The great tidal wave set in motion by the piano has swept over the civilized world, carrying with it hosts of accomplished pianists. Of some of those who are familiar figures in our musical centres it has been said that Teresa Carreno learned from Rubinstein the art of piano necromancy; that Rosenthal is an amazing technician whose interpretations lack tenderness; that De Pachmann is on terms of intimacy with Chopin, and that Rafael Joseffy, the disciple of Tausig, combines all that is best in the others with striking methods of his own.
Great is the piano, splendid its literature, many its earnest students, numerous its worthy exponents. That it is so often made a means of empty show is not the fault of the piano, it is due to a tendency of the day that calls for superficial glamor. Herbert Spencer was not so wrong as some of the critics seem to think when, in his last volume, he said that teachers of music and music performers were often corrupters of music. Those certainly are corrupters of music who use the piano solely for meaningless technical feats.
The Poetry and Leadership of Chopin
“The piano bard, the piano rhapsodist, the piano mind, the piano soul is Chopin,” said Rubinstein. “Tragic, romantic, lyric, heroic, dramatic, fantastic, soulful, sweet, dreamy, brilliant, grand, simple, all possible expressions are found in his compositions and all are sung by him on his instrument.”
In these few, bold strokes one who knew him by virtue of close art and race kinship, presents an incomparable outline sketch of the Polish tone-poet who explored the harmonic vastness of the pianoforte and made his own all its mystic secrets.
Born and bred on Poland’s soil, son of a French father and a Polish mother, Frederic Chopin (1809-1849) combined within himself two natures, each complementing the other, both uniting to form a personality not understood by every casual observer. He is described as kind, courteous, possessed of the most captivating grace and ease of manner, now inclined to languorous melancholy, now scintillating with a joyous vivacity that was contagious. His sensitive nature, like the most exquisitely constructed sounding-board, vibrated with the despairing sadness, the suppressed wrath, and the sublime fortitude of the brave, haughty, unhappy people he loved, and with his own homesickness when afar from his cherished native land.
Patriot and tone-poet in every fibre of his being, his genius inevitably claimed as its own the soul’s divinest language, pure music, unfettered by words. The profound reserve of his nature made it peculiarly agreeable to him to gratify the haunting demands of his lyric muse through the medium of the one musical instrument that lends itself in privacy to the exploitation of all the mysteries of harmony. Strong conviction in regard to his own calling and clear perception of the hidden powers and future mission of the piano early compelled him to consecrate to it his unfaltering devotion. He evolved from its more intimate domain effects in sympathy with those of the orchestra, yet purely individual. He enriched it with new melodic, harmonic and rhythmic devices adapted to itself alone, and endowed it with a warmth of tone-coloring that spiritualized it for all time.