Life of Chopin
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Pages (PDF): 126
Publication Date: -, this is a translation by Martha Walker Cook.
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Frederic Chopin, a Polish virtuoso pianist and piano composer of the Romantic period, is widely regarded as the greatest Polish composer, and one of the most influential composers for piano in the 19th century. Franz Liszt was a Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist of the 19th century. This book is not so much a biography of Chopin as it is a way of better understanding Liszt and the circumstances of his time. Though critics of Liszt's book have assailed it for various literary infractions, it is not without merit. There is much to be learned within its pages about both Chopin and Liszt.
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Deeply regretted as he may be by the whole body of artists, lamented by all who have ever known him, we must still be permitted to doubt if the time has even yet arrived in which he, whose loss is so peculiarly deplored by ourselves, can be appreciated in accordance with his just value, or occupy that high rank which in all probability will be assigned him in the future.
If it has been often proved that "no one is a prophet in his own country;" is it not equally true that the prophets, the men of the future, who feel its life in advance, and prefigure it in their works, are never recognized as prophets in their own times? It would be presumptuous to assert that it can ever be otherwise. In vain may the young generations of artists protest against the "Anti-progressives," whose invariable custom it is to assault and beat down the living with the dead: time alone can test the real value, or reveal the hidden beauties, either of musical compositions, or of kindred efforts in the sister arts.
As the manifold forms of art are but different incantations, charged with electricity from the soul of the artist, and destined to evoke the latent emotions and passions in order to render them sensible, intelligible, and, in some degree, tangible; so genius may be manifested in the invention of new forms, adapted, it may be, to the expression of feelings which have not yet surged within the limits of common experience, and are indeed first evoked within the magic circle by the creative power of artistic intuition. In arts in which sensation is linked to emotion, without the intermediate assistance of thought and reflection, the mere introduction of unaccustomed forms, of unused modes, must present an obstacle to the immediate comprehension of any very original composition. The surprise, nay, the fatigue, caused by the novelty of the singular impressions which it awakens, will make it appear to many as if written in a language of which they were ignorant, and which that reason will in itself be sufficient to induce them to pronounce a barbarous dialect. The trouble of accustoming the ear to it will repel many who will, in consequence, refuse to make a study of it. Through the more vivid and youthful organizations, less enthralled by the chains of habit; through the more ardent spirits, won first by curiosity, then filled with passion for the new idiom, must it penetrate and win the resisting and opposing public, which will finally catch the meaning, the aim, the construction, and at last render justice to its qualities, and acknowledge whatever beauty it may contain. Musicians who do not restrict themselves within the limits of conventional routine, have, consequently, more need than other artists of the aid of time. They cannot hope that death will bring that instantaneous plus-value to their works which it gives to those of the painters. No musician could renew, to the profit of his manuscripts, the deception practiced by one of the great Flemish painters, who, wishing in his lifetime to benefit by his future glory, directed his wife to spread abroad the news of his death, in order that the pictures with which he had taken care to cover the walls of his studio, might suddenly increase in value!
Whatever may be the present popularity of any part of the productions of one, broken, by suffering long before taken by death, it is nevertheless to be presumed that posterity will award to his works an estimation of a far higher character, of a much more earnest nature, than has hitherto been awarded them. A high rank must be assigned by the future historians of music to one who distinguished himself in art by a genius for melody so rare, by such graceful and remarkable enlargements of the harmonic tissue; and his triumph will be justly preferred to many of far more extended surface, though the works of such victors may be played and replayed by the greatest number of instruments, and be sung and resung by passing crowds of Prime Donne.
In confining himself exclusively to the Piano, Chopin has, in our opinion, given proof of one of the most essential qualities of a composer—a just appreciation of the form in which he possessed the power to excel; yet this very fact, to which we attach so much importance, has been injurious to the extent of his fame. It would have been most difficult for any other writer, gifted with such high harmonic and melodic powers, to have resisted the temptation of the SINGING of the bow, the liquid sweetness of the flute, or the deafening swells of the trumpet, which we still persist in believing the only fore-runner of the antique goddess from whom we woo the sudden favors. What strong conviction, based upon reflection, must have been requisite to have induced him to restrict himself to a circle apparently so much more barren; what warmth of creative genius must have been necessary to have forced from its apparent aridity a fresh growth of luxuriant bloom, unhoped for in such a soil! What intuitive penetration is repealed by this exclusive choice, which, wresting the different effects of the various instruments from their habitual domain, where the whole foam of sound would have broken at their feet, transported them into a sphere, more limited, indeed, but far more idealized! What confident perception of the future powers of his instrument must have presided over his voluntary renunciation of an empiricism, so widely spread, that another would have thought it a mistake, a folly, to have wrested such great thoughts from their ordinary interpreters! How sincerely should we revere him for this devotion to the Beautiful for its own sake, which induced him not to yield to the general propensity to scatter each light spray of melody over a hundred orchestral desks, and enabled him to augment the resources of art, in teaching how they may be concentrated in a more limited space, elaborated at less expense of means, and condensed in time!
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