week3: chopin; terence davies, evgeny kissin


The year 1825 was a turning-point in his life. Certain events occurred during that year determined his career, and left no shadow of doubt in the minds of either him or his parents as to what was to be his metier. “” william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.

metier—one of those brilliant little french words that suggests: if a word could conjure up a person, then this one would be wearing a top hat, thick-rimmed glasses and a knowing smirk. it means, among other things: an outstanding or advantageous characteristic. and it describes the occupation of people like chopin, for whom the title of their profession has little more than a nomenclative significance. those who would have thought it obvious to invent their profession if it didn’t already exist.

in short, if the nocturne didn’t already exist, frédéric chopin would have wasted no time inventing it…

If the mighty autocrat of the North knew what a dangerous enemy threatened him in Chopin’s works, in the simple melodies of his mazurkas, he would forbid this music. Chopin’s works are guns buried in flowers. “” robert schumann

that aforementioned northern autocrat was russia’s catharine II , whose invasion of poland in 1792 resulted in that country’s second partition in 1793.

what an absolutely brilliant analogy schumann has made, guns buried in flowers—indeed there isn’t much of a morose and moonlit sentimentality in these nocturnes. just beneath the surface of their nocturnal tranquility are intimations of an athletic amount of activity. these are not compositions for heavy eyelids, nor music for nightcaps—they are nocturnal in the true sense, inasmuch as they wade deep into night.

these nocturnes also reflect the work ethic of their author, who spared himself restful sleep in order to hone and adjust his compositions well after they were publishable. his character was fastidious as well as elaborate. this twinship of fastidiousness and showmanship is glimpsed in the letters he wrote to his lifelong friend jan biabloblocki. an excerpt from one such letters hints at writing skills, though his math isn’t very good:

Dear Jasia! — Don’t expect to find in this letter the usual nameday compliments: all those showy feelings, exclamations, apostrophes, pathetic bits and similar rubbish, nonsense, stuff and piffle. They are good enough for heads that can find trivial phrases in the absence of friendship, but when they have a tie of eleven years of friendship, when they have counted the months together 132 times, have begun 468 weeks, 3960 days, 95,040 hours, 5,702,400 minutes, 342,144,000 seconds together, they don’t need reminders, or complimentary letters, because they’ll never write want they want to write…. “” chopin to jan biabloblocki, June 1826

he was a private man. so too was his music. and so great was this music that the many flaws in his character could be flippantly dismissed, as in the words of one of his biographers:

But for his music he will be forgiven everything. “” william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.



RCA Victor, Printed in Canada // Chopin Nocturnes Vol.1 // Pianist: Artur Rubinstein


  • Op. 9 #1 (b-flat min); #2 (e-flat); #3 (in b)
  • Op.15 #1 (in f); #2 (f-sharp); #3 (g min)
  • Op. 27 #1 (c-sharp min); #2 (d-flat)
  • Op.32 #1 (in b) #2 (a-flat)

(our dear nietzsche)———

Some will say that Chopin’s lasting fame can be attributed to his unhappy existence, to the illness that held him in bodange for most of his adult life and eventually killed him, to the torment he suffered for the Poland he worshipped, and to the chagrin of an incomplete life — for he never achieved the domestic happiness that he yearned for. “” william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.

what is the Nietzschean type? that is an especially interesting question, especially to nietzsche himself. the loftiness and eagle-altitude of that type was the hint expressed by his Zarathustra, and the unmistakable subject of his Ecce Homo. but this question becomes interesting when even Nietzsche himself contemplates that there is as much depth to it as there is height: as much sickliness as there is that profound spectacle of health, of which his writings are an awesome gallery. indeed a prolonged, gestating, debilitating sickliness, with intimations of ubermenchen health; and the internal fortitude to navigate the spectrum between health and sickness—that, in an abbreviated sense, is the Nietzschean type.

chopin, as a matter of sensitivity to health and sickness, is of that type—

We have illness in the house. Emilia has been in bed for four weeks; she has got a cough and has begun to spit blood and Mamma is frightened. Malcz ordered blood-letting. They bled her once, twice; leeches without end, vesicators, sinapisms, wolf’s bane; horrors, horrors! — All this time she has been eating nothing; she has grown so thin that you would not know her, and is only now beginning to come to herself a little — You can imagine what it has been like in the house. You’ll have to imagine it because I can’t describe it for you. “” frederick chopin to jan biabloblocki, march 14th, 1827

chopin died in paris from tuberculosis on october 17th, 1849, at the age of 39. nietzsche was five years old at the time, living in röcken in the province of saxony. he died from neurological degeneration (diagnosis of which is debatable) on august 25th, 1900 at the age of 55.


talents like that of chopin’s are often characteristically cycloptic. by which i mean all the other more natural, more prevalent instincts are subsumed by the need of this one dominating instinct. indeed all creative monuments have this apical dominance amongst instincts, as a prerequisite. it is as well a monumental investment in time and energy to intentionally subsume one’s instincts for the sake of a particular creative instinct. however, for those who suffer bouts of sickliness—from which chopin and nietzsche shared an almost identical debilitation—this time and energy is conserved by the effect of their sickness on their more active instincts. they are in turn forced to focus their ration of energy on the tremendous task of their work; thereby cultivating, by necessity, a scrupulous efficiency in the expression of their ideas.

His was a curious nature—a mixture of a marked sense of inferiority in all matters concerning others, and a self confidence that insisted on succeeding in the face of every difficulty. “” william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.

both of these men suffered an unshakable confidence in the world-historical importance of their metier—a confidence too sure to be arrogant. nevertheless, except for in the most private company, their demeanor was generally taciturn and perhaps even yielding; with the occasional bout of intense emotional discharges  (especially in Nietzsche’s case).

Frédéric would often work late into the night; at times even this was not sufficient, for he would have to get out of bed time and again to erase or add, in order to satisfy that ever-functioning mind. The other inmates of the house were at first startled by his nocturnal experiments at the keyboard, and horrified at the danger to his health: but their anxiety was of no avail. “” william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.

my comparison between these two frédérics should be nothing more than a short list of aesthetic sensibilities. both of them hark back to a polish origin—though chopin makes a stronger case. both were not especially fond of the women in berlin. and both expressed the utmost seriousness in relation to the spirituality of music—here Nietzsche makes the stronger case.

they both had what i describe as incandescent health (as opposed to fluorescent): at times bright, and at times flickering—but altogether emitting a ruinous amount of heat for the sake of an unsustainably intense luminosity. Nietzsche could have used more paris in his life, and had it not been for the utmost clumsiness in his relation to lou salomé, he might have made it to paris with her before his mental breakdown.

His pianistic art was never for the multitude; his greatest happiness was to feel that he was reaching the souls of an intimate few, and to know that he was giving them some solace. “”  william murdoch, Chopin: His Life.

on account of his relationship with george sand, the automatic audience available to a concert pianist, and his proximity to paris—chopin was altogether more sociable than Nietzsche. i cannot imagine that there is anyone from that century, and in germany, that was lonelier than our dear Nietzsche. that he persevered for another eight months into the twentieth century perhaps qualifies him as the loneliest man of that century as well.

 this past week marked the 118th anniversary of Nietzsche’s death.

(of time and city)———

I’m writing now in a half crazy state, because I really don’t know what’s happening to me. I am starting to-day for Berlin. “” chopin to titus, September 9th, 1827


i’ve been thinking about what a city is, and have found myself saying things like ‘the city is marvellous, cherry sweet.’—and don’t feel as if i’m getting any closer to the bottom of what i’m getting at. thankfully, i’ve been reminded of occasions when the menagerie and nauseating spectacle of city life has been observed at a convalescing distance. not the distance afforded by a helicopter’s bird’s eye view, but that of the solemnity of music. i have in mind the work of british filmmaker terence davies whose ode to his upbringing in wartime liverpool is expressed in the epic poetry of his film Of Time and City (2008):

the trailer is absolutely brilliant. it’s choice of music (chopin’s Consolation No.3 in D Flat Major) captures precisely the kind of distance i have in mind: wherein the burgeoning din and activity of a city is raised to a muted frequency, and the unnatural anonymity which every city promises becomes the subject of a panopticon erected atop an obelisk of momentary serenity.

it was chopin’s Nocturne in d-flat,Op. 27,No.2 (performed here by the seemingly possessed evgeny kissin) that reminded me of terence davies’ film that i saw four years ago:

it has this cerebral, levitating and liquid quality that is very similar to the aforementioned Consolation No.3, indeed the first 15 seconds of both pieces are almost identical. that Consolation is in the category of rare supreme aesthetic revelations, the awe of which is renewed every time i hear it. partly because of its use in that trailer, i can’t help but associate it with a daytime busyness, with all the attendant clangs and drones that make up the aforementioned din. i’m grateful that i’ve found its evening companion in this Nocturne in d-flat.

(eine kleine nachtmusik)———a fair bit of coincidence: all throughout my armchaired hours listening to these nocturnes, i’ve been immersed in ferdinand céline nightmarish fever dream of a book, Journey to the End of the Night. it was the title that caught my eye. and i had to wade almost two hundred pages into it before glimpsing what the significance of night and this journey was:

What with being chucked out of everywhere, you’re sure to find whatever it is that scares all those bastards so. It must be at the end of the night, and that’s why they’re so dead set against going to the end of the night. “” Journey to the End of the Night, ferdinand céline

music makes every journey feel shorter. these nocturnes however, are exactly as long as whichever kind of night they wade into.