Episode 161: Chopin's 'One for the Cat'

Waltz in F Major, Op. 34, No. 3

rc-cat-200The lion’s share of Chopin’s waltzes is a heady brew, mixing poetry with irony, sparkle with wistfulness, high-spirits with melancholy. But his Opus 34 waltzes “…delight above all things,” wrote Robert Schumann, “...so different are they from the ordinary ones, and of such a kind as only Chopin dare venture on or even invent….Such a wave of life flows through them.”

A wave of life? Add a pinch of perpetual motion and you get one of Chopin’s most cheerful, if dizzying utterances in three-quarter time. Schumann adds, “…they seem to have been improvised in the ballroom.”

Chopin Biographer James Huneker declares this third in the Opus 34 set, “a whirling, wild dance of atoms.” He compliments Chopin for not continuing to “spin senselessly” where “older masters would have,” but he seems a little disappointed by the melancholy-free waltz number 3:

“It is quite long enough as it is. The second theme is better, but the appoggiaturas are flippant. It buzzes to the finish.”

What’s bugging Huneker? Likely the more-than-likely apocryphal story about how the piece came about: that Chopin’s (or was it George Sand’s?) cat jumped up on his keyboard and it was this “feline flight” that gave Chopin the idea for the first measures.

Huneker harrumphs, “I suppose as there is a dog valse, there had to be one for the cat.” - Jennifer Foster

Radio Chopin Episode 161: Chopin's 'One for the Cat'



Waltz in F Major, Op. 34, No. 3