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Why Woman Loves Chopin

[Editor’s Note.—The following is part of an article which appeared in the New York Sun and was written by that paper’s well-known critic, Mr. W. J. Henderson. As with all of Mr. Henderson’s work, every paragraph is interesting and suggestive of further thought. Some of our readers who may be identified with the widespread suffrage movement may feel that Mr. Henderson has read the character of Chopin more keenly than he has that of the “average” woman. Not all women are “clinging vines,” and it is not always wise to generalize when speaking of one sex in particular.]

A century ago Frederic Chopin was born. It is by no means the least significant of facts in musical record that to this day his compositions—or rather a certain portion of them—have a more seductive charm than those of other masters for the majority of the votaries of music. It is conceded that the army of music lovers is recruited mostly from women. Possibly the same thing might be said of the army of admirers of poetry, painting, and even sculpture. Architecture appeals to few women. Its elements of stern reality jar upon their aesthetic sentiment. It is a shock to feminine sensibility to realize that the flying buttress is fundamentally a device to resist thrusts or that the groining of a ceiling was originally a mere incident in the crossing of barrel vaults.

Decorative art, which might be supposed to be woman’s aesthetic stronghold, reeks with abuses designed to pander to her distorted sentiment. Measures almost stern have had to be taken to convince her that wall papers should be made to look like jigsaw puzzles, and that hatracks in the shape of peacocks were products of a mind diseased.

Woman adores the nocturnes, fantasias, etudes and some of the other works of Chopin. She waits patiently for them at every piano recital. She bears up bravely against the Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or Schumann with which the pianist persists in beginning his program, for she knows that she will meet her sure reward. After the medicine is courageously swallowed the sugar plum tastes so much sweeter.

The weakness of man is the strength of woman. She is and has been in all time his protectress. She is the incarnate parent and guardian. When the strong man stands before her she rejoices in his strength and is ready to twine herself about him as the vine about the oak. But she is equally happy to be the support of the weak, and it is in acting as the prop and the defense of some such nature as that which sang the major melody of the famous funeral march that she rises to heights of extraordinary splendor. This is the woman who in hours of ease is uncertain and coy, but in the hour of agony is a ministering angel.

Here then we may perhaps find the true explanation of woman’s love of Chopin’s music. It is beyond question that his greater works soar in regions to which her reason and her imagination, save in a few scattered instances, are strangers. Yet in these very works exist characteristic qualities which are more frankly exposed in the composer’s more popular creations.

We have been told often that Chopin is the Poe of the piano, but if he truly were the musical companion of that singular mind women would be less likely to love him. How many women relish the canonic method of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the grim imagination of the “Fall of the House of Usher,” or the uproarious humor of “The Devil in the Belfry?” Or shall we find Chopin in the well ordered and delicately polished poesy of “Annabel Lee” and in the perfectly cadenced melancholy of “The Raven?” It were easier to find resemblance in the form of the poems to the equally finished form of Chopin, for the musician who wrote the ballades and the nocturnes was as sensitive to the moulding of his ideas as any other writer who ever conceived a method of expression. But there is a marked difference between the conceptions of the two men.

The most potent attraction of Chopin for woman lies in the singularly appealing character of his music. It is the appeal, already noted, of the man whose incapacity seeks its complement in the superior steadiness and purity of the eternal feminine. It is no pertinent comment on this view that George Sand was morally neither steady nor pure. To the creative artist morality is not a purveyor of ideas. It is unfortunately not even an influence in the formation of taste. It is a historic fact that the poet, the painter, the musician, reproduces humanity for the most part as he finds it and that of them all the farthest removed from the domain of moral teaching must of necessity be the musician, whose art is totally devoid of ethical significance.

It was to Chopin more than to any other master that the world owed the triumphant demonstration of the fundamental relationship of the piano to its precursor, the gypsy cembalon. Chopin’s piano has too frequently been described as a regulated Æolian harp, but rather was it a dulcimer dressed for society in satin finished rosewood. But these of a certainty are not matters which trouble the minds of women.

What the woman feels in the music of Chopin is the underlying weakness of the personal fiber which constructed it. The Chopin of the D flat valse is a humorist of the progeny of Italian “concetti.” The Chopin of the saccharine funeral march a master laboring in the refuse of his worst banalities. Only in the first and last movements of this composition does he rise to his own surface, but these are the movements for which the palpitating among women care nothing. The other movements touch deeply the lighter souls among the world’s better half, for they combine gentle sentimentality with mediocrity of invention. The weakness of the personality of the artist is here disclosed brilliantly in polished and ingratiating art. Woman yields to the appeal of its elegant littleness. She receives into her heart the fluttering spirit.

Mr. Huneker, one of the most serious students of Chopin, wonders how we can reconcile the want of moral and intellectual manliness in the composer with the passion, power and virility of the polonaises. But, after all, an inquiry of this character must finally rest on the definition of manliness. The creative faculty, physical or intellectual, is not always associated with other qualities distinguished by masculinity. Otherwise, how shall we account for Keats or explain the tearful sentimentalism of Goethe’s “Werther?” Woman herself has often risen to extraordinary heights of masculine force. Man has equally often writhed in the infantile torments of feminine squeamishness.

But when all is said and done the striking fact remains that Chopin created a melodic style which has never been successfully copied and which continues to exercise a strange and irresistible charm, all the more potent indeed because even the masculine mind, recognizing its inherent weakness, cannot escape its witchery, while woman in her secret soul adores, cherishes and fondles this psychological infant, bathed in endless tears.

 

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