Unquestionably the poetry of Chopin is of the most exquisite lyric character, his leadership is supreme. So original was his conception, so finished his workmanship, so sublime his purpose, that we may well exclaim with Schumann, “He is the boldest, proudest poetic spirit of the time.” “His greatness is his aristocracy,” says Oscar Bie. “He stands among musicians in his faultless vesture, a noble from head to foot.”
Violins and Violinists—Fact and Fable
That fine old bard who shaped the character of Volker the Fiddler in the Nibelungen Lay, had a glowing vision of the power of music and of the violin. Players on the videl, or fiddle, abounded in the days of chivalry, but Volker, glorified by genius, rises superior to his fellow minstrels. The inspiring force of his martial strains renewed the courage of way-worn heroes. His gentle measures, pure and melodious as a prayer, lulled them to sorely-needed rest.
And what a wonderful bow he wielded! It was mighty and long, fashioned like a sword, with a keen-edged outer blade, and in his good right hand could deal a deft blow on either side. Ever ready for action was he, and his friendship for Hagen of Tronje furnished the main elements of that grim warrior’s power. Together they were long invincible, smiting the foe with giant strokes, accompanied by music.
The modern German poet, Wilhelm Jordan, in his Sigfridsage, clothes Volker with the attributes of a violin king he loved, and represents him tenderly handling the violin. His noble portrayal of a violinist testifies no more fully to the mission of the musician than the creation of the Nibelungen bard. In August Wilhelmj, once hailed by Henrietta Sontag as the coming Paganini, Richard Wagner saw “Volker the Fiddler living anew, until death a warrior true.” So he wrote in a dedicatory verse beneath a portrait of himself, presented to “Volker-Wilhelmj as a souvenir of the first Baireuth festival.”
The idea of a magic fiddle and a wonderworking fiddler was strongly rooted in the popular imagination of many peoples, through many ages. Typical illustrations are the Wonderful Musician of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, whose fiddling attracted man and beast, and the lad of Norse folk-lore who won a fiddle that could make people dance to any tune he chose. In Norway the traditional violin teacher is the cascade-haunting musical genius Fossegrim, who, when suitably propitiated, seizes the right hand of one that seeks his aid and moves it across the strings until blood gushes from the finger-tips. Thenceforth the pupil becomes a master, and can make trees leap, rivers stay their course and people bow to his will.
Those of us who were brought up on English nursery rhymes early loved the fiddle. Old King Cole, that merry old soul, was a prime favorite, notwithstanding his fondness for pipe and bowl, because when he called for them he called for his fiddlers three and their very fine fiddles. According to Robert of Gloucester, the real King Cole, a popular monarch of Britain in the third century, was the father of St. Helena, the zealous friend of church music. The nursery satire of doubtful antiquity is our sole evidence of his devotion to the art.