The quote you will most likely be hearing this year in relation to classical music is that of Robert Schumann in response to hearing Chopin playing his own music for the first time. The older composer and critic declared, in one of those rare reviews that has survived beyond the lifetime of its creator, “Hats off gentlemen, a genius!” In 2010, as we celebrate the much-beloved Chopin’s 200th anniversary (as well as Schumann’s), what could be more apt?
But here’s another quote, from a fairly mammoth editorial in Gramophone’s May 1940 edition. “Now when we have the works of Chopin practically complete, exquisitely played and perfectly recorded, I learn that the response has been disappointing. Chopin has suffered from the playing to death of one or two of his compositions to the exclusion of the rest of his work. People tire of something like the Nocturne in E flat major and suppose that they are tired of Chopin as a composer.” Responding to a record note that accuses the composer of being “sexless”, my illustrious predecessor (for it is Gramophone’s founder Compton Mackenzie) storms, “Why poor Chopin weaving his patterns in black and silver to lull men’s hearts for a hundred years should be exposed to a mixture of inaccurate psychology and physiology…I demand of the Muses.”
How times change. In order to try fully to explain the remarkable grip Chopin has on our collective tastes, Jeremy Nicholas, who knows more about the composer than most, struggled valiantly to interview – among others – a leading artist who actually dislikes Chopin’s music, to learn from the exception that proves the rule as it were. He couldn’t find anybody. Alfred Brendel never played much Chopin but not because he doesn’t like him, while Boris Berezovsky rushed to correct the quote that was said to emanate from his direction about “hating Chopin”. Nicholas even at one point concludes that so central is the Polish composer to the piano literature that it might actually be “professional suicide” for any pianist to admit to disliking his music. At the same time, he pins down precisely why so many of us genuinely love it and even finds time for a trip to Warsaw to investigate Chopin’s legacy on home ground. Don’t let Chopin Year go by without reading his pieces!
Next issue you will see a new-look Gramophone. More about it then, but I’m confident that you will be as delighted with the results as we are. It is not to be missed!