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New frontiers: 183034.






The intention was to embark on a European tour, with Vienna as first stop. In the end Chopin stayed for eight months in the Habsburg capital. One week after their arrival, the youths had news of the Warsaw uprising, which had been sparked off by an ill-judged attempt to assassinate the Grand Duke Constantin. Tytus immediately returned to play his part, leaving Chopin to fend for himself in a city where Poles were no longer welcome. Unsurprisingly, he now found it virtually impossible to arrange a concert of any importance and whiled away his time rather aimlessly with a small circle of new and old friends, including the Malfatti family (Dr Malfatti had been a close friend of Beethoven), one of his fellow students from Warsaw, Tomasz Nidecki, the young Czech violinist Josef Slaví k and the cellist Josef Merk. His nostalgia for Poland is evident in letters to his new confidant Jan Matuszyń ski, then a medical student in Warsaw, and, if the language is at times excessive, the sentiments were no doubt real enough: I curse the moment of my departure. It seems that he had considered returning with Tytus but had been dissuaded from doing so by his friend, partly on the grounds that his contribution to the Polish cause could best be made in other ways.

Several of Chopin's friends (including his teacher Elsner) were hopeful that he would one day create a great Polish opera, which might do justice to the national plight. He himself was aware that his talents lay elsewhere, but it does seem that following the uprising his attitude to Polishness in music changed in significant ways. It was in Vienna that he wrote the first nine mazurkas that he himself released for publication, as opp.6 and 7, and it was through these that the genre was comprehensively defined. Perhaps more significantly, it was in Vienna that he stopped composing the salon polonaises of his early years, pieces barely distinguishable in style from the polonaises of Hummel, Weber and other non-Polish virtuosos. When he returned to the polonaise several years later he was able to redefine it as a genre, allowing it to take on a quite new, explicitly nationalist, significance. It goes without saying that Chopin's music cannot be confined by a nationalist aesthetic, but that it played a part in the development of cultural nationalism, and not only in Poland, is beyond question.

On 20 July 1831 Chopin finally left Vienna, following difficulties in securing a passport from the Russian authorities. He stayed in Munich for a month and then proceeded, by way of Stuttgart, to Paris. The two weeks spent in Stuttgart were among the darkest of Chopin's life, as his diary entries reveal. Even by Chopin's standards, it was a period of agonizing indecision. He was far from friends and family, and he was painfully conscious that he was dependent still on funds from his father. As yet he had shown little evidence that he could establish a reputation beyond Warsaw, though at the same time he was all too well aware of the limitations of musical life in Poland. It was while in Stuttgart that he learnt of the failure of the uprising, and he gave vent to his feelings in an extraordinary, barely coherent outpouring of grief in his album. O God! You are there! You are there and yet you do not take vengeance! Oh father, so this is how you are rewarded in old age! Mother, sweet suffering mother, you saw your daughter [the youngest child Emilia] die, and now you watch the Russian marching in over her grave to oppress you! To return to Poland was now out of the question, and a few days after the Stuttgart diary he was in Paris.

Two months later he was writing home in a very different frame of mind. From the start he felt at home in Paris, not least because sympathy for the Polish cause was distinctly fashionable there, and Polish é migré s were everywhere to be seen. He was overwhelmed by the cultural life of the capital, not only by the Opé ra, naturally, but also by the swarm of pianists who were launching the new season of concerts just as Chopin arrived. He even considered a course of lessons with one of the most famous of them, Fré dé ric Kalkbrenner. It was partly through Kaklbrenner's offices that Chopin arranged his first Parisian concert, which took place in the Salle Pleyel on 26 February 1832 (fig.2), and included the E minor Concerto. A supportive and perceptive review by Fé tis clearly did Chopin no harm at all. Nor did his growing acceptance by other young artists and musicians in the city, including Hiller, Liszt, Berlioz and the cellist Auguste Franchomme. By the end of 1832 he was in constant demand socially, and it was partly due to this that an alternative career began to open up for him. His sources of income in the early days in Paris had come partly from his father, partly from private performances and partly from modest sales of his published music. From the winter season of 1832 onwards they came predominantly from teaching, and he was soon in such demand that he could charge exorbitant fees.

For the next two years his reputation as a teacher of exceptional quality, if somewhat unconventional method, grew steadily. So too did his fame as a performer. He largely avoided public concerts, but continued to grace the salons, with their air of intimacy and exclusivity, and to these occasions his technique as a performer seemed perfectly suited. Descriptions are colourful: The marvellous charm, the poetry and originality, the perfect freedom and absolute lucidity of Chopin's playing cannot be described. It is perfection in every sense. When he embellished which he rarely did it was a positive miracle of refinement. Schumann famously described Chopin, playing the A Etude op.25 no.1, bringing out the inner voices from the accompaniment figuration. It is noteworthy that as a composer he turned away at this time from the genres of the concert hall, the variations, rondos and concert pieces which had occupied so much of his time in Warsaw. Instead we have mazurkas, nocturnes and é tudes, where the achievements of public and salon pianism were distilled and refined into a musical style of remarkable individuality. Moreover this music was beginning to reach the wider world. In early 1833 Chopin sold publishing rights to Maurice Schlesinger, and at the end of the year his music began to appear simultaneously in France (Schlesinger), England (Wessel & Co) and Germany (Kistner, and later Breitkopf & Hä rtel). The music sold, and critical reception was favourable. Chopin, in short, was doing well in Paris.

Chopin, Fryderyk Franciszek