Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)
Bernard-Romain Julien, lithograph, 19th c., 210 x 145.
Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/996].
Honoré de Balzac—French writer, author of La Comédie humaine, a cycle of novels giving a full and realistic portrayal of French society from the times of the French Revolution to the reign of Louis-Philippe. He was also a journalist and literary critic; his correspondence with Ewelina Hańska (from 1833) is of high artistic merit. A regular of George Sand’s salon, he became acquainted with the musical milieu of Paris, including, of course, Fryderyk Chopin. In a letter to Hańska (Paris, 15 March 1841), he described George Sand’s apartment at 16 rue Pigalle: ‘there are paintings by Delacroix, her portrait by Calamatta […] a wonderful palisander piano. Finally, Chopin is always there’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, p. 506]. According to Balzac: ‘This beautiful genius [Chopin] is less a musician than a soul manifesting and communicating itself through all manner of music, even through simple chords.’ ‘He found sublime themes on which he embroidered caprices, played sometimes with Chopin’s Raphaelesque perfection and grief, sometimes with Liszt’s Dantesque fire and grandiloquence, the two musical approaches closest to that of Paganini. The performance, having reached this degree of perfection, places the performer on the level of the poet: he is to the composer as the actor is to the author, a divine translator of divine things’ [Eigeldinger 1986, p. 285]. He also wrote: ‘The pianist Chopin possesses the ability to imitate people to such a high degree that he is able to portray anyone immediately with the whole, most alarming, truth’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, p. 41]. Balzac admired Liszt, but in a letter to Hańska he wrote: ‘I heard that you will see Liszt—a funny man, towering talent. He is the Paganini of the piano, but Chopin stands a head taller than him. […] The Hungarian is a demon; the Pole is an angel.’ [Eigeldinger 2000, p. 349].