Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Chopin: An attack by the Musical World Journal

I recently found this excellent quotation on the Frederyk Chopin Institute website. Now I do not normally write about ‘continental’ composers, but anyone that was and is so popular in Great Britain cannot be ignored. Chopin’s music is a vital part of musical life here and furthermore his tour of Britain between 20 April and 23 November was a huge success. He was lionized in London and played before Queen Victoria. So it is fascinating to read a somewhat negative review in the contemporary press. The Musical World was published in London during the nineteenth century.

The attack on Chopin was incidental to a review of some Mazurkas (Op. 41?): ‘Mr Chopin is far from composing anything banal, but – as many may consider considerably worse – is a producer of the most preposterous and hyperbolic oddities. […] Well might such a hot-headed enthusiast as Mr Liszt utter a poetical “rien” in “La France Musicale” with regard to the philosophical tendencies of Mr Chopin’s music; yet, from our point of view we can see no connection whatsoever between philosophy and affectation, between poetry and swagger, and we would allow ourselves to call to witness the ears and the judgement of all impartial people that all the works of Mr Chopin present a gaudy palette of rhetorical overstatement and excruciating cacophony […] At present, there is some justification for the offences of the poor Chopin: he is caught up in the compelling bonds of that arch-witch George Sand, notorious for both the number and the eminence of her romances and lovers; nevertheless, we are surprised at how she […] could allow herself to waste her dreamy existence on such an artistic non-entity as Chopin’.

In a reaction to this no-holds-barred assault on the part of its rival publishing house, the firm of Wessel & Stapleton addressed a letter to the editorship attempting to defend Chopin and his works, referring to ‘their immeasurable popularity abroad and finally the unanimous praise bestowed upon them by a host of the greatest authorities. Suffice it to mention here such names as Hector Berlioz, Ferdinand Hiller, Henri Herz, Robert Schumann, Sigismond Thalberg, Ignace Moscheles, Ferencz Liszt, Edward Schnitz, Henri Bertini, Jules Janin, Jules Maurel, George Sand, Frédéric Soulie, H. Balzac, Jules Benedict, Madame de Belleville-Oury, Theodor Doehler, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, John Cramer, Jacques Rosenheim, Charles Czerny, Aloys Schmitt, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Clara Wieck, Alexander Dreyschock, Adolphe Henselt, Catarina Bott, Robena Laidlaw and countless others’.

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