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

(II, p. 338)


On page 175 of this volume I made an allusion to Spohr in connection with Chopin's pupil Caroline Hartmann. To save the curious reader trouble, I had better point out that the information is to be found in Spohr's autobiography under date Munster, near Colmar, March 26, 1816 (German edition, pp. 245-250; English edition, pp. 229-232). Jacques Hartmann, the father of Caroline, was a cotton manufacturer and an enthusiastic lover of music. He had an orchestra consisting of his family and employés. Spohr calls the father a bassoon-virtuoso; what he says of the daughter will be seen in the following sentences: "His sister and his daughter play the pianoforte. The latter, a child eight years old, is the star of the amateur orchestra. She plays with a dexterity and exactness that are worthy of admiration. I was still more astonished at her fine ear, with which (away from the piano) she recognises the intervals of the most intricate and full dissonant chords which one strikes, and names the notes of which they consist in their sequence. If the child is well guided, she is sure to become one day an excellent artist."

(II, p. 338÷339)

Mme PERUZZI[1] (VOL. II, p. 177)

The reader will be as grateful as I am for the following interesting communications of Madame Peruzzi (née Elise Eustaphieve, whose father was Russian Consul-General to the United States of America) about her intercourse with Chopin.

"I first met Chopin at the house of the American banker, Samuel Welles, in Paris, where I, like every one present, was enchanted listening to his mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, &c., which he played on a wretched square piano. I lived as dame en chambre (a very convenient custom for ladies alone), at a pension, or rather a regular boarding-school, with rooms to let for ladies. The lady of the house was acquainted with many of the musical people, and I had a splendid /[p. 339] American grand piano which was placed in the large drawing-room of the establishment, so that I felt quite at home, and there received Chopin, Liszt, and Herz (Miss Herz, his sister, gave lessons in the school), and often played four-hand pieces with them.

"My intimacy with Chopin began after my marriage. He often dined with us, was very fond of my husband, and after dinner we were not at home if any one else came, but remained at our two pianos (Erard had sent me one), playing together, and I used to amuse him by picking out of his music little bits that seemed like questions for him to answer on the other piano. He lived very near us, so we very often passed mornings at his house, where he asked me to play with him all Weber's duets. This was delightful to me, the more so, as he complimented me on my reading and entering at first sight into the spirit of the music. He made me acquainted with the beautiful duet of Moscheles, and was the first with whom I played Hummel's splendid duet. He was a great admirer of Weber. We frequently had morning concerts with double quartet, and Chopin would very kindly turn the leaves for me. He was particularly fond of doing so when I played Hummel's Septet, and was so encouraging. Even when playing to him his own music, he would approve some little thing not indicated and say, 'What a good idea of yours that is!' My husband begged him to give me lessons; but he always refused, and did give them; for I studied so many things with him, among others his two concertos. The one in E minor I once played accompanied by himself on a second piano. We passed many pleasant evenings at Mr. and Madame Leo's house, a very musical one. Madame Moscheles was a niece of theirs. Chopin was fond of going there, where he was quite a pet. He always appeared to best advantage among his most intimate friends. I was one who helped to christen the Berceuse. You ask me in what years I knew Chopin, 1838 is the date of the manuscript in my collection which he gave me after I was married, and the last notes of that little jewel he wrote on the desk of the piano in our presence. He said it would not be published because they would play it. ... Then he would show how they would play it, which was very funny. It came out after his death, it is a kind of waltz-mazurka [the Valse, Op. 69, No. I], Chopin's intimate friend, Camille Pleyel, called it the story of a D flat, because that note comes in constantly. One morning we took Paganini to hear Chopin, and he was enchanted; they seemed to understand each other so well. When I knew him he was a sufferer and would only occasionally play in public, and then place his piano in the middle of Pleyel's room whilst his admirers were around the piano. His speciality was extreme delicacy, and his pianissimo extraordinary. Every little note was like a bell, so clear. His fingers seemed to be without any bones; but he would bring out certain effects by great elasticity. He got very angry at being accused of not keeping time; calling his left hand his maître de chapelle and allowing his right to wander about ad libitum."


[1] Even if Niecks thinks the reader ought to be grateful for the communications of Madame Peruzzi, on the contrary we are not, because what she wrote turns out on attentive reading to be quite ambiguous. In fact, there is not one single true assessment about Chopin as a teacher or pianist. These are the seemingly positive remarks:
– She was enchanted listening to his mazurkas etc., but she does not comment his playing; hence, there is an appreciation of the composer, not of the pianist, who, what's more, played on a wretched square piano.
– His speciality was extreme delicacy, like the “canard à la Tour d'Argent” is the speciality of the famous Parisian restaurant.
And here are the seemingly positive remarks, which dissemble defects: His pianissimo was extraordinary. But—the reader wonders—, if Chopin's fingers looked like without bones, how could he play forte? Madame Peruzzi only tells us Chopin would bring out certain effects by great elasticity. Which kind of effects? Here the well-known criticism about the pianist is understood.
– Chopin was fond of going there, where he was quite a pet.
– All witnesses assert Chopin was incomparable as accompanist too, but again, Mme Peruzzi does not say anything in this connection.
– She reminds Chopin was charged with not keeping time, but she does not add any comment. She simply tells he called his left hand his maître de chapelle and allowed his right to wander about ad libitum. To an extent, she justifies those accusations.
On the other hand, she lists her own qualities:
– She was a well-bred lady, because she lived in a regular boarding school. And who gives a damn!?
– The best musicians, that is Chopin, Liszt and Herz wanted to play four-hand pieces with her.
– Chopin asked her to play together all Weber's duets.
– Chopin complimented her on her reading and entering at first sight into the spirit of the music.
– Chopin would turn the leaves for her!
– Chopin would approve some her good ideas not indicated.
– Practically, she found the name Berceuse.
– She amused him by picking out of his music little bits that seemed like questions for him to answer on the other piano.
But there is something else. After telling their intimacy began after her marriage, Madame Peruzzi adds Chopin was very fond of her husband! What a strange bringing near…
As for the manuscript of the presumptive Waltz Op. 69 No. 1, she asserts it is of the year 1838, but the manuscript of that waltz is dated 1837! “That little jewel” would be “a kind of waltz-mazurka” (freakish definition!), which only “came out after his death”; visibly the “jewel” was a pretty “small” one indeed! Moreover, she maintains Camille Pleyel had “called it the story of a D flat”. But, apart from its tonality which is A flat major, the D flat note does not “come in constantly” at all. Chopin's compositions are full of D flat! Either Camille Pleyel had gone out of his mind, or the “jewel” was a different one, or else Madame Peruzzi had distorted her recollections.
The only two interesting notes are: 1. Chopin's “fingers seemed to be without any bones”; 2. “every little note was like a bell, so clear”. The rest is just baloney.

[All rights reserved © Franco Luigi Viero]

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