Labellessness: Public acclaim creates reclusiveness

From "Chopin, A new biography by Adam Zamoyski" 1980

page 53 from The Universal Daily

This is a real talent, a true talent. Mr. Chopin must not hide it and must let himself be heard publicly; but he must also be prepared to hear voices of envy, which usually only spare mediocrity.

page 105

The differences of opinion went deeper than liking or disliking each other's music, and had more to do with how these young men saw themselves and their careers. In simple terms, the Romantic movement in music was a revolution against the eighteenth-century role of music as an amenity and of the musician as an artisan. The movement which began with Beethoven was to make a new position for music at the apex of the arts and for the musician as the quintessential artist. Chopin was to benefit from this; only half a century after Mozart was laid in the common grave, Chopin was to have a funeral worthy of a great statesman. But he did not fit easily into the Romantic movement, because at heart he saw himself more as an amateur craftsman than an artist in the modern sense.

The Romantic movement insisted on functions. In order to be great, music, too, had to have a function, the only argument being as to whether that function was to be cathartic, spiritual, or political. And if art had a function, then the artist had a mission. Chopin could never take himself seriously enough to see himself as having a mission, and he was neither insecure enough nor educated enough to start formulating theories about his work. Had he done so, he would have certainly admitted that he practiced it entirely for its own sake. As in the case of Bach, music for him was an exercise in which form and development were the all-important factors, and while it was indeed a form of self-expression, it remained a personal and reticent one.

page 108

Perhaps Chopin's most distinctive characteristic was his touch; he could play the same note in various ways, producing a whole range of nuances. This was why he was so fond of Playel's pianos, which were by far the most sensitive. He heightened these nuances with his revolutionary use of the sustaining pedal, but above all with his application of tempo rubato. This has been greatly exaggerated and misinterpreted, but with Chopin it meant that while his left hand played in strict time, his right would just hint at the anticipation of a phrase or else reluctance to begin it.
Notice the phrase "greatly exaggerated and misinterpreted" in that quote!

OK now notice the great "public acclaim" that would frighten even Arnold Schwarzennegar!

page 121

The Gazette indeed consistently pointed to his importance as a composer but admitted that to many, even the most fervent admirers, he was an "inexplicable phenomenon" in the sense that he did not seem to belong to any tradition...

When reviewing the Etudes opus 10, he strongly advised anyone attempting to play them to have a surgeon in attendance, as permanent finger damage was unavoidable.

page 140

But Schuman was more interested in Chopin the composer, and he kept trying to understand and explain his works, without much success. In his review of the F minor concerto earlier that year, he had written that it was clear Chopin had been principally inspired by Beethoven's piano concertos, not realizing that Chopin had almost certainly never heard a Beethovan piano concerto before he left Poland, by which time he had written both of his own concertos. He claimed him as a truly Romantic composer, seeing rebellion in his work, and had recently written that "if the powerful autocrat of the North (the Tsar) knew what a dangerous enemy threatens him in the works of Chopin, in the simple melodies of those mazurkas, he would banish this music. The works of Chopin are like cannons hidden beneath flowers."
As if that would make one want to get more write ups!?!

page 218

This was not, strictly speaking, true; a particularly rude intrusion into the silence was to be made later that same year by the critic of the Musical World of London, who wrote, in a review of some newly published mazurkas:
Mr Frederick Chopin has, by some means or other which we cannot divine, obtained an enourmous reputation, a reputation but too often refused to composers of ten times his genius. Mr Chopin is by no means a putter-down of commonplaces; but he is, what by many would be esteemed worse, a dealer in the most absurd and hyperbolical extravagances. It is a striking satire on the capability of thought possessed by the musical profession that so very crude and limited a writer should be esteemed, as he is very generally, a profound classical musician. Mr Chopin doesn not want ideas, but they never extend beyond eight or sixteen bars at the utmost. The works of the composer give us invariably the idea of an enthusiastic schoolboy whose parts are by no means on a par with his enthusiasm, who will be original whether he can or not. There is a clumsiness about his harmonies in the midst of their affected strangeness, a sickliness about his melodies, despite their evidently forced unlikeness to familiar phrases, an utter ignorance of design everywhere apparent in his lengthened works...The entire works of Chopin present a motley surface of ranting hyperbole and excruciating cacophony.
Ouchie! Perhaps that explains the following reclusiveness which paints a humorous picture:
page 158

One evening that Pleyel spent with his English counterpart, Broadwood, Chopin accompanied him, but insisted on being introduced as Mr. Fritz. He successfully disguised his identity until late in the evening when, after everyone had played the piano a little, he could not resist the urge himself, and, sitting down at the instrument, had everyone gaping in astonishment after a few bars. The truth was soon out, and Chopin went on to improvise. As one of those present wrote, those who heard him "will never forget that memory."
This biography has me reevaluating the words: Romantic, Artist, Craftsman, Artisan, and many other ideas of the artist capturing the spirit of a place, time and emotion. Is every piece of art a "movement" or "statement?" Is not having a statement in one's art a statement of statementlessness?

One could say that I am quote the Funk music player. One could call me a Caribbean Music expert. Someone could call me a Crooner and love-song-balladeer. Chakra-balancing-musician could be my title. Do I want any title at all? The title is: Titleless but even avoiding being put in a category is the category of "don't define me!" Brother this is a drag!

Because dear Frydryk Chopin avoided getting into poli-tricks, he was teaching many high-paying students, and likely could travel more than others who made statements against and used their art against groups of people in power. I'm reminded of the statement: "Don't shoot me, I'm just the piano player!" and how entertainment basically will play for who will pay for it, so I admire his ability to keep his focus on developing innovative musical techniques, even though it drove some critics nuts as you can see from the above quotes. Thank God he was such a musician, such a dear sharer of his skills, emotions and remembrances of his musical environments. Co-op and co-opt sound very similar but mean just about the opposite. When Franz Liszt and Chopin played and were friends, a great co-operating must have gone on. Amen. When artists are servants, co-opting their talents to make a living, this is too bad. People who see the performer or performance only from the front of the stage mostly won't have any idea of the turmoils, subtle alliances and references being presented. Maybe this is why in an early music group that I was in, the band manager made us all come from backstage together, perform, then leave, and not talk to the audience at all, and maybe that is the best - for the life of the music performance. Playing celebrity is much more dangerous than playing music!

"Just call me Mr. Fritz!" Chopin said when in hiding. Maybe he "popped" his desire for public recognition, it went on the fritz he he.. :raisedbrows: Why bother the audience with all the background trauma and confusion behind the scenes? Why bother the artist with labels and assumptions about intentions? Cannot the art speak for itself? I believe it can. Don't quote me though, "There is no Paul Atraides!" cries Paul Atraides under his cloak (Children of Dune). The external is skin-deep, shallow, the real essence need not be endangered with labels, slots, categories, philosophies, misunderstandings and over-criticisms. The color blue is simply the color blue, your associations please keep to your self! he he..

May we be free to be, and protect our creative selves from destructive popular misconceptions. Amen. And so it is.

Love and light being, Teo Do