week2: chopin; jo stafford


[Chopin] had gone to [Majorca] with his new mistress, the prolific and notorious author who called herself George Sand, who wore men’s clothes and smoked cigars but was vigorously heterosexual. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirituality

putting aside (for now) the infinitude of tantalizing imagery suggested by the prospect of being ‘vigorously heterosexual’, one takes note of the small gang of blessings that formed chopin’s social circle in paris—foremost on that list was the wild and dandy imagination of his hipster mistress (hipstress?), her ladyship george sand.

The Polish revolt against Russia broke out in 1831, and [Chopin] made his way to Paris, full of regret at leaving his homeland. He never recovered from this homesickness, and never saw Poland again. In Paris he was taken up in a brilliant group of young composers who included Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

perhaps that’s telling of how inbred the social scene amongst these composers must have been if such household names of the classical repertoire were at one time shoulder to shoulder to shoulder.

it was with erik satie’s music that i realized how every artist is in need of a parlour. that is, some kind of small social arena wherein the eccentricities of their individuality are buttered in the high-and-low-falutin cheers and jeers of like-minded peers. (and the more individual philosophers, our dear Nietzsche for example, are especially in need such society.)

[Chopin’s] personality suited this scene: he was fastidious, dandyish in dress, a snob, fashionably anti-Semitic. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit



Funk and Wagnalls Album #5: Polonaises, Nocturne, Etudes, Mazurkas

Soloists: Alberto Colombo, Luciano Giarbella, Alberto Mozzati, Luciano Bertolini

Polonaise: (french for ‘polish’; a polish dance in ¾ time)

  • op.44 in f sharp min.
  • op.53 in a flat
  • op.40 #1 in a

Nocturne: (music evocative of and inspired by the nocturnal)

  • op.27 #1

Etude: (a studious/technically demanding piece)

  • op.10 #3, #5
  • op.25 #1, #5

Mazurka: (polish folk dance in ¾ or ⅜, with feet stomping and heel clicking)

  • op.7 #1 in b flat
  • op.24 #4 in flat min
  • op.41 #1 in c sharp min
  • op.68 #4 in f minor

(between song and music)———‘i wish i’d never heard this so that i can hear it again for the first time is, in my opinion, the best compliment that could be awarded to a song. it is the grace and fault of a memorable melody that one can never really forget it, thereby being unable to rediscover it along with that clairvoyant sensation that comes with the realization of a new rhythm.

chopin’s Etude Op.10 No.3. has been the exception for me, i discovered that melody thrice: i first heard a version of it in the trailer for paul thomas anderson’s film The Master (2012)—

jo stafford’s voice comes in near the tail end of the trailer, singing her version of

No Other Love (written by bob russell and paul weston), set to the aforementioned etude. it is one of the best trailers i’ve ever seen for a film; a good amount of dialogue, a surplus of hints and intrigues, yet so little information. the trailer was so satisfying that i forgot to watch the film…

time enough had passed before rediscovering this composition: buried in a playlist someone compiled on www.8tracks.com; i nearly fell of whatever i was sitting on when i realized what i was listening to and where it is i’d first heard it.

Song of the day 12-07-2016: The love of your life is a combination of all the loves in your life; a flag, a blue ribbon, their name and face, and the slope of the angles that wrapped their features---are the names of your love.

unfamiliar with the music it was written for, it wasn’t until stafford’s voice—heavy, warm, distant—that i recognized the song.

the third time i discovered the piece was in the august of 2016, listening to this record for the first time: it came around the corner, unexpectedly, like an old friend whose familiar features have in the meantime been buried under new lines and shadows. i almost fell of my bed when the melody that had hitherto belonged to stafford’s voice was laid bare on the piano, with little arches, gestures and buttresses where her voice should be.

even now i still can’t hear this piece without impressing stafford’s voice into it. that is the power of song, that it appeals more to memory than music.

(our dear Nietzsche)———in one of the more off-the-cuff ramblings of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, he laments the reduction in scale of europe’s ambition and imagination, symptoms of which he finds in architecture:

 “Everything has become smaller! Everywhere I see lower gates: those who are of my kind probably still go through, but they must stoop…” [...] “What do these houses mean? Verily no great soul put them up as its likeness. [...] They look to me as if made for silken dolls, or for stealthy nibblers who probably also let themselves be nibbled stealthily.”  Thus Spoke Zarathustra — ‘On the Virtue That Makes Small’

 that just might be innermost virtue of Romanticism: the virtue of small things. that is: of the personal point of view, the quiet tête-à-tête, eine kleine nachtmusik… namely the disposition to nibble at one’s small ration of life.


 of course i agree with him. though with a little less stank. small virtues are needed—if one is to enjoy a little peace amongst the larger more combative virtues. (this combat was what Nietzsche describes as the will to power). two world wars and a century of menagerie and madness since Nietzsche wrote that, our virtues are progressively infinitesimal…

 if Romanticism really is the aesthetics of small things, it’s musical expression found its height and depth in chopin.

 Most appropriately, his body was buried in Paris, his heart in Warsaw. By then Chopin’s place in the history of his art was secure. In a century of outsize ambition his was a victory of imagination over grandiloquence. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit