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Chapter III

Chopin's Mazourkas--Polish Ladies--Mazourka in Poland--Tortured
Motives--Early life of Chopin--Zal.



In all that regards expression, the MAZOURKAS of Chopin differ
greatly from his POLONAISES. Indeed they are entirely unlike in
character. The bold and vigorous coloring of the Polonaises gives
place to the most delicate, tender, and evanescent shades in the
Mazourkas. A nation, considered as a whole, in its united,
characteristic, and single impetus, is no longer placed before
us; the character and impressions now become purely personal,
always individualized and divided. No longer is the feminine and
effeminate element driven back into shadowy recesses. On the
contrary, it is brought out in the boldest relief, nay, it is
brought into such prominent importance that all else disappears,
or, at most, serves only as its accompaniment. The days are now
past when to say that a woman was charming, they called her
GRATEFUL (WDZIECZNA); the very word charm being derived from
WDZIEKI: GRATITUDE. Woman no longer appears as a protegee, but as
a queen; she no longer forms only the better part of life, she
now entirely fills it. Man is still ardent, proud, and
presumptuous, but he yields himself up to a delirium of pleasure.
This very pleasure is, however, always stamped with melancholy.
Both the music of the national airs, and the words, which are
almost always joined with them, express mingled emotions of pain
and joy. This strange but attractive contrast was caused by the
necessity of "CONSOLING MISERY" (CIESZYC BIDE), which necessity
induced them to seek the magical distraction of the graceful
Mazourka, with its transient delusions. The words which were sung
to these melodies, gave them a capability of linking themselves
with the sacred associations of memory, in a far higher degree
than is usual with ordinary dance-music. They were sung and re-
sung a thousand times in the days of buoyant youth, by fresh and
sonorous voices, in the hours of solitude, or in those of happy
idleness. Linking the most varying associations with the melody,
they were again and again carelessly hummed when traveling
through forests, or ploughing the deep in ships; perhaps they
were listlessly upon the lips when some startling emotion has
suddenly surprised the singer; when an unexpected meeting, a
long-desired grouping, an unhoped-for word, has thrown an undying
light upon the heart, consecrating hours destined to live
forever, and ever to shine on in the memory, even through the
most distant and gloomy recesses of the constantly darkening
future.

Such inspirations were used by Chopin in the most happy manner,
and greatly enriched with the treasures of his handling and
style. Cutting these diamonds so as to present a thousand facets,
he brought all their latent fire to light, and re-uniting even
their glittering dust, he mounted them in gorgeous caskets.
Indeed what settings could he have chosen better adapted to
enhance the value of his early recollections, or which would have
given him more efficient aid in creating poems, in arranging
scenes, in depicting episodes, in producing romances? Such
associations and national memories are indebted to him for a
reign far more extensive than the land which gave them birth.
Placing them among those idealized types which art has touched
and consecrated with her resplendent lustre, he has gifted them
with immortality.

In order fully to understand how perfectly this setting suited
the varying emotions which Chopin had succeeded in displaying in
all the magic of their rainbow hues, we must have seen the
Mazourka danced in Poland, because it is only there that it is
possible to catch the haughty, yet tender and alluring, character
of this dance. The cavalier, always chosen by the lady, seizes
her as a conquest of which he is proud, striving to exhibit her
loveliness to the admiration of his rivals, before he whirls her
off in an entrancing and ardent embrace, through the tenderness
of which the defiant expression of the victor still gleams,
mingling with the blushing yet gratified vanity of the prize,
whose beauty forms the glory of his triumph. There are few more
delightful scenes than a ball in Poland. After the Mazourka has
commenced, the attention, in place of being distracted by a
multitude of people jostling against each other without grace or
order, is fascinated by one couple of equal beauty, darting
forward, like twin stars, in free and unimpeded space. As if in
the pride of defiance, the cavalier accentuates his steps, quits
his partner for a moment, as if to contemplate her with renewed
delight, rejoins her with passionate eagerness, or whirls himself
rapidly round, as though overcome with the sudden joy and
yielding to the delicious giddiness of rapture. Sometimes, two
couples start at the same moment, after which a change of
partners may occur between them; or a third cavalier may present
himself, and, clapping his hands, claim one of the ladies as his
partner. The queens of the festival are in turn claimed by the
most brilliant gentlemen present, courting the honor of leading
them through the mazes of the dance.

While in the Waltz and Galop, the dancers are isolated, and only
confused tableaux are offered to the bystanders; while the
Quadrille is only a kind of pass at arms made with foils, where
attack and defence proceed with equal indifference, where the
most nonchalant display of grace is answered with the same
nonchalance; while the vivacity of the Polka, charming, we
confess, may easily become equivocal; while Fandangos, Tarantulas
and Minuets, are merely little love-dramas, only interesting to
those who execute them, in which the cavalier has nothing to do
but to display his partner, and the spectators have no share but
to follow, tediously enough, coquetries whose obligatory
movements are not addressed to them;--in the Mazourka, on the
contrary, they have also their part, and the role of the cavalier
yields neither in grace nor importance to that of his fair
partner.

The long intervals which separate the successive appearance of
the pairs being reserved for conversation among the dancers, when
their turn comes again, the scene passes no longer only among
themselves, but extends from them to the spectators. It is to
them that the cavalier exhibits the vanity he feels in having
been able to win the preference of the lady who has selected him;
it is in their presence she has deigned to show him this honor;
she strives to please them, because the triumph of charming them
is reflected upon her partner, and their applause may be made a
part of the most flattering and insinuating coquetry. Indeed, at
the close of the dance, she seems to make him a formal offering
of their suffrages in her favor. She bounds rapidly towards him
and rests upon his arm,--a movement susceptible of a thousand
varying shades which feminine tact and subtle feeling well know
how to modify, ringing every change, from the most impassioned
and impulsive warmth of manner to an air of the most complete
"abandon."

What varied movements succeed each other in the course round the
ball-room! Commencing at first with a kind of timid hesitation,
the lady sways about like a bird about to take flight; gliding
for some time on one foot only, like a skater, she skims the ice
of the polished floor; then, running forward like a sportive
child, she suddenly takes wing. Raising her veiling eyelids, with
head erect, with swelling bosom and elastic bounds, she cleaves
the air as the light bark cleaves the waves, and, like an agile
woodnymph, seems to sport with space. Again she recommences her
timid graceful gliding, looks round among the spectators, sends
sighs and words to the most, highly favored, then extending her
white arms to the partner who comes to rejoin her, again begins
her vigorous steps which transport her with magical rapidity from
one end to the other of the ball-room. She glides, she runs, she
flies; emotion colors her cheek, brightens her eye; fatigue bends
her flexile form, retards her winged feet, until, panting and
exhausted, she softly sinks and reclines in the arms of her
partner, who, seizing her with vigorous arm, raises her a moment
in the air, before finishing with her the last intoxicating
round.

In this triumphal course, in which may be seen a thousand
Atalantas as beautiful as the dreams of Ovid, many changes occur
in the figures. The couples, in the first chain, commence by
giving each other the hand; then forming themselves into a
circle, whose rapid rotation dazzles the eye, they wreathe a
living crown, in which each lady is the only flower of its own
kind, while the glowing and varied colors are heightened by the
uniform costume of the men, the effect resembling that of the
dark-green foliage with which nature relieves her glowing buds
and fragrant bloom. They all then dart forward together with a
sparkling animation, a jealous emulation, defiling before the
spectators as in a review--an enumeration of which would scarcely
yield in interest to those given us, by Homer and Tasso, of the
armies about to range themselves in the front of battle! At the
close of an hour or two, the same circle again forms to end the
dance; and on those days when amusement and pleasure fill all
with an excited gayety, sparkling and glittering through those
impressible temperaments like an aurora in a midnight sky, a
general promenade is recommenced, and in its accelerated
movements, we cannot detect the least symptom of fatigue among
all these delicate yet enduring women; as if their light limbs
possessed the flexible tenacity and elasticity of steel!

As if by intuition, all the Polish women possess the magical
science of this dance. Even the least richly gifted among them
know how to draw from it new charms. If the graceful ease and
noble dignity of those conscious of their own power are full of
attraction in it, timidity and modesty are equally full of
interest. This is so because of all modern dances, it breathes
most of pure love. As the dancers are always conscious that the
gaze of the spectators is fastened upon them, addressing
themselves constantly to them, there reigns in its very essence a
mixture of innate tenderness and mutual vanity, as full of
delicacy and propriety as of allurement.

The latent and unknown poetry, which was only indicated in the
original Polish Mazourkas, was divined, developed, and brought to
light, by Chopin. Preserving their rhythm, he ennobled their
melody, enlarged their proportions; and--in order to paint more
fully in these productions, which he loved to hear us call
"pictures from the easel," the innumerable and widely-differing
emotions which agitate the heart during the progress of this
dance, above all, in the long intervals in which the cavalier has
a right to retain his place at the side of the lady, whom he
never leaves--he wrought into their tissues harmonic lights and
shadows, as new in themselves as were the subjects to which he
adapted them.

Coquetries, vanities, fantasies, inclinations, elegies, vague
emotions, passions, conquests, struggles upon which the safety or
favor of others depends, all--all, meet in this dance. How
difficult it is to form a complete idea of the infinite
gradations of passion--sometimes pausing, sometimes progressing,
sometimes suing, sometimes ruling! In the country where the
Mazourka reigns from the palace to the cottage, these gradations
are pursued, for a longer or shorter time, with as much ardor and
enthusiasm as malicious trifling. The good qualities and faults
of men are distributed among the Poles in a manner so fantastic,
that, although the essentials of character may remain nearly the
same in all, they vary and shade into each other in a manner so
extraordinary, that it becomes almost impossible to recognize or
distinguish them. In natures so capriciously amalgamated, a
wonderful diversity occurs, adding to the investigations of
curiosity, a spur unknown in other lands; making of every new
relation a stimulating study, and lending unwonted interest to
the lightest incident. Nothing is here indifferent, nothing
unheeded, nothing hackneyed! Striking contrasts are constantly
occurring among these natures so mobile and susceptible, endowed
with subtle, keen and vivid intellects, with acute sensibilities
increased by suffering and misfortune; contrasts throwing lurid
light upon hearts, like the blaze of a conflagration illumining
and revealing the gloom of midnight. Here chance may bring
together those who but a few hours before were strangers to each
other. The ordeal of a moment, a single word, may separate hearts
long united; sudden confidences are often forced by necessity,
and invincible suspicions frequently held in secret. As a witty
woman once remarked: "They often play a comedy, to avoid a
tragedy!" That which has never been uttered, is yet incessantly
divined and understood. Generalities are often used to sharpen
interrogation, while concealing its drift; the most evasive
replies are carefully listened to, like the ringing of metal, as
a test of the quality. Often, when in appearance pleading for
others, the suitor is urging his own cause; and the most graceful
flattery may be only the veil of disguised exactions.

But caution and attention become at last wearisome to natures
naturally expansive and candid, and a tiresome frivolity,
surprising enough before the secret of its reckless indifference
has been divined, mingles with the most spiritual refinement, the
most poetic sentiments, the most real causes for intense
suffering, as if to mock and jeer at all reality. It is difficult
to analyze or appreciate justly this frivolity, as it is
sometimes real, sometimes only assumed. It makes use of confusing
replies and strange resources to conceal the truth. It is
sometimes justly, sometimes wrongfully regarded as a kind of veil
of motley, whose fantastic tissue needs only to be slightly torn
to reveal more than one hidden or sleeping quality under the
variegated folds of gossamer. It often follows from such causes,
that eloquence becomes only a sort of grave badinage, sparkling
with spangles like the play of fireworks, though the heart of the
discourse may contain nothing earnest; while the lightest
raillery, thrown out apparently at random, may perhaps be most
sadly serious. Bitter and intense thought follows closely upon
the steps of the most tempestuous gayety; nothing indeed remains
absolutely superficial, though nothing is presented without an
artificial polish. In the discussions constantly occurring in
this country, where conversation is an art cultivated to the
highest degree, and occupying much time, there are always those
present, who, whether the topic discussed be grave or gay, can
pass in a moment from smiles to tears, from joy to sorrow,
leaving the keenest observer in doubt which is most real, so
difficult is it to discern the fictitious from the true.

In such varying modes of thought, where ideas shift like quick
sands upon the shores of the sea, they are rarely to be found
again at the exact point where they were left. This fact is in
itself sufficient to give interest to interviews otherwise
insignificant. We have been taught this in Paris by some natives
of Poland, who astonished the Parisians by their skill in
"fencing in paradox;" an art in which every Pole is more or less
skillful, as he has felt more or less interest or amusement in
its cultivation. But the inimitable skill with which they are
constantly able to alternate the garb of truth or fiction (like
touchstones, more certain when least suspected, the one always
concealed under the garb of the other), the force which expends
an immense amount of intellect upon the most trivial occasions,
as Gil Bias made use of as much intelligence to find the means of
subsistence for a single day, as was required by the Spanish king
to govern the whole of his domain; make at last an impression as
painful upon us as the games in which the jugglers of India
exhibit such wonderful skill, where sharp and deadly arms fly
glittering through the air, which the least error, the least want
of perfect mastery, would make the bright, swift messengers of
certain death! Such skill is full of concealed anxiety, terror,
and anguish! From the complication of circumstances, danger may
lurk in the slightest inadvertence, in the least imprudence, in
possible accidents, while powerful assistance may suddenly spring
from some obscure and forgotten individual. A dramatic interest
may instantaneously arise from interviews apparently the most
trivial, giving an unforeseen phase to every relation. A misty
uncertainty hovers round every meeting, through whose clouds it
is difficult to seize the contours, to fix the lines, to
ascertain the present and future influence, thus rendering
intercourse vague and unintelligible, filling it with an
indefinable and hidden terror, yet, at the same time, with an
insinuating flattery. The strong currents of genuine sympathy are
always struggling to escape from the weight of this external
repression. The differing impulses of vanity, love, and
patriotism, in their threefold motives of action, are forever
hurtling against each other in all hearts, leading to
inextricable confusion of thought and feeling.

What mingling emotions are concentrated in the accidental
meetings of the Mazourka! It can surround, with its own
enchantment, the lightest emotion of the heart, while, through
its magic, the most reserved, transitory, and trivial rencounter
appeals to the imagination. Could it be otherwise in the presence
of the women who give to this dance that inimitable grace and
suavity, for which, in less happy countries, they struggle in
vain? In very truth are not the Sclavic women utterly
incomparable? There are to be found among them those whose
qualities and virtues are so incontestable, so absolute, that
they are acknowledged by all ages, and by all countries. Such
apparitions are always and everywhere rare. The women of Poland
are generally distinguished by an originality full of fire.
Parisians in their grace and culture, Eastern dancing girls in
their languid fire, they have perhaps preserved among them,
handed down from mother to daughter, the secret of the burning
love potions possessed in the seraglios. Their charms possess the
strange spell of Asiatic languor. With the flames of spiritual
and intellectual Houris in their lustrous eyes, we find the
luxurious indolence of the Sultana. Their manners caress without
emboldening; the grace of their languid movements is
intoxicating; they allure by a flexibility of form, which knows
no restraint, save that of perfect modesty, and which etiquette
has never succeeded in robbing of its willowy grace. They win
upon us by those intonations of voice which touch the heart, and
fill the eye with tender tears; by those sudden and graceful
impulses which recall the spontaneity and beautiful timidity of
the gazelle. Intelligent, cultivated, comprehending every thing
with rapidity, skillful in the use of all they have acquired;
they are nevertheless as superstitious and fastidious as the
lovely yet ignorant creatures adored by the Arabian prophet.
Generous, devout, loving danger and loving love, from which they
demand much, and to which they grant little; beyond every thing
they prize renown and glory. All heroism is dear to them. Perhaps
there is no one among them who would think it possible to pay too
dearly for a brilliant action; and yet, let us say it with
reverence, many of them devote to obscurity their most holy
sacrifices, their most sublime virtues. But however exemplary
these quiet virtues of the home life may be, neither the miseries
of private life, nor the secret sorrows which must prey upon
souls too ardent not to be frequently wounded, can diminish the
wonderful vivacity of their emotions, which they know how to
communicate with the infallible rapidity and certainty of an
electric spark. Discreet by nature and position, they manage the
great weapon of dissimulation with incredible dexterity,
skillfully reading the souls of others with out revealing the
secrets of their own. With that strange pride which disdains to
exhibit characteristic or individual qualities, it is frequently
the most noble virtues which are thus concealed. The internal
contempt they feel for those who cannot divine them, gives them
that superiority which enables them to reign so absolutely over
those whom they have enthralled, flattered, subjugated, charmed;
until the moment arrives when--loving with the whole force of
their ardent souls, they are willing to brave and share the most
bitter suffering, prison, exile, even death itself, with the
object of their love! Ever faithful, ever consoling, ever tender,
ever unchangeable in the intensity of their generous devotion!
Irresistible beings, who in fascinating and charming, yet demand
an earnest and devout esteem! In that precious incense of praise
burned by M. de Balzac, "in honor of that daughter of a foreign
soil," he has thus sketched the Polish woman in hues composed
entirely of antitheses: "Angel through love, demon through
fantasy; child through faith, sage through experience; man
through the brain, woman through the heart; giant through hope,
mother through sorrow; and poet through dreams." [Footnote:
Dedication of "Modeste Mignon".]

The homage inspired by the Polish women is always fervent. They
all possess the poetic conception of an ideal, which gleams
through their intercourse like an image constantly passing before
a mirror, the comprehension and seizure of which they impose as a
task. Despising the insipid and common pleasure of merely being
able to please, they demand that the being whom they love shall
be capable of exacting their esteem. This romantic temperament
sometimes retains them long in hesitation between the world and
the cloister. Indeed, there are few among them who at some moment
of their lives have not seriously and bitterly thought of taking
refuge within the walls of a convent.

Where such women reign as sovereigns, what feverish words, what
hopes, what despair, what entrancing fascinations must occur in
the mazes of the Mazourka; the Mazourka, whose every cadence
vibrates in the ear of the Polish lady as the echo of a vanished
passion, or the whisper of a tender declaration. Which among them
has ever danced through a Mazourka, whose cheeks burned not more
from the excitement of emotion than from mere physical fatigue?
What unexpected and endearing ties have been formed in the long
tete-a-tete, in the very midst of crowds, with the sounds of
music, which generally recalled the name of some hero or some
proud historical remembrance attached to the words, floating
around, while thus the associations of love and heroism became
forever attached to the words and melodies! What ardent vows have
been exchanged; what wild and despairing farewells been breathed!
How many brief attachments have been linked and as suddenly
unlinked, between those who had never met before, who were never,
never to meet again--and yet, to whom forgetfulness had become
forever impossible! What hopeless love may have been revealed
during the moments so rare upon this earth; when beauty is more
highly esteemed than riches, a noble bearing of more consequence
than rank! What dark destinies forever severed by the tyranny of
rank and wealth may have been, in these fleeting moments of
meeting, again united, happy in the glitter of passing triumph,
reveling in concealed and unsuspected joy! What interviews,
commenced in indifference, prolonged in jest, interrupted with
emotion, renewed with the secret consciousness of mutual
understanding, (in all that concerns subtle intuition Slavic
finesse and delicacy especially excel,) have terminated in the
deepest attachments! What holy confidences have been exchanged in
the spirit of that generous frankness which circulates from
unknown to unknown, when the noble are delivered from the tyranny
of forced conventionalisms! What words deceitfully bland, what
vows, what desires, what vague hopes have been negligently thrown
on the winds;--thrown as the handkerchief of the fair dancer in
the Mazourka...and which the maladroit knows not how to pick
up!...

We have before asserted that we must have known personally the
women of Poland, for the full and intuitive comprehension of the
feelings with which the Mazourkas of Chopin, as well as many more
of his compositions, are impregnated. A subtle love vapor floats
like an ambient fluid around them; we may trace step by step in
his Preludes, Nocturnes Impromptus and Mazourkas, all the phases
of which passion is capable The sportive hues of coquetry the
insensible and gradual yielding of inclination, the capricious
festoons of fantasy; the sadness of sickly joys born dying,
flowers of mourning like the black roses, the very perfume of
whose gloomy leaves is depressing, and whose petals are so frail
that the faintest sigh is sufficient to detach them from the
fragile stem; sudden flames without thought, like the false
shining of that decayed and dead wood which only glitters in
obscurity and crumbles at the touch; pleasures without past and
without future, snatched from accidental meetings; illusions,
inexplicable excitements tempting to adventure, like the sharp
taste of half ripened fruit which stimulates and pleases even
while it sets the teeth on edge; emotions without memory and
without hope; shadowy feelings whose chromatic tints are
interminable;--are all found in these works, endowed by genius
with the innate nobility, the beauty, the distinction, the
surpassing elegance of those by whom they are experienced.

In the compositions just mentioned, as well as in most of his
Ballads, Waltzes and Etudes, the rendering of some of the
poetical subjects to which we have just alluded, may be found
embalmed. These fugitive poems are so idealized, rendered so
fragile and attenuated, that they scarcely seem to belong to
human nature, but rather to a fairy world, unveiling the
indiscreet confidences of Peris, of Titanias, of Ariels, of Queen
Mabs, of the Genii of the air, of water, and of fire,--like
ourselves, subject to bitter disappointments, to invincible
disgusts.

Some of these compositions are as gay and fantastic as the wiles
of an enamored, yet mischievous sylph; some are soft, playing in
undulating light, like the hues of a salamander; some, full of
the most profound discouragement, as if the sighs of souls in
pain, who could find none to offer up the charitable prayers
necessary for their deliverance, breathed through their notes.
Sometimes a despair so inconsolable is stamped upon them, that we
feel ourselves present at some Byronic tragedy, oppressed by the
anguish of a Jacopo Foscari, unable to survive the agony of
exile. In some we hear the shuddering spasms of suppressed sobs.
Some of them, in which the black keys are exclusively taken, are
acute and subtle, and remind us of the character of his own
gaiety, lover of atticism as he was, subject only to the higher
emotions, recoiling from all vulgar mirth, from coarse laughter,
and from low enjoyments, as we do from those animals more abject
than venomous, whose very sight causes the most nauseating
repulsion in tender and sensitive natures.

An exceeding variety of subjects and impressions occur in the
great number of his Mazourkas. Sometimes we catch the manly
sounds of the rattling of spurs, but it is generally the almost
imperceptible rustling of crape and gauze under the light breath
of the dancers, or the clinking of chains of gold and diamonds,
that maybe distinguished. Some of them seem to depict the defiant
pleasure of the ball given on the eve of battle, tortured however
by anxiety for, through the rhythm of the dance, we hear the
sighs and despairing farewells of hearts forced to suppress their
tears. Others reveal to us the discomfort and secret ennui of
those guests at a fete, who find it in vain to expect that the
gay sounds will muffle the sharp cries of anguished spirits. We
sometimes catch the gasping breath of terror and stifled fears;
sometimes divine the dim presentiments of a love destined to
perpetual struggle and doomed to survive all hope, which, though
devoured by jealousy and conscious that it can never be the
victor, still disdains to curse, and takes refuge in a soul-
subduing pity. In others we feel as if borne into the heart of a
whirlwind, a strange madness; in the midst of the mystic
confusion, an abrupt melody passes and repasses, panting and
palpitating, like the throbbing of a heart faint with longing,
gasping in despair, breaking in anguish, dying of hopeless, yet
indignant love. In some we hear the distant flourish of trumpets,
like fading memories of glories past, in some of them, the rhythm
is as floating, as undetermined, as shadowy, as the feeling with
which two young lovers gaze upon the first star of evening, as
yet alone in the dim skies.

Upon one afternoon, when there were but three persons present,
and Chopin had been playing for a long time, one of the most
distinguished women in Paris remarked, that she felt always more
and more filled with solemn meditation, such as might be awakened
in presence of the grave-stones strewing those grounds in Turkey,
whose shady recesses and bright beds of flowers promise only a
gay garden to the startled traveller. She asked him what was the
cause of the involuntary, yet sad veneration which subdued her
heart while listening to these pieces, apparently presenting only
sweet and graceful subjects:--and by what name he called the
strange emotion inclosed in his compositions, like ashes of the
unknown dead in superbly sculptured urns of the purest
alabaster...Conquered by the appealing tears which moistened the
beautiful eyes, with a candor rare indeed in this artist, so
susceptible upon all that related to the secrets of the sacred
relics buried in the gorgeous shrines of his music, he replied:
"that her heart had not deceived her in the gloom which she felt
stealing upon her, for whatever might have been his transitory
pleasures, he had never been free from a feeling which might
almost be said to form the soil of his heart, and for which he
could find no appropriate expression except in his own language,
no other possessing a term equivalent to the Polish word: ZAL!"
As if his ear thirsted for the sound of this word, which
expresses the whole range of emotions produced by an intense
regret, through all the shades of feeling, from hatred to
repentance, he repeated it again and again.

ZAL! Strange substantive, embracing a strange diversity, a
strange philosophy! Susceptible of different regimens, it
includes all the tenderness, all the humility of a regret borne
with resignation and without a murmur, while bowing before the
fiat of necessity, the inscrutable decrees of Providence: but,
changing its character, and assuming the regimen indirect as soon
as it is addressed to man, it signifies excitement, agitation,
rancor, revolt full of reproach, premeditated vengeance, menace
never ceasing to threaten if retaliation should ever become
possible, feeding itself meanwhile with a bitter, if sterile
hatred.

ZAL! In very truth, it colors the whole of Chopin's compositions:
sometimes wrought through their elaborate tissue, like threads of
dim silver; sometimes coloring them with more passionate hues. It
may be found in his sweetest reveries; even in those which that
Shakespearian genius, Berlioz, comprehending all extremes, has so
well characterized as "divine coquetries"--coquetries only
understood in semi-oriental countries; coquetries in which men
are cradled by their mothers, with which they are tormented by
their sisters, and enchanted by those they love; and which cause
the coquetries of other women to appear insipid or coarse in
their eyes; inducing them to exclaim, with an appearance of
boasting, yet in which they are entirely justified by the truth:
NIEMA IAK POLKI! "Nothing equals the Polish women!" [Footnote:
The custom formerly in use of drinking, in her own shoe, the
health of the woman they loved, is one of the most original
traditions of the enthusiastic gallantry if the Poles.] Through
the secrets of these "divine coquetries" those adorable beings
are formed, who are alone capable of fulfilling the impassioned
ideals of poets who, like M. de Chateaubriand, in the feverish
sleeplessness of their adolescence, create for themselves visions
"of an Eve, innocent, yet fallen; ignorant of all, yet knowing
all; mistress, yet virgin." [Footnote: Memoires d'Outre Tombe. 1st
vol. Incantation.] The only being which was ever found to
resemble this dream, was a Polish girl of seventeen--"a mixture
of the Odalisque and Valkyria...realization of the ancient sylph-
-new Flora--freed from the chain of the seasons" [Footnote: Idem.
3d vol. Atala.]--and whom M. de Chateaubriand feared to meet
again. "Divine coquetries" at once generous and avaricious;
impressing the floating, wavy, rocking, undecided motion of a
boat without rigging or oars upon the charmed and intoxicated
heart!

Through his peculiar style of performance, Chopin imparted this
constant rocking with the most fascinating effect; thus making
the melody undulate to and fro, like a skiff driven on over the
bosom of tossing waves. This manner of execution, which set a
seal so peculiar upon his own style of playing, was at first
indicated by the term 'tempo rubato', affixed to his writings: a
Tempo agitated, broken, interrupted, a movement flexible, yet at
the same time abrupt and languishing, and vacillating as the
flame under the fluctuating breath by which it is agitated. In
his later productions we no longer find this mark. He was
convinced that if the performer understood them, he would divine
this rule of irregularity. All his compositions should be played
with this accentuated and measured swaying and balancing. It is
difficult for those who have not frequently heard him play to
catch this secret of their proper execution. He seemed desirous
of imparting this style to his numerous pupils, particularly
those of his own country. His countrymen, or rather his
countrywomen, seized it with the facility with which they
understand every thing relating to poetry or feeling; an innate,
intuitive comprehension of his meaning aided them in following
all the fluctuations of his depths of aerial and spiritual blue.
Published:
Jan 6, 2016
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