Charles Hallé

Kalkbrenner, Chopin, Liszt and Thalberg
[from Life and Letters of Sir Charles Hallé, being an Autobiography (1819-1860) with Correspondence and Diaries,
edited by His Son, C. E. Hallé, and His Daughter, Marie Hallé, London (Smith , Elder, & Co.) 1896, pp. 30÷40, 86÷90, 212÷215, 224÷225.]

[INTRODUCTORY NOTE.The recollections of Sir Charles Hallé (April 11, 1819-†October 25, 1895) are one of the most important witnesses about Chopin as a pianist, for their author, a pianist himself, shows, beyond some inconsistencies about certain dates, a remarkable level of objectivity (see the pleasant preamble upon his French teacher). The four pianists' confrontation, in virtue of Hallé's expertise, relationships with the protagonists, and absence of any bias or animosity, allows the competent and attentive reader to get a quite precise idea of the two opposite piano conceptions: the Chopin's conception and the Liszt's one. In another page we'll came back upon such a topic.]

I left Darmstadt[1] and my dear old master with sincere regret in the autumn of 1836, travelling by 'diligence' viâ Metz and Chalons, sleeping at each place by order of the doctor, for I was even then not very robust, and such a journey was at that time a formidable undertaking. A great disappointment awaited me after having crossed the French frontier and finding myself in the interior of the huge 'diligence' with four Frenchmen. At school I had been considered a very fair French scholar, reading and even speaking the language with a certain amount of fluency; great, therefore, was my astonishment when I did not understand a word of the conversation of my fellow-travellers, although I was all attention, and I arrived in Paris very crestfallen. It took a long time before my ear got accustomed to the unfamiliar sound, but then my former studies proved of great advantage. I may relate here that when two years later I paid a visit to Hagen and met my old teacher of French he addressed me joyfully in what he believed to be that language, but I no longer understood him, and he left me fully convinced that I had forgotten all he had taught me.

Arrived in Paris,[2] and settled in a small German hotel in the Rue Vivienne, I began after a few days to deliver the letters of introduction I had brought with me, one of my first visits being to Kalkbrenner.[3] Kalkbrenner and Hummel were at that time considered the greatest pianists, and even Chopin had come to Paris a few years before to learn from Kalkbrenner.[4] I therefore approached him with con-/[p. 31]siderable trepidation, and great was my disappointment when he told me that he no longer took pupils. He, however, kindly invited me to play something, to which he listened carefully, and then made some unpleasant remarks[5] and advised me to take lessons from one of his pupils. As I was about to leave him he offered to play for me, saying that it might prove useful to me to hear him. I accepted eagerly and was full of expectation, when he sat down and played a new piece of his composition, entitled 'Le Fou,' one of the most reasonable and dullest pieces ever perpetrated. I admired the elegance and neatness of his scales and legato playing, but was not otherwise struck by his performance, having expected more, and wondering at some wrong notes which I had detected.

I did not at once[6] follow his advise with regard to the teacher he had recommended, and two or three days later I received an invitation to dinner from the banker Mallet, to whom an uncle of mine, Harkort of Leipzig, had recommended me, and found myself sitting beside Chopin. The same evening[7] I heard him play, and was fascinated beyond expression. It seemed to me as if I had got into another world, and all thought of Kalkbrenner was driven out of my mind. I sat entranced, filled with wonderment, and if the room had suddenly been peopled with fairies, I should not have been astonished. The marvellous charm, the poetry and originality, the perfect freedom and absolute lucidity of Chopin's playing at that time cannot be described. It was /[p. 32] perfection in every sense. He seemed to be pleased with the evident impression he had produced, for I could only stammer a few broken words of admiration, and he played again and again, each time revealing new beauties, until I could have dropped on my knees to worship him. I returned home in a state of complete bewilderment, and it was only the next day that I began to realise what was before me-how much study and hard work, in order to get that technical command over the keyboard, without which I knew now that no good result could be achieved. Strange to say, the idea of taking lessons did not occur to me then; I felt that what I had to do could be done without a master; lessons of style might be more useful later on. I shut myself up and practised twelve hours and more a day, until one day my left hand was swollen to about twice its usual size, causing me considerable anxiety. For some months I hardly ever left may rooms, and only when I received invitations to houses where I knew I should meet, and perhaps hear, Chopin. There were not many of them in Paris, for Chopin, impelled by growing weakness, began even then to lead a very retired life. He used still to visit principally Count de Perthuis, the banker August Leo, Mallet, and a few other houses. Fortunately for me I had been introduced by letters to the above three gentlemen, and enjoyed the privilege of being invited to their ' réunions intimes,' when Chopin, who avoided large parties, was to be present. With greater familiarity my admiration increased, for I learned to appreciate /[p. 33] what before had principally dazzled me. In personal appearance he was also most striking, his clear-cut features, diaphanous complexion, beautiful brown waving hair, the fragility of his frame, his aristocratic bearing, and his princelike manners, singling him out, and making one feel the presence of a superior man. Meeting often, we came into closer contact, and although at that time I never exhibited what small powers I might possess as a pianist, he knew me as an ardent student, and divined that I not merely admired but understood him. With time our acquaintance developed into real friendship, which I am happy to say remained undisturbed until the end of his too short life.

From the year 1836 to 1848, a period during which he created many of his most remarkable works, it was my good fortune to hear him play them successively as they appeared, and each seemed a new revelation. It is impossible at the present day, when Chopin's music has become the property of every schoolgirl, when there is hardly a concerti-programme without his name, to realise the impression which these works produced upon musicians when they first appeared, and especially when they were played by himself. I can confidently assert that nobody has ever been able to reproduce them as they sounded under his magical fingers. In listening to him you lost all power of analysis; you did not for a moment think how perfect was his execution of this or that difficulty; you listened, as it were, to the improvisation of a poem and were under the charm as long as /[p. 34] it lasted. A remarkable feature of his playing was the entire freedom with which he treated the rhythm, but which appeared so natural that for years it had never struck me. It must have been in 1845 or 1846 that I once ventured to observe to him that most of his mazurkas (those dainty jewels), when played by himself, appeared to be written, not in 3-4, but in 4-4 time, the result of his dwelling so much longer on the first note in the bar. He denied it strenuously, until I made him play one of them and counted audibly four in the bar, which fitted perfectly. Then he laughed and explained that it was the national character of the dance which created the oddity. The more remarkable fact was that you received the impression of a 3-4 rhythm whilst listening to common time.[8] Of course this was not the case with every mazurka, but with many. I understood later how ill-advised I had been to make that observation to him and how well disposed towards me he must have been to have taken it with such good humour, for a similar remark made by Meyerbeer, perhaps in a somewhat supercilious manner, on another occasion, led to a serious quarrel, and I believe Chopin never forgave him. Any deliberate misreading of his compositions he resented sharply. I remember how, on one occasion, in his gentle way he laid his hand upon my shoulder, saying how unhappy he felt, because he had heard his 'Grande Polonaise,' in A flat, jouée vite ! thereby destroying all the grandeur, the majesty, of this noble inspiration. Poor Chopin must be rolling round and round in his /[p. 35] grave nowadays, for this misreading has unfortunately become the fashion.
I may as well continue to speak about Chopin here and tale up the thread of my narrative later on, all the more as it will fill little space. His public appearances were few and far between, and consisted in concerts given in the 'Salon Pleyel,' when he produced his newest compositions, the programme opening, I think, invariably with the Mozart's Trio in E major, the only work by another composer which I ever heard him play. He was so entirely identified with his own music that it occurred to no one to inquire or even to wish to know how he would play, say, Beethoven's sonatas. If he was well acquainted with them remains a moot point. One day, long after I had emerged from my retirement and achieved some notoriety as a pianist, I played at his request, in his own room, the sonata in E flat, Op. 30,[9] No. 3, and after the finale he said that it was the first time he had liked it, that it had always appeared to him very vulgar. I felt flattered, but was much struck by the oddity of the remark. In another direction, he did not admire Mendelssohn's 'Lieder ohne Worte,' with the exception of the first of the first book, which he called a song of the purest virginal beauty. When one reflects on the wonderful originality of his genius, the striking difference of his works from any written before him, without making comparison as to their respective worth, one feels it natural that he should have lived in his own world, and that other music, even the very greatest, did not touch all is sympathies.

[p. 36] When I first knew him he was still a charming companion, gay and full of life; a few years later his bodily decline began; he grew weaker and weaker, to such a degree, that when we dined together at Leo's or at other friend's houses, he had to be carried upstairs, even to the first floor.[10] His spirits and his mental energy remained, nevertheless, unimpaired, a proof of which he gave one evening, when, after having written his sonata fro piano and violoncello, he invited a small circle of friends to hear it played by himself and Franchomme. On our arrival we found him hardly able to move, bent like a half opened penknife, and evidently in great pain. We entreated him to postpone the performance, but he would not hear of it; soon he sat down to the piano, and as he warmed to his work, his body gradually resumed its normal position, the spirit having mastered the flesh. In spite of his declining physical strength, the charm of his playing remained as great as ever, some of the new readings he was compelled to adopt having a particular interest. Thus at the last public concert he gave in Paris, at the and of the year 1847 or the beginning of 1848,[11] he played the latter part of his 'Barcarolle,' from the point where it demands the utmost energy, in the most opposite style, pianissimo, but with such wonderful nuances, that one remained in doubt if this new reading were not preferable to the accustomed one. Nobody but Chopin could have accomplished such a feat. The last time I saw him was in England; he had come to London a few weeks after my arrival there in 1848, and I had the privilege /[p. 37] and the happiness to hear him several times at Mrs. Sartoris's and Henry F. Chorley's houses. The admiration which he elicited knew no bounds; there we heard for the first time the beautiful valses, Op. 64, recently composed and published, which since have become the most popular of his smaller pieces. I had the pleasure afterwards to welcome him to Manchester, where he played at one of the concerts of the society called the Gentlemen's Concerts in the month of August. It was then painfully evident that his end was drawing near; a year later he was no more.

To return to my own experiences in 1836, I have to relate that a few days after having made the acquaintance of Chopin, I heard Liszt for the first time at one of his concerts, and went home with a feeling of thorough dejection. Such marvels of executive skill and power I could never have imagined. He was a giant, and Rubinstein spoke the truth when, at the time when his own triumphs were greatest, he said that, in comparison with Liszt, all other pianists were children. Chopin carried you with him into a dreamland, in which you would have liked to dwell for ever; Liszt was all sunshine and dazzling splendour, subjugating his hearers with a power that none could withstand. For him there were non difficulties of execution, the most incredible seeming child's play under his fingers. One of the transcendent merits of his playing was the crystal-like clearness which never failed for a moment even in the most complicated and, to anybody else, impossible passages; it was as if he had photographed them in their minutest detail /[p. 38] upon the ear of his listener. The power he drew from his instrument was such as I have never heard since, but never harsh, never suggesting 'thumping.' His daring was as extraordinary as his talent. At an orchestral concert given by him and conducted by Berlioz, the 'March au Supplice,' from the latter's 'Symphonie Fantastique,' that most gorgeously instrumented piece, was performed, at the conclusion of which Liszt sat down and played his own arrangement, for the piano alone, of the same movement, with an effect even surpassing that of the full orchestra, and creating an indescribable furore. The feat had been duly announced in the programme beforehand, a proof of his indomitable courage.

If, before his marvellous execution, one had only to bow in admiration, there were some peculiarities of style, or rather of musicianship, which could not be approved. I was very young and most impressionable, but still his tacking on the finale of the C sharp minor sonata (Beethoven's) to the variations of the one in A flat, Op. 26, gave me a shock, in spite of the perfection with which both movements were played. Another example: he was fond at that time of playing in public his arrangement for piano of the 'Scherzo,' 'The Storm,' and the finale from Beethoven's 'Pastoral Symphony;' 'The Storm' was simply magnificent, and no orchestra could produce a more telling or effective tempest. The peculiarity, the oddity, of the performance, consisted in his playing the first eight bars of the 'Scherzo' rather quicker than they are usually taken, and the following eight /[p. 39] bars, the B major phrase, in a slow andante time; 'ce sont les vieux,' he said to me on one occasion. It may serve to characterise the state of musical knowledge in Paris, at the time I speak of, when I state that at a concert given by Liszt in 1837, in the Salle Erard, the B flat Trio by Beethoven, which stood at the commencement of the programme, and Mayseder's Trio in A flat, which was to begin the second part, were transposed for some reason or other, without the fact being announced to the public. The consequence was that Mayseder's Trio, passing for Beethoven, was received with acclamation, and Beethoven's very coldly, the newspapers also eulogising the first and criticising the length and dryness of the other severely. Of the man Liszt I shall have now and then something to say when I arrive at the time of our more intimate acquaintance.[12]

With Thalberg there came a new sensation in the same year. Totally unlike in style to either Chopin or Liszt, he was admirable and unimpeachable in his own way. His performances were wonderfully finished and accurate, giving the impression that a wrong note was an impossibility. His tone was round and beautiful, the clearness of his passage-playing crystal-like, and he had brought to the utmost perfection the method, identified with his name, of making a melody stand out distinctly through a maze of brilliant passages. He did not appeal to the emotions, except those of wonder, for his playing was statuesque; cold, but beautiful and so masterly that it was said of him with reason he would play /[p. 40] with the same care and finish if roused out of the deepest sleep in the middle of the night. He created a great sensation in Paris, and became the idol of the public, principally, perhaps, because it was felt that he could be imitated, even successfully, which with Chopin and Liszt was out of question.

[p. 86]
The Beethoven festival at Bonn,[13] […] to which Berlioz and I journeyed together from Paris, drew together a large number of the most notable musicians from all countries, all anxious to do homage to the memory of that incomparable genius. It was graced by the presence of the King of Prussia and his guests, Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, who witnessed from a royal box built purposely in the square the unveiling of the statue, which, to the astonishment of the multitude that surrounded it, was found when the veil fell to turn its back upon the Royalties.

The Beethoven festival at Bonn, […] to which Berlioz and I journeyed together from Paris, drew together a large number of the most notable musicians from all countries, all anxious to do homage to the memory of that incomparable genius. It was graced by the presence of the King of Prussia and his guests, Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, who witnessed from a royal box built purposely in the square the unveiling of the statue, which, to the astonishment of the multitude that surrounded it, was found when the veil fell to turn its back upon the Royalties. Liszt was the hero of the fête, and justly so, for without his colossal exertions it would never have taken place. He was seldom to be approached by us, so great was the crowd of his admirers that besieged him constantly; but the occasional half hours he could spare to Berlioz and myself were made memorable by the flashes of his eloquence and his wit. His speech was indeed golden. At the first concert he played us, however, an unpardonable trick. For the opening of the programme he had composed a cantata of considerable length, devoid of interest, as the rehearsals had shown us, but which we had resigned ourselves to listen to patiently, and so we did. Hardly was it concluded, and we were /[p. 87] preparing ourselves to enjoy Beethoven's music, when the Royalties, who had been detained until then, entered their box, and Liszt, to our dismay, began the whole cantata over again, inflicting it a second time on the immense audience, who, out of respect for the crowned heads, had to endure it, though probably not without inward grumbling. One morning, during this week of festivities, I found him alone, and the conversation turning upon events and anecdotes which had made the years from 1838 and 1846[14] memorable to both of us, he suddenly exclaimed, 'Ah l'heureux temps ! où l'on pouvait être si bête !' He spoke feelingly, and I think rendered himself justice,[15] for the things he could say and do during that period when he was the best fêted artist that perhaps had ever lived bordered really on the ludicrous. Thus, after his great triumphs in Germany, especially in Berlin, where the ladies had fought for his gloves, I heard him say at one of his receptions in Paris, the name of the King of Prussia being mentioned: ' Le roi a été très convenable !' To be different from the rest of mankind, to know nothing of the usual modes of living, or rather to appear ignorant of them, seemed his one aim. Once, having accidentally met me on the Boulevards, he asked me to dine with him at the Café de Paris. We enjoyed a good but simple dinner, and when the waiter brought him the bill, which could hardly have amounted to 30 frs., he asked me quite seriously if I thought 40 frs. for the waiter would be sufficient! ' Je ne sais jamais ces choses, ' he said, and without any remonstrances he would have given /[p. 88] to the waiter more than the whole dinner had cost. Calling upon him one day I found him engaged with his tailor, and busy looking at patterns for waist-coats. 'I have at least sixty,' he said to me, 'but never find one to my liking when I want it.' 'What do you say to this pattern?' he asked presently, and on my approving of it he came out with ' Voulez-vous que je vous en fasse faire un ? '—a kind offer which was declined with thanks.

One scene I witnessed characterises another side of his behaviour at that time. The programme of one of his concerts given in the 'Salle du Conservatoire' contained the 'Kreutzer' sonata to be played by Liszt and Massart, a celebrated and much esteemed violinist, professor at the Conservatoire. Massart was just commencing the first bar of the introduction when a voice from the audience called out ' Robert le Diable ! ' At that time Liszt had composed a very brilliant fantasia on themes from that opera, and played it always with immense success. The call was taken up by other voices, and in a moment the cries ' Robert le Diable ! ' ' Robert le Diable ! ' drowned the tones of the violin. Liszt rose, bowed, and said: ' Je suis toujours l'humble serviteur du public, mais est-ce qu'on désire la fantaisie avant ou après la sonate ? ' Renewed cries of ' Robert le Diable ! ' were the answer, upon which Liszt turned half round to poor Massart and dismissed him with a wave of the hand, without a syllable of excuse or regret. He did play the fantasia magnificently, rousing the public to a frenzy of enthusiasm, then /[p. 89] called Massart out of his retreat, and we had the 'Kreutzer,' which somehow no longer seemed in its right place. On another occasion, at a concert given for the benefit of the Polish refugees at the house of Princess Czartoriska, he did me the honour to ask me to play a duet for two pianos with him, and chose Thalberg's well-known 'Fantasia' on 'Norma.' We had no rehearsal, but he said to me: 'Let us take the theme of the variations at a moderate pace, the effect will be better.' Now the first part of this theme is accompanied on the second piano (which Liszt had chosen) by octaves for both hands, which octaves in the second part fall to the lot of the first piano. What was my horror when, in spite of the caution he had given me, Liszt started his octaves at such a pace that I did not conceive the possibility of getting through my portion of them alive. Somehow I managed it, badly enough, but if I ever understood the French saying ' suer sang et eau ' it was then. I had my revenge, however. In the second variation, where the pianos successively accompany the theme with chromatic scales, Liszt, instead of confining himself to the scales, altered them by introducing double and additional notes, a feat of amazing difficulty, which made my hair stand on end, but which I did not feel compelled to try and imitate, simple chromatic scales neatly and rapidly played being, on the whole, more effective; so when my turn came I confined myself to them, and earned a round of applause in which Liszt most generously joined.[16]

Of his ready wit the following little anecdote, /[p. 90] hardly known I believe, may serve as an example. A choral society of amateurs had been formed in Paris under his direction, most of the members belonging to the highest aristocracy. At the rehearsals Princess Belgiojoso, an accomplished musician, accompanied on the piano. As an accompanist she had, however, serious faults, for she took great liberties with the time, treating what she had to play as if it had been a 'Nocturne' or 'Ballade' by Chopin, her admired master. During one of these rehearsals, at which I was present by invitation, a young German tenor, not perfectly at home in the French tongue, complained of these liberties by muttering in a low voice at first, but which grew louder and louder: ' Il n'y a pas de tact, il n'y a pas de tact, ' evidently under the impression that the German word 'takt' had the same meaning in French. After a while Liszt corrected him by saying: ' Monsieur, Madame la Princesse manque de mesure, mais vous manquez de tact.'

[p. 212]
IX. To His Parents.
(Translated from the German)
Paris: October 18, 1836.
Dearest Parents,—I did not expect a letter from you so soon, and my delight is therefore so much the greater; although Uncle Koch gave me a terrible fright by writing on the outside, 'This letter to be sent forward with the utmost despatch.' When I read this, I could not but think that it contained the news of some misfortune, but happily it was not so, and, on the contrary, I found that you were, God be thanked and praised, all in good health (only you told me nothing of Mino's doings; please do not forget in your next letter to speak of him).

First I must tell you of my own doings; that is easily done. I practise nearly the whole day long, and hardly anything but exercises, shakes, scales, and so on, and the rest of the time, for it is impossible to play without ceasing, I go over, and put into order, the work I did with Rinck, or, if ever it stops raining for a moment, I take a run through Paris and visit its sights. So far I have taken no lessons, but hope to do so in a few days, but not from Kalkbrenner. I shall tell you the whole story. The day after the Kalkbrenner's return I went to see him at eleven o'clock;[17] he happened to be at home, and I was shown into an ante-room, where there were several people already assembled; when he had kept us waiting a considerable time, he appeared, wrapped in an ample dressing-gown. After he had spoken for a short time to the persons standing nearest to him, he came towards me; I stepped forward and was beginning to explain my business, but as soon as he heard I intended to become a musician, and had studied composition with Rinck, he asked me to wait until he had dismissed the rest of the company. I was pleased at this, as it would enable me to speak to him undisturbed. It lasted a good long time, but finally he had despatched them all, and I was able to make my request. When /[p. 213] I had done speaking, he said he regretted very much that it was at present impossible for him to comply my wish; he had been seriously ill, had only just returned from the Baths, and was still so weak that his doctor had strictly forbidden him to talk much, a thing quite unavoidable in giving lessons—in fact, he did look very ill. He had his class in the Conservatoire, which he could not give up, and that tired him so, that he had been obliged to give up all other lessons. It was now my turn to express regret. Then he said he would like to hear my play, to see how far I had got on, and that he could perhaps recommend a teacher to me. He took me into his sitting-room, where there was a most beautiful grand piano, and I played him his own Effusio Musica. He made several remarks about the tempo, and said several times, 'very good,' 'first rate,' until I got to a part where both hands had scales in octaves during several pages; when I had finished them he stopped me, and asked why I played the octaves with my arms and not from my wrists? 'You are quite out of breath,' he said (which was the case); he could play scales in octaves for an hour without the least fatigue; and why had Got given us wrists? He was sure, if the Almighty had ever played the piano, He would play from the wrist! He made several other remarks; he said I held my fingers rather too high, I must hold them closer to the keys, especially in legato passages, to make them more finished, and obtain altogether a rounder and more ringing tone; and as to the expression, he gave me a good deal of advice, all very good, and worthy to be followed. He then played part of the piece I had played, to make it clear to me; after this, he began another, and altogether played for me more than half-an-hour. You can imagine my delight; it was the first time I had ever heard a celebrated musician, and this half-hour has been of the greatest use to me. In Kalkbrenner's playing there reigns a clearness, a distinctness, and neatness that are astonishing; in octave scales he has an immense facility and precision, especially in the left hand; then he has a special /[p. 214] mode of handling the piano, particularly in melodious passages, which makes a great impression, but which I cannot describe to you; the reason of it lies merely in that he keeps his fingers so closely over the keys. When he had finished, he told me to be very industrious, to avoid the mistakes he had pointed out, and that I would become a first-rate pianist; at present I should go to Osborne,[*] his best pupil, and who had quite his method of teaching (Mr. Elbers and I have played something of Osborne's, and, as far as I recollect, we liked it very much); I should tell him that Kalkbrenner had sent me to him and begged him to give me lessons; when I had worked with him for some time then he, Kalkbrenner, would give me some lessons with the greatest pleasure. As often as I had studied a piece with Osborne I should come and play it to him, and if there was still anything wanting, he would point it out to me. I must also come and see him from time to time. That was kind, was is not? and I shall certainly not fail to take him at his word.

Next day I went to Osborne (Tuesday, this day week);[18] he also was out of town, and only returned on Saturday. On Sundays in Paris no one is ever to be found at home, so I went on Monday, yesterday, and luckily found him at home. He received me very amiably, and when I had told him my take, he said I put him in a great perplexity; that he gave lessons from early morning till night, and still he was most unwilling to refuse me. After a little more conversation he asked me to play something; I did so, and he praised and blamed exactly in the same way as Kalkbrenner had done; then he asked my address, and said he would write to me in a few day to say whether he had found it possible to arrange to give me lessons, and in this letter he would give me all particulars; should there be any evening parties with music, he would introduce me with pleasure. I am therefore awaiting this letter; should he delay too long, which I do not expect, I /[p. 215] shall go to some one else. I have been here more than a fortnight, and have only been able to study by myself; but soon after my arrival, Mr. Probst of Leipzig, who lives here, and whose acquaintance I made through Mr. Tilemann's uncle, told me that if I had not learnt patience before, I should learn it here, and, in truth, it seems so. Neither Meyerbeer nor Hiller are in Paris, so I cannot deliver my letters to them. As to hearing many good works, it is not as we expected; at all the theatres there are only small operettas and ballets, even at the Grand Opera, where all the best and newest operas are generally given. A new ballet, La Fille du Danube, will probably have a hundred successive performances, so much does it please the Parisians; so there is but a poor prospect of hearing good music. All these things are not calculated to banish my bad humour; on the contrary, my longing for you and for my beautiful, peaceful birthplace grows ever stronger. Christmas and New Year! O Gott!

The only thing I am looking forward to is that Mainzer has promised to procure me the opportunity of often hearing Chopin and Liszt. I hope he will keep his word, for it would be of the greatest use to me.

[p. 224]
XII. To his parents.
(Translated from the German)
Paris: December 2, 1836.
Beloved Parents,—Selttinghaus's departure has taken me so much by surprise that it is quite impossible for me to give him several letters to take with him to Hagen. I went to Rumpe's yesterday, the 1st of the month, to get some money, and then learnt that Selttinghaus was leaving to-day at mid-day. As I have a lesson this afternoon and must practice for it, I have barely time for a short supplement to my letter of two days ago.

The morning after having written to you, I went again to Meyerbeer, and was at once admitted. As I expected, Meyerbeer was extremely kind and amiable. He kept me more than half an hour, inquired after Rinck and as to all my studies, asked if I had yet composed anything, how I got on in Paris, if I had heard the most eminent pianists, of whom Liszt was the very first, and so on. When I told him that I had neither seen nor heard Liszt, he said I must call again in a few days, in the morning, and he would give me an introduction to him; Liszt was a very nice young man, who would certainly receive me very kindly. How pleased I am that Meyerbeer should give me an introduction to that original fellow Liszt I cannot describe. This also is all very good and satisfactory.

The same evening[19] I went to dine with Baron Eichthal, where I was very cordially treated, and where I heard—Chopin. That was beyond all words. The few senses I had have quite left me. I could have jumped into the Seine. /[p. 225] Everything I hear now seems so insignificant, that I would rather not hear it at all. Chopin! He is no man, he is an angel, a god (or what can I say more?). Chopin's compositions played by Chopin! That is a joy never to be surpassed. I shall describe his playing another time. Kalkbrenner compared to Chopin is a child. I say this with the completest conviction. During Chopin's playing I could think of nothing but elves and fairy dances, such a wonderful impression do his compositions make. There is nothing to remind one that it is a human being who produces this music. It seems to descend from heaven—so pure, and clear, and spiritual. I feel a thrill each time I think of it. If Liszt plays still better, then the devil take me if I don't shoot myself on the spot. Chopin is moreover a charming, delightful creature. He talked to me a long time, gave me his address and the permission to go and see him often, a permission he will not have given in vain.

But now, best of parents, I must stop, or Mr. Selttinghaus will be running away without my letter. Farewell. Mr. Selttinghaus will tell you how I am and how I live here. Greet all my friends and relations, and be assured of the lasting love of your son,


[1] Hallé left Darmstadt on September 24, 1836. The trip required not less than eight days (see the letter to his parents of September 23, 1836, op.cit. p. 207).
[2] Hallé announces his arrival in Paris in the letter of October (op.cit. p. 208) without specifying the day. Anyhow, it may be dated to the beginning of the month.
[3] According to the letter of October 18, 1836, Hallé went to Kalkbrenner on October 10, 1836.
[4] Even if Chopin did not begin the three-year course proposed by Kalkbrenner, and the latter renounced his claim, many people remained convinced that the Polish had had lessons from him (see next note).
[5] This detail is not reported in the letter to the parents. Kalkbrenner treated in the same way the young people, who of their own free will went and saw him for some advice: he emphasized insubstantial faults and belittled the young student. It was his standard procedure. Probable he was aware to be on the wane; so, he searched to hold supremacy in every possible way. But we have to take into consideration another facet: he had invested a lot of money in the Pleyel's factory, whose he was a partner. In other words, he was most likely interested in increasing the sales: to choose a certain piano rather than another for practicing is not unimportant for getting a successful outcome… Besides, Chopin himself thought in the same way (von Lenz relates that «you needed a Pleyel [einen Pleyel hatte man nehmen müssen]», cf. Die grossen Pianoforte-Virtuosen unserer Zeit, Berlin [B. Behr's Buchhandlung] 1872, p. 39) . What exactly happened between Kalkbrenner and Chopin, we can only suppose, but not prove. Also the thirteen-year-old Clara Wieck was not treated differently. Kalkbrenner, immediately after having described her as a “great talented girl”, added: “What a pity! In Germany as a pianist she is destined to sink”; to which words her father Wieck replied: “She will not sink, because I do not let her go down”. “Sorry, Sir-retorted Kalkbrenner-, in Germany you play all in a one and only way, that is you make your fingers skip in Vienna-style, and you arch them such as crayfish feet like Hummel (in der Wiener Hopp- und Hummel'schen Krabbelmanier); Czerny, Ciblini, Pixis, Hiller, in a word all, do like that! All the people who come here from Germany” (cf. B. Litzmann, Clara Schumann, I, Leipzig [Breitkopf und Härtel] 21903, p. 45). (We translate the quoted German expression quite freely, so that you can understand it, because a literal translation would be unintelligible.) Actually, this absurd way of articulating the fingers is still in use.
[6] As just we said (see note 3), Hallé went to Kalkbrenner on October 10, 1836, and to Osborne the next day, but the latter was not at home. So Hallé came back there on October 17 (see here below the letter of December 2, 1836).
[7] Actually Hallé ran into Chopin on Novembre 30, a Wednesday (see below the letter of December 2, 1836).
[8] This detail should give to understand how great is the difference between tempo and rhythm.
[9] It is a lapsus memoriae or a misprint instead of 31.
[10] This detail is confirmed by Pleyel in a letter to a Schoelcher: « J'ai été prendre Chopin pour le mener chez Mme Gangler […] ; je trouvai le pauvre garçon si souffreteux, que je me fesais [sic] un cas de conscience de lui faire quitter le coin de son feu ; enfin nous arrivons après une lente et pénible lutte pour monter ce malheureux escalier… ; Mme Gangler chante deux admirables airs de Haendel, puis notre petit homme si pâle, si étique, si souffrant, s'assied devant le piano […], essaye quelques notes, fait résonner quelques cordes, touche quelques accords et le voilà électrisé et bientôt les mélodies les plus suaves, les plus touchantes jaillissent comme par enchantement de ce clavier auquel, semblable à Prométhée, il vient de communiquer l'âme et la vie » (cf. J.-J Eigeldinger, Chopin et Pleyel, Paris [Librairie Arthème Fayard] 2010, p. 110).
[11] On February 16, 1848.
[12] See below.
[13] The first Beethoven's Festival took place in August, 1845, and the unveiling of the statue was on 12 August.
[14] Read 1845.
[15] Even if the text of this close has been confirmed in the new edition (cf. The Autobiography of Charles Hallé With correspondence and diaries, Edited with an introduction by Michael Kennedy, London [Barnes & Noble Books] 1973, p. 104), we do not understand what exactly Hallé wanted to express.
[16] From this episode Liszt's perfidy discloses itself evidently: to be first was not enough for him; he enjoyed teasing his colleagues.
[17] See note 6.
[*] George Alexander Osborne (1806-1893), the well-known Irish pianist, teacher, and composer. [Hallé's children are the authors of this note.]
[18] On October 11, 1836.
[19] On November 30, 1836.

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