Chopin: An Appreciation

This music of the supreme pianist-composer Chopin creates the idea of being written in a flash of inspiration.

Chopin’s music is wonderful, so why doesn’t he make it into the composers' top 10?

Chopin was one of the greatest pianists the world has ever known, and in less than 20 years of mature composing produced what is arguably the finest body of music for his instrument. “In my music one can divine the restlessness of the artist,” he once admitted, “who is thrown into consternation because in it he sees the product of his own inspiration.” In fact, Chopin’s only real limitation was that everything he composed featured the piano.

Who’s the greater pianist – Chopin or Liszt?

Liszt was the greater innovator and showman, but, as one report had it: “Chopin accomplished enormous difficulties so smoothly, and with such constant delicacy and refinement, that the listener was quite unaware of their real magnitude.”

But surely, Chopin was really a bit of a dilettante?

Not at all. As the pianist-critic Karl Filtsch recalled: “When it came to writing things down and recapturing an original inspiration, Chopin endured days of nervous strain and terrible despair”. Even the Minute Waltz was the result of many painstaking revisions.

What’s all this about an affair with a man?

The “man” in question was actually the novelist George Sand, real name Aurore Dudevant. Not content with adopting a male nom de plume, she enjoyed dressing up as a man, smoking huge cigars and taking snuff. Chopin was utterly transfixed by her.

Alright then, but what about those naughty letters?

During the 1930s a series of highly erotic love letters were “discovered”, supposedly written by Chopin to his lover. Subsequent linguistic, scientific and calligraphic evidence has exposed them as clever forgeries.

So why did Chopin closet himself away in the salons of Paris?

Stage fright, pure and simple. In his entire career Chopin gave only 30 public concerts. He confessed to Liszt that “an audience intimidates me, I feel asphyxiated by its eager breath, paralysed by its inquisitive stare, silenced by its alien faces.”