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Frederick Chopin, as a Man and Musician — Complete by Niecks, Frederick, 1845-1924

Frederick Chopin, as a Man and Musician — Complete by Niecks, Frederick, 1845-1924

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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician
by Frederick Niecks
#3 in our series by Frederick Niecks

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Title: Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician
Author: Frederick Niecks
Release Date: January, 2004 [EBook #4973]

[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]

[This file was first posted on April 8, 2002]
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by John Mamoun <mamounjo@umdnj.edu>, Charles Franks
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Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician
Frederick Niecks

Third Edition (1902)



While the novelist has absolute freedom to follow his artistic
instinct and intelligence, the biographer is fettered by the
subject-matter with which he proposes to deal. The former may
hopefully pursue an ideal, the latter must rest satisfied with a
compromise between the desirable and the necessary. No doubt, it
is possible to thoroughly digest all the requisite material, and
then present it in a perfect, beautiful form. But this can only
be done at a terrible loss, at a sacrifice of truth and
trustworthiness. My guiding principle has been to place before
the reader the facts collected by me as well as the conclusions
at which I arrived. This will enable him to see the subject in
all its bearings, with all its pros and cons, and to draw his own
conclusions, should mine not obtain his approval. Unless an
author proceeds in this way, the reader never knows how far he
may trust him, how far the evidence justifies his judgment. For--
not to speak of cheats and fools--the best informed are apt to
make assertions unsupported or insufficiently supported by facts,
and the wisest cannot help seeing things through the coloured
spectacles of their individuality. The foregoing remarks are
intended to explain my method, not to excuse carelessness of
literary workmanship. Whatever the defects of the present volumes
may be--and, no doubt, they are both great and many--I have
laboured to the full extent of my humble abilities to group and
present my material perspicuously, and to avoid diffuseness and
rhapsody, those besetting sins of writers on music.

The first work of some length having Chopin for its subject was
Liszt's "Frederic Chopin," which, after appearing in 1851 in the
Paris journal "La France musicale," came out in book-form, still
in French, in 1852 (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Hartel.--Translated
into English by M. W. Cook, and published by William Reeves,
London, 1877). George Sand describes it as "un peu exuberant de
style, mais rempli de bonnes choses et de tres-belles pages."
These words, however, do in no way justice to the book: for, on

the one hand, the style is excessively, and not merely a little,
exuberant; and, on the other hand, the "good things" and
"beautiful pages" amount to a psychological study of Chopin, and
an aesthetical study of his works, which it is impossible to over-
estimate. Still, the book is no biography. It records few dates
and events, and these few are for the most part incorrect. When,
in 1878, the second edition of F. Chopin was passing through the
press, Liszt remarked to me:--

"I have been told that there are wrong dates and other mistakes
in my book, and that the dates and facts are correctly given in
Karasowski's biography of Chopin [which had in the meantime been
published]. But, though I often thought of reading it, I have not
yet done so. I got my information from Paris friends on whom I
believed I might depend. The Princess Wittgenstein [who then
lived in Rome, but in 1850 at Weimar, and is said to have had a
share in the production of the book] wished me to make some
alterations in the new edition. I tried to please her, but, when
she was still dissatisfied, I told her to add and alter whatever
she liked."

From this statement it is clear that Liszt had not the stuff of a
biographer in him. And, whatever value we may put on the Princess
Wittgenstein's additions and alterations, they did not touch the
vital faults of the work, which, as a French critic remarked, was
a symphonie funebre rather than a biography. The next book we
have to notice, M. A. Szulc's Polish Fryderyk Chopin i Utwory
jego Muzyczne (Posen, 1873), is little more than a chaotic,
unsifted collection of notices, criticisms, anecdotes, &c., from
Polish, German, and French books and magazines. In 1877 Moritz
Karasowski, a native of Warsaw, and since 1864 a member of the
Dresden orchestra, published his Friedrich Chopin: sein Leben,
seine Werke und seine Briefe (Dresden: F. Ries.--Translated into
English by E. Hill, under the title Frederick Chopin: His Life,
Letters, and Work," and published by William Reeves, London, in
1879). This was the first serious attempt at a biography of
Chopin. The author reproduced in the book what had been brought
to light in Polish magazines and other publications regarding
Chopin's life by various countrymen of the composer, among whom
he himself was not the least notable. But the most valuable
ingredients are, no doubt, the Chopin letters which the author
obtained from the composer's relatives, with whom he was
acquainted. While gratefully acknowledging his achievements, I
must not omit to indicate his shortcomings--his unchecked
partiality for, and boundless admiration of his hero; his
uncritical acceptance and fanciful embellishments of anecdotes
and hearsays; and the extreme paucity of his information
concerning the period of Chopin's life which begins with his
settlement in Paris. In 1878 appeared a second edition of the
work, distinguished from the first by a few additions and many
judicious omissions, the original two volumes being reduced to
one. But of more importance than the second German edition is the
first Polish edition, "Fryderyk Chopin: Zycie, Listy, Dziela, two
volumes (Warsaw: Gebethner and Wolff, 1882), which contains a
series of, till then, unpublished letters from Chopin to Fontana.
Of Madame A. Audley's short and readable "Frederic Chopin, sa vie
et ses oeuvres" (Paris: E. Plon et Cie., 1880), I need only say
that for the most part it follows Karasowski, and where it does

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