Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin (1810–1849)
Ambroży Mieroszewski, oil on canvas, 1829, reproduction: Leopold Binental, Chopin w 120–tą rocznicę urodzin. Dokumenty i pamiątki (Warsaw 1930).
Original lost with the collection of Laura Ciechomska in Warsaw in 1939
In a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski (Warsaw, 3 October 1829), Chopin wrote: ‘When you arrive next month, you’ll see our whole family painted’ [Sydow, i, 108].
In his memoirs, Eugeniusz Skrodzki gives a vivid portrait of the young Chopin: ‘Of average height, ill built, with a sunken chest […]. He had a beautiful, noble forehead, his expressive, gentle eyes were beautiful when gazed into, but not themselves striking in their beauty; the splendour of genius did not shine from them. His hair was rich, thick, very fleecy, like his father’s, dark, with a slightly reddish tinge. A large nose lent his features a distinguished character, but altogether these features could not have been called beautiful; in spite of this, Chopin’s face made a most engaging impression. […] In his movements he was lively and quick, in conversation witty, somewhat caustic, with a great love for his sisters, and for his parents, although he was supposedly already famous, full of that reverence […] which always bade him consider himself […] lower and bend his knee and forehead before those who gave him life.’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, pp. 63–64].
Genius – this word attached itself to Chopin from his earliest years and appeared in the utterances of many eminent figures. Among the many judgments of Chopin uttered by Polish composers, the first belongs to Józef Elsner: ‘Special ability, musical genius’.
During the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Polish victory in the Battle of Grunwald (1910), Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941, a Polish pianist, composer and politician) delivered in Cracow a political speech in which he posed the following question: ‘Why was it in Chopin that the spirit of the nation spoke so powerfully, why was it from his heart that the voice of our race gushed forth, like a crystal clear spring from the unfathomed depths of the earth, mighty, vivifying and pure? […] Because Chopin embellished, ennobled everything. He discovered the most precious stones in the depths of the Polish land, he made from them the most valuable jewels of our treasury […] he—poet, sorcerer, monarch mighty of spirit—levelled all the states, not here, on the plane, on the lowland of everyday life, but away on high, on the loftiest peaks of sentiment. […] A Pole listens [to him] and sheds pure, copious tears. There, all of us listen. For how else could one listen to him, to this singer of the Polish nation, empowered by God?’ [Paderewski, pp. 15, 18].
In his article ‘Uwagi w sprawie współczesnej opinii muzycznej w Polsce’ [Notes on contemporary musical opinion in Poland], published in 1920, addressing questions relating to national art, Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937, Polish composer) pointed to the ‘great name of Fryderyk Chopin, radiating even now with undying brilliance’.
‘Chopin—the only musical genius in the history of our art, a wondrous, enigmatic phenomenon against the background of our musical culture of those times, with which he had no organic connection, devoid of both forebears and descendants, almost paradoxical in his absolute uniqueness, a refulgent solitary star midst the darkness around him, Chopin was indeed a Pole and wrote Polish music, which stood on the highest level of universal artistry.’