Liszt’s account of a performance by Chopin

Franz Liszt described one of Chopin’s concerts in the Gazette musicale, May 2 1841.

Last Monday, at eight o’clock in the evening, M. Pleyel’s rooms were brilliantly lighted up; numerous carriages brought incessantly to the foot of a staircase covered with carpet and perfumed with flowers the most elegant women, the most fashionable young men, the most celebrated artists, the richest financiers, the most illustrious noblemen; a whole elite of society, a whole aristocracy of birth, fortune, talent, and beauty.

A grand piano was open on a platform; people crowded round, eager for the seats nearest it; they prepared to listen, they composed themselves, they said to themselves that they must not lose a chord, a note, an intention, a thought of him who was going to seat himself there. And people were right in being thus eager, attentive, and religiously moved, because he for whom they waited, whom they wished to hear, admire, and applaud, was not only a clever virtuoso, a pianist expert in the art of making notes [de faire des notes], not only an artist of great renown, he was all this and more than all this, he was Chopin…

In Monday’s concert Chopin had chosen in preference those of his works which swerve more from the classical forms. He played neither concerto, nor sonata, nor fantasia, nor variations, but preludes, studies, nocturnes, and mazurkas. Addressing himself to a society rather than to a public, he could show himself with impunity as he is, an elegiac poet, profound, chaste, and dreamy. He did not need either to astonish or to overwhelm, he sought for delicate sympathy rather than for noisy enthusiasm. Let us say at once that he had no reason to complain of want of sympathy. From the first chords there was established a close communication between him and his audience. Two studies and a ballade were encored, and hat it not been for the fear of adding to the already great fatigue which betrayed itself on his pale face, people would have asked for a repetition of pieces in the program one by one.

Niecks, Frederick (1888). Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician, vol. II. London: Novello, Ewer and Co., p. 90-91. Cited in: Gerig, Reginald (1974) Famous pianists and their technique. Washington; Robert B. Luce Inc., p. 156-157.

By Greg

Australian composer and pianist