Karol Mikuli (1821–1897)
Unknown artist, oil on cardboard, 19th c., 252 x 194.
Collection: Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina, Warsaw [M/2619].
Karol Mikuli—Polish pianist, pedagogue and composer, a pupil of Fryderyk Chopin in the years 1844–1848. Among Chopin’s professional pupils, Mikuli worked most actively to pass on his tradition. From 1848 to 1858 he gave concerts in France, Austria, Russia and Romania. In 1858, he settled in Lviv, where he was director of the Galician Music Society and director and professor of the Conservatory, where he taught piano, harmony and counterpoint. In 1880, Kistner of Leipzig published a seventeen-volume edition of Chopin’s works prepared by Mikuli from original French editions annotated by Chopin during Mikuli’s lessons—copies in which he himself indicated the master’s notes during lessons he gave to his pupils. The preface to that edition is the fullest extant source for the substance of Chopin’s teaching. This is what Mikuli wrote about his master: ‘Chopin played rarely and only reluctantly in public: to “exhibit himself” was absolutely against his nature. Prolonged ill-health and nervous irritability did not always allow him to unfold the full range of his resources in the concert hall. […] And yet Chopin possessed a highly developed technique, one giving a perfect command of the instrument. In every kind of touch the evenness of his scales and passage work was unsurpassed, indeed phenomenal; under Chopin’s hands the piano needed to envy neither the violin for its bow nor wind instruments for their living breath. The tones melted into one another, as wonderfully as in the most beautiful singing. His hand was that of a born pianist, not so much large as extremely supple, permitting him to arpeggiate the most widely-spaced harmonies and to stretch wide spans in the sorts of passage he himself had most daringly introduced into piano playing. All this was without ever showing the slightest sign of fatigue […] He gave a noble, manly energy to appropriate passages with overpowering effect – energy without roughness, just as, on the other hand, he could captivate the listener through the delicacy of his soulful rendering – delicacy without affectation. […] In keeping time Chopin was inexorable, and some readers will be surprised to learn that the metronome never left his piano. Even in his much maligned tempo rubato, the hand responsible for the accompaniment would keep strict time while the other hand, singing the melody, would free the essence of the musical thought from all rhythmic fetters, either by lingering hesitantly or by eagerly anticipating the movement with a certain impatient vehemence akin to passionate speech. Although Chopin played mostly his own compositions, he had all the great and beautiful works of the piano literature in his memory – a memory as highly developed as it was reliable. Above all he prized Bach, and between Bach and Mozart it is hard to say whom he loved more. His interpretation of their music was of unrivalled greatness […]’ [Eigeldinger 1986, pp. 275–276].