CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY

Year 1831 Year 1831

1 January. To Matuszyński:'‘You, in the army! She, in Radom? Have You dug the trenches? Our poor parents. My friends what are they doing? I am living with You all. I would die for You, for all of You. Why am I so deserted this day? Is it only You who are to be together in such a dreadful moment. – Your flute had something to wail about, but let my pantaleon wail out first of all. […] The New Year today; how sadly for me it begins! Perhaps I will not finish it. Hug me. You are going to war. Return a colonel. May things go Your way. Why can I not even drum!'.

25 January. The tsar dethroned in Warsaw. Duke Adam Czartoryski at the head of the National Government

26 January. To Elsner, about himself: 'Since that day when I learned of the events of 29 November, until the present time, I have received nothing save disquieting fear and longing; and Malfatti vainly tries to convince me that every artist is cosmopolitan. Even if such is the case, as an artist I am still in the cradle, and as a Pole I have started my third decade'. On Elsner's own affairs: 'As regards Your Quartet, Joseph Czerny solemnly swore to me that it would be ready for St Joseph's Day. He said that he could not take up the matter previously, as he was publishing the works of Schubert, of which a great many are still waiting to go to print'. He attempts to protect Elsner's Masses at the publishing house. On the Viennese: 'They call waltzes works of music! and Strauss and Lanner, who play for them to dance – chapel-masters'.

14 February. The Battle of Stoczek.

25 February The Battle of Grochów.

2 April (?). From his album: 'The newspapers and bill posters have already announced my concert, which is to take place in two days, and it is as if it was never to happen, so little do I care. […] I wish I were dead, and again I would like to see my parents. Her picture stands before my eyes. I think that I do not love her, yet she is constantly on my mind. […] The people here are not mine, good people, but good out of habit, they do everything too orderly – insipidly – in mediocrity, which kills me. – Mediocrity I would not even like to feel'.

4 April. At a musical matinee planned for that day as a benefit for the female singer Garcia-Vestris in the redoubt, together with Sabina and Klara Heinefetter and Merk, Chopin was down to play the Concerto in E minor.

1 May. In his album: 'A beautiful day on the Prater – plenty of people I had nothing to do with, the greenery I adored, the smell of springtime – that innocence in nature reminded me of my childish feelings. A storm was gathering, I returned, there was no storm, just a sadness overcame me – why? Not even music can cheer me today…'.

7 May. Together with Hummel at Malfatti's summer residence. From later meetings – with Thalberg at a concert by the organist A. Hesse: 'The lad has talent, he knows his way around the organ'. Music-making z J. przez T. Haslingera. I think to myself: f[ools], You have something worth hiding'. In the postscript a question: 'What do You think about General Dwernicki's victory at Stoczek? May God continue to assist'.

26 May. Insurgents defeated at Ostrołęka.

28 May. To his family, about the Variations on Polish Themes by a violinist called Herz: 'Poor Polish motifs! You would never expect what solemn Jewish songs they pepper You with, calling it – in order to seduce the public – Polish music. Should You then defend that Polish music here, come out with an opinion on it, they will take You for a madman, all the more so since Czerny, that Viennese authority in the fabrication of all kinds of musical titbits, has yet to produce variations on any Polish themes'. An account from Viennese musical life, and then a sudden leap: 'And what is happening with You?!… I dream and dream of You! Will there be an end to the spilling of blood?'

11 June. Public performance; he takes part in the music academy of the conductor D. Mattis in the Kärntnerthortheater, again (?) playing the Concerto in E minor. Also performed the same evening was Weber’s overture to the opera Euryanthe, and Fanny Elssler danced in a Gallenberg ballet.

21 June. Date placed on the autograph of the song Wojak [The Warrior]. Also composed in Vienna are other songs to words by Witwicki: Narzeczony [The Fiancé], Poseł [The Envoy] and Smutna rzeka [The Sad River]. The previous day he writes into the album of the autograph collector A. Fuchs the Mazurka in F minor Op. 7 No. 3.

23 June. Out of the city with the naturalist Norbert Kumelski and the Czech pianist Leopold Czapek. 'It was a wonderful day […] From Leopoldsberg one can see the whole of Vienna, Wagram, Aspern, Presburg, the Neuburg monastery, the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned and all the upper part of the Danube. After breakfast, we made our way to Kahlenberg, where King Sobieski had his camp. […] There is a church there, formerly belonging to the Camaldolese Order, in which he knighted his son Jakub before the strike on the Turks, and he himself served at Mass'.

24 June. Music-making on the name-day of Johann Malfatti at his villa near Vienna. Chopin accompanies a quartet of soloists from the Vienna opera. 'We treated him to no mean music. A better executed quartet from Mosè [Rossini] I have yet to hear; but Oh quante lagrime was sung incomparably better by Miss Gładkowska at my farewell concert in Warsaw. […] A great mass of strangers listened in on the concert from the terrace. The moon shone exquisitely, the fountains played, a wonderful odour from the open orangery impregnated the atmosphere, in a word: the most delicious night, the most delightful location'. At another musical soirée, at Fuchs's home, he presents the host with a manuscript of the Rondo in C major in a version for piano solo (WN 15), receiving in return 'a sheet in Beethoven's hand'.

29 June. Mikołaj Chopin to his son: 'Since from Your letters I conclude that You have already touched the money intended for Your further travels, I hereby send You a small allowance, rather according to our possibilities than to our desires. […] I count on Your caution'.

6 July. Stefan Witwicki offers thanks for the 'beautiful songs' and appeals: 'You absolutely must compose a Polish opera; I am most profoundly convinced that You are capable of this, and that as a national composer You will open before Your talent a domain immeasurably rich. […] I only hope that You will always remember: the national, national, national spirit'. Possibly at the request of Chopin's parents, Witwicki adds persuasively: 'At such a time no Pole can rest idle, when the life or death of his fatherland is at stake. Yet, one must also hope that in future, dear friend, You will not forget that You left not to pine, but to develop Your art and become a source of solace and glory for Your family and country'.

Mid July. At Rossini's Le Siège de Corinthe, in a strong cast: 'Wild, Heinefetter, Binder, Forti, in a word: none but the best that Vienna possesses were performing, and most appealingly'. After the show, with Czapek 'at supper, where Beethoven always drank'.

16 (?) July. To his family: 'I see that You have become accustomed to misfortune; believe me that it takes more than a trifle to bother me, too. […] Today, the news was that Vilnius has been taken [by the insurgents]. May this information prove to be true'. He sends his thanks for the portrait he received 'of our commander-in-chief, General Skrzynecki'. About himself: 'I am wanting nothing, just more life, more spirit. I am weary, yet at times just as cheerful as I used to be at home. Whenever sadness strikes, I go to Mrs Szaszek's, where I usually find a few Polish women, who so raise my spirits and cluck over me that I immediately begin to imitate the local dignitaries. A new Punchinello […] all those who look on him burst out laughing. […] Yet, I have learned nothing that is by nature Viennese. […] For instance, I cannot properly dance any kind of waltz, which is enough. My piano has not heard, only mazurs […] I have written a polonaise, which I must leave for Würfel'. It is not known which was the work in question. Besides the works already mentioned here, also composed during the eight months’ stay in Vienna were nine mazurkas (Op. 6 and 7), or possibly more (some from Op. 17), four nocturnes (Op. 9 and No. 2 from Op. 15) and not less than two études (Nos. 5 and 6 from Op. 10). Chopin is also likely to have finished here the Polonaise in E flat major from Op. 22. Among the salon-type works composed in Vienna were a Mazurka in G major (WN 26), Waltz in A minor (WN 36), Lento con gran espressione (WN 38) and a few songs, including Piosnka litewska [Lithuanian Song] and the final version of Precz z moich oczu.

20 July. Leaves Vienna, travelling through Linz, Salzburg, Munich and Stuttgart to Paris; the Russian ambassador refused him a passport to London. His travelling companion is Kumelski; on the stage-coach, among the multilingual company, 'two female singers from the theatre in Milan'.

21 July. In Linz. Visits the town, then a couple of days travelling by carriage and coach, in a large, mixed, company, towards the Tyrol-Salzburg Alps. Kumelski: 'We continued the delightful journey through Gmünden and Ebensee, in other words Lambath and Iachl'. Some adventures with some 'Tyrolean female singers'.

Around 25 July. In Salzburg. Full of admiration for the evening peals of bells (one played an Auber melody from the opera Le Maçon); reflections in front of the house of that 'musical past-master' Mozart and the statue of Haydn, 'the father of true church music'.

25 July. Robert Schumann in his diary, after becoming acquainted with an edition of the Variations Op. 2: 'I am drawn to compose! And yet, I would not like to tear myself away from my Chopin'.

28 August. In Munich. At a matinee in the Philharmonischer Verein plays the Concerto in E minor and Grand Fantasy on Polish Airs.

30 August. From a review of the concert in the periodical 'Flora': 'There is something in Slavic folk songs that almost never fails to make an effect, although the exact reason for this is difficult to illumine and to indicate'. Apart from the praise, a note of reservation: 'not distinguished by any special innovation or depth'.

Around 4 September. Reaches Stuttgart. Meeting with Johann P. Pixis, the pianist and composer, to whom he would dedicate an edition of the Grand Fantasy in A major.

8 September. The capture of Warsaw and demise of the November Rising. Spontaneous notes made by Chopin in his private journal, known as the Stuttgart diary: 'I wrote the previous pages not knowing that the enemy had entered. Suburbs destroyed – burned – Jaś! [Jan Matuszyński] – Wiluś [Wilhelm Kolberg] at the ramparts, most likely perished – Marcel I can picture as a prisoner – dear old Sowiński in the hands of those rogues! Oh God, You are there! You are there and take no revenge! Have You not had Your fill of Muscovite crimes – or – or else You are Yourself a Muscovite! […] What has happened to her? Where is she? – The poor thing! – Perhaps in Muscovite hands! […] And I sit here idle, and I set here with my hands bare, sometimes just groaning, grieving at the piano, in despair'. According to undocumented tradition, written in Stuttgart were the outlines of the Étude in C minor Op. 10 No. 12, dubbed the 'Revolutionary', and the Prelude in D minor Op. 28 No. 24. He avows to Woyciechowski: 'In Stuttgart, where the news reached me of the capture of Warsaw, only there did I fully resolve to head into that other world'.

The Years of Adaptation, 1831–1835

11 September. In Paris, which he reached from Stuttgart via Strasbourg and where he would remain until his death. He would live on the fifth floor of a tenement house at 27, Boulevard Poissonière: 'I have a small room beautifully furnished in mahogany, with a balcony over the boulevard, from which I can see from Montmartre to the Pantheon and along the whole of the beautiful world; many envy me the view, but no-one the stairs'.

Autumn. First experiences communicated in a letter to Kumelski (of 18 November). General expressions of wonder: 'There is here the greatest splendour, the greatest shabbiness, the greatest virtue, the greatest vice, posters warning of ven. diseases everywhere you walk – more shouting, screaming, rumbling and mud than one could possibly imagine – one melts into this paradise and it is convenient in this respect, that nobody asks how anyone lives'. Euphoria following his first musical contacts: 'I am content with what I have encountered here; I have the foremost musicians in the world and the foremost opera in the world. I know Rossini, Cherubini, Paer, etc. etc. and perhaps I shall stay here longer than I had thought'. The complexes of a provincial: 'I am thinking of remaining here for 3 years – I live in very close contact with Kalkbrenner, the foremost pianist in Europe, whom You would certainly like (he alone, whose shoes I am not fit to lace…)'.

The experiences of his first few months in Paris from the perspective of a few of weeks later, in a letter to Woyciechowski (12 December): 'I was blown here by the wind; breathing is sweet here – but perhaps one sighs more here because it is easy. Paris is everything one could wish for – you can amuse yourself, become bored, laugh, cry, do whatever you please, and nobody looks at you, for here there are thousands doing just the same as you and each in his own way. Somehow, I do not know if anywhere there are more pianists than in Paris – I do not know if anywhere there are more asses and more virtuosos than here'. On entering the musicians' world: 'I came here with very few recommendations. Malfatti have me a letter for Paer, I had a few letters from Vienna from publishers, and that is it. […] Through Paer, who is court chapel-master here, I have made the acquaintance of Rossini, Cherubini, etc. Baillot, etc. Through him I have also met Kalkbrenner'.

For many weeks to come, the art and the person of Kalkbrenner would be the focus of his interests, as is documented in correspondence with home and with Woyciechowski. 'You will not believe how curious I was about Herz, Liszt, Hiller, etc. they are all zeros next to Kalkbrenner. I admit that I have been playing like Herz, but I would like to play like Kalkbrenner. If Paganini is perfection, then Kalkbrenner is his equal, yet in a completely different style. It is hard to describe to You his kalm, his bewitching touch – an unparalleled evenness, and that mastery portrayed in his every note – he is a giant trampling the Herzes, Czernys, etc., and by the same token me, too'. Chopin presents himself in the E minor Concerto. The bemused Kalkbrenner presumes that Chopin is a pupil of Field, assessing his playing as Crameresque and his touch as Fieldian. 'Since then we have met every day, either he at my place or I at his – and having got to know me well, he has proposed that I study under him for three years, and he will make of me something very, very'. Chopin demurs. His father has many reservations ('the three-year period I cannot imagine'); although prepared to accept the proposal ('I do not want to oppose You in anything'), he nevertheless advises his son to 'postpone the decision', consider it at length, listen (to others), think it over, and 'give more time' to the experts, that they might become 'better acquainted' with Fryderyk. The scales are ultimately tipped by the voice of Elsner, who is aware of the matter.

17 November. 'At dinner chez Mrs Potocka, that attractive wife of Mieczysław's'. The start of an enduring friendship, lasting until his final years, variously interpreted, although without sufficient grounds. According to Szulc – reporting the opinions of Liszt and Delacroix – 'Countess Delfina Potocka [1807-1877] radiated an exceptional beauty, grace and nobility of manner, and was famed for her singing full of charm and inexpressible appeal. Our artist liked to submit to the charm of this voice, accompanying her on the piano' (1873). It is not known when Chopin gave her lessons on the piano, probably during the early 1830s. In 1836, he would dedicate to her an edition of the F minor Concerto. It is possible that it was for her soprano, trained according to the tenets of bel canto, that he also composed a song at this time (Moja pieszczotka [My Sweetheart]?).

18 November. At dinner with Duke Walenty Radziwiłł, younger brother of Antoni – at the home of the Komars, the parents of Delfina Potocka. 'I am launching myself slowly into the world, but I have only a ducat in my pocket'.

21 November. Premiere of Robert le diable. 'If ever there was magnificence in the theatre, I do not know whether it attained the level of splendour of Robert le diable, the brand new 5-act opera by Meyerbeer, who wrote Crociato'. Amazement at the verve of the production itself, of this ‘masterpiece of the new school, where the devils (huge choruses) sing through tubes, where spirits rise from graves, […] where at the end one sees the intérieur of a church […] with monks and the entire audience on benches, with incense, and what is even greater: with an organ, whose voice enchants and astounds on the stage and virtually covers the whole orchestra’. A hyperbolic conclusion: 'Meyerbeer has immortalised himself!' Chopin becomes a regular opera-goer and an idolatrous admirer of beautiful song ('only here can one discover what singing really is'). He hears and admires many singers: Laura Damoreau-Cinti ('she sings such as cannot be excelled […] she seems to puff on the audiences'), Giulia Grisi, Giuditta Pasta (‘I have never seen anything more sublime'), Maria Felicia Malibran-Garcia ('wonderful! wonderful!'), Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient ('she does not cause such a furore as in Germany'), Luigi Lablache ('You could not imagine what it is!'), Nicolas-Prosper Levasseur, Adolphe Nourrit ('astounding in his feeling’) and Giovanni Battista Rubini ('his mezza voce is beyond compare). Among the first admired operatic productions are three works by Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia, Otello and L’Italiana in Algeri.

27 November. Elsner to Chopin: 'In teaching composition one should avoid giving prescriptions, especially to pupils whose talents are evident; let them find them out for themselves, so that they may on occasion exceed themselves. […] In the mechanism of art, in progressing even in the aspect of its performance, it is necessary not only that the pupil emulate his master and surpass him, but also that he have something of his own, with which he could also sparkle. […] One cannot advise a pupil to dwell too long on a single method, manner, the taste of one single country, etc. That which is genuine and beautiful should not be imitated, but rather experienced. […] That in which the artist (always drawing on all that surrounds and instructs him) astounds his contemporaries he can only have from himself and through his perfection of himself'. Ludwika Chopin transmits the verbal remarks of the old master, his doubts as to Kalkbrenner's intentions, his indignation at the proposed cuts in the Concerto in E minor ('he was frightfully enraged by what he called the audacity and arrogance'), his appeal for Chopin to have faith in his own strengths and to defend his own individuality: 'Sensing today what is good and what better, you should forge a path for Yourself; Your genius will guide You. He added something more: "Fryderyk has that originality and that rhythm, as is were, from his homeland, which makes him all the more original in his lofty thoughts and characterises him"; [Elsner] would like this to remain with You'. At the same time, she attempts to communicate Elsner's arguments in favour of Chopin's expansion of his compositional means: 'Mr Elsner does not wish to see You as only a piano composer and a famous performer, as that is easier and means less than writing an opera. […] Your place is among Rossini, Mozart, etc. Your genius should not settle for the piano and concertos, You are to immortalise Yourself in opera'.

December. Increasing numbers of post-insurrection emigrants arrive in Paris. Chopin meets with F. Morawski, B. Niemojewski, A. Plicht, L. Plater, the Wodziński bothers and Lelewel. Someone brings him news from back home of the planned marriage of Konstancja Gładkowska with Józef Grabowski, a member of the gentry known to him from Warsaw. His reaction: 'it does not disturb platonic affection'. His sister Ludwika worries that he has forgotten about Alexandrine de Moriolles: ‘does she really not deserve Your affection?’ He confesses to Woyciechowski that a young female pupil of Pixis is making advances to him ('she looks at me better than at him!'), concluding thus: 'How do You like that? Me as a séducteur!'

In Vienna, the Polonaise in C major Op. 3 for piano and cello is published by P. Mechetti. Maurice Schlésinger commissions Chopin to write variations on a theme from Robert le diable, also for piano and cello; his composition takes shape in collaboration with the cellist August Franchomme, who would remain his friend till his final years.

7 December. The 49th issue of the Leipzig publication 'Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung' carries a memorable review by Robert Schumann of the Variations in B flat major on 'Là ci darem la mano', entitled 'Ein Opus II'. He lets fall the famous phrase: 'Hut ab, ihr Herren! ein Genie'. In belletristic style, this text advances the first semantic interpretation of a work by Chopin: 'and next that beautiful adagio in B flat minor, as if foretelling the punishment of hell for Don Juan! How aptly, later, does the efflorescent B flat major denote the first kiss of love. Yet, this all amounts to nothing compared to the final section, the Finale alla polacca; this section encapsulates the whole end of Don Juan fleeing from the forces of hell'. Simultaneously, another review of the Variations is written by Friedrich Wieck, whose daughter, Clara, plays them at a court concert. It is probably this even more strongly 'programmatic' review, published in the 'Caecilia' in Mainz, that evokes Chopin's ironic reaction ‘to die from the imagination of a German…'.

12 December. To Woyciechowski: 'You should know that I already possess a huge name among artists here'. He begins efforts to give a concert on 25 December; he strives to assure himself of the participation of many well-known performers, and puts together a substantial, interesting programme; 'the female singers were the hardest to get'. He turns down Kalkbrenner’s proposition: 'I told him that I know how much I will be missing, but that I do not want to imitate him and 3 years [is] too much'.

14 December. To Elsner: 'Three years is too much! […] I have enough of an idea that I will not be a copy of Kalkbrenner: he will not succeed in effacing my lofty, albeit perhaps too bold, desire and thought: to create for myself a new world; and if I am going to work, it is so that I may stand on feet that are stronger for this idea'. With humour and a sense of realism he responds to Elsner's prompting and persuasion concerning operatic composition: 'In 1830, although I could see […] how far I was from being able to come up to any of the models that I had in You, Sir, I did venture to think to myself: […] if not Łokietek, then perhaps some Laskonogi will come out of my brain. Yet, today, seeing all hopes of this sort now dashed, I am obliged to think of forging a path for myself in the world as a pianist, laying aside for only a time indeterminate any higher artistic aspirations'. In justification: numerous Parisian composers waiting in vain for 'the production of their operas, symphonies and cantatas, which only Cherubini and Lessueur have seen on paper' Critical remarks concerning the professors at the Conservatoire: A. Reich 'does not like music: he does not even frequent the Conservatoire concerts; he does not wish to discuss music with anyone; on his lessons he only looks at his watch, etc.; Cherubini exactly the same. […] They are, these gentlemen, dried up asses...' Delight, meanwhile, at the opera: the three orchestras (of the Academy, the Italian Opera and the Fédeau Theatre) and the singers ('only here can one learn what singing really is').

25 December. Fails to organise the concert, which is postponed until January. An expansive letter to Woyciechowski contains realistic observations, news, gossip and avowals. He takes an interest in everything. Customs: 'It is a strange people, when evening comes – You hear nothing except the exclamation of the titles of new pamphlets and sometimes You can buy 3 or 4 pages of printed prattle for sous. There is L'art de faire des amants et de les conserver ensuite, Les amours des prêtres [...] and thousands of similar "tłustości", sometimes very wittily written'. The social situation : 'great poverty here now, little money in circulation […] and You occasionally hear threatening conversations about the fool Philippe. […] The lower class is completely exasperated – and is constantly consulting together how to alter the state of their misery, but unfortunately the government is too wary of such things and at the smallest gathering on the street the populace is dispersed using mounted police'. On politics : 'here each political party dresses differently. […] The Carlists have green waistcoats, the Republicans and Bonapartists, i.e. that jeune France – red, the Saint-Simonians, that is the new Christians, who are forging a separate religion and already have a huge number of proselytes, who are also in favour of equality, wear blue, etc., etc.' Polish affairs: with exceptional vividness, colour and engagement he describes the course of a demonstration, observed from his balcony, held by young Frenchmen in support of the Polish insurgents and General G. Ramorino. It began with 'a shout and the cry vivent les Polonais!', there then followed a brutal dispersion of the crowds that had gathered ('they are arresting a free nation – terror'), and to end: 'I was just anticipating that something might happen, but it all finished with a rendition by a mass chorus around 11 o'clock at night of Allons enfants de la patrie. What an impression these menacing voices of the discontented people made on me – You could never conceive!' He expected the following day to bring 'a continuation of this emeute, as they call it here, but the fools have sat quiet to this very day'. Serious observations laced with the remarks of a parodist: 'and in barges some moustachioed thing, big, overgrown, portly – sits down at the piano and improvises what he knows not himself, senselessly hammering, pounding, throwing himself about, shifting his hands, for some five minutes he rattles a single key with a huge finger, which was destined for a steward's whip and reins somewhere in the Ukraine. There You have a portrait of [Wojciech] Sowiński. […] If I could ever imagine charlatanism or nonsense in art, it would never be so perfectly as now. […] My ears are turning red – I would shove him out the door, but I must humour him. […] And where he tries my patience most is in his collection of coarse, senseless, worst accompanied ditties, arranged without the slightest knowledge of harmony and prosody, with contredanse endings, which he calls a collection of Polish songs'. There follows a famous reflection: 'You know how much I longed to feel, and in part succeeded in feeling, our national music – so realise how pleasant it was when here and there he occasionally caught something of mine, the beauty of which often lies in the accompaniment, and played it in coarse, "szenkatryno-gęgetowsko" parish-organ style, and one cannot say a word, as more than that which he picked up he will not comprehend'. In the crowd he feels alone: 'You would not believe how it grieves me not to have someone to express myself to. […] I am up to my ears in acquaintances, but have no-one with whom I can sigh. I am always, as regards my feelings, in syncopation with others'. Even his delight at a deity 'with a rose in her black hair' encountered at a ball is of no help. One letter from Poland suffices for 'everything moderne' to fly from his head. 'I am cheerful on the outside, especially among my own (it is Poles I call my own), but inside something is tormenting me – some foreboding, disquietude, a dream or insomnia – longing – indifference – a desire for life, and the next moment a desire for death – some sweet peace, a kind of apathy, an unconsciousness of mind, and sometimes a rigorous memory torments me. I feel sour, bitter, salty, some hideous mixture of feelings convulses me! I am more weak-minded than ever'.


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