Episode 124: Chopinimals

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31

animalsWinged creatures. Chopin taught his students to graze a piano key “like a fly brushing against it with its wing.” He regarded his own manuscripts as delicate “fly specks.” Baudelaire described Chopin’s Opus 28 Preludes as “a brilliantly feathered bird circling the horrors of an abyss.” Schumann saw “single eagle feathers in wild confusion” in them.

Man’s best friend. Chopin derided his publishers: “Dog-catchers.” He couldn’t bear loud, insensitive piano playing: “Dogs barking,” he would say. “I’m as sick as a dog” he wrote in letters penned from bed.

Snakes. Chopin could unlock his hand to reach the widespread chords in his compositions seemingly without effort: “It was like the opening of the mouth of a serpent which is going to swallow a rabbit whole,” wrote Frederick Niecks. In Chopin’s enigmatic personality, Franz Liszt saw “the twisted folds of a serpent rolled upon itself.”

Swine. Chopin described a meddling Parisian piano teacher as “an insufferable pig who has dug her way […] into my private garden.” In his dying hours, Chopin rooted for his favorite student saying, “Without you, I should have croaked like a pig.”

Burro. Companion George Sand took frail Fryderyk to the countryside, hoping fresh air would improve his health. He wasn’t strong enough to walk, so she fitted a donkey with a velvet saddle for Chopin to ride by her side.

King of the jungle. Chopin described his first Parisian home as a “lion’s lair.” He hid from the outside world there when melancholy. Yet, “…forth from his misery,” wrote biographer James Huneker, “came sweetness and strength, like honey from a lion,” Honey from a lion. The zoology of paradox in so much of Chopin’s music. - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 124: Chopinimals

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31