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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga



During October we're commemorating the 150th anniversary of
Chopin's death - Paris, Place Vendome 12,
October 17th 1849, around 2am


This week: ALFRED CORTOT on
Chopin's 'secret being'


If we are to understand the real, the immortal Chopin, we must seek the explanation in the Poland of his childhood. Everything he stood for, everything that emanated from him was insistently, devotedly Polish. His true friendships, his true love affairs: Constance [Konstancja Gladkowska, 1810-89] and Marie [Maria Wodzinska, 1819-96], his beliefs, his superstitions, his habits of life, his prejudices, even his illness, were formed before he left the banks of the Vistula [November 2nd 1830].

And, above all, linked mysteriously in an incessant interplay between nostalgic folksong and the vivid national rhythms which never ceased to crowd his imagination, towered his musical genius.

He worked to no preconceived artistic creed, but obeyed a vital spiritual urge. In his inspired outpourings he sought to recreate the atmosphere of a childhood full of wonder and alive to the promise of the future... His whole being longed for those places which he endowed with every delight and surrounded with a regret that he expressed in a letter to his parents: 'I dream constantly that I am on my way to you across the unknown wastes that separate us. I know that they are the wastes of my imagination and that our reunion will remain an illusion. But does not the Polish proverb say: 'The crown is only reached by means of the imagination'? - as for me I am a pure Mazovian' [Nohant, July 20th 1845] *...

... while his body was in France, his heart was in Poland... the praises Paris sang in celebration of his triumphs meant very little to him; it was what Warsaw wrote and thought that really mattered...

... A kind of second Chopin, unheard by those around him, must have co-existed with the fashionable young artist that appeared in the flesh, a being lost, as he tells us, amid mysterious and nameless wastes which separate him from his own people and across which he reaches in vain endeavour to recapture his childhood...

... it is with that secret being who had no contact with material things, who was able to escape from himself into the world of unreality, that one feels oneself to be in a state of complete spiritual affinity.

It is this legendary Chopin that we must cherish. By disregarding the depreciatory facts of his daily life, but going to the heart of the essential truth, we preserve the image of a Chopin who answers all our aspirations, a Chopin who existed in a world created by his imagination, who had no other existence save that of his dreams, no other desire than to relive the enchantments of the past, who by the outpourings of his genius was able to immortalise the dreams and longings of countless human souls.

- copyright © Alfred Cortot Paris 1949, Aspects de Chopin, translated by Cyril & Rena Clarke as In Search of Chopin, London/New York 1951


* Ethel LilianVoynich's less fanciful alternative translation (Henryk Opienski: Chopin's Letters, New York 1931) reads: '... at this moment I am not with myself, but only as usual in some strange outer space. Granted, it is only those espaces imaginaires [imaginary spaces]; but I am not ashamed of that; you know, a proverb has grown up here: - "he went to the coronation by imagination," and I am a real blind Mazur' AO


Quote Corner

'Chopin liberated rhythm - Stravinsky liberated the bar-line'

- Charles Camilleri [& Richard England] Octaves of Reflection, London 1987

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