Friederike Müller

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


APPENDIX IX.
(II, pp. 340÷343)

MADAME STREICHER'S (née FRIEDERIKE MÜLLER) RECOLLECTIONS OF CHOPIN, BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM HER CAREFULLY-KEPT DIARY OF THE YEARS 1839, 1840, AND 1841.[1] (VOL. II, p. 177)

In March, 1839, I went to Paris, accompanied by a kind aunt, who was a highly-cultured musical connoisseur, animated by the wish to get if possible lessons from Chopin, whose compositions inspired me with enthusiasm. But he was from home and very ill; indeed, it was feared he would not return to Paris even in the winter. However, at last, at last, in October, 1839, he came. I had employed this long time in making myself acquainted with the musical world in Paris, but the more I heard, nay, even admired, the more was my intention to wait till Chopin's return confirmed. And I was quite right.

On the 30th of October, 1839, we, my kind aunt and I, went to him. At that time he lived in Rue Tronchet, No. 5. Anxiously I handed him my letters of introduction from Vienna, and begged him to take me as a pupil. He said very politely, but very formally: "You have played with applause[2] at a matinée at the house of Countess Appony, the wife of the Austrian ambassador, and will hardly require my instruction." I became afraid, for I was wise enough to understand he had not the least inclination to accept me as a pupil. I quickly protested that I knew very well I had still very, very much to learn. And, I added timidly, I should like to be able to play his wondrously-beautiful compositions well. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "it would be sad if people were not in a position to play them well without my instruction." "I certainly am not able to do so," I replied anxiously. "Well, play me something," he said. And in a moment his reserve had vanished. Kindly and indulgently he helped me to overcome my timidity, moved the piano, inquired whether I were comfortably seated, let me play till I had become calm, then gently found fault with my stiff wrist, praised my correct comprehension, and accepted me as a pupil. He arranged for two lessons a week, then turned in the most amiable way to my aunt, excusing himself beforehand if he should often be obliged to change the day and hour of the lesson on account of his delicate health. His servant would always inform us of this.

Alas! he suffered greatly. Feeble, pale, coughing much, he often took opium[3] drops on sugar and gum-water, rubbed his forehead with eau de Cologne, and nevertheless he taught with a patience, perseverance, and zeal which were admirable. His lessons always lasted a full hour, generally he was so kind as to make them longer. Mikuli says: «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». There were for me also such blessed lessons. Many a Sunday I began at one o'clock to play at Chopin's, and only at four or five o'clock in the afternoon did he dismiss us. Then he also played, and how splendidly; /[p.341] but not only his own compositions, also those of other masters, in order to teach the pupil how they should be performed. One morning he played from memory fourteen Preludes and Fugues of Bach's, and when I expressed my joyful admiration at this unparalleled performance, he replied: " Cela ne s'oublie jamais, "[4] and smiling sadly he continued: " Depuis un an je n'ai pas étudié un quart d'heure de suite, je n'ai pas de force, pas d'énergie, j'attends toujours un peu de santé pour reprendre tout cela, mais...j'attends encore. "[5] We always spoke French together, in spite of his great fondness for the German language and poetry. It is for this reason that I give his sayings in the French language, as I heard them from him. In Paris people had made me afraid, and told me how Chopin caused Clementi, Hummel, Cramer, Moscheles, Beethoven, and Bach to be studied, but not his own compositions. This was not the case. To be sure, I had to study with him the works of the above-mentioned masters, but he also required me to play to him the new and newest compositions of Hiller, Thalberg, and Liszt, &c. And already in the first lesson he placed before me his wondrously-beautiful Preludes and Studies. Indeed, he made me acquainted with many a composition before it had appeared in print.

I heard him often preluding in a wonderfully-beautiful manner. On one occasion when he was entirely absorbed in his playing, completely detached from the world, his servant entered softly and laid a letter on the music-desk. With a cry Chopin left off playing, his hair stood on end—what I had hitherto regarded as impossible I now saw with my own eyes. But this lasted only for a moment.

His playing was always noble and beautiful, his tones always sang, whether in full forte, or in the softest piano. He took infinite pains to teach the pupil this legato, cantabile way of playing. " Il [ou elle] ne sait pas lier deux notes, "[6] was his severest censure. He also required adherence to the strictest rhythm, hated all lingering and dragging, misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos. " Je vous prie de vous asseoir, "[7] he said on such an occasion with gentle mockery. And it is just in this respect that people make such terrible mistakes in the execution of his works. In the use of the pedal he had likewise attained the greatest mastery, was uncommonly strict regarding the misuse of it, and said repeatedly to the pupil: "The correct employment of it remains a study for life."

When I played with him the study in C major, the first of those he dedicated to Liszt, he bade me practise it in the mornings very slowly. " Cette étude vous fera du bien, " he said. " Si vous l'étudiez comme je l'entends, cela élargit la main, et cela vous donne des gammes d'accords, comme les coups d'archet. Mais souvent malheureusement au lieu d'apprendre tout cela, elle fait désapprendre. "[8] I am quite aware that it is a generally-prevalent error, even in our day, that one can only play this study well when one possesses a very large hand. But this is not the case, only a supple hand is required.

[p. 342] Chopin related that in May, 1834, he had taken a trip to Aix-la-Chapelle with Hiller and Mendelssohn. "Welcomed there in a very friendly manner, people asked me when I was introduced: 'You are, I suppose, a brother of the pianist?' I answered in the affirmative, for it amused me, and described my brother the pianist. 'He is tall, strong, has black hair, a black moustache,[9] and a very large hand.'" To those who have seen the slightly-built Chopin and his delicate hand,[10] the joke must have been exceedingly amusing.

On the 20th of April, 1840, Liszt, who had come back to Paris after extended artistic tours, gave a matinée to an invited audience in Erard's saloon. He played, as he did always, very brilliantly, and the next morning I had to give a minute account to Chopin of what and how he had played. He himself was too unwell to be present. When I spoke of Liszt's artistic self-control and calmness in overcoming the greatest technical difficulties, he exclaimed: " Ainsi il parait que mon avis est juste. La dernière chose c'est la simplicité. Après avoir épuisé toutes les difficultés, après avoir joué une immense quantité de notes, et de notes, c'est la simplicité qui sort avec tout son charme, comme le dernier sceau de l'art. Quiconque veut arriver de suite a cela n'y parviendra jamais, on ne peut commencer par la fin. Il faut avoir étudié beaucoup, même immensément pour atteindre ce but, ce n'est pas une chose facile. Il m'était impossible, " he continued, " d'assister a sa matinée. Avec ma santé on ne peut rien faire. Je suis toujours embrouillé avec mes affaires, de manière que je n'ai pas un moment libre. Que j'envie les gens forts qui sont d'une santé robuste et qui n'ont rien a faire! Je suis bien fâché, je n'ai pas le temps d'être malade. "[11]

When I studied his Trio he drew my attention to some passages which now displeased him, he would now write them differently. At the end of the Trio he said: "How vividly do the days when I composed it rise up in my memory! It was at Posen, in the castle surrounded by vast forests of Prince Radziwiłł. A small but very select[12] company was gathered together there. In the mornings there was hunting, in the evenings music. Ah! and now," he added sadly,[13] "the Prince, his wife, his son, all, all are dead."

At a soirée (Dec. 20, 1840) he made me play the Sonata with the Funeral March before a large assemblage. On the morning of the same day I had once more to play over to him the Sonata, but was very nervous. "Why do you play less well to-day?" he asked. I replied that I was afraid. "Why? I consider you play it well," he rejoined very gravely, indeed, severely. "But if you wish to play this evening as nobody played before you, and nobody will play after you, well then!"...These words restored my composure. The thought that I played to his satisfaction possessed me also in the evening; I had the happiness of gaining Chopin's approval and the applause of the audience. Then he played with me the Andante of his F minor Concerto, which he accompanied magnificently on the second piano. The entire assemblage /[p. 343] assailed him with the request to perform some more of his compositions, which he then did to the delight of all.

For eighteen months (he did not leave Paris this summer) I was allowed to enjoy his instruction. How willingly would I have continued my studies with him longer! But he himself was of opinion that I should now return to my fatherland, pursue my studies unaided, and play much in public. On parting he presented me with the two manuscripts of his C sharp major and E major studies (dedicated to Liszt), and promised to write during his stay in the country a concert-piece and dedicate it to me.

In the end of the year 1844 I went again to Paris, and found Chopin looking somewhat stronger.[14] At that time his friends hoped for the restoration of, or at least for a considerable improvement in, his health.

The promised concert-piece, Op. 46, had to my inexpressible delight been published. I played it to him, and he was satisfied with my playing of it; rejoiced at my successes in Vienna, of which he had been told, exerted himself with the amiability peculiar to him to make me still better known to the musical world of Paris. Thus I learned to know Auber, Halévy, Franchomme, Alkan, and others. But in February, 1845,I was obliged to return to Vienna; I had pupils there who were waiting for me. On parting he spoke of the possibility of coming there for a short time, and I had quite made up my mind to return for another visit to Paris in eighteen months, in order again to enjoy his valuable instruction and advice. But this, to my deepest regret, was not to be.

I saw Madame Sand in the year 1841 and again in the year 1845 in a box in a theatre, and had an opportunity of admiring her beauty. I never spoke to her.[15]

NOTES

[1] The German text of these Recollections has been published several times: for ex., in Chopin-Almanach zur hundertsten Wiederkehr des Todesjahres con Fryderyk Chopin, herausgegeben vom Chopin-Komitee in Deutschland, Potsdam (Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Athenaion) 1949, pp. 134-142. The differences are very slight; in any case they are pointed out in our notes.
[2] The phrase “with applause” is missing in the German text, but it makes the context more logical.
[3] Here an explication is needed. Some time ago, I was talking with a young pianist, who had just been through a master class with a quite well-known pianist, Mr X. Among other things he told me that Chopin was a drug dependent. I asked him who had said such a bullshit. “Mr X, during the master class,” was the answer. Probably, Mr X, as well-known as ignorant, had heard of the opium taken by Chopin, and he misunderstood, perhaps because trouble shared is trouble halved… Well, in the case of Chopin opium was a medical prescription. In fact, drops of opium's mother tincture on a lump of sugar were irresponsibly prescribed for a lot of diseases. In observing how unstudied were the therapeutic properties of opium, Alexis Espanet (1811-1886), one of the greatest homeopaths of the 19th century, says: «In high doses the opium eases certain pains and eliminates the sense of others; sometime it makes up for insomnia; most of physicians have just restricted themselves to that. Well, since the majority of diseases share both the pain and insomnia, there is hardly a disease, against which the opium has not been employed. It is prescribed even in case of phthisis for soothing the cough» (cf. A. Espanet, Traité méthodique et pratique de matière médicale et de thérapeutique, Paris [J.-B. Baillière et Fils] 1861, p. 547). This is why Chopin took some drops of opium's mother tincture: for soothing the cough, not because he was an opium addict! Later, when Chopin changed his doctor and relied to Mr Molin, a skilful homeopath, he did not take opium any longer, and visibly he improved in health—as it is confirmed by Friederike Müller herself (see below).
[4] “You never forget that.”
[5] “Since a year I have not had a quarter of an hour of uninterrupted study. I have not any force, any energy. I am always waiting for some health in order to regain all that, but… I am still waiting”.
[6] “He [or she] cannot tie two notes.”
[7] “I ask you to sit down”.
[8] “This etude will you do good,” he said. “If you study it as I mean, it enlarges your hand and gives you chords like bowings. But often, unfortunately, instead of teaching all that, it makes you unlearn”.
[9] In the German text there is no reference to the moustache.
[10] Here also the German writing is a little different: «Wer den zart gebauten Chopin und seine Hand gesehen (hatte), für den muß der Scherz höchst ergötzlich gewesen sein».
[11] “Then it looks like my opinion is right. Simplicity is the last achievement. After having exhausted all the difficulties, after having played a huge quantity of notes and notes, what gets out with all its charm is simplicity, as the final seal of the art. Whoever wants to reach that immediately, will never get there. You can not begin from the end. One must study, even immensely, in order to achieve such a purpose. It is not a simple task. I could not,” he continued, “attend his matinée. With my health I can do nothing. I am always busy, so that I have not any little free time. How much I envy the sturdy people who are in perfect health and have nothing to do. I am very annoyed. I have no time to be ill.”
[12] The German text does not say "select", but "musical".
[13] There is not any "sadly" in the German text.
[14] V. n. 3.
[15] This last remark on George Sand is omitted in the published German text.

[All rights reserved © Franco Luigi Viero]

BACK