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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga



Wilhelm von Lenz, Paris 1842

Europe, from Madrid to St Petersburg, was lionizing Liszt, when, in 1842 [aged thirty-three], we found ourselves again in Paris, where now Louis Philippe had become King... Life had become elegantly frivolous, whereas under Charles X it had been simply corrupt. Then, Vice had worn its livery. Now it was transformed into a sort of 'demi-monde,' with all sorts of socially acceptable titles, with the accepted grades of 'Duchesse,' 'Camelia,' etc...

... At that time - 1842 - George Sand was an established fact. The whole range of Camelia literature was in full bloom. Balzac thought that Paris breathed an electric atmosphere. Paris, and Paris alone, was where one could live. And there lived Chopin ...

... The term 'distinguished' (le distingue) was the fashion, and went through the most fantastic gradations. To return to Paris before the month of November - or far worse, to shut one oneself up in Paris all through the summer, was not 'distinguished.' And Chopin was very distinguished - not like the dead-and-gone Kalkbrenner [this was written some years after the events recalled, Kalkbrenner dying four months before Chopin], as a peacock or a silver pheasant (neither was he decorated with even the smallest Legion of Honour ribbon), but as a great artist, albeit a good, fashionable Parisian, was Chopin distinguished. In his easy, well-bred reserve, in his manners, in his very appearance, he sought to be, and was, distinguished ... *

... the Cite d'Orleans [where Chopin lived from October 1842 to June 1849: Place d'Orleans 9] was a new district of large proportions, with a spacious court - the first of its kind - and a number of apartments, with numbers, and a name (Cite), is always popular with Parisians. It lay behind the Rue de Provence, one of the fashionable quarters of Paris. It looked - as indeed it was - aristocratic.

I gave Liszt's [visiting] card [with the words 'Laissez passer, Franz Liszt'] to the man-servant in the anteroom. A man-servant is an article of luxury in Paris, and very rarely to be found in the home of an artist! The servant said that Chopin was not in Paris - but I did not allow this to deter me. 'Deliver this card,' I said, 'and I will attend to the rest.' Chopin soon came out, the card in his hand. He was a young man [thirty-two] - not very tall [according to his passport, Paris July 7th 1837, five feet seven inches **] - slim, and haggard [97 pounds, under seven stone, in 1840], with a sad, but most expressive face, and elegant Parisian bearing. I have seldom, if ever, met with an apparition so entirely engaging. He did not ask me to sit down. I stood before him as if I were before a monarch ...

... I always went to him long before my [45 minute] lesson was due, and waited in the ante-chamber. One lady after another came out - each one more beautiful than the last... [the flower of the highest society] ...

Perhaps Chopin had little strength, but nobody could approach him in grace and elegance, and when he embellished, it was always the apotheosis of good taste ... 'Do you practise on the day of the concert?' I asked him. 'It is a terrible time for me,' he replied. 'I do not like the publicity, but it is a duty I owe to my position. For two weeks I shut myself up, and play Bach. That is my preparation. I do not practise my own compositions.'

Chopin was the Phoenix of intimacy with the piano. In his Nocturnes and Mazurkas he is unrivalled, unbelievable. His Mazurkas are the songs of Heine on the piano ... The compositions of Chopin opened a new era for the pianoforte ... They occupy a plane of ideas of a Novalis, or a Heine. They are the soul of the pianoforte - they cannot be 'arranged' for any other instrument. They are less in touch with general ideas than with piano-ideas. They are great works in small frames ...

... What can one say of his style of writing, his harmony, his modulation, his treatment of the piano in general, and the left hand in particular?

Chopin's tone-colour is like that of Raphael. He is the Raphael of the piano, though one must not seek his Madonnas in the churches - but in Life.


* Without 'carriages and white gloves ... one would not be in good taste' (Chopin to Dominik Dziewanowski, undated letter, 1832)

** 'Less than five feet, two inches [weighing] a mere ninety pounds during his final years,' differs Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, Vol I: The Virtuoso Years 1811-1847 (London 1983)


- abridged from Wilhelm von Lenz, Die grossen Pianoforte-Virtuosen unserer Zeit (Berlin 1872; English translation, The Great Piano Virtuosos of Our Time, New York 1899), Chapter II

A pupil of, illustriously, both Liszt and Chopin, Wilhelm von Lenz (1809-83), born in Riga of German descent, was a Counsellor of State to the Russian Imperial Court. His celebrated study, Beethoven et ses trois styles, including an analysis of the piano sonatas, appeared in St Petersburg in 1852.

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'I indicate, the listener must finish the picture'

- Chopin to Wilhelm von Lenz, Paris October 1842

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