Chopin, Frederic François
He was the greatest genius of the piano who has ever lived, one of the most lovable, interesting and romantic figures in the history of music, and a great lyric composer, who was aptly called by Robert Schumann, "The boldest and proudest poetic spirit of the age." His life was brief, but full of incident and replete with energy and his service to the art of music cannot be too highly estimated. Chopin was a composer for the piano and for the piano alone, and his style is suited to no other instrument. In this he is unique. He was not only a great composer for the piano, but he made most important modifications in that instrument, and realized its possibilities as no one else ever did. He did for the piano what Paganini did for the violin and what Schubert did for song. He stands absolutely alone, and cannot be classified with any other composer.
His music is tinctured through and through with his personality. In it there is an echo of what he felt, loved and suffered. His compositions have been well-called his memoirs and his autobiography. No other poet, for Chopin was as much a poet as he was a musician, has like him embodied in art the romance of the land and the people of Poland, and no other has like him embodied in art the romance of his own life. James Huneker has written of him: "Never so long as the piano remains the piano will Chopin be forgotten. He is as Rubinstein, said, its soul."
Perhaps no musical genius ever lived over whom there has been so much controversy, and about whom so many erroneous statements have been made. " Since 1888," says one biographer, " Much has been written: of Chopin and much surmised." His biographers disagree as to dates and important incidents in the life of the; composer, and as Chopin wrote few letters and was most reticent even to those nearest and dearest to him, many events said to have transpired in his life cannot be verified. The date of his birth is, to begin with, a matter of dispute. Some authorities declare it took place in 1809, others are equally positive it was 1810. The latter date is inscribed upon the composer's tombstone at Pere le Chaise cemetery in Paris, but Prof. Frederick Niecks, whose biography of Chopin is generally conceded to be the best and most authoritative, favors the year 1809 as being the year of the composer's birth. Authorities also differ as to the circumstances of his family, some saying that they were far from comfortable in his early youth and that Chopin was educated by a Polish prince who befriended him for many years, others that his parents were in easy circumstances and that his father gave him a good education, until he was well along in manhood, and supplied him quite liberally with money.
The most widely-discussed event in his life was his affair with George Sand and a literature has grown out of the controversies regarding their friendship and the woman's influence upon the career of the composer. Various constructions have been put upon their relations, but all the biographers agree as to the disastrous results of this friendship, the severing of which undoubtedly hastened Chopin's death, and very few regard Sand's participation in it as wholly blameless. Half a dozen versions have been given of the scenes which attended Chopin's death, and, to cap the climax of inaccuracies, a false date was placed upon his tombstone. The sadness of the composer's life and his melancholy disposition have been dwelt upon by every biographer, perhaps to an undue extent. That Chopin was of a melancholy nature and that he let his pensive outlook upon life color his music through and through, there is no doubt, for he was a Pole, and his countrymen even dance to music written in a minor key and take all their pleasures sadly. Besides, he was harassed all his life long by illhealth, and he took deeply to heart little troubles and ills and was bruised by trifling vexations and irritations that would not have affected a healthier person. He himself said that his life was an episode without a beginning and with a sad end. But he was not always melancholy and his music is not all sad. It is a mixture of gayety and sadness, for his days were not all gray days and when he was happy he was deliriously so.