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   Chapter 17 THE NOCTURNES OF CHOPIN

The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2 By Rupert Hughes Characters: 29672

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


He wrote to his parents:

"I have made the acquaintance of an important celebrity, Mme. Dudevant, well known as George Sand; but I do not like her face; there is something in it that repels me."

And then, of course, he fell in love with her, for she leaned on his piano and improvised flatteries across the strings to him and turned full on him the luminous midnight of her ox-eyed beauty. A punster would say that he was oxidised, at once. The two lovers were strangely unlike-of course. She was masculine, self-poised, and self-satisfied; she had taken excellent care of herself at a time when the independent woman had less encouragement than now. So more than masculinely coarse she was in some ways, indeed, that Henry James once insinuated that, while she may have been to all intents and purposes a man, she was certainly no gentleman. Heine raved over her beauty, but, judging from her portrait, she later had a face as homely as that of George Eliot, who, as Carlyle said, looked like a horse. The poet De Musset, one of Sand's later lovers, said her dark complexion gave reflections like bronze; therefore De Musset found her very beautiful. Chopin was-well, some say he was not effeminate; and he could break chairs when he was angry at a pupil. But they also speak of his frail, fairylike, ethereal manner, and those qualities I, for one, have never known in any non-effeminate man-outside of books.

The first meeting of Chopin and Sand was a curious proof of the value of presentiments, and should interest those who have such things and believe them. Chopin, according to Karasovski, went to the salon of the Countess de Custine. As he climbed the stairs he fancied that he was followed by a shadow odorous of violets; he wanted to turn back, but resisted the superstitious thrill. Those violets were the perfumery of George Sand. She snared him first with violet-water, and thereafter surrounded him with her multitudinous wreaths of tobacco-though he neither made nor liked smoke. She, however, puffed voluminously at cigarettes, and even, according to Von Lenz, at long black cigars-as did Liszt's princess.

Other accounts are given of the first meeting, and Liszt claims the credit for arranging it all at her request, in spite of Chopin's desire not to meet her. But, be that as it may, he came, he saw, and she conquered. The two were alike chiefly in their versatility as lovers.

Chopin's first loves were his family, on whom he doted with Polish fervour. George Sand once exclaimed that his mother was his only love. She was a Polish woman whose name was Krzyzanovska-a good name to change for the shorter tinkle of "Chopin." It was from her that Chopin took that deep-burning patriotism which characterised him and gave his music a national tinge. And at that time Polish patriotism was bound to be all one elegy. But Chopin's father was a Frenchman, and when finally the composer reached Paris, he found himself instantly at home, and the darling of the salons. How different this feeling was from the loneliness and disgust that Paris filled Mozart's soul withal!

As we found Mozart's first serious wound in the heart coming from a public singer, so Chopin (unless we except his pupil, the Princess Elisa Radziwill) seems to have been caught very young by Constantia Gladkovska. She made a great success at Warsaw in the year which was Chopin's twentieth. He had previously indulged in a mild flirtation with a pretty little pianist and composer, Leopoldine Blahetka, but in her case he seems less to have loved than to have graciously permitted himself to be loved. When he fell under the witchery of Gladkovska, however, he was genuinely pierced to the heart, and his letters are as full of vague morose yearning as his Préludes. He left Warsaw for Vienna, but the memory of her pursued him. She had sung at his farewell concert in Warsaw, and made a ravishing success as a picture and as a singer. In Vienna he longed for her so deeply that he went about wearing the black velvet mantle of gloom which was so effective on the musicians and poets of that day.

To-day we will hardly permit an artist an extra half-inch of hair, and he must be very well groomed, very prosperous, businesslike, and, in appearance at least, athletic-even if he must ask his tailor to furnish the look of brawn. Personally, I prefer the mode of to-day, but with to-day's fashion we should not have had Chopin, such music as he drew from his familiar and d?mon, the piano, and such letters as he wrote about the Gladkovska to his friend Matuszynski:

"God forbid that she should suffer in any way on my account. Set her mind at rest, and tell her that as long as my heart beats I shall not cease to adore her. Tell her that even after my death my ashes shall be strewn under her feet."

While Chopin was thus mooning over her memory, she seems to have been finding consolation elsewhere than in her music, even as Mozart's Aloysia had done. This letter was sent on New Year's Day, 1831. After a few more references to her, her name vanishes from his letters, and the incident is closed. It may best be summed up in the words of James Huneker, who is one of the few writers who has kept his sanity on the subject of Chopin:

"He never saw his Gladkovska again, for he did not return to Warsaw. The lady was married in 1832-preferring a solid merchant to nebulous genius-to Joseph Grabovski, a merchant at Warsaw. Her husband, so saith a romantic biographer, Count Wodzinski, became blind; perhaps even a blind country gentleman was preferable to a lachrymose pianist. Chopin must have heard of the attachment in 1831. Her name almost disappears from his correspondence. Time as well as other nails drove from his memory her image. If she was fickle, he was inconstant, and so let us waste no pity on this episode, over which lakes of tears have been shed and rivers of ink have been spilt."

This same year, 1831, brought Chopin to Paris, thenceforward his residence and home. His great elegance of manner, as well as of music, brought him into the most aristocratic dove-cotes, or salons, as they called them, and it is small wonder that he found himself unable to avoid accepting and buttonholing for a while some of the countless hearts that were flung like roses at his feet. Even George Sand was amazed at his dexterity in juggling with hearts, and, in this matter, praise or blame from George Sand was praise from Lady Hubert. It seems that he could modulate from one love affair to another as fleetly and as gracefully as from one key to its remotest neighbour. She says he could manage three flirtations of an evening, and begin a new series the very next day. Apparently even distance was no barrier, for George Sand declares that he was at the same moment trying to marry a girl in Poland and another in Paris. The Parisienne he cancelled from his list because, says Sand, when he called on her with another man, she offered the other man a chair before she asked Chopin to be seated. Chopin conducted himself in Paris very much en prince, according to Von Lenz, and such a sacrilege to the laws of precedence naturally was unpardonable.

The Polish woman whom Sand refers to may have been the one woman with whom Chopin is definitely known to have planned marriage. This was Maria Wodzinska. Her two brothers had boarded years before at the pension which Chopin's father kept at Warsaw. The acquaintance with the brothers was renewed in Paris, and when, in 1835, Chopin visited Dresden after a long journey to see his parents, he met the sister, Maria, then nineteen years old, and fell deeply and seriously in love with her. According to her brother, who wrote a biographical romance on "Chopin's Three Love Affairs," Maria, while not classically a beauty, had an indefinable charm.

"Her black eyes were full of sweetness, reverie, and restrained fire; a smile of ineffable voluptuousness played around her lips, and her magnificent hair was as dark as ebony and long enough to serve her as a mantle."

They flirted at the piano and behind a fan, and he dedicated her a little waltz, and she drew his portrait. As usual, the different biographers tell different stories, but from them the chief biographer of all, Frederick Neicks, decides that Chopin proposed and Maria deposed. And here endeth the second of Chopin's three romances. So this brings us back to Paris and George Sand, and the year 1837, when Chopin was twenty-eight and George Sand thirty-three.

Thus far we have followed the standard authorities, but the year 1903 has done much in the way of unveiling Chopin's life. His letters to his family, and their letters to him, were believed to have perished. They were in the possession of his sister Isabella Barcinska, and she was living in the palace of Count Zamoyski at Warsaw, in 1863, when a bomb was thrown from a window as the Russian lieutenant-general was passing. In revenge the soldiers sacked the palace, and burned what they did not carry off. Chopin's portrait by Ary Scheffer, his piano, and his Paris furniture perished, and his papers were believed to be among the lost.

But all the while the family was keeping their very existence secret until, after forty years, it was thought proper to give them to the public.

M. Karlovicz was entrusted with this honour, and La Revue Musicale of Paris chosen as the medium. The letters are said to make a large bulk, but I have been able to see only the first three instalments, of which two are family letters to him. They are exuberant with tenderness, admiration, and of hope for his great fame; the father constantly pleading with the son to lay up his sous against a rainy day,-advice which met the usual fate of good advice.

Karlovicz says, with some exaggeration: "In his letters to his family, Chopin, as if he wished to avoid pronouncing the name of George Sand, always calls her 'My hostess,' sometimes even employing, strange to say, the plural, for instance, 'Elles si chères, elles rirent pour tous,' or, 'Here the vigil is sad, because les malades do not wish a doctor.'"

The first letter, signed "Fritz," is a most cordial welcome to a man about to marry his sister. The third is a double letter from George Sand and Chopin to Louise, who had just visited the two lovers at Nohant in 1844. Sand tells her that her visit has been the best tonic he has ever had, and writes to the whole family: "Tell them all that I love them, too, and would give my life to unite them with him one day under my roof." Chopin refers to Sand as "My hostess," and signs himself "Ton vieux." In his next he details with much amusement a scandalous escapade of Victor Hugo's, a husband's discovery, and Madame Hugo's forgiving manner. He announces (July 20, 1845) that "le télégraphe électro-magnétique entre Baltimore et Washington, donne des resultats extraordinaires." He revels in puns and gossip.

Karlovicz mentions the existence of a despairing letter in which Chopin called his sister Louise to Paris where he was dying; she came in 1849, with her husband and daughter, and remained till the end, giving him the last tendernesses in her power.

This is all I have gleaned from Karlovicz. More immediate help has come from a new biography published in Warsaw in 1903 by Ferdinand Hoesick, and, according to Alfred Nossig, destined to upset the supremacy of Nieck's biography. This latest work is really the carrying out of the plans of Chopin's friend and fellow student, Julian Fontana, who shared joy and sorrow with him in Paris, and collected letters and data for a biography. On Chopin's death Liszt sprang into print with a rhapsody which led Fontana to defer his work. At his death in 1869 he left it unfinished, bequeathing his documents to his son, who permitted Hoesick the use of them.

Hoesick blames Chopin's notable melancholy to early experiences of love requited, indeed, but not united in marriage. His love was as rathe as his music.

Alfred Nossig, reviewing the biography, says of Chopin: "As his talent, so did his heart mature early." It was at Warsaw, in his early youth, that he found his first ideal. Although his father, a Frenchman who had married a Polish woman, did not occupy a foremost position in society, Frédéric moved in the highest circles. In addition to his genius he had always the princely way with him.

One of his admirers was the Duchess Ludvika Czetvertynska, whose majestic figure and aureole of hair reminded one of the pictures of Giorgione. Her friend, the Governor of Poland, the Grand Duke Konstantin, through her introduction accepted Chopin as one of his most welcome guests; he was musical, and greatly admired Chopin's music. Whenever his violent temper carried him away, the grand duchess would send secretly for Chopin, who would seat himself at the piano, and at the first notes the grand duke would appear in the drawing-room with his temper cured. Thus was Chopin another David to a latter-day Saul. Chopin was an intimate friend of the grand duke's son, Paul, whose instructor was a Count Moriolles. It was his daughter, the Comtesse Alexandra, in whose eyes Chopin found inspiration; he improvised never so beautifully as when she sat next to him at the piano. His adoration was no secret. He was often teased on account of the beautiful "Mariolka," as he called her. In his letters to his friends, we find many allusions that prove that the young comtesse loved him in turn. But both knew that this love was hopeless, and therefore Chopin's musical expressions of his dreams for her are melancholy. One remembrance of this attachment is the Rondo à la Mazur, Op. 5, which he dedicated to the Comtesse de Moriolles.

In 1830 Chopin toured the continent. As in his later relation to George Sand, the passion of a poet, Alfred Musset, rivalled his, so at this time he found a rival in the Polish poet, Julius Slovaki. The pretty, vivacious, and perhaps somewhat flirtatious girl, Comtesse Maria Wodzinska, was the bone of contention, or, rather, the "rag and the bone and the hank of hair" of contention.

It chanced that Chopin and Slovaki, whose works showed most startling similarity, were also much alike in looks, in slenderness, dreaminess of feature, and even in expression of countenance. Their very fates were like: both left their country never to return. In their wandering through Europe, they stopped in the same capitals; both at last took up their residence in Paris, where both died of consumption. It was these twins of fate whom fate put in love with the same teasing girl.

The "black-eyed demoiselle," as she was called by the poet and the musician, managed so well, that her two admirers never met at the same time. She travelled through Europe with her mother and brothers, and found an opportunity to m

eet Chopin in one, and Slovaki in another town, and to pass several weeks with each.

It was Slovaki's turn to meet her in Geneva. Here she inspired him to much verse, especially his "In der Schweiz." But all this while the little vixen corresponded with Chopin. He improvised in Paris on themes she composed, and then she repeated his inspirations to keep Slovaki hovering at her piano.

When Chopin met the Wodzinskis in Dresden, he composed for Maria his F-minor étude which he called "the soul-portrait" of the comtesse. A year later he passed a month with the family at Marienbad, where he proposed for her hand and was accepted. In his bridegroom mood he composed the graceful F-minor Waltz, and later the C-sharp minor Nocturne.

In the meantime, Slovaki travelled on in blissful ignorance, glorifying Chopin's fiancée in poetic songs full of passionate admiration. The distant Slovaki finally learned that Chopin had won his muse, and he wrote to his mother:

"They say that Chopin and 'my Maria' are to be a pair. How sentimental to marry a person who is the image of one's first love. Swedenborg says that in a case of this kind, after death, not out of two of the souls but out of all three only one angel can be created."

But this tripartite angel died unborn, for in 1837 Chopin found himself deserted by her. So much we learn from Hoesick. And now we may return to Chopin's immortal, if immoral, affair with George Sand.

George Sand will be remembered for the famous love affairs she has contributed to history long after her books have lost their last reader. It has been my habit in these papers to take the woman's side, and even for George Sand there is much to be said in praise and in palliation. For her peculiar views of life her peculiar husband may be largely blamed, along with the peculiar ideals of the literary circle into which her unhappy married life drove her. That she showed good taste in either the management or the publication of her amorous entanglements one could hardly maintain, and yet the men in the case seem to have been at least as caddish as she was unwomanly. But it would take volumes to recount what volumes have already recounted, and bewilderment and contradiction would still be the chief result. Since so much of the story is familiar, I can be brief with it here.

George Sand's relations with Chopin have been accepted in almost every conceivable manner. There have even been writers of such intelligence as Hadow who have maintained that she was entirely and solely a mother to him. Before a trust in humanity as bland as this, before a credulity that can deny itself to certain records and stretch itself to certain others, there is nothing to say except to express gratitude that in some hearts, at least, the belief in fairy stories is not left behind in the nursery.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to fly to the opposite extreme, and condemn the years that Chopin and Sand spent together as years devoid of very earnest sympathy, intellectual and artistic communion, and of mutual advantage. The relations were irregular, and were harrowed by the temperaments of each. Sand was masculine, energetic, restless, and by nature-for which she was surely not thoroughly to blame-a voluptuary. Chopin, while not the whining mooncalf some have painted him, was never of truly virile character. He was a man whose genius was as limited in scope as a diamond's lustre, even while it had the brilliance, the firmness, and the solitariness of that jewel. And, most of all, he was that most pathetic of wretches, a sick man. He was drifting down the current of that stream which had carried off his gifted and adored sister when she was half his present age.

Sand was the former of the two to fall in love, and the earlier to fall out. After the first meeting, there was little delay in beginning that form of unchurched marriage so fashionable in the art world of that day. In 1838 they went to Majorca with Sand's two children, a son and daughter, who had been born to her husband. The weather was atrocious, the accommodations primitive, and Chopin's health wretched. He was beset by presentiments and fierce anxieties, and tormented by a hatred of the place and the clime. In June of the next year they went back to Nohant, her chateau. We owe to Sand herself the account of Chopin's manner of life, his petulance, his self-inflicted torments, and the agonies of his art and his disease. We owe to her, also, the picture of her devotion both to his health and to his music.

The tendency, of course, is to take her praises of herself with a liberal sprinkling of salt, and to feel that Chopin was not the "detestable invalid" she painted him. But need we withdraw charity from one, to give to the other? Need we rob Pauline to pay Peter? There should be easily a plenty of sympathy for both, for the woman infatuated with a strange, exotic genius, gathering him into her heart and home, only to find that she had taken upon herself the r?le of nurse as well as mistress; and to find her time and her vitality devoted to an invalid, while her own life-work as a famous writer was making demands on her as wild as those of a sick musician her junior in years as in fame.

After granting her this justice, there should still be no stint of sympathy for the poor Chopin, wrought to a frenzy with the revolutions he was so gorgeously effecting, not only in the music of the piano, but in all harmony; racked with pain and unmanned with the weakening effects of his disease; struggling vainly against the chill and clammy Wrestler who was to drag him to his grave before his life was half complete.

Our feeling, again, should not be wrath at George Sand because she did not eternally resist the centrifugal forces of such a life, but rather a deep sense of gratitude that she gave Chopin some sort of home and mental support for ten long years.

George Sand's books are full of allusions to Chopin, and from the many that are quoteworthy, the following may be cited from her "Histoire de ma Vie," as throwing a few flecks of light on the woman's attitude in the affair:

"He was the same in friendship (as in love), becoming enthusiastic at first sight, getting disgusted and correcting himself (se reprenant) incessantly, living on infatuations full of charm for those who were the object of them and on secret discontents which poisoned his dearest affections."

"Chopin accorded to me, I may say, honoured me with, a kind of friendship which was an exception in his life. He was always the same to me."

"The friendship of Chopin was never a refuge for me in sadness. He had enough of his own ills to bear."

"We never addressed a reproach to each other, except once, which, alas, was the first and the final time."

"But if Chopin was with me devotion, kind attention, grace, obligingness, and deference in person, he had not for all that abjured the asperities of character towards those who were about me. With them the inequality of his soul, in turn generous and fantastic, gave itself full course, passing always from infatuation to aversion, and vice versa."

"Chopin when angry was alarming, and, as, with me, he always restrained himself, he seemed almost to choke and die."

It is generally believed that in the character of Prince Karol in her novel, "Lucrezia Floriani," published in 1847, Sand used that lethal weapon of revenge novelists possess, and portrayed or caricatured Chopin. It is only fair to give her disclaimer, though Liszt repeated the charge in his "Life of Chopin," and though Karasovski says that Sand's own children told Chopin that he was pictured as Prince Karol. None the less, hearken to the novelist's own defence:

"It has been pretended that in one of my romances I have painted his (Chopin's) character with a great exactness of analysis. People were mistaken, because they thought they recognised some of his traits; and, proceeding by this system, too convenient to be sure, Liszt himself, in a life of Chopin, a little exuberant as regards style, but nevertheless full of very good things and very beautiful pages, has gone astray in good faith. I have traced in Prince Karol the character of a man determined in his nature, exclusive in his sentiments, exclusive in his exigencies. Chopin was not such. Nature does not design like art, however realistic it may be. She has caprices, inconsequences, probably not real, but very mysterious. Art only rectifies these inconsequences, because it is too limited to reproduce them.

"Chopin was a résumé of these magnificent inconsequences which God alone can allow himself to create, and which have their particular logic. He was modest on principle, gentle by habit, but he was imperious by instinct and full of unlegitimate pride, which was unconscious of itself. Hence sufferings which he did not reason out and which did not fix themselves on a determined object.

"However, Prince Karol is not an artist. He is a dreamer and nothing more; having no genius, he has not the right of genius. He is therefore a personage more true than amiable, and the portrait is so little that of a great artist that Chopin, in reading the manuscript every day on my desk, had not the slightest inclination to deceive himself,-he who, nevertheless, was so suspicious.

"And yet, afterwards, by reaction, he imagined, I am told, than this was the case. Enemies (he had such about him who call themselves his friends; as if embittering a suffering heart was not murder), enemies made him believe that this romance was a revelation of his character. At that time his memory was no doubt enfeebled; he had forgotten the book, why did he not re-read it?

"This history is so little ours-It was the very reverse of it. There were between us neither the same raptures (envirements), nor the same sufferings. Our history had nothing of a romance; its foundation was too simple and too serious for us ever to have had occasion for a quarrel with each other à propos of each other."

As to the final separation, following my principle of letting the people tell their own stories so far as possible, I may turn again to George Sand's own version:

"After the last relapse of the invalid, his mind had become extremely gloomy, and Maurice [her son], who had hitherto tenderly loved him, was suddenly wounded by him in an unexpected manner about a trifling subject. They embraced each other the next moment, but the grain of sand had fallen into the tranquil lake, and little by little the pebbles fell there, one after another-all this was borne; but at last, one day, Maurice, tired of the pin-pricks, spoke of giving up the game. That could not be, and should not be. Chopin would not stand my legitimate and necessary intervention. He bowed his head and said that I no longer loved him.

"What blasphemy after these eight years of maternal devotion! But the poor bruised heart was not conscious of its delirium. I thought that some months passed at a distance and in silence would heal the wound, and make his friendship again calm and his memory equitable. But the revolution of February came, and Paris became momentarily hateful to this mind incapable of yielding to any commotion in the social form. Free to return to Poland, or certain to be tolerated there, he had preferred languishing ten (and some more) years far from his family, whom he adored, to the pain of seeing his country transformed and deformed (dénaturé). He had fled from tyranny, as now he fled from liberty.

"I saw him again for an instant in March, 1848. I pressed his trembling and icy hand. I wished to speak to him, he slipped away. Now it was my turn to say that he no longer loved me. I spared him this infliction, and entrusted all to the hands of Providence and the future.

"I was not to see him again. There were bad hearts between us. There were good ones, too, who were at a loss what to do. There were frivolous ones who preferred not to meddle with such delicate matters.

"I have been told that he had asked for me, regretted me, and loved me filially up to the very end. It was thought fit to conceal from him that I was ready to hasten to him. It was thought fit to conceal this from me till then."

This, then, is George Sand's story, which has not been granted very much credence.

The cause of their-"divorce," one might call it-is blurred by the usual discrepancies of gossip. The most probable account seems to be that according to which Chopin mortally wounded Sand by receiving her daughter and her son-in-law when they were out of Sand's favour. All accounts agree that this was to her only a pretext for breaking shackles that had begun to be irksome. All are agreed that it was Sand and not Chopin who ended the relationship, and that she, as Niecks bluntly puts it, "had recourse to the heroic means of kicking him, metaphorically speaking, out-of-doors."

The woman seems easily to have forgotten the man who had proved, at best, of little joy to her, for, as she says, she could never go to him with her troubles, since he had always a plenty of his own. It was a relief, then, to her, being a far busier woman than he a man, to find herself free.

But Chopin was robbed of his last support. The strong woman he had leaned upon was gone, and he was alone with the consumption that was eating his life away. He started forth upon a concert tour, but the chill climates of England and Scotland were not refuges from his haunting disease. He died slowly and in poverty, though he was unconscious of want, thanks to the generosity of a Russian countess and a Scotch woman. Dependent upon women to the last! In his dying hours it is said that George Sand called at his house, but was not admitted to see him, though, as he wailed two days before his death, "She said I should die in no other arms than hers" (Que je ne mourrais que dans ses bras).

But even the story of her visit is denied. Turgeniev said that fifty countesses had claimed that he died in their arms. Among the number was the Countess Potocka, who is cherished traditionally as one of Chopin's loves, and who was much with him during his last days, and sang for him, at his request, as he lay dying. Poor genius! he must even have a woman sing his swan-song for him! Potocka is best known by a familiar portrait that you will find in a thousand homes. But how the higher criticism undermines the gospel of tradition! The truth is that Chopin denied ever having been in love with her or she with him, and Huneker even claims that the famous portrait of her is not of her at all.

But however attended, visited, caressed, Chopin died at the threshold of his prime, his life, lighted at most with a little feverish twinkling of stars, one nocturne.

END OF VOLUME I.

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