The “lingering” mentioned by de Lenz is tempo rubato, so fatally misunderstood by most Chopin players. De Lenz in a note quotes Meyerbeer as saying—Meyerbeer, who quarrelled with Chopin about the rhythm of a mazurka—“Can one reduce women to notation? They would breed mischief, were they emancipated from the measure.”
There is passion, refined and swelling, in the curves of this most eloquent composition. It is Chopin at the supreme summit of his art, an art alembicated, personal and intoxicating. I know of nothing in music like the F minor Ballade. Bach in the Chromatic Fantasia—be not deceived by its classical contours, it is music hot from the soul—Beethoven in the first movement of the C sharp minor Sonata, the arioso of the Sonata op. 110, and possibly Schumann in the opening of his C major Fantaisie, are as intimate, as personal as the F minor Ballade, which is as subtly distinctive as the hands and smile of Lisa Gioconda. Its inaccessible position preserves it from rude and irreverent treatment. Its witchery is irresistible.
XI. CLASSICAL CURRENTS
Guy de Maupassant put before us a widely diverse number of novels in a famous essay attached to the definitive edition of his masterpiece, “Pierre et Jean,” and puzzlingly demanded the real form of the novel. If “Don Quixote” is one, how can “Madame Bovary” be another? If “Les Miserables” is included in the list, what are we to say to Huysmans’ “La Bas”?
Just such a question I should like to propound, substituting sonata for novel. If Scarlatti wrote sonatas, what is the Appassionata? If the A flat Weber is one, can the F minor Brahms be called a sonata? Is the Haydn form orthodox and the Schumann heterodox? These be enigmas to make weary the formalists. Come, let us confess, and in the open air: there is a great amount of hypocrisy and cant in this matter. We can, as can any conservatory student, give the recipe for turning out a smug specimen of the form, but when we study the great examples, it is just the subtle eluding of hard and fast rules that distinguishes the efforts of the masters from the machine work of apprentices and academic monsters. Because it is no servile copy of the Mozart Sonata, the F sharp minor of Brahms is a piece of original art. Beethoven at first trod in the well blazed path of Haydn, but study his second period, and it sounds the big Beethoven note. There is no final court of appeal in the matter of musical form, and there is none in the matter of literary style. The history of the sonata is the history of musical evolution. Every great composer, Schubert included, added to the form, filed here, chipped away there, introduced lawlessness where reigned prim order—witness the Schumann F sharp minor Sonata—and then came Chopin.