Chopin, Frederic François
No music is better known to both musician and amateur, than Chopin's music, and yet it baffles analysis. He was not governed by the ordinary conventions of harmony and counterpoint and yet his works have beauty and finish, are fanciful, tender, imaginative to the border of the fantastic, and abound in poetry and sentiment. Chopin is essentially a musician of the moderns, and no compositions except the sonatas of Beethoven, can equal in interest his etudes, nocturnes, impromptus, mazurkas and polonaises. In his own sphere of music he is quite as original, revolutionary and epoch-making as Wagner himself, although it is only in recent years that Chopin has been placed where he belongs, in the front rank of composers, side by side with Bach, Beethoven and Wagner. He was a musician of sound training, who gave of the .best that was in him to the work that he did in the field that he had chosen, and he was content to leave the larger forms of composition to other hands. Chopin loved the Polish melodies, and was much influenced by them. The popular music of his country is founded on dance forms and dance rhythms, as one writer had pointed out, and more than a quarter of Chopin's compositions are made up of dance forms. Into his music he often introduced these national airs, which are of a wild, plaintive character, and which have led people to describe hs music as a mingling of the gay and the sad, the tender and the debonair. Chopin revived the old Polish dance, the Polonaise, which is the court dance of his countrymen, and gave in it a glowng picture of Poland, her past glory and her long-hopedfor regeneration. His music is sometimes morbidly intense and passionate, full of pain and desolation, "with a taint of the tomb about it," at other times vivacious and gay. In short, his whole emotional life is mirrored in his music. He wrote a good deal of his music in clusters, which included nocturnes, concert studies, mazurkas, polonaises, waltzes, sonatas, ballades, fantasies, Polish songs and variations on Polish airs, rondos, trios, scherzos, and many other works, all of which as one writer has expressed it "are for stronger hands than his."
During the composer's life his published works were sixty-eight in number, four being without opus numbers. After his death, ten more works were added that had no opus numbers, including seventeen Polish songs, six mazurkas and several other pieces, making in all nearly one hundred compositions. The earliest work of which there is any mention is the march, before referred to, which he composed when he was ten and dedicated to the Grand Duke Constantine. The next was a rondo for piano, written in 1825, when the composer was sixteen. In 1828 was published his B Flat Minor sonata, called by Liszt, his greatest work, and in which occurs the funeral march which has since become one of the most popular of his compositions. In 1830 appeared his famous variations for the piano with orchestral accompaniment, and among his earlier works were two concertos and the berceuse, a cradle song of wonderful beauty, called by Dumas, the younger, " muted music."
Chopin's nocturnes are more generally admired than any of his works, and with them his name is indissolubly linked. From John Field, the inventor of the form, he undoubtedly obtained some of his ideas, but Chopin's nocturnes are far more beautiful and more elaborate, with a mysterious poetic beauty all their own. The polonaise and the mazurka, the principal Polish dances, became in Chopin's hands, expressions of the national spirit and character of the country which he loved, and these two forms are the most characteristically Polish of any of his works. Huneker calls the mazurkas the dances of the soul, and next to the nocturnes they are the best known of Chopin's works. The framework of the form the composer appropriated from the national dance. The preludes, most of which were written during the composer's sojourn on the island of Majorca, have won for him more praise, perhaps, than any of his works, and all musicians are of the one opinion, that had Chopin written nothing else he still would have been entitled to rank as a genius. To the waltz, which had been raised from the level of a common dance tune by Weber and Schubert, Chopin gave the dignity of an art-form, and in all his works the composer kept away from the ordinary and the hackneyed, giving forth compositions only of beauty, originality, grace and nobility, expressions of his inner life.
As a pianist Chopin was noted for an exquisite grace, a delicate touch and a wonderful depth of sentiment and expression. He had no fiery brilliancy or powerfulness of touch, because his physical condition debarred him from every bodily exertion. He was never a virtuoso in the ordinary sense, and was seriously restricted always by a lack of strength, yet at times he electrified his hearers by the volume of sound his feeble fingers could evoke from the instrument. He was a student of Bach and when practicing for his recitals, he played, said his friends, not Chopin, but Bach over and over and over again.
He never played his compositions twice alike and his execution was said to be the despair and the delight of his hearers. His playing was distinguished by many embellishments and refinements, and he discarded the rigidity of the hand in favor of absolute elasticity.