I have a friend who mentioned to me today that he feels connected to Chopin. And, so I told him that I could do a posting on Chopin. I have done postings on Chopin in the past, but this one is specially geared toward Chopin and the great Josef Hofmann. I hope that you enjoy it.
March 1, 1810 Duchy of Warsaw, Poland – October 17, 1849 (aged 39) Paris France
Frédéric Chopin, French in full Frédéric François Chopin, Polish Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen, (born March 1, 1810, Żelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, Duchy of Warsaw [now in Poland]—died October 17, 1849, Paris, France), Polish / French composer and pianist of the Romantic period, best known for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Although he wrote little but piano works, many of them brief, Chopin ranks as one of music’s greatest tone poets by reason of his superfine imagination and fastidious craftsmanship.
Chopin’s father, Nicholas, a French émigré in Poland, was employed as a tutor to various aristocratic families, including the Skarbeks, at Żelazowa Wola, one of whose poorer relations he married. When Frédéric was eight months old, Nicholas became a French teacher at the Warsaw lyceum. Chopin himself attended the lyceum from 1823 to 1826.
He started piano lessons at the age of 7 with the 61-year-old Wojciech Zywny, an all-around musician with an astute sense of values. Zywny’s simple instruction in piano playing was soon left behind by his pupil, who discovered for himself an original approach to the piano and was allowed to develop unhindered by academic rules and formal discipline.
Chopin found himself invited at an early age to play at private soirées, and at eight he made his first public appearance at a charity concert. Three years later he performed in the presence of the Russian tsar Alexander I, who was in Warsaw to open Parliament. Playing was not alone responsible for his growing reputation as a child prodigy. At seven he wrote a Polonaise in G Minor, which was printed, and soon afterward a march of his appealed to the Russian grand duke Constantine, who had it scored for his military band to play on parade. Other polonaises, mazurkas, variations, ecossaises, and a rondo followed, with the result that, when he was 16, his family enrolled him at the newly formed Warsaw Conservatory of Music. This school was directed by the Polish composer Joseph Elsner, with whom Chopin already had been studying musical theory.
No better teacher could have been found, for, while insisting on a traditional training, Elsner, as a Romantically inclined composer himself, realized that Chopin’s individual imagination must never be checked by purely academic demands. Even before he came under Elsner’s eye, Chopin had shown interest in the folk music of the Polish countryside and had received those impressions that later gave an unmistakable national colouring to his work. At the conservatory he was put through a solid course of instruction in harmony and composition; in piano playing he was allowed to develop a high degree of individuality.
In March and October 1830, he presented his new works to the Warsaw public and then left Poland with the intention of visiting Germany and Italy for further study. He had gone no farther than Vienna when news reached him of the Polish revolt against Russian rule; this event, added to the disturbed state of Europe, caused him to remain poor in Vienna until the following July, when he decided to make his way to Paris. Soon after his arrival in what was then the centre of European culture and in the midst of its own late-flowering Romantic movement, Chopin realized that he had found the milieu in which he could flourish. He quickly established ties with many Polish émigrés and with a younger generation of composers, including Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz and, briefly, Vincenzo Bellini and Felix Mendelssohn. The circles to which Chopin’s talents and distinction admitted him quickly acknowledged that they had found the artist whom the moment required, and after a brief period of uncertainty Chopin settled down to the main business of his life—teaching and composing. His high income from these sources set him free from the strain of concert giving, to which he had an innate repugnance.
Initially, there were problems, professional and financial. After his Paris concert debut in February 1832, Chopin realized that his extreme delicacy at the keyboard was not to everyone’s taste in larger concert spaces. But an introduction to the wealthy Rothschild banking family later that year suddenly opened up new horizons. With his elegant manners, fastidious dress, and innate sensitivity, Chopin found himself a favourite in the great houses of Paris, both as a recitalist and as a teacher. His new piano works at this time included two startlingly poetic books of études (1829–36), the Ballade in G Minor (1831–35), the Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835), and many smaller pieces, among them mazurkas and polonaises inspired by Chopin’s strong nationalist feeling.
Chopin’s youthful love affairs with Constantia Gladkowska in Warsaw (1830) and Maria Wodzińska in Dresden (1835–36) had come to nothing, though he actually became engaged to the latter. In 1836 he met for the first time the free-living novelist Aurore Dudevant, better known as George Sand; their liaison began in the summer of 1838. That autumn he set off with her and her children, Maurice and Solange, to winter on the island of Majorca. They rented a simple villa and were idyllically happy until the sunny weather broke and Chopin became ill. When rumours of tuberculosis reached the villa owner, they were ordered out and could find accommodations only in a monastery in the remote village of Valldemosa.
The cold and damp, malnutrition, peasant suspiciousness of their strange ménage, and the lack of a suitable concert piano hindered Chopin’s artistic production and further weakened his precarious physical health. Indeed, the privations that Chopin endured hastened the slow decline in his health that ended with his death from tuberculosis 10 years later. Sand realized that only immediate departure would save his life. They arrived at Marseille in early March 1839, and, thanks to a skilled physician, Chopin was sufficiently recovered after just under three months for them to start planning a return to Paris.
They spent the summer of 1939 at Nohant, Sand’s country house about 180 miles (290 km) south of Paris. This period following the return from Majorca was to be the happiest and most productive of Chopin’s life, and the long summers spent at Nohant bore fruit in a succession of masterpieces. For a regular source of income, he again turned to private teaching. His method permitted great flexibility of the wrist and arm and daringly unconventional fingering in the interests of greater agility, with the production of beautiful, singing tone a prime requisite at nearly all times. There was also a growing demand for his new works, and, since he had become increasingly shrewd in his dealings with publishers, he could afford to live elegantly.
Health was a recurrent worry, and every summer Sand took him to Nohant for fresh air and relaxation. Close friends, such as Pauline Viardot and the painter Eugène Delacroix, were often invited too. Chopin produced much of his most-searching music at Nohant, not only miniatures but also extended works.
Broken in spirit and depressed by the revolution that had broken out in Paris in February 1848, Chopin accepted an invitation to visit England and Scotland. His reception in London was enthusiastic, and he struggled through an exhausting round of lessons and appearances at fashionable parties. Chopin lacked the strength to sustain this socializing, however, and he was also unable to compose. By now his health was deteriorating rapidly, and he made his last public appearance on a concert platform at the Guildhall in London on November 16, 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. He returned to Paris, where he died the following year.
As a composer, Chopin acquired increased stature after a period in the late 19th century when his work often was judged by academic standards that were insensible to its individual character. In keyboard style, harmony, and form, he was innovative according to the demands of each specific compositional situation. He had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heartfelt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal. Although “romantic” in its essence, Chopin’s music has a classic purity and discretion, without a sign of exhibitionism. He found within himself and in the tragic story of Poland the chief sources of his inspiration. The theme of Poland’s glories and sufferings was constantly before him, and he transmuted the rhythms and melodies of his youth into enduring art forms.
Josef Casimir Hofmann (originally Józef Kazimierz Hofmann; January 20, 1876 – February 16, 1957) was a Polish American pianist, composer, music teacher, and inventor.
Josef Hofmann was born in Podgórze (a district of Kraków), in Austro-Hungarian Galicia (present-day Poland) in 1876. Hofmann was of partial Jewish ancestry. His father was the composer, conductor and pianist Kazimierz Hofmann, and his mother the singer Matylda Pindelska. A child prodigy, he gave a debut recital in Warsaw at the age of 5, and a long series of concerts throughout Europe and Scandinavia, culminating in a series of concerts in America in 1887-88. Anton Rubinstein ( a very important piano teacher) took Hofmann as his only private student in 1892 and arranged the debut of his pupil in Hamburg, Germany in 1894. Hofmann toured and performed extensively over the next 50 years as one of the most celebrated pianists of the era.
He made the United States his base during World War I and became a US citizen in 1926. In 1924, he became the first head of the piano department at the inception of the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, and became the Institute’s director in 1927 and remained so until 1938.
In 1938 he was forced to leave the Curtis Institute of Music over financial and administrative disputes. In the years from 1939 to 1946, his artistic eminence deteriorated, in part due to family difficulties and alcoholism. In 1946, he gave his last recital at Carnegie Hall, home to his 151 appearances, and retired to private life in 1948. He spent his last decade in Los Angeles in relative obscurity, working on inventions and keeping a steady correspondence with associates.
Hofmann died on February 16, 1957 in Los Angeles.
Education in music
Hofmann continued to take music lessons from Heinrich Urban (composition) and with the pianist and composer Moritz Moszkowski.
By the early 1930s, in spite of problems, Hofmann retained exceptional pianistic command throughout this decade; Rudolf Serkin and a young Glenn Gould have recounted magical impressions created on them by Hofmann’s concerts in mid-and-late 1930s. After his departure from the Curtis Institute in 1938, a combination problems and a loss of interest in performing caused a rapid deterioration in his artistic abilities. Commenting on Hofmann’s sharp decline, Sergei Rachmaninoff said, “Hofmann is still sky high … the greatest pianist alive if he is sober and in form. Otherwise, it is impossible to recognize the Hofmann of old”. Oscar Levant wrote, “one of the terrible tragedies of music was the disintegration of Josef Hofmann as an artist. In his latter days, he became an alcoholic. …[H]is last public concert … was an ordeal for all of us”.
Technique and style
Hofmann’s views on technique and musicianship are explained in his book Piano Playing with Questions Answered. He had small but exceptionally strong hands. Steinway eventually built for him custom keyboards with slightly narrower keys.
Hofmann’s approach and style can be summarized by his motto “an aristocrat never hurries”. He often stated that [Anton] Rubinstein and Moriz Rosenthal were the only pianists that influenced his art. He adopted a more demonstrative style in live performances but a subtle and restrained style for his studio recordings; in both cases, he mostly adhered to the printed score. After hearing a performance of Chopin’s B minor Sonata by Hofmann, Rachmaninoff cut that piece from his own repertoire saying “not since Anton Rubinstein have I heard such titanic playing”.
Hofmann started recording in studios in the 1880s but was never satisfied with the available technology and made only test pressings after 1923; he considered the test pressings made for HMV in November 1935 to be a worthwhile representation of his art. In the 1940s he recorded for the Bell Telephone Hour radio programs of which some rare footage remains, including Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2, and Beethoven’s Concerto in E-flat major, “Emperor”. Gregor Benko has remarked that Hofmann should not have appeared on many of the Bell Telephone Hour broadcasts since, by this time, his pianistic control had deteriorated considerably though the tonal palette was still immense and the phrasing provocative. Hofmann’s student Jeanne Behrend, after first hearing the recordings from 1940 to 1946, stated “well, it’s his playing, but nothing like what we heard in the 1920s.”
Earl Wild acknowledged Hofmann’s style as the biggest influence on him gaining a fluid and flexible technique: ‘His interpretations were always delivered with great logic and beauty.’ Jorge Bolet is reported to have said that whenever he heard either Rachmaninoff or Hofmann, he always thought to himself, ‘Every note that they play – that is what I would like to play.’