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Life of Chopin

Franz Liszt

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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.

This book has 126 pages in the PDF version. This is a translation by Martha Walker Cook.

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Excerpt from 'Life of Chopin'

To a people, always prompt in its recognition of genius, and ready to sympathize in the joys and woes of a truly great artist, this work will be one of exceeding interest. It is a short, glowing, and generous sketch, from the hand of Franz Liszt, (who, considered in the double light of composer and performer, has no living equal,) of the original and romantic Chopin; the most ethereal, subtle, and delicate among our modern tone-poets. It is a rare thing for a great artist to write on art, to leave the passionate worlds of sounds or colors for the colder realm of words; rarer still for him to abdicate, even temporarily, his own throne, to stand patiently and hold aloft the blazing torch of his own genius, to illume the gloomy grave of another: yet this has Liszt done through love for Chopin.

It is a matter of considerable interest to note how the nervous and agile fingers, accustomed to sovereign rule over the keys, handle the pen; how the musician feels as a man; how he estimates art and artists. Liszt is a man of extensive culture, vivid imagination, and great knowledge of the world; and, in addition to their high artistic value, his lines glow with poetic fervor, with impassioned eloquence. His musical criticisms are refined and acute, but without repulsive technicalities or scientific terms, ever sparkling with the poetic ardor of the generous soul through which the discriminating, yet appreciative awards were poured. Ah! in these days of degenerate rivalries and bitter jealousies, let us welcome a proof of affection so tender as his "Life of Chopin"!

It would be impossible for the reader of this book to remain ignorant of the exactions of art. While, through its eloquence and subtle analysis of character, it appeals to the cultivated literary tastes of our people, it opens for them a dazzling perspective into that strange world of tones, of whose magical realm they know, comparatively speaking, so little. It is intelligible to all who think or feel; requiring no knowledge of music for its comprehension.

The compositions of Chopin are now the mode, the rage. Every one asks for them, every one tries to play them. We have, however, but few remarks upon the peculiarities of his style, or the proper manner of producing his works. His compositions, generally perfect in form, are never abstract conceptions, but had their birth in his soul, sprang from the events of his life, and are full of individual and national idiosyncrasies, of psychological interest. Liszt knew Chopin both as man and artist; Chopin loved to hear him interpret his music, and himself taught the great Pianist the mysteries of his undulating rhythm and original motifs. The broad and noble criticisms contained in this book are absolutely essential for the musical culture of the thousands now laboriously but vainly struggling to perform his elaborate works, and who, having no key to their multiplied complexities of expression, frequently fail in rendering them aright.

And the masses in this country, full of vivid perception and intelligent curiosity, who, not playing themselves, would yet fain follow with the heart compositions which they are told are of so much artistic value, will here find a key to guide them through the tuneful labyrinth. Some of Chopin's best works are analyzed herein. He wrote for the HEART OF HIS PEOPLE; their joys, sorrows, and caprices are immortalized by the power of his art. He was a strictly national tone-poet, and to understand him fully, something must be known of the brave and haughty, but unhappy country which he so loved. Liszt felt this, and has been exceedingly happy in the short sketch given of Poland. We actually know more of its picturesque and characteristic customs after a perusal of his graphic pages, than after a long course of dry historical details. His remarks on the Polonaise and Mazourka are full of the philosophy and essence of history. These dances grew directly from the heart of the Polish people; repeating the martial valor and haughty love of noble exhibition of their men; the tenderness, devotion, and subtle coquetry of their women—they were of course favorite forms with Chopin; their national character made them dear to the national poet. The remarks of Liszt on these dances are given with a knowledge so acute of the traits of the nation in which they originated, with such a gorgeousness of description and correctness of detail, that they rather resemble a highly finished picture, than a colder work of words only. They have all the splendor of a brilliant painting. He seizes the secrets of the nationality of these forms, traces them through the heart of the Polish people, follows them through their marvelous transfiguration in the pages of the Polish artist, and reads by their light much of the sensitive and exclusive character of Chopin, analyzing it with the skill of love, while depicting it with romantic eloquence.

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