I came across this recent article about Chopin, in honor of his 200th birthday, in the Yiddish newspaper "Forvertz" (Forward), and thought it might be of interest here. Here's the link and my translation to English:http://yiddish.forward.com/node/2802
March 5, 2010
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) - A Word On The 200th Anniversary of His Birth
By Akiva Fishbin (Israel)
Special for the "Forward"
Translated by pianojerome
Chopin is without a doubt one of the giants of music history. A genius that nobody merits - a wonder of a wonderchild - he created a musical language that flows from his heart and captivates the heart of the listener. The Polish Romantic poet and visionary Norwid said: "Chopin is a Pole in his heart and a Citizen of the World in his talent." Heinrich Heine further holds that "Chopin is to music as Raphael, the great Renaissance master, is to painting." It's worthy of mention - as a child, the prodigy Chopin had a rare sensitivity to music. It's said that he would never leave the instrument while his mother played the piano. Tears would well up in the child's eyes!
In any case, Chopin was simply an unusually bright person! He used to draw fine, good-natured caricatures. His letters "speak" of his literary talent, and above all there was a bit of an actor in him.
Chopin, the genius of geniuses, had the mazel (luck) to fall into this world in a cultured and tight family dominated by love and devotion. Chopin enjoyed a happy childhood. His father, an immigrant from France, who came a year before Chopin's birth to Zelazowa-Wola, a little village near Warsaw, became a French teacher for a noble family. A few months after Chopin's birth, the entire family left for Warsaw - there, Chopin's father opened an educational institute with a dormitory for students from the provinces. Chopin was raised in an atmosphere of music playing - with the sounds of his mother's piano, his father's violin and flute, and the servants' folksongs. When his mother sat down at the piano, as already mentioned, the young Fritsik, as he used to be called from childhood on, used to not budge from the instrument: he would listen very carefully to the sounds and observe very well how his mother's fingers glided across the keyboard.
In any case, biographies tell fantastic stories about little Fritsik - insofar as the sounds of the piano brought the child to tears, his mother began teaching him how to play. In his early childhood, Chopin used to hear the popular Polish folk dances. These sounds influenced him - he soaked them into his soul. With time, he would create from this primitive, folksy playing musical pearls of a rare charm. Little by little, he mastered piano technique while playing this same folk music. And insofar as the little Fritsik was not satisfied to simply carry over the melody, at that very young age he used to consider the melody of a folk dance as only a motif - he entirely changed the melodies and the child's fingers unwrapped the musical themes, sometimes a joyful tune, like a dance, and sometimes a sort of melody like a lullaby. Yet, altogether, the melody that Fritsik began to play could always be recognized. In short, Fritsik already took to composing "variations" on a musical theme at that very young age! Interesting! Since those young years, Chopin loved to think and meditate, i.e. to improvise.
By the age of 7, Fritsik already had several of his own compositions. At the meager age of 8, he played for the first time in a salon of a Polish aristocrat in Warsaw for a considerable audience of guests.
Nu, what happened! The enthusiasm of this audience of listeners was enormous! At age 8, Fritsik had a polonaise printed by a Warsaw publisher. Already, expert critics were opening both of their eyes! A Warsaw journal wrote that "the young Chopin is a complete genius! Not only did he play the most difficult piano pieces with a rare facility - he is a composer of various works with variations. Music experts have not heard such a wonder." Chopin's music had already taken effect on people. People say that when the savage, brutal Prince Konstantin, the Russian ruler in Warsaw, used to start to "brikeven" [not sure how to translate that word], everyone quickly ran to bring Fritsik, sat him down at the piano, and when the hall overflowed with the sounds of the young Chopin, the prince became a.... tiny little lamb. Insofar as in those years popular music was the interest of music lovers of the "high society", the little Chopin used to play in aristocratic salons. The enthusiastic audience made the verdict: "The child is something of a Mozart!"
To unwrap from the folk-playing pearls of music, a music that should go "from heart to heart", this very task did Chopin succeed in confiding, not to the orchestra, not to the chamber ensemble, but rather only to the piano itself - his piano told "stories" of his joys and sorrows! He wrote of this in a letter to a friend: "That which I can't express in words I confide in my piano." Chopin's novelties sometimes shocked Polish critics who were attached to the traditional forms. On this, he was defended by his professor Yozef Elzner, the director of the Warsaw Conservatory, where he had learned until age 12 the "Torah" of composition [translator note: this just means that he learned the essentials of composition very throughly]... Seeing that Chopin was becoming an innovator, the elder defended him: "Frederic Chopin is an entirely distinctive musical genius!"
By age 19, Chopin had already composed works which made him immortal. When Robert Schumann, the composer and critic, became familiar with Chopin's works, he cried out: "Friends! Let us remove our hats and greet a genius!"
By age 29, crowned with the glory of Warsaw, Breslav, Dresden, and Prague, Chopin arrived in Paris on a gloomy day in November. He met with great musicians there, who were all taken aback by his style of playing; he also played in the private houses of the wealthy Polish immigrants - they organized for him a concert in a large Parisian hall, but the audience was meager: most of the Poles... barely foot the bill... Chopin was financially miserable... He was no longer known in the wealthy Parisian salons, which served to set the tone: they were the well of salary for a musician. Chopin already began to think about traveling to America...
It so happens that one day the Parisian Rothschild was informed that the brilliant Chopin was in Paris. Oy! Nu, so he immediately invited him to his salon, loaded with guests from the "high society", and let's just see what the Polish Chopin did. Chopin came and played, and the walls of Rothschild's rich salon trembled with applause! This happened there! - Chopin was of course a virtuoso - a genius, and a composer of a new, unheard-of style. The intelligentsia in the hall opened both eyes - from a primitive musical folklore one could magically concoct such treasures of music?! Nu, what is this! The boy is a genius!!!
In short, the triumph in Rothschild's salon saved Chopin's financial situation. Pelted with invitations to the wealthy salons, he forgot about going to America. Chopin was lavished upon with requests to teach lessons. And as Paris began to ring with the sounds of Chopin, the king's castle invited him to come and oblige the royal family with his music.
The Parisian-Jewish publisher Schlessinger took to publishing Chopin's works and he became famous around the entire world! He became established in the "East Wall" [translator note: this is a reference to the front of a synagogue sanctuary where the rabbi, synagogue president, cantor, et al, sit in honor] between the greatest composers of all time. A frequenter among the artistic society in Paris, a suitor of artists, among the best, made Chopin's portrait. (In my humble opinion, the French artist Delacroix made the best portrait of Chopin.)
In short - what is the taste of Chopin's music? Chopin's music - this wonderful language of poetry finds its way into the heart of every music lover. Chopin, from the piano, drew out so many charms - so many colorful sounds! "Chopin's music is full of emotion - with sentiments. In short musical phrases, he produced poetry of the highest elevation," declared Chopin's long-time friend - the writer George Sand.
In short, Chopin's music dominates emotions through melody. Chopin handled his music as though it were a conversation with himself. The role of music, according to Chopin, begins where words cease to have an effect. So, the piano served the obligation of expressing what was lying on his heart. Aside from a few compositions of his younger years, Chopin's entire ouevre is written for piano.
"I want to create for myself a new world," wrote Chopin in a letter. With the magical strength of the piano, he accomplished his goal. One must say that Chopin's "new world" influenced great composers from other nations! Others began to become inspired by folksong treasures.
A Frenchman once said: "Chopin is an angel... this genius possesses an exceptionally sensitive soul" and of course, should his soul only become uneasy - ah! He makes his chords with storms and protest. The composer Schumann held that "Some of the mazurkas from this lyrical master are canons stationed among flowers."
All of Chopin's works were loaded with memories of his enslaved homeland. His mazurkas, waltzes, or polonaises were far from being repertoire for a salon-reception; Chopin was not a distributor! His dances, as though they were pictures, remind of the homeland. They are the echo of his folk-roots. His most beautiful mazurkas and nocturnes were composed during his moments of loneliness, of difficult illness - and deserted by his friend, George Sand.