self simultaneously with some kind of reading (!).
He feared above all [remarked Madame Dubois to me] the
abrutissement of the pupils. One day he heard me say that I practised six hours a day. [p. 184] He became quite angry, and forbade me to practise more than three hours. This was also the advice of Hummel in his pianoforte school.

To resume Mikuli's narrative:—

Chopin treated very thoroughly the different kinds of touch, especially the full-toned [tonvolle] legato.[10] As gymnastic helps he recommended the bending inward and outward of the wrist, the repeated touch from the wrist, the extending of the fingers, but all this with the earnest warning against over-fatigue. He made his pupils play the scales with a full tone, as connectedly as possible, very slowly and only gradually advancing to a quicker tempo, and with metronomic evenness. The passing of the thumb under the other fingers and the passing of the latter over the former was to be facilitated by a corresponding turning inward of the hand. The scales with many black keys (B, F sharp, and D flat) were first studied, and last, as the most difficult, C major. In the same sequence he took up Clementi's Préludes et Exercices, a work which for its utility he esteemed very highly.[11] According to Chopin the evenness of the scales (also of the arpeggios) not merely depended on the utmost equal strengthening of all fingers by means of five-finger exercises and on a thumb entirely free at the passing under and over, but rather on a lateral movement (with the elbow hanging quite down and always easy) of the hand, not by jerks, but continuously and evenly flowing, which he tried to illustrate by the glissando over the keyboard. Of studies he gave after this a selection of Cramer's Études, Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum, Moscheles' style-studies for the higher development (which were very sympathetic to him),[11bis] and J. S. Bach's suites and some fugues from Das wohltemperirte Clavier. In a certain way Field's and his own nocturnes numbered likewise with the studies, for in them the pupil was—partly by the apprehension of his explanations, partly by observation and imitation (he played them to the pupil unweariedly)[12]—to learn to know, love, and execute the beautiful smooth [p. 185] [gebundene] vocal tone and the legato. With double notes and chords he demanded most strictly simultaneous striking, breaking was only allowed when it was indicated by the composer himself; shakes, which he generally began with the auxiliary note, had not so much to be played quick as with great evenness the conclusion of the shake quietly and without precipitation. For the turn (gruppetto) and the appoggiatura he recommended the great Italian singers as models. Although he made his pupils play octaves from the wrist, they must not thereby lose in fullness of tone.

All who have had the good fortune to hear Chopin play agree in declaring that one of the most distinctive features of his style of execution was smoothness, and smoothness, as we have seen in the foregoing notes, was also one of the qualities on which he most strenuously insisted in the playing of his pupils. The reader will remember Gutmann's statement to me, mentioned in a previous chapter, that all his master's fingering was calculated for the attainment of this object. Fingering is the mainspring, the determining principle, one might almost say the life and soul, of the pianoforte technique. We shall, therefore, do well to give a moment's consideration to Chopin's fingering, especially as he was one of the boldest and most influential revolutionisers of this important department of the pianistic art. His merits in this as in other respects, his various claims to priority of invention, are only too often overlooked. As at one time all ameliorations in the theory and practice of music were ascribed to Guido of Arezzo, so it is nowadays the fashion to ascribe all improvements and extensions of the pianoforte technique to Liszt, who more than any other pianist drew upon himself the admiration of the world, and who through his pupils continued to make his presence felt even after the close of his career as a virtuoso. But the cause of this false opinion is to be sought not so much in the fact that the brilliancy of his artistic personality threw all his contemporaries into the shade, as in that other fact, that he gathered up into one web the many threads new and old which he found floating about during the years of his development. The difference between Liszt and Chopin lies in this, that the basis of the former's art is universality, that of the latter's, individuality. Of the fingering of the one we may say that it is a system, of that [p. 186] of the other that it is a manner. Probably we have here also touched on the cause of Liszt's success and Chopin's want of success as a teacher. I called Chopin a revolutioniser of fingering, and, I think, his full enfranchisement of the thumb, his breaking-down of all distinctions of rank between the other fingers, in short, the introduction of a liberty sometimes degenerating into licence, justifies the expression. That this master's fingering is occasionally eccentric (presupposing peculiarly flexible hands and a peculiar course of study) cannot be denied; on the whole, however, it is not only well adapted for the proper rendering of his compositions, but also contains valuable contributions to a universal system of fingering. The following particulars by Mikuli will be read with interest, and cannot be misunderstood after what has just now been said on the subject:—

In the notation of fingering, especially of that peculiar to himself, Chopin was not sparing. Here pianoforte-playing owes him great innovations which, on account of their expedience, were soon adopted, notwithstanding the horror with which authorities like Kalkbrenner at first regarded them. Thus, for instance, Chopin used without hesitation the thumb on the black keys, passed it even under the little finger (it is true, with a distinct inward bend of the wrist), if this could facilitate the execution and give it more repose and evenness. With one and the same finger he took often two consecutive keys (and this not only in gliding down from a black to the next white key) without the least interruption of the sequence being noticeable. The passing over each other of the longer fingers without the aid of the thumb (see Étude, No. 2, Op. 10) he frequently made use of, and not only in passages where the thumb stationary on a key made this unavoidably necessary. The fingering of the chromatic thirds based on this (as he marked it in Étude, No. 5, Op. 25) affords in a much higher degree than that customary before him the possibility of the most beautiful legato in the quickest tempo and with a perfectly quiet hand.

But if with Chopin smoothness was one of the qualities upon which he insisted strenuously in the playing of his pupils, he was by no means satisfied with a mere mechanical perfection. He advised his pupils to undertake betimes thorough theoretical studies, recommending his friend, the composer and theorist Henri Reber as a teacher. He advised them also to cultivate ensemble playing—trios, [p. 187] quartets, &c., if first-class partners could be had, otherwise pianoforte duets. Most urgent, however, he was in his advice to them to hear good singing, and even to learn to sing. To Madame Rubio he said: “You must sing if you wish to play”; and made her take lessons in singing and hear much Italian opera—this last, the lady remarked, Chopin regarded as positively necessary for a pianoforte-player. In this advice we recognise Chopin's ideal of execution: beauty of tone, intelligent phrasing, truthfulness and warmth of expression. The sounds which he drew from the pianoforte were pure tone without the least admixture of anything that might be called noise. “He never thumped,” was Gutmann's remark to me. Chopin, according to Mikuli, repeatedly said that when he heard bad phrasing it appeared to him as if some one recited, in a language he did not know, a speech laboriously memorised, not only neglecting to observe the right quantity of the syllables, but perhaps even making full stops in the middle of words. “The badly-phrasing pseudo-musician,” he thought, “showed that music was not his mother-tongue, but something foreign, unintelligible to him,” and that, consequently, “like that reciter, he must altogether give up the idea of producing any effect on the auditor by his rendering.” Chopin hated exaggeration[13] and affectation. His precept was: “Play as you feel.” But he hated the want of feeling as much as false feeling. To a pupil whose playing gave evidence of nothing but the possession of fingers, he said emphatically, despairingly: “ Mettez-y donc toute votre âme ! ” (Do put all your soul into it !)

On declamation, and rendering in general [writes Mikuli], he gave his pupils invaluable and significant instructions and hints, but, no doubt, effected more certain results by repeatedly playing not only single passages, but whole pieces, and this he did with a conscientiousness and enthusiasm that perhaps he hardly gave anyone an opportunity of [p. 188] hearing when he played in a concert-room. Frequently the whole hour passed without the pupil having played more than a few bars, whilst Chopin, interrupting and correcting him on a Pleyel cottage piano (the pupil played always on an excellent grand piano; and it was enjoined upon him as a duty to practise only on first-class instruments), presented to him for his admiration and imitation the life-warm ideal of the highest beauty.

With regard to Chopin's playing to his pupils we must keep in mind what was said in foot-note 12 on page 184. On another point in the above quotation one of Madame Dubois's communications to me throws some welcome light:—

Chopin [she said] had always a cottage piano [pianino] by the side of the grand piano on which he gave his lessons. It was marvellous to hear him accompany, no matter what compositions, from the concertos of Hummel to those of Beethoven. He performed the role of the orchestra most wonderfully [d'une façon prodigieuse]. When I played his own concertos, he accompanied me in this way.

Judging from various reports, Chopin seems to have regarded his Polish pupils as more apt than those of other nationalities to do full justice to his compositions. Karasowski relates that when one of Chopin's French pupils played his compositions and the auditors overwhelmed the performer with their praise, the master used often to remark that his pupil had done very well, but that the Polish element and the Polish enthusiasm had been wanting. Here it is impossible not to be reminded of the contention between Chopin on the one hand and Liszt and Hiller on the other hand about the possibility of foreigners comprehending Polish national music (See Vol. 1., p. 256). After revealing the mystery of Chopin's tempo rubato, Liszt writes in his book on this master:—

All his compositions have to be played with this sort of balancement accentué et prosodié, this morbidezza, of which it was difficult to seize the secret when one had not heard him often. He seemed desirous to teach this manner to his numerous pupils, especially to his compatriots, to whom he wished, more than to others, to communicate the breath of his inspiration. These [ceux-ci, ou plutôt celles-là] seized it with that aptitude which they have for all matters of sentiment and poesy. An [p. 189] innate comprehension of his thought permitted them to follow all the fluctuations of his azure wave.[13bis]

There is one thing which is worth inquiring into before we close this chapter, for it may help us to a deeper insight into Chopin's character as a teacher—I mean his teaching répertoire. Mikuli says that, carefully arranged according to their difficulty, Chopin placed before his pupils the following compositions: the concertos and sonatas of Clementi, Mozart, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Dussek, Field, Hummel, Ries, Beethoven; further, Weber, Moscheles, Mendelssohn, Hiller, Schumann, and his own works. This enumeration, however, does not agree with accounts from other equally authentic sources. The pupils of Chopin I have conversed and corresponded with never studied any Schumann under their master. As to the cultivation of Beethoven, it was, no doubt, limited. M. Mathias, it is true, told me that Chopin showed a preference for Clementi (Gradus ad Parnassum), Bach, Field (of him much was played, notably his concertos), and naturally for Beethoven, Weber, &c.—Clementi, Bach, and Field being always the composers most laid under contribution in the case of débutants. Madame Rubio, on the other hand, confined herself to stating that Chopin put her through Hummel, Moscheles, and Bach; and did not mention Beethoven at all. Gutmann's statements concerning his master's teaching contain some positive evidence with regard to the Beethoven question. What he said was this: Chopin held that Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum, Bach's pianoforte fugues, and Hummel's compositions were the key to pianoforte-playing, and he considered a training in these composers a fit preparation for his own works. He was particularly fond of Hummel and his style. Beethoven he seemed to like less. He appreciated such pieces as the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata (C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2). Schubert was a favourite with him. This, then, is what I learned from Gutmann. In parenthesis, as it were, I may ask: Is it not strange that no pupil, with the exception of Mikuli, mentions the name of Mozart, the composer whom Chopin is said to have so much admired? Thanks to Madame Dubois, who at my request had the [p. 190] kindness to make out a list of the works she remembers having studied under Chopin, we shall be able to form a pretty distinct idea of the master's course of instruction, which, to be sure, would be modified according to the capacities of his pupils and the objects they had in view. Well, Madame Dubois says that Chopin made her begin with the second book of Clementi's Préludes et Exercices, and that she also studied under him the same composer's Gradus ad Parnassum and Bach's forty-eight preludes and fugues. Of his high opinion of the teaching qualities of Bach's compositions we may form an idea from the recommendation to her at their last meeting—already mentioned in an earlier chapter-to practise them constantly, “ ce sera votre meilleur moyen de progresser ” (this will be your best means to make progress). The pieces she studied under him included the following ones: Of Hummel, the Rondo brillant sur un theme russe (Op. 98), La Bella capricciosa, the Sonata in F sharp minor (Op. 81), the Concertos in A minor and B minor, and the Septet; of Field, several concertos (the one in E flat among others) and several nocturnes (“ Field ” she says, “ lui était très sympathique ”); of Beethoven, the concertos and several sonatas (the Moonlight, Op. 27, No. 2; the one with the Funeral March, Op. 26; and the Appassionata, Op. 57); of Weber, the Sonatas in C and A flat major (Chopin made his pupils play these two works with extreme care); of Schubert, the Ländler and all the waltzes and some of the duets (the marches, polonaises, and the Divertissement hongrois, which last piece he admired sans reserve); of Mendelssohn, only the G minor Concerto and the Songs without Words; of Liszt, no more than La Tarantelle de Rossini and the Septet from Lucia (“ mais ce genre de musique ne lui allait pas, ” says my informant); and of Schumann, nothing.[13ter]

Madame Streicher's interesting reminiscences, given in Appendix IX., form a supplement to this chapter.


(b) Of appendicitis (cf. F. Gajewski, New Chopiniana from the Papers of Carl Filtsch, in "Studi Musicali" 11 [1982], p. 171). [Editorial Note]
[c] The correct spelling ought to be Guntzberg. [Ed.N.]
[d] According to J.-J. Eigeldinger the exact birthdate would be October 17,1807 (cf. Chopin vu par ses élèves, nouv. éd., Paris [Fayard] 2006, p. 300 n. 86). [Ed.N.]
[e] Cf. A. Marmontel, Les pianistes célèbres, Paris (Heugel et Fils) 1878, p. 7. [Ed.N.]
[1]“The Princess Marcelline Czartoryska,” wrote Sowinski in 1857 in the article Chopin of his Musicien polonais, “who has a fine execution, seems to have inherited Chopin's ways of procedure, especially in phrasing and accentuation. Lately the Princess performed at Paris with much success the magnificent F minor Concerto at a concert for the benefit of the poor.” A critic, writing in the Gazette Musicale of March 11, 1855, of a concert given by the Princess—at which she played an Andante with variations for piano and violoncello by Mozart, a Rondo for piano and orchestra by Mendelssohn, and Chopin's F minor Concerto, being assisted by Alard as conductor, the violoncellist Franchomme, and the singers Madame Viardot and M. Fédor—praised especially her rendering of the Adagio in Chopin's Concerto. Lenz was the most enthusiastic admirer of the Princess I have met with. He calls her (in the Berliner Musikzeitung, Vol. XXVI) a highly-gifted nature, the best pupil [Schülerin] of Chopin, and the incarnation of her master's pianoforte style. At a musical party at the house of the Counts Wilhorski at St. Petersburg, where she performed a waltz and the Marche funèbre by Chopin, her playing made such an impression that it was thought improper to have any more music on that evening, the trio of the march having, indeed, moved the auditors to tears. The Princess told Lenz that on one occasion when Chopin played to her this trio, she fell on her knees before him and felt unspeakably happy.
[2]She played already in public at Vienna in the fourth decade of this century, which must have been before her coming to Paris (see Eduard Hanslick, Geschichte des Concertwesens in Wien, p. 326). Marriage brought the lady's professional career to a close.
[3]A relation of Edward Barry O'Meara, physician to the first Napoleon at St. Helena, and author of Napoleon in Exile.
[4]Chopin accompanied on a second piano. The occasion was a soirée at the house of Madame de Courbonne.
[5]He retired a year or two ago.
[6]Supplément et Complément to Fetis' Biographie universelle des Musiciens, published under the direction of Arthur Pougin.
[7]His part of the programme consisted of his master's E minor Concerto (2nd and 3rd movements) and No. 3 of the first book of studies, and his own tenth study.
[8]The short notice of Gutmann in Fetis' Biographie Universelle des Musiciens, and those of the followers of this by no means infallible authority, are very incorrect. Adolfo Gutmann, Ricordi Biografici, by Giulio Piccini (Firenze, Guiseppe Polverini, 1881), reproduces to a great extent the information contained in Der Lieblingsschüler Chopin's in Bernhard Stavenow's Schöne Geister (Bremen, Kühlmann, 1879), both which publications, eulogistic rather than biographical, were inspired by Gutmann.
[9]Kleczyński, in Chopin : De l'interprétation de ses œuvres -Trois conférences faites a Varsovie, says that he was told by several of the master's pupils that the latter sometimes held his hands absolutely flat. When I asked Madame Dubois about the correctness of this statement, she replied: “I never noticed Chopin holding his hands flat.” In short, if Chopin put his hands at any time in so awkward a position, it was exceptional; physical exhaustion may have induced him to indulge in such negligence when the technical structure of the music he was playing permitted it.
[10]Karasowski says that Chopin demanded absolutely from his pupils that they should practise the exercises, and especially the scales in major and minor, from piano to fortissimo, staccato as well as legato, and also with a change of accent, which was to be now on the second, now on the third, now on the fourth note. Madame Dubois, on the other hand, is sure she was never told by her master to play the scales staccato.
[11]Kleczyński writes that whatever the degree of instruction was which Chopin's pupils brought with them, they had all to play carefully besides the scales the second book of Clementi's Préludes et Exercices, especially the first in A flat major.
[11bis] He is referring to Op. 70. [Ed.N.]
[12]This statement can only be accepted with much reserve. Whether Chopin played much or little to his pupil depended, no doubt, largely on the mood and state of health he was in at the time, perhaps also on his liking or disliking the pupil. The late Brinley Richards told me that when he had lessons from Chopin, the latter rarely played to him, making his corrections and suggestions mostly by word of mouth.
[13]“In dynamical shading [im Nuanciren],” says Mikuli, “he was exceedingly particular about a gradual increase and decrease of loudness.” Karasowski writes: “Exaggeration in accentuation was hateful to him, for, in his opinion, it took away the poesy from playing, and gave it a certain didactic pedantry.”
[13bis] This quotation from the sly biography of Liszt concludes the third chapter: "Mazoures". [Ed.N.]
[13ter] And nothing of Mozart either, who treats the keyboard as a harpsichord-player rather than a piano-player; in fact, you can play his sonatas on a harpsichord without too much damages, but you cannot play Clementi's sonatas on a harpsichord without important losses. Of course, this has nothing to do with the music value. [Ed.N.]

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