Here's a Radio Chopin story I’d really like to believe. See if you do.
It’s about a Waltz in F-sharp minor, published in 1932, eighty-three years after Chopin’s death. The publisher? A mysterious French pianist named Maurice Dumesnil. How’d he get it? According to legend, from “an old Spanish priest.” “The most precious of his possessions,” it had been “handed down directly from the time” …you guessed it…when Chopin and George Sand endured their miserable winter in an abandoned monastery on the Spanish island of Majorca.
That would date the waltz to 1838, when a desperately ill Chopin clung to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier for dear life and composed the more fevered and peculiar of his Opus 28 Preludes. So, yes, you could imagine him coming up with this Waltz Mélancolique. But in the middle it sounds less like a Waltz, and more like a middling Nocturne. We find our way back to ¾ time eventually, but the whole just doesn’t seem quite…Chopinesque. Was it an experiment? Did the priest fish it out of Chopin’s Spanish trash can?
Only Monsieur Dumesnil knew for sure. And what do we know about him? Well, that this self-professed Chopin specialist was not much of a pianist, for one. A string of bad reviews followed him from London to Carnegie Hall to Buenos Aires: A New York Times review from 1920: “Mr. Dumesnil…is not well qualified for the sympathetic interpretation of Chopin. There is little poetry in his playing.” Perhaps our French monsieur’s career needed a boost or his wallet a buck. Or both. Regardless, this strange little “waltz” he published as Chopin’s presents a delicious mystery or, if we choose to believe it, a lovely story. - Jennifer Foster