Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lessons from Chopin

Frederic Chopin, at the age of 38, wrote this in a letter to his friend, Auguste Franchomme:
"I have promised to play at a concert for 60 pounds. ...I am counting on earning that 60 pounds. What to do with myself next, I don't know, but I earnestly wish that somebody would give me--to the end of my life--an annual pension for not composing."
Two lessons I derive:

1. Even a composer as great as Chopin (my personal favorite), may always have to worry about money. Alas, things haven't changed.

2. Even people in so-called dream careers often feel disillusioned with it. Some of Chopin's discontent came from his already starting-to-fail health, but reading his letters suggests that much of his malaise derived from his personality. I believe that contentment lies primarily within one's hard-wiring, which can be ameliorated only somewhat by a persistent effort to remain positive.

And now, I invite you to take 4 1/2 minutes from your busy life to watch this video of a scene from the movie The Pianist. Not only is it great Chopin, but it is moving for another reason. Click HERE.


Stephen said...

An obvious point of comparison. Salieri found much greater financial success and recognition than did Mozart during his own lifetime. Yet his legacy now is only remembered now in relation to Mozart. I doubt that Chopin could have imagined how profound his own legacy would be.

Making a variation from the title of your post, it's also notable that as a teacher, Chopin was not blessed with many prodigious students. None would go on to become important composers or artists themselves. Chopin's contemporary Franz Liszt, by contrast had many students who would go on to become significant composers or performers. Some of their performances survive on piano rolls. Unfortunately we don't have such a direct link to Chopin.

Chopin's experiences as a teacher were probably disappointing. Very few of his recitals could be considered great financial successes. Nonetheless, Chopin has made a profound contribution to piano pedagogy, and to the advancement and promotion of the instrument itself, all through his work as a composer.

This might also be a good example where striving for balance might have precluded some of those accomplishments. For example, if you take away George Sand, maybe you would also have to lose a couple of the Ballades or the Fantasie.

As one of the great composers, he is unusual in that such a high proportion of his published works are masterpieces or at least of very fine caliber. And that he composed exclusively for one instrument. That focus was perhaps necessary in order to be able to develop such a sophisticated and refined musical language.

He clearly had set very high standards for himself, and had at one point even considered burning his posthumous works Op.66-74. That would have included the famous Impromptu "Fantasie". Luckily for us, someone convinced him not to do it.

Marty Nemko said...

Thank you, Stephen, for your fine comment.

Jeff Shore said...

Marty - I consider myself as having a "dream job", yet I constantly dream of something else even bigger and better. The tough part is trying to decide when to go for the next big thing and when to just be grateful for what we have and do the job we're doing. There are days when I wish I were dramatically more content...or dramatically less so - either way would be fine!

Dave said...

"much of his malaise derived from his personality. I believe that contentment lies primarily within one's hard-wiring, which can be ameliorated only somewhat by a persistent effort to remain positive."

Martin Luther comes to mind. Here, we have a persistent effort to remain negative, which probably brought on his health problems. Who knows...if he had not been such an angry man, the course of Western civilization might not have changed. His discontentment did bring about some majestic-sounding hymns.

The case of Chopin: It wasn't any different for Mozart, who died poor, leaving his wife with enormous debt. Emperor Joseph II did nothing to help him. Why?

Grace said...

Chopin. Luther.

We often are most melancholic, most affected, by those things which matter to us most. I used to work in a church - it was a dream job for me. But it was so difficult because it was a job that meant something to me and I agonized over every decision I made. I took it to heart. I was sad, but relieved when my contract ended.

Now I am in a good job but not in my dream job. It is much easier than the dream job, but now I am dissatisfied because so much of the job lacks meaning for me.

Perhaps, I can't win. I gotta get me a hot dog stand!