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about life and philosophy

"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."

"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."

"Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on."

"I wish I could throw off the thoughts which poison my happiness. And yet I take a kind of pleasure in indulging them."

"Sometimes I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano!"

"Put all your soul into it, play the way you feel!"

"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 feel like a novice, just as I felt before I knew anything of the keyboard. It is far too original, and I shall end up not being able to learn it myself."

"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..."

"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."

"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)."

"I'm a revolutionary, money means nothing to me."

about concerts and performance

"Yesterday's concert was a success. I hasten to let you know. I inform your Lordship that I was not a bit nervous and played as I play when I am alone. It went well... and I had to come back and bow four times."

"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."

"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."

"There are certain times when I feel more inspired, filled with a strong power that forces me to listen to my inner voice, and when I feel more need than ever for a Pleyel piano."

"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. I had to leave for one instant to pull myself together after which I continued without saying anything."

"One needs only to study a certain positioning of the hand in relation to the keys to obtain with ease the most beautiful sounds, to know how to play long notes and short notes and to achieve certain unlimited dexterity. A well formed technique, it seems to me, can control and vary a beautiful sound quality." 

about places and people

"I don't know where there can be so many pianists as in Paris, so many asses and so many virtuosi."

"I haven't heard anything so great for a long time; Beethoven snaps his fingers at the whole world..."

"I have met a great celebrity, Madame 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."

"The Official Bulletin declared that the Poles should be as proud of me as the Germans are of Mozart; obvious nonsense."

"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."

"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."

"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..."

"It's a huge Carthusian monastery, stuck down between rocks and sea, where you may imagine me, without white gloves or hair curling, 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 paper - silence - you could scream - there would still be silence. Indeed, I write to you from a strange place."

"After a rest in Edinburgh, where, passing a music-shop, I heard some blind man playing a mazurka of mine..."

"England is a country of pianos, they are everywhere."

"Here, whatever is not boring is not English."

"My piano has not yet arrived. How did you send it? By Marseilles or by Perpignan? I dream music but I cannot make any because here there are not any pianos . . . in this respect this is a savage country."

"England is 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..."

about health and death

"My manuscripts sleep, while I cannot, for I am covered with poultices."

"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..."

"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."

"The earth is suffocating... As this cough will choke me, I implore you to have my body opened, so that I may not be buried alive."

"Play Mozart in memory of me."

by Robert Schumann

"Hats off gentlemen, a genius!"

"It was an unforgettable picture to see Chopin sitting at the piano like a clairvoyant, lost in his dreams; to see how his vision communicated itself through his playing, and how, at the end of each piece, he had the sad habit of running one finger over the length of the plaintive keyboard, as though to tear himself forcibly away from his dream."

"If the mighty autocrat of the north knew what a dangerous enemy threatened him in Chopin's works in the simple tunes of his mazurkas, he would forbid this music. Chopin's works are canons buried in flowers."

"We may be sure that a genius like Mozart, were he born today, would write concertos like Chopin and not like Mozart."

by Felix Mendelssohn

"There is something fundamentally personal and at the same time so very masterly in his playing that he may be called a really perfect virtuoso."

by Franz Liszt

"Music was his language, the divine tongue through which he expressed a whole realm of sentiments that only the select few can appreciate... The muse of his homeland dictates his songs, and the anguished cries of Poland lend to his art a mysterious, indefinable poetry which, for all those who have truly experienced it, cannot be compared to anything else... The piano alone was not sufficient to reveal all that lies within him. In short he is a most remarkable individual who commands our highest degree of devotion."

by George Sand

"His music was spontaneous, miraculous. He found it without seeking it, without previous intimation of it. It came upon his piano sudden, complete, sublime, or it sang in his head during a walk, and he was impatient to hear it himself with the help of the instrument. But then began the most desperate labor that I have ever witnessed. It was a succession of efforts, hesitations and moments of impatience to recapture certain details of the theme he could hear; what he had conceived as one piece, he analyzed too much in trying to write it down, and his dismay at his inability to rediscover it in what he thought was its original purity threw him into a kind of despair. He would lock himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, pacing back and forth, breaking his pens, repeating or changing one bar a hundred times, writing and erasing it as many times, and beginning again the next day with an infinite and desperate perseverance. He sometimes spent six weeks on one page, only in the end to write it exactly as he had sketched at the first draft."

"Chopin has written two wonderful mazurkas which are worth more than forty novels and are more eloquent than the entire century's literature."

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by Hector Berlioz 

�Chopin had the fortunate idea of playing the Adagio [Romance, Larghetto] from his last Concerto. Placed between two orchestral compositions maintained in a turbulent style, this enchanting work, in which irresistible charm is combined with most profound religious thoughts, submerged the listeners into a specific joy � serene and ecstatic � to which we have not become accustomed in a similar situation. All this differs greatly from the endless adagios, which usually fill the middle movement of a piano concerto; in this case, there is so much simplicity used with such freshness of imagination, that when the last note was heard, in the manner of a pearl cast into a golden vase, the audience, immersed in contemplation, continued to listen, and for a few moments restrained itself from applauding. In the same way, while observing the harmonious descent of twilight semi-shadows, we remain motionless in the darkness, with our eyes still focused on that point of the horizon, where the light has just faded.�

by Ignace Moscheles

"Now, for the first time, I understood his music, and could also explain to myself the great enthusiasm of the ladies. The sudden modulations that I could not grasp when I myself played his works no longer bother me. His piano is so ethereal that no forte is needed to create the necessary contrast. Listening to him, one yields with one's whole soul, as to a singer who, oblivious of accompaniment, lets himself be carried away by his emotion. In short, he is unique among pianists."

by Wilhelm Lenz

"Every single note was played with the highest degree of taste, in the noblest sense of the word. When he embellished, which he rarely did, it was a positive miracle of refinement."

"I learnt about many general issues concerning piano playing by working together with Liszt on Mazurkas in Bb major and in A minor from Op. 7 by Chopin. [�] He treated them very seriously, especially the at the first glance easy bass in maggiore in the Mazurka in A minor. What a lot of work he took upon himself for my sake. �Only an ass could think that this is easy, but you can tell a virtuoso in those ties. Play it this way to Chopin, and he will certainly notice and be pleased. Those foolish French editions spoil everything; the slurs in the bass must be placed thus. If you play to him in this fashion, he will give you a lesson."

"This should be a question. Chopin taught, and it was never question enough for him, never played 'piano' enough, never sufficiently falling away (tomb�), as he said, never 'important' enough. This must be a charnel house, he once said. He was also heard to say that this is the key to the whole composition. He was equally demanding as to the simple, quaver accompaniment to the cantil�ne and the cantil�ne itself. One should imagine the Italian canto and not the French vaudeville, he once declared mockingly."

by Karol Mikuli, Chopin's pupil

"Chopin's rubato possessed an unshakeable emotional logic. It always justified itself by a strengthening or weakening melodic line, by exaggeration or affectation."

by C.E. & M. Halle

"The marvelous charm, the poetry and originality, the perfect freedom and absolute lucidity of Chopin's playing cannot be described. It is perfect in every sense."

"He felt very unhappy when he heard the grande polonaise in A flat major played fast, as it spoilt the whole grandeur and majesty of that noble inspiration."

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by La France Musicale

"Chopin is a pianist of conviction. He composes for himself, plays for himself and everyone listens with interest, with delight, with infinite pleasure. Listen how he dreams, how he weeps, with what sweetness, tenderness and melancholy he sings, how perfectly he expresses the gentlest and loftiest feelings."

"Chopin is the pianist of sentiment par excellence. He may be said to have created a school of playing and a school of composition.  Nothing indeed equals the lightness and sweetness of his preluding on the piano, nothing compares with his works in originality, distinction and grace."

"Chopin has done for the piano what Schubert has done for the voice. Chopin is unique as a pianist: he should not and cannot be compared with anyone."

by La Revue Musicale

"Chopin has broken new trails for himself. His playing and his composition, from the very beginning, have won such high standing that in the eyes of many he has become an inexplicable phenomenon... No one as yet has tried to define the special character and merit of those works, what distinguished them from others, and why they occupy such a high place."

"Here is a young man, abandoning himself to his natural impressions and without taking a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of pianoforte music, at least a part of what has been sought in vain for a long time - namely an abundance of original ideas of which the type is to be found nowhere." 

"The enchanting pianist speaks a seductive language with his fingers and discloses his soul through his playing, which in turn leaves nothing to be desired. It is as though the piano had been transformed in some way and had become a totally different instrument, responding to the fiery touch of a genius, at once gentle and passionate."

by others

"Chopin is full of health and strength; all the French women are after him, and all the French men are jealous. He is the rage; the world will soon see people wearing new-fashioned gloves - gloves � la Chopin."

"Everybody will weep, believing that he really suffers with one who can weep so well."

"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."

Recommended reading for Chopin's quotes:

- Frederic Chopin, Chopin's letters, edited by E.L. Voynich, Dover, 1988

- Arthur Hedley, Selected correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, Heinemann, 1962

References: Click here for a full list of books and articles used to build this website

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CHOPIN : THE POET OF THE PIANO - � by Anh Tran. All rights reserved
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