Suppose you learn a few things about Chopin that ruin any chance of harboring a romantic notion of the man. Is it hard to take that he was hard to take?
With Beethoven, it’s different. The tales of his stormy nature and undesirable behaviors enhance his image. They align with—and it’s tempting to think, explain—some of his music. Beethoven didn’t call one of his rondos “Rage Over a Lost Penny”, but we do…
So why deny Chopin the right to be cranky? He was that, not to mention quirky, moody, irritable, even plain old mean. A Chopin student wrote: “He can be as petulant as a small child, bullying his pupils and being very cold with his friends…He is polite to excess, and yet there is so much irony, so much spite hidden inside it!”
His Prelude in B-flat minor is far angrier than Beethoven’s Rondo. But what was Chopin, the swain of the salons, so mad about? Well, start with exile. Add a dash of Slavic fatalism. Lost loves. And his all-too-real physical ailments: asthma, frailty, tuberculosis…and perhaps even cystic fibrosis. Beethoven? He was just deaf. Chopin, too, shook his fist at the heavens: “Why should God kill me this way, not at once, but little by little?” But Chopin did more than complain – poor of health and short of stamina as he was, he used the little time he had on Earth to compose with a remarkable and relentless discipline. Or, as he put it: “Sometimes I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano!” - Jennifer Foster