Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.
I really don’t know whether any place contains more pianists than Paris, or whether you can find more asses and virtuosos anywhere.
All the same it is being said everywhere that I played too softly, or rather, too delicately for people used to the piano-pounding of the artists here.
…I haven’t heard anything so great for a long time; Beethoven snaps his fingers at the whole world.. – (Upon hearing a Beethoven Trio)
…the Official Bulletin declared that the Poles should be as proud of me as the Germans are of Mozart; obvious nonsense.
But why should one be ashamed of writing badly in spite of knowing better – it’s results that shows errors.
Here you doubtless observe my tendency to do wrong against my will. As something has involuntarily crept into my head through my eyes, I love to indulge it, even though it may be all wrong. – (About his Op. 11 Piano Concerto)
Among the numerous pleasures of Vienna the hotel evenings are famous. During supper Strauss or Lanner play waltzes…After every waltz they get huge applause; and if they play a Quodlibet, or jumble of opera, song and dance, the hearers are so overjoyed that they don’t know what to do with themselves. It shows the corrupt taste of the Viennese public.
Here, waltzes are called works! And Strauss and Lanner, who play them for dancing, are called Kapellmeistern. This does not mean that everyone thinks like that; indeed, nearly everyone laughs about it; but only waltzes get printed.
([Friedrich Kalkbrenner) has made me an offer; that I should study with him for three years, and he will make something really – really out of me. I answered that I know how much I lack; but that I cannot exploit him, and three years is too much. But he has convinced me that I can play admirably when I am in the mood, and badly when I am not; a thing which never happens to him. After close examination he told me that I have no school; that I am on an excellent road, but can slip off the track. That after his death, or when he finally stops playing, there will be no representative of the great piano-forte school. That even if I wish it, I cannot build up a new school without knowing the old one; in a word : that I am not a perfected machine, and that this hampers the flow of my thoughts. That I have a mark in composition; that it would be a pity not to become what I have the promise of being…
I am gay on the outside, especially among my own folk (I count Poles my own); but inside something gnaws at me; some presentiment, anxiety, dreams – or sleeplessness – melancholy, indifference – desire for life, and the next instant, desire for death; some kind of sweet peace, some kind of numbness, absent-mindedness…
…In a word, finished artists, take lessons from me and couple my name with that of [John] Field. In short, if I were still stupider than I am, I should think myself at the apex of my career; yet I know how much I still lack, to reach perfection; I see it the more clearly now that I live only among first-rank artists and know what each one of them lacks.
It’s a huge Carthusian monastery, stuck down between rocks and sea, where you may imagine me, without white gloves or haircurling, as pale as ever, in a cell with such doors as Paris never had for gates. The cell is the shape of a tall coffin, with an enormous dusty vaulting, a small window…Bach, my scrawls and waste pater – silence – you could scream- there would still be silence. Indeed, I write to you from a strange place. – describing his “cell” at Majorca
Having nothing to do, I am correcting the Paris edition of Bach; not only the engraver’s mistakes, but also the mistakes hallowed by those who are supposed to understand Bach (I have no pretensions to understand better, but I do think that sometimes I can guess).
When one does a thing, it appears good, otherwise one would not write it. Only later comes reflection, and one discards or accepts the thing. Time is the best censor, and patience a most excellent teacher.
…So surrounded by the boredom of conventionalities, that it is all one to them whether music is good or bad, since they have to hear it from morning till night. For here they have flower-shows with music, dinners with music, sales with music… – (on the British)
Here, whatever is not boring is not English.
The population here is ugly, but apparently good-natured. On the other hand the cows are magnificent, but apparently inclined to gore people. – (on Scotland)
Art, here, means painting, sculpture and architecture. Music is not art and is not called art… Music is a profession, not an art, and no one speaks or writes of any musician as an artist… These queer folk play for the sake of beauty, but to teach them decent things is a joke. – (on England)
It is dreadful when something weighs on your mind, not to have a soul to unburden yourself to. You know what I mean. I tell my piano the things I used to tell you.
I have met a great celebrity, Mme Dudevant, known as George Sand… Her appearance is not to my liking. Indeed there is something about her which positively repels me… What an unattractive person La Sand is… Is she really a woman? I’m inclined to doubt it.
I don’t know how it is, but the Germans are amazed at me – and I am amazed at them for finding anything to be amazed about! They want me to give another concert but I have no desire to do so. You cannot imagine what a torture the three days before a public appearance are to me.
I wish I could throw off the thoughts which poison my happiness. And yet I take a kind of pleasure in indulging them.
The three most celebrated doctors on the island have been to see me. One sniffed at what I spat, the second tapped where I spat from, and the third sounded me and listened as I spat. The first said I was dead, the second that I was dying, and the third that I’m going to die.
They’re all cousins here, male and female, belonging to great families with great names which no one on the continent has ever heard of. The whole conversation is conducted along genealogical lines; it’s just like the Gospel – such a one begat so-and-so, and he begat another who begat still others – and so on for two pages, up to Jesus Christ.
A strange adventure befell me while I was playing my Sonata in B flat minor before some English friends. I had played the Allegro and the Scherzo more or less correctly. I was about to attack the March when suddenly I saw arising from the body of my piano those cursed creatures which had appeared to me one lugubrious night at the Chartreuse [Majorca]. I had to leave for one instant to pull myself together after which I continued without saying anything.
I was traveling in a coupe, with a very handsome pair of young thoroughbred English horses. One horse began to rear; he caught his foot and then started to bolt, taking the other horse with him. As they were tearing down a slope in the park, the reins snapped and the coachman was thrown from his seat (he received a very nasty bruising). The carriage was smashed to bits as it was flung against tree after tree; we should have been thrown over a precipice if the vehicle had not been stopped at length by a tree. One of the horses tore itself free and bolted madly, but the other fell with the carriage on top of it. The windows were smashed by branches. Luckily I was unhurt, apart from having my legs bruised from the jolting I had received… None of those who saw what had happened, or we ourselves, could understand how we had escaped being smashed to pieces. I confess that I was calm as I saw my last hour approaching, but the thought of broken legs and hands appalls me. To be a cripple would put the finishing touch to me.”
Stuttgart. How strange! This bed on which I shall lie has been slept on by more than one dying man, but today it does not repel me! Who knows what corpses have lain on it and for how long? But is a corpse any worse than I? A corpse too knows nothing of its father, mother or sisters or Titus. Nor has a corpse a sweetheart. A corpse, too, is pale, like me. A corpse is cold, just as I am cold and indifferent to everything. A corpse has ceased to live, and I too have had enough of life…. Why do we live on through this wretched life which only devours us and serves to turn us into corpses? The clocks in the Stuttgart belfries strike the midnight hour. Oh how many people have become corpses at this moment! Mothers have been torn from their children, children from their mothers – how many plans have come to nothing, how much sorrow has sprung from these depths, and how much relief!… Virtue and vice have come in the end to the same thing! It seems that to die is man’s finest action – and what might be his worst? To be born, since that is the exact opposite of his best deed. It is therefore right of me to be angry that I was ever born into this world! Why was I not prevented from remaining in a world where I am utterly useless? What good can my existence bring to anyone? … But wait, wait! What’s this? Tears? How long it is since they flowed! How is this, seeing that an arid melancholy has held me for so long in its grip? How good it feels – and sorrowful. Sad but kindly tears! What a strange emotion! Sad but blessed. It is not good for one to be sad, and yet how pleasant it is – a strange state…”
You can enjoy yourself, get bored, laugh, cry, do anything you like, and no-one takes any notice because thousands here are doing exactly the same…You find here the greatest splendor, the greatest filthiness, the greatest virtue, the greatest vice..They really are a queer lot here! As soon as it gets dark all you hear is street-vendors shouting out the titles of the latest pamphlets, and you can often buy three or four sheets of printed rubbish for a few sous, with titles such as ‘How to Get and Keep a Lover’, or ‘Priests in Love’, or ‘Romance of the Archbishop of Paris and the Duchesse de Beery‘, and a thousand similar obscenities, often very wittily put together. Honestly, one can’t be surprised at the way of making a few pennies that they think up. I must tell you that there is terrible poverty here and little money about. You meet with crowds of beggars with menacing looks on their faces..
As this cough will choke me, I implore you to have my body opened, so that I may not be buried alive.
– Chopin’s last written words
But when he asked Chopin whether he was still in pain, we quite distinctly heard the answer: ‘No more.’ These were the last words heard from his lips. – Charles Gavard, witness to Chopin’s death
Compiled from Chopin’s Letters, published by Dover Books.