Effusions of a Master Mind

The Reception of Chopin’s Music in Nineteenth-Century America


by Sandra P. Rosenblum



The documented history of Chopin’s music in America began at a private party in New York City in October 1839, when Ludwig Rakemann, a German pianist, played “some nocturnes of a composer known here but to few—Chopin, a Pole.” At a subsequent public appearance Rakemann played “a Nocturne and two Mazurkas,” thus introducing Chopin through genres later valued for two outstanding attributes of his unique music: lyricism and Polish nationalism. This paper investigates the previously unexplored and changing responses to Chopin’s works by pianists, critics, audiences, and music publishers during the period from 1839-1900.

Each decade presents a different stage in the growing knowledge and reception of Chopin’s music. The early performing and teaching of a few German immigrants led by Otto Dresel (some trained at the Leipzig Conservatory under Mendelssohn and Schumann); the writing of Europeans and of European-born or trained critics living in America (e.g., Henry Watson, Roger Willis); and the remarkable work of John Sullivan Dwight all played important roles in preparing the ready acceptance that Chopin’s music generally received here. Topics discussed include the gradual dissemination of Chopin performance from New York City and Boston outwards in the young republic, the gradual changes in the repertoire performed and its reception by critics and listeners, and the diffusion of interest in this music from the elite class of concert-goers to the average American pianist at home—sometimes aided by simplified arrangements.

Critics’s reviews of performances in music periodicals and daily newspapers, and their essays about Chopin in journals of broad intellectual appeal such as the “Atlantic Monthly” provide ample evidence of their efforts to inform readers and of their varying opinions about both the music and the way in which it was performed. Diaries, letters, and writings from other population groups and the publication history of Chopin’s music in America add voices from the audience and commercial sector.


In October 1839 at a private party in New York City, a newly-arrived German immigrant named Ludwig Rakemann played[1]

some nocturnes of a composer known here but to few—Chopin, a Pole. This author does not so much astonish by the velocity and apparent difficulty of his passages, as he entrances his auditors by the fire, the soul-stirring pathos of his compositions. He appears to expand the powers of the instrument by a masterly combination of melody and harmony—singing divinely. . . . we know not that we were ever more charmed than in listening to these effusions of a master mind, given with an intensity of feeling and a power of expression which we have seldom heard equalled—never surpassed.

What nocturnes were played is not recorded in the Evening Star, which published that communication from a perceptive listener who recognized Chopin’s originality of musical and pianistic style. This first documented performance of Chopin’s music in America was followed by Rakemann’s public debut on October 16th, when he played a “Notturno and Two Mazurkas.”[2] Thus, Chopin was introduced in America through genres valued especially for two outstanding attributes of his musical style: expressive, often melancholic lyricism and musical nationalism.

In Boston two weeks later Rakemann played “an exquisitely beautiful ‘Nocturne Mélancholique'” by Chopin, noted the Evening Transcript.[3] The Musical Magazine described the program as “probably the finest musical treat of the kind ever offered” in Boston. It was “the first illustration of the style [of the] modern pianoforte school” and of its “leaders, Thalberg, Henselt, and Chopin, [that] has ever been offered to the Boston public.”[4]When John Sullivan Dwight reflected on the musical season 1839-40 in Boston, Rakemann’s concert was among the few events he remembered “with most pleasure.” The compositions of the “new school of Piano Forte playing… are rich, brilliant, wild, astonishing.” In the “Notturnes” of Chopin he found “sweet pathos.”[5] But thinking back in 1856, Dwight considered it “almost a sin to class a pure star of genius,” like Chopin, “with lights that must prove so much more ephemeral.”[6]

Two important premieres took place in New York in 1846. In October Julian Fontana introduced Chopin’s Fantasie Op. 49 as his solo in a concert of the singer Madame Ablamowicz. In a long review, the Morning Courier stated only that Fontana played “in a manner which showed him a worthy pupil of [Chopin].”[7] The Albion credited Fontana with “good execution and much expression; . . . all he does proves him to be a thorough musician.”[8] There was not a word about that sublime Fantasie, so rich in references to diverse genres and Poland’s tragedy.[9] Unfortunately, until later in the century most concert reviews did not include discussion of the music itself, even when it was new; rather, reviews were mainly news accounts of the weather, type of audience, program, and something about the player’s technique and expressive ability.[10] Any attention to piano music was usually an experiential response to its emotional qualities, with only rare and cursory mention of technical aspects such as form or harmony. Finally—and very discouraging to a researcher—piano concerts were reviewed only erratically.

In November 1846, Sebastian Timm and the New York Philharmonic premiered the second and third movements of Chopin’s Concerto Op. 11.[11] George Templeton Strong, an upper-class New York lawyer and musical sophisticate, wrote in his diary: “pretty thing and cleverly played.”[12] Henry Cood Watson, a critic who had emigrated from London, observed in the Evening Mirror:[13]

Chopin, who is the greatest writer for the piano since Hummel, is almost unknown in our musical circles: it is greatly to be regretted-for as a composer… for the piano forte, he is undoubtedly the greatest living master. . . . In his writings [the Romantic] school possesses a dignity and force which redeem it from… that sickening sentimentality which in general is its bane and defect. . . . The andante [of the Concerto] is remarkable for the wonderful sustainment of its lovely subject, and . . . the finale is replete with those peculiar beauties which form the charm of Chopin’s style.

Watson would have heard the new piano music before leaving London; thus his comments represent a seasoned viewpoint rather than a response to first hearing, which is what many American writers would have offered. The lyrical, poetic slow movements and the piquant finales with dance-like rhythms were the favored movements of both of Chopin’s Concertos and were often singled out for comment when a complete concerto was played, as they were also in Poland according to Professor Zofia Chechlińska.[14] That is certainly the impression of audience reaction that Chopin conveyed in his letter to Tytus Wojciechowski after the first public performance of Op. 11 in Warsaw.[15]

Also in 1846 Dwight’s review of Chopin’s recently published Tarantelle contains the prescient comment that the piece modulates “perpetually by almost insensible chromatic changes, as is the way with Chopin always, who seems [to be] groping after the intervals of a more finely graduated scale.” This was probably the first American recognition of Chopin’s profound expansion of the prevailing harmonic language, an idea not widely appreciated until late in the century. Dwight also used the same review to present other impressions of Chopin and his music that became fundamental to American reception: he is an “inspired young Pole, the worshipper of freedom. … He is always himself and ‘nothing else.’… [His] music floats around you and subdues your senses like clouds of incense, a mingling of most exquisite aromas. “[16]

The content and style of these phrases have a familiar ring. Indeed, in an earlier essay Dwight had quoted at length from Liszt’s review of Chopin’s concert of April 26, 1841, in which some of the same attitudes and metaphors are expressed.[17] There is also resonance in Dwight’s writings from other European sources, including Schumann’s review of the Sonata Op. 35[18] and J.W. Davison’s “Essay on the Works of Frederick Chopin,” a puff for London publisher Wessel.[19] Thus, Dwight was one of many American commentators whose views on Chopin were informed to some extent by previous European writing or training. His inferences to the feminine spirit of some of Chopin’s more delicate works notwithstanding, Dwight repeatedly mentioned and expected performers to express the virile, vigorous side of Chopin, as when he described the Ballade Op. 23 as “a composition of great power and breadth and depth of feeling, taxing the strength … of a player to the utmost, full of imagination and fire. . . .”[20] Discussion of supposedly masculine and feminine traits in Chopin’s music became increasingly common in American writing.[21] After Edwin Klahre’s all-Chopin program in New York in 1890 the New York Times remarked that “The young pianist … plays [Chopin] with intelligence, and does not emasculate him.”[22]

There must have been enough private as well as public playing of Chopin’s music in the 1840s so that five publishers in Boston and Philadelphia were willing to bet that carefully selected pieces would be commercial successes. As you see in Table I, aside from the Berceuse and the popular Impromptu Op. 29—the first section of which Dwight actually compared to a tarantella[23]-the pieces published even up to 1855 were related to genres already popular in a vernacular or utilitarian style for household use. Unsophisticated and technically easy marches, variation sets, and dances-of which the waltz was the most popular-were the mainstay of the repertoire for the majority of amateur players.[24] The publishers listed were betting that the name “Chopin” would attract some pianists to better quality and perhaps to bragging rights. Sources for published works include music journals, catalogs, and early editions in libraries (some from private collections).

Table I: Works Published in the U.S. ca. 1840-1855

[ca. 1839-1842] Waltz in A-flat, Op. 34/1 Meignen Philadelphia
[ca. 1840] Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 29 Klemm & Bro. Philadelphia
184-? “Chopin’s Beautiful Mazurka” in B-flat, Op. 7/1 Geo. P. Reed Boston
184-? Grande Valse brillante in E-flat, Op. 18 A. Fiot Philadelphia
[1844] Valse Op. 34/2 O. Ditson Boston
[1844-49] **”Esmeralda Polka” W. Dubois NY and A. Fiot ** False attribution!
[1845] Tarantelle Ditson Boston
[ca. 1846] Marche funebre Ditson Boston
1847 Grand Valse Brilliante, Op. 18 Ditson Boston
[185-?] Marche funebre Firth, Pond & Co. New York
[185-?] Marche funebre Beck & Lawton Philadelphia
[1852] Marche funebre Geo. P. Reed Boston
1853 Mazurkas Op. 7 Geo. P. Reed & Co. Boston
1853 Grand Waltz in E-flat [Op. 18]. Geo. P. Reed & Co Boston
1853 Waltz Op. 64/1 in Nathan Richardson’s Modern School for the Piano-forte Boston
1854 Marche funebre arr. as a duet Ditson Boston
1854 Trois Valses, Op. 64 Richardson’s “Correct Editions” Boston
1854 Deux Polonaises, Op. 26 Richardson’s “Correct Editions” Boston
1854 Berceuse, Op. 57 N. Richardson Boston
1854 Trois Valses brillantes, Op. 34 Richardson Boston
1855 Valse in A-flat, Op. 42 Ditson Boston

Chopin’s Marche funebre remained a favorite in multiple publications, transcriptions, and simplifications throughout the century.[25] Of his works in the private, nineteenth-century collections of piano music that I’ve examined, the Marche Funebre appeared most frequently, followed by the Waltz Op. 18.

In April 1852 Dwight founded his own influential Journal of Music. [26] His purpose was to educate readers to the best in “classical” music, by which he meant music of the great composers.[27] Typical of his continuing interest in Chopin, Dwight immediately translated and printed nine lengthy segments from the biography of Chopin just published under Liszt’s name.[28] For better or worse, that book remained an important source for much American writing about Chopin until the publication of Niecks’s Chopin in 1888 and the writing of the independent-minded American, Henry T. Finck, in the last quarter of the century.[29]

In his second issue Dwight reviewed a concert by the Pole Wojciech Wołowski. “The set of Mazurkas by Chopin was of course good; but how strange the style, how headlong the time, how perplexing the expression, of that rendering of them!”[30]Part of Dwight’s unease with the performance must have reflected the unusual accent patterns and rubato inherent in the Polish playing of mazurkas. Somewhat later, recognition that these pieces demanded unfamiliar rhythmic practices, along with their relative lack of bravura, may have contributed to their infrequent public performance except by touring Slavic virtuosos. The mazurka’s role of representing Chopin’s Poland in concert was taken by the polonaise.[31]Chopin’s music performed in Boston by two pianists from December 1852 through December 1853, as well as publishing activity, mark 1853 as a watershed year for his conquest of America. Alfred Jaëll, who had been a student of Chopin in 1846,[32] played the entire Concerto Op. 11 twice—giving it its Boston premiere, the Ballade Op. 23 twice, along with a Waltz from Op. 64, a polonaise, and the Marche funèbre twice.[33] Dwight found the Ballade “full of poetry and meaning.” [34] My search for another early review of that work led me to newspapers of Providence, where Jaëll was expected to perform “the same program” two weeks later. However, for that smaller, presumed less sophisticated city, he replaced the Ballade with a fantasie on operatic themes.[35] Louis Moreau Gottschalk, too, generally reserved his performances of Chopin for large cities.[36] Thus, at mid-century much of Chopin’s music—and European art music generally—was understood to be for the cultivated class.[37]

Otto Dresel, a German immigrant who had known Schumann and Mendelssohn in Leipzig, championed Chopin’s works in Boston throughout the 1850s and 60s.[38] Between December 1852 and December 1853 he played the Berceuse, the Marche funebre twice, Nocturnes Opp. 15/2, 62/2, and one in B major (given in DJ as Op. 12/1[!]; perhaps Op. 62/1, the mate to Op. 62/2); two mazurkas, a prelude (possibly Op. 28/15), a polonaise; Etudes Op. 10/11 and one in A-flat major (perhaps the popular 25/1); and Waltzes Opp. 34/1 and 2, 42, and 64/2. Presenting the Nocturne Op. 62/2 was a bold move for the idealistic Dresel. Perhaps in part because of its severely contrapuntal, dissonant, and agitated mid-section, this Nocturne has always been at the periphery of the Chopin repertoire performed in America. But Dwight, the only reviewer of the event, thought it “exquisite.”[39]

Dwight’s review of new publications on April 9, 1853 was devoted to a series of sheet music by George P. Reed & Co. of Boston. This series, “The Pianist’s Album,” is, according to Dwight[40]

to contain . . . finer modern classics of the instrument, which have become endeared by the real poetry there is in them, rather than by their adaptation to the display of brilliant feats of execution. . . . Several pieces of CHOPIN figure in the list. This is in answer to the spirit of the times,-at least hereabouts. The past musical winter in Boston has been marked, among other things, by the development of an interest in the compositions of this most exquisite and individual, … most spiritually imaginative, poet of the piano, who, so far as depth and purity of sentiment and originality of ideas go, is far above all his modern contemporaries. . . . Until this season it has been a rare thing to get any work of Chopin played here, beyond a mere Mazurka or two. Pianists have studied only for effect in the concert room, and for the concert such music has been thought too choice, too spirituelle. But Dresel in his chamber soirées, and Jaëll even before the vast audiences in the Music Hall, have changed all that. Mazurkas, waltzes, polonaises, notturnes, études, even his most difficult ‘Ballades’ and Concertos, have had repeated hearing; and we have scarcely entered a private musical circle this winter where Chopin did not figure as principal. . . . Already published are: 1. The Marche Funèbre from the Sonate, op. 35, now an established favorite, and a creation almost as remarkable in its kind (which is not orchestral) as the two funeral marches of Beethoven. 2. A set of Mazurkas, . . . op. 7. The first is the well known one for years past, which every body has played to us, in all sorts of time, from andante molto to prestissimo, and it took an artist like Mr. Dresel to restore its poor crazed life. . . . 3. The Grand Waltz in E flat is also forthcoming.

The year 1853 also saw the first inclusion of a piece by Chopin in a piano method. Nathan Richardson selected the Waltz Op. 64/1 for his widely used tutor, The Modern School for the Piano-forte.[41]

During the 1840s and early 50s public taste in New York was more inclined to large musical performances such as the symphonic repertoire and opera—with its social corollaries.[42] The piano music played tended toward a more popular type-fantasies and variations on operatic themes,[43] which may explain why most American publication of Chopin’s music up to 1855 occurred in Boston and Philadelphia. In October 1854 the New York Times noted that one of Chopin’s compositions played by William Mason would be “an unusual treat. Not one performer in five hundred is capable of appreciating or rendering the solemn majesty of this great composer.”[44] For American critics Chopin’s music required the utmost subtlety in performance. In 1861 “Minos” in Philadelphia wrote that Mr. Jarvis “can play everything else and ‘Chopin’ into the bargain.”[45]

Also in New York in 1854 Richard Hoffman’s performance of the Nocturne Op. 32/2 (titled “Consolation” in the program as in Wessel’s edition) occasioned some informative criticism. The reviewer for The Musical Worldfound the Nocturne lacking in “sufficient feeling, gentle inspiration, or anything else, suggestive of its being called the Consolation.” But the editor of the journal, Richard Storrs Willis, added a footnote: the performance of the Nocturne had probably been too “ponderous. Chopin, who … always breathed rather than played, his exquisite creations upon the piano, . . . a soft Pleyel . . . used to play this piece … with the most extreme sensibility and delicacy.”[46] Willis had studied composition in Europe and apparently had heard Chopin play, an exposure that allowed him to suggest an appropriate performance style for the composer’s more delicate, melancholic creations.

Crop failures and the revolutions of 1848 in Europe caused an increase in immigration, especially from Germany, which significantly increased the amount and quality of musical activity here. During the 50s and 60s interest in the performance of instrumental music developed at an accelerating pace. Concurrently, there emerged the first group of able American-born concertizing pianists, which included-among many others-Gottschalk, Mason, and B.D. Allen-a pupil of Dresel, who introduced a tradition of Chopin-playing in Worcester, MA. Not surprisingly then, the years 1855-60 witnessed the documented spread of the public performance of Chopin’s works to cities outside of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York-mainly to those close to the eastern seaboard where rail transportation existed, but also to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Chicago, all on major waterways. In 1860 Jadwiga Brzowska premiered the Allegro of the Concerto Op. 11 in New Orleans, where she lived for three years as professor of piano. A report sent to Ruch Muzyczny proclaimed her “the best pianist that we have ever heard” and recognized “the great feeling and sweetness” of the concerto movement.[47] The map of “Chopin’s Music in Recital” (see Figure 1) provides some idea of how Chopin playing in recital gradually moved westward as the country’s growing economy supported the development of cultural interests.

Fig. 1: Chopin’s Music in Recital

Railroad development between 1840 and 1870, shown by the maps of “Railroads in Operation” (see Figures 2 and 3), enabled the spread of musical life. Many of the unfamiliar towns, such as rural Georgetown, KY (20 miles from the state capitol), had colleges, small music schools, or private high schools—sometimes called seminaries—for young ladies.

Railroads in America, Part 1.
Railroads in America, Part 2.

Training ladies in music was considered important for the cultivation of musical taste in the population at large. Program notes about Chopin for a student recital on November 13, 1857 at the exclusive Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT touch on some major themes of American reception. The piece played was an unidentified Impromptu of Chopin.[48]

One of the most original writers for the pianoforte. His compositions belong to the so-called ‘romantic’ school. The strictness of the old forms of composition was not congenial to his nature; most of his works are in the free style, such as Etudes, Nocturnes, Mazurkas, and Polonaises. He never oversteps the boundaries of the Beautiful, not even when he is full of vehemence, of passion, as often in his Polonaises, where he seems to pour out his love of his native country and his deep, burning grief over the misfortunes of down-trodden Poland. This yearning for the liberty of his beloved country is indeed a key to the understanding of many of his works. Some one said that none but a Pole could perform his compositions. But he is not always sad and melancholy. Touches of caprice, playfulness, tenderness, and coquetry are frequently found even in his most serious works, especially in his Mazurkas-gems of composition for the parlor. Then, again, the calmness, the earnestness, the unexpected harmonies, the exquisite embroideries of delicate, airy passages in his Nocturnes, Ballads, &c.! The present piece is rather in his lighter style, a refined, salon conversation, impetuous, but not passionate, languid but not trivial…. Of his manner of performing, which was as original as his style of composition, we shall speak on a future occasion.

References to mazurkas as “gems of composition for the parlor” and to the unspecified impromptu on the program as a “refined salon conversation” were codes for women’s music, by nineteenth-century male-imposed standards of lesser value. Such opinions reveal failure to recognize the degree of development that Chopin brought to genres previously familiar in the salon.

The decade of the 1860s was welcomed with Ditson’s publication of the complete Mazurkas and Waltzes in one volume in April 1861. Following successful sales Ditson announced preparation of all the Polonaises and all the Nocturnes in 1865.[49] The less arduous pieces in these genres joined the waltzes, mazurkas, and the Funeral March as part of the domestic repertoire.

The growth of musical culture in the developing mid-West was materially aided by Easterners who either took up residence in the frontier cities or who taught in short summer courses called Normal Music Schools or Teachers’ Institutes. The critic C.H. Brittan sent Dwight a vivid description of the rationale for such courses.[50]

As your Chicago correspondent has accepted an engagement to give instruction in a “Normal Music School” during part of the summer vacation, he takes the liberty of sending you a communication in regard to the workings of the school [in Princeton, IN], as well as upon the state of music in this part of the country. . . .The Normal School for the study of music, if rightly conducted, becomes an important factor in the development of the musical talent of the West. For scattered throughout these smaller towns are numbers of music teachers who have little time, and, in most cases, not money enough, to come to the large cities during the musical season, and keep themselves abreast with the progress of the world. Thus we find a seeming necessity for these different musical elements,-from the large cities and the smaller inland towns,-to mingle with each other, imparting and receiving instruction, as the case may be. Oftentimes misguided talent is given a positive start in the true direction of development, and the seeds of a correct taste planted, which, after a season, bring forth fruit worthy of real art. . . .

It is one of the pleasing features to me to observe that whenever good music is given in the song and piano-forte recitals it seems to meet with appreciation and excites interest. The student who had devoted his time to commonplace music seems to find in the works of the old masters a new and wonderful field for study, and is induced to reform his touch that he may, in time, be able to make Mendelssohn’s “songs without words” sing under his own fingers; while a sonata of Beethoven will often excite musical interest to such a degree that a long course of technical Etudes are undertaken with the aim of reaching the grand music of this master as a reward for the persistent study.

William Mason, a leader in developing these schools, gave two recitals a week wherever he taught, with a typical program consisting of a sonata by Beethoven, pieces by Schumann and Chopin, and one of his own. By the end of a two-week course students would have heard by Chopin at least one nocturne, polonaise, waltz, and ballade plus more of the same or other genres.[51] For some this would have been their first exposure to Chopin.

The concert repertoire most often played in the 1860s demonstrates that the genres published by Ditson in 1861 and 1865, and those introduced by Mason at summer institutes were among the standard concert fare, along with some large single-movement works. Between 1861 and 1870 the most commonly heard pieces were waltzes (especially Op. 18), nocturnes (often Op. 15/2), polonaises (Opp. 53, 22), sometimes an etude or mazurka, the Ballades Opp. 23 and 47, Scherzo Op. 31, Impromptu Op. 29, Berceuse, Fantasie Op. 49, Fantasie-Impromptu, Marche funebre, and both Concertos. Works introduced but seldom played included the Allegro de Concert, Ballade Op. 38, Impromptu Op. 36, Scherzos Opp. 20, 39, and 54, and the Krakowiak Op. 14. The Ballade Op. 52, Polonaise-Fantasie, Sonata for Cello and Piano, and Variations Op. 2 each seem to have been played publicly only once, as far as I have been able to find out. Works played in Philadelphia during the season of 1868-69 might have passed as the “top eight” in the U.S. at that time: both Concertos; the Fantasie Op. 49; Ballade Op. 23; Scherzo Op. 31; Nocturne Op. 27/2; and Etudes Op. 25/7 and 11.[52] The other piano music most frequently played in that city (and in Boston) was by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann.

In March 1869 Dwight attended a performance of the more advanced students of Boston teacher Mlle. Gabrielle de la Motte, in which no other composer was represented as generously as Chopin, whose Prelude in F-sharp major, a Polonaise from Op. 26, the Fantasie-Impromptu, Nocturne Op. 48/1, and Ballade Op. 47 were played. Although pleased that students were studying music of this calibre, at the same time Dwight was concerned that perhaps the growing popularity of Chopin’s music had made it an obvious vehicle for ambitious teachers, eager students, and perhaps parents as well. “Of course some of this music … was beyond the mental and emotional experience of such young interpreters; but one could not but be surprised and pleased at the general excellence of the rendering. . . . The Ballade … was indeed admirably played.”[53] And Chechlińska writes that in Poland in the second half of the century “the press is full of complaints about the ‘popular mania for showing off with Chopin’ and the widespread ‘torture of Chopin’ in the salons.”[54]

Between 1870 to 1900 there was increased variety in the concert repertoire, particularly among the etudes, preludes, and mazurkas, and even occasional all-Chopin programs.[55] Favored works included waltzes (especially Opp. 18, 42, 64/1), nocturnes (Opp. 9/2, 15/2, 48/1), polonaises (Opp. 22, 40/1, 53); Etudes Op. 10/3 and 12, and Op. 25/1 and 7; Prelude Op. 28/15, Ballades Opp. 23 and 47, Scherzo Op. 31, the Berceuse, Fantasie Op. 49, Impromptu Op. 29, Fantasie-Impromptu, Marche funebre and both Concertos. The Fantasie Op. 49 was Anton Rubinstein’s “big Chopin number” on his U.S. tour in 1872-73 and the Allegro de Concert was also played more widely than previously. Etudes, preludes, and mazurkas were now programmed in groups of four to six rather than singly, the mazurkas mainly by touring Europeans. The Sonata Op. 35 was played occasionally.

Some late works were very seldom played: the Ballade Op. 52, Scherzo Op. 54, Sonata Op. 58, Nocturnes Op. 55/2 and 62/2, and the Polonaise-Fantasie. Beyond their formidable technical difficulties those works contain enough that was novel in form, harmony, texture, and other elements of composition that they seemed inaccessible and met resistance from performers and critics. In a review of a recital by Charles Jarvis in Philadelphia in 1888, the anonymous critic “A.” described Chopin’s Sonata Op. 58 as “a very brilliant work, but somewhat lacking in those qualities which go to the making of a great composition.”[56]

By 1870 Chopin was increasingly included by American writers in the pantheon of otherwise German greats whose music had become part of the canon[57] and most publishers wanted a piece of the action. More effort was put into making Chopin the property of a larger group of amateurs. For those who wanted music without six flats, Ditson advertised: “Study in G [major], Op. 25/9. . . . Original key G-flat.”[58] The Boston Conservatory Method for the Pianoforte appeared in 1873 with a clumsily simplified and shortened version of the Waltz Op. 18. That Waltz had become hugely popular and its inclusion was undoubtedly meant to attract those who had either heard it or knew the magic name of Chopin. In collections of mostly unpretentious music for teaching and for use by rural and urban families in the parlor, with titles such as Little Classics for Little Players, Chopin was now often represented by the Nocturne Op. 9/2, a waltz, or the Funeral March.

For professional pianists and the growing number of advanced students, G. Schirmer of New York issued a number of volumes and individual pieces in the 1880s and published Chopin’s Complete Works, edited and fingered by Carl Mikuli, between 1894 and 1898.[59] Also in 1894, to secure their market share of intermediate to advanced players who wanted a sampling of works in many genres, Schirmer put out A Collection of 32 Favorite Compositions that are listed in Table 2. According to my survey of Chopin’s music played, almost every piece included is among either those most often played in concert or those most often studied.

Table II: 32 Favorite Compositions by Frédéric Chopin

Waltzes: Op. 18 E-flat major; Op. 34/1 A-flat major; Op. 34/2 A minor; Op. 42 A-flat major; Op. 64/1 D-flat major; Op. 64/2 C-sharp minor; Posth. E minor.
Mazurkas: Op. 7/1 B-flat major; Op. 7/2 A minor; Op. 33/1 G-sharp minor; Op. 33/3 C major; Op. 33/4 B minor.
Polonaises: Op. 40/1 A major; Op. 26/1 C-sharp minor.
Nocturnes: Op. 9/2 E-flat major; Op.15/2 F-sharp major; Op. 15/3 G minor; Op. 27/2 D-flat major; Op. 32/1 B major; Op. 37/1 G minor; Op. 37/2 G major.
Ballades: Op. 47 A-flat major; Op. 23 G minor.
Impromptu: Op. 29 A-flat major.
Studies: Op. 25/7 C-sharp minor; Op. 25/9 G-flat major; Op. 25/1 A-flat major.
Prelude: Op. 28/15 D-flat major.
Scherzo: Op. 31 B-flat minor.
Fantasy-Impromptu Op. 66 C-sharp minor.
Berceuse Op. 57 D-flat major.
Funeral March from Sonata Op. 35 B-flat minor.

Prepared to a degree by earlier European experience of Chopin’s music, American critics for the most part granted favorable reception to much of the Chopin they heard. There was nothing like the pockets of strong resistance found in England and Germany. A few remarks on the reception of a popular favorite in a familiar style, Op. 11, and of a later work in which Chopin broke many boundaries, Op. 23, will conclude this paper.

You read earlier Watson’s unalloyed praise of the second and third movements of Op. 11 after its premiere in New York. Of that same performance the reviewer for the Morning Courier wrote:[60]

The music . . . is very beautiful, full of imagination and originality, . . . much less crude in its harmonies and more shapely in form than any other of Chopin’s compositions which we know; but it is not a concerto. It lacks the construction of a concerto; there is no working of the subjects between the pianoforte and the orchestra at all, and it seems rather a sonata with orchestral accompaniment. Mr. Timm’s performance was received with enthusiasm.

Dwight had heard all three movements in the Boston premiere by Jaëll. The Concerto was “full of beauties … [he wrote]; and though that form required of [Chopin] more brilliancy, more popular effect than is his wont, yet repeatedly there fleet and smile across the bolder and more common passages some of those faint, exquisite fioriture, so steeped in finest sentiment, which reveal [his] inmost peculiarity.” Here he recognized the delicacy of detail and sensuousness in Chopin’s melodic style that were often heard in a gendered role. Then Dwight co-opted Liszt’s opinion that “in [Chopin’s] efforts to bring his thoughts into the limits of the strictly classic form, ‘we discern rather the will, the purpose, than the inspiration.'”[61] Of this Concerto, generally only the form and sometimes the length of the first movement or the orchestration were criticized,[62] but most critics thought it an excellent composition, “full of originality and peculiar [individual or distinctive] effects.”[63] Audiences listened “most intently” and loved it.

William Fry of the New York Tribune—also a composer but not of piano music—occasionally carped at Chopin and was strongly prejudiced against recent developments in German music, which he found wanting in melody and tending toward chaos. He appraised the Romance and Finale of Op. 11 with a backhanded compliment followed by an insult: the solo part-particularly the slow movement, “is more Italian in its melody” than most of Chopin’s works, “whose characteristics are national and salient. . . . The coda to the rondo would pass for the kind which Herz invented. The execution [by Richard Hoffman] was admirable and brought down the house”.[64]

In the early 1870s the conservative critic of the Boston Daily Advertiser voiced some negative opinions of Chopin’s works. After praising a “perfect” performance of Op. 11 by Anna Mehlig, he demeaned this Concerto to a degree seldom reached in the American press:[65]

There is in much of Chopin’s music a whimsicality, almost amounting to sickliness, [some of which is] … exhibited in the allegro of this concerto. Many of Chopin’s effects are but pretty conceits, pleasing by the richness of the coloring, lulling the sense with delight, astonishing by their mechanical difficulty very often, but hardly warming the hearer, hardly firing the mind with enthusiasm as Beethoven almost always does. It is genre painting; still-life with a strong national flavor.

However, that feminizing and devalorizing review sounds almost neutral when compared with an anonymous review from the British Musical Magazine of July 1835, which calls the concerto a “heterogeneous mass, and compound of filthy sounds. . . . ludicrous and extravagant passages-modulations we cannot call them, for they ‘Out Herod’ every thing of the kind we ever before heard; … It is altogether beneath criticism.”[66]

By contrast with the Concerto, the Ballade Op. 23—a work of daring originality—received a decidedly mixed reception from American critics and audiences although it was a perennial favorite of pianists. Dwight had found it “full of poetry and meaning” at its premiere, and in 1855, played by Gustave Satter, he described it as “one of the most florid, dreamy, passion-fraught, and difficult of [Chopin’s] compositions [though it] was played with wonderful ease and brilliancy.”[67] But when Satter programmed the Ballade in New York shortly afterwards, a lengthy review in The Musical World said not a word about it. Probably the critic found it too strange at first, like G.W. Fink, who reviewed the work in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung only after five hearings.[68] The New York Times admitted that the “ballad . . . did not impress us so favorably. . . . The individuality of the composer was preserved too tenaciously, and the thin, thought-like outline of his ballad became lost in what should have been the subordinate characteristic coloring.”[69] That critic’s bewildering prose expresses his bewilderment all too well.

That Ballade was the only work prior to the Sonata Op. 35 that reaped broadly negative reactions in America. Strong recorded in his diary, “… gymnastic rather than musical: Truck, … unmeaning sequences of notes to show off a player’s muscle. . . . What idiocy most of our fashionable piano music is!”[70] Carl Wolfsohn’s performance in Philadelphia in 1865 caused “Mercutio” to report that although the work is “replete with beauties, [it] is not, to my fancy, one of [the composer’s] best efforts; why Mr. Wolfsohn should have selected it, I can scarcely imagine. . . .”[71] When Anton Rubinstein played the Ballade in New York in 1872, the audience was less enthusiastic than Dwight’s reporter. He noted the difference between reaction to that piece and to Rubinstein’s arrangement of Beethoven’s March from The Ruins of Athens, a public favorite that he considered “utterly commonplace.” “Compare the applause which follows [the March] with the faint praise called forth by a rendering of Chopin’s Ballade, in which the piano sings like a siren, where the true nature and greatness of the artist are clearly revealed.”[72]

Reference to Op. 23 as a work inspired by the plight of Poland and its emigrés was uncommon in America until Huneker’s book, Chopin: The Man and His Music, appeared in 1900. However, Fanny Ritter, one of the few women writers on music and a person who read widely in the European literature, remarked of the Ballade in 1879 that “every phrase [is] weighty . . . with concentrated anger, patriotic rage, and regret.”[73] By 1890 no audience reserve was noted by the Chicago Tribune when Adele Aus der Ohe gave “an unusually excellent interpretation of this beautiful [Ballade].”[74] Fortunately, the pianists had persisted and by the end of the century the audience, too, found the beauty in Chopin’s adventure.



[1]. The Evening Star, 15 Oct. 1839, p. 2. The little relevant material that can be found about Rakemann is that he had studied with both Hummel and Thalberg. [Back]

[2]. As announced in the program published by the Morning Courier on 15 Oct., 1839, p. 2. Although both the Evening Star and the Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer wrote glowing reminders to their readers to attend the concert, neither paper reviewed it [Back]

[3]. Boston Evening Transcript, 5 Nov. 1839, p. 2. [Back]

[4]. The Musical Magazine vol 23 (9 Nov. 1839) 367. This review was probably by German-born H. Theodor Hach, one of the editors and a close friend of Dwight. [Back]

[5]. John Sullivan Dwight, “Concerts of the Past Winter,” in The Dial, I/1 (July 1840) 129-130. [Back]

[6] Dwight’s Journal of Music, vol. 10 no. 2 (11 Oct. 1856) 14. This recollection was occasioned by Dwight’s article on Thalberg upon his long awaited arrival in New York. [Back]

[7]. Anonymous but possibly by Richard Grant White, Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer, 16 Oct. 1846, p. 2. The Evening Post didn’t mention the piano solo. Fontana’s debut program on January 3, 1846 had included only selections by Liszt, Thalberg, and himself (New York Daily Tribune, 4 Jan. 1846, p. 2). [Back]

[8]. In The Albion, Henry Cood Watson referred to the piece as “variations” (V/42 [17 Oct. 1846] 504). [Back]

[9]. The best discussion of this work is in Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, Muzyka Chopina na nowo odczytana (Kraków: Akademia Muzyczna, 1996) 84-93. In 1860, after S.B. Mills’s performance the New York Times reported that “there are lovely episodes and poetic vagaries in [Chopin’s Fantasie] which demand exquisite delicacy of appreciation to detect and lay bare” (13 Feb. 1860, p. 4). Later, Dwight described the Fantasie as “a work of rare power and beauty, rich in variety and contrast” (DJ, vol. 28 no. 2 [11 Apr. 1868] 222). [Back]

[10]. Edward Downes, “The Taste Makers: Critics and Criticism,” in One Hundred Years of Music in America, ed. Paul H. Lang (New York: G. Schirmer, 1961) 230-44. [Back]

[11]. Henry Edward Krehbiel, The Philharmonic Society of New York (New York: Novello Ewer, 1892) 100. [Back]

[12]. Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong, 1836-1875, 3 vols. (Vol. I, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988; Vols. II and III, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995; 1999) I, 389-90. [Back]

[13]. Evening Mirror, 25 Nov. 1846, p. 2. Watson also praised Timm, for his “feeling” and for his articulation and accentuation that “rendered everything clear to the mind.” A somewhat different review by Watson, but also full of praise for the Concerto and Timm’s performance-characterized by “grace, delicacy, feeling, and expression,” appeared in The Albion, vol. 5 no. 48 (28 Nov. 1846) p. 575. “[Timm] shows his . . . refined taste by performing the works of such masters as Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin.” Watson became a founder of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and by 1846, as a reviewer for the Evening Mirror, The Albion, and the Evening Signal, was a leading music critic in New York (New Grove Dictionary of American Music, ed. H. Wiley Hitchcock, Stanley Sadie [New York: Macmillan, 1986] I, 538). Neither the New York Herald nor the Tribune reviewed that program. [Back]

[14]. Zofia Chechlińska, “Chopin reception in nineteenth-century Poland,” in The Cambridge Companion to Chopin, ed. Jim Samson (Cambridge, Eng: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 209. [Back]

[15]. Letter of 27 March 1830, Chopin’s Letters, ed. Henryk Opieński, trans. E.L. Voynich (New York: Dover, 1988), 76-77. [Back]

[16]. J.S. Dwight, “Musical Review,” The Harbinger, vol. 3 no. 5 (11 July 1846) 76. Dwight also referred to the melodies of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words as “delicious, delicate” (The Harbinger, III/13 [5 Sept. 1846] 218) and to a “fairy kind of Waltz” by the “poetic” Stephen Heller (DJ, II/22 [5 Mar. 1853] 175). According to Judith Tick, around 1900 music of Chopin and Mendelssohn was still categorized as leaning toward the ewige weibliche (American Women Composers before 1870 [Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1983] 227-28). [Back]

[17]. J.S. Dwight, “The Virtuoso Age in Music,” Part 2, The Harbinger, I/24 (22 Nov. 1845) 379. Liszt’s review was published on May 2, 1841 in Revue et Gazette musicale, one of the many journals that Dwight read. [Back]

[18]. Robert Schumann, “Neue Sonaten für das Pianoforte” in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1841; reprinted in Schumann’s Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker, 2 vols., 1854; 5th ed., ed. Martin Kreisig (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914) II, 12-15. Translation of the section on “Chopin’s Sonata” by Henry Pleasants in Robert Schumann: Schumann on Music (New York: Dover, 1988) 173-74. [Back]

[19] Wessel published the pamphlet in 1843; it was reprinted in two parts in DJ, X/8-9 (22, 29 Nov. 1856) 57-59, 66-67. James William Davison displayed a chameleon-like attitude toward Chopin’s works. From a highly critical stance he did an about face (no doubt with compensation in mind) when Wessel, the London publisher of Chopin’s music and of his own arrangements of Chopin, invited him to write the Essay. Ca. 1860 Davison wrote a much less enthusiastic Preface to the complete Mazurkas published by Boosey & Sons of London and in his obituary of Chopin he wrote: “Time will show … whether the high reputation he enjoyed as a composer … was wholly or partially merited, or whether … his genius and influence have been greatly overrated by his immediate circle of admirers” (The Musical World [London] XXIV/45 [10 Nov. 1849] 705). [Back]

[20]. DJ, vol. 28 no. 7 (20 June 1868) 263. [Back]

[21]. The Musical Courier of 12 March 1890 carried an unsigned article, “Chopin’s Virile Side,” intended as an antidote to the widespread impression of femininity in his music (vol. 20 no. 11, p. 227). Based on comparison of its content with some of his later writing, I judge this article to be by James Huneker, who was on the editorial board of the magazine. [Back]

[22]. New York Times, 29 Jan. 1890, p. 4; possibly by William James Henderson, the highly regarded chief music critic of the paper. [Back]

[23]. DJ, vol. 5 no. 26 (30 Sept. 1854) 205. In a casual mention of this Impromptu in 1855, a critic for the New York Times, in a bit of hyperbole, wrote “which five thousand pianists are probably playing at this moment. . . .” (29 Nov. 1855, p. 4). [Back]

[24]. For a discussion and tabulation of dances in sheet music at this time see Mark McKnight, “Morceaux de Salon, Elegant Polkas, and Grandes Variations Brillantes: Instrumental Forms in Nineteenth-Century American Sheet Music,” in Music Publishing and Collecting: Essays in Honor of Donald W. Krummel, ed. D. Hunter (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994) 96-111. [Back]

[25]. Sources for works published include music journals, catalogs, and early editions in libraries (some from private collections). The Marche funebre may have been the most-published of Chopin’s pieces in the U.S. In the 1850s three other publishers brought it out in its original form after Ditson’s of ca. 1846. In 1859 Ditson published a simplified version by the well known arranger G.F. West (DJ, XV/22 [27 Aug. 1859] 176). When the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, died in 1882, Chopin’s March was played at the funeral; this occasioned an edition by an enterprising New York publisher with the title “In Memoriam: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March” by F. Chopin. The earliest simplified solo version I’ve found in a published collection is in Our Heart’s Delight: A Vast Treasury of Choice Vocal and Instrumental Music (Philadelphia: H.J. Smith, 1891). [Back]

[26]. Dwight had been educated at Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School and already had more than a decade of experience writing about music in a number of periodicals. He read widely in European journals, often translating and reprinting important articles from them. He also had an outstanding group of contributors from all the major American cities and from some in Europe. By 24 May 1852 a note in The Sun of Baltimoreacknowledged that the new journal was “gaining much credit for its ability and good taste in musical matters” (p. 2). Dwight’s Journal became the most influential such periodical in nineteenth-century America, providing intellectual leadership in musical matters, including the establishment of substantive music criticism. [Back]

[27]. See DJ, “Works of Great Composers,” I/3 (4 Apr. 1853) 30-31; and Paul Charosh, “‘Popular’ and ‘Classical’ in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” American Music, 10/2 (Summer 1992) 117-135. [Back]

[28]. Franz Liszt, F. Chopin (Paris: Escudier, 1852). It is now widely believed that Liszt’s Polish “companion,” the Princess Caroline von Sayn-Wittgenstein, played at least some role in the writing of the book (e.g., Edward N. Waters, “Chopin by Liszt,” Musical Quarterly, XLVII/2 [Apr. 1961] 170-194, especially 172, 183). [Back]

[29]. E.g. by Finck: “Life and Letters of Chopin,” The Nation, No. 627 (5 July 1877) 11-12; Chopin and Other Musical Essays (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889). [Back]

[30]. DJ, I/3 (24 Sept. 1852) 22. The Daily Advertiser reported that “The performances appeared to be very acceptable to the audience, and many were of much merit” (19 Apr. 1852, p. 2). [Back]

[31]. Compare also Henry T. Finck, Chopin and Other Musical Essays, p. 45. [Back]

[32]. Antoine F. Marmontel, Virtuoses contemporains (Paris: Huegel, 1882) 184-85; also Bertrand Jaeger, “Quelques nouveaux noms d’éleves de Chopin,” Revue de musicologie, Vol. 64 (1978) 86. According to Hélene Klener, Jaëll was admired for his sensitive and soulful playing (“Alfred Jaëll,” Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Friedrich Blume [Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1949-67] VI, col. 1660). [Back]

[33]. Sources for all lists of concert repertoire were the daily press and music journals. [Back]

[34]. DJ, vol. 2 no. 16 (22 Jan. 1853) 125. There seem not have been any other reviews of this concert. [Back]

[35]. Outside of Boston Jaëll had a reputation for playing showy “salon music”; he later “repented” and played more “classical” repertoire (John S. van Cleve, “A Pianistic Retrospect,” MUSIC, Mar. 1892, 510-11). Van Cleve taught piano and theory at the Conservatory in Cincinnati, was music critic for the Cincinnati Commercial, later the News-Journal, and gave many lecture-recitals (Grove’s Dictionary of Music, American Supplement[New York: Macmillan, 1920] 395). [Back]

[36]. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Notes of a Pianist, ed. Jeanne Behrend (New York: Knopf, 1964) xxviii. [Back]

[37]. See also Michael Broyles, “Music of the Highest Class”: Elitism and Populism in Antebellum Boston (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) Chap. 9. [Back]

[38]. According to Dwight, Dresel was “anxiously loyal to an artistic ideal, caring mainly for the music and the master’s thought” (DJ, II/22 [5 Mar. 1853] 175). [Back]

[39]. DJ, vol. 4 no. 13 (31 Dec. 1853) 102. [Back]

[40]. DJ, vol. 3 no. 1 (9 April 1853) 7. [Back]

[41]. Richardson’s Modern School had a long life, finally entering the catalog of Oliver Ditson, probably ca. 1861. In 1859 the author published a simplified tutor, the New Method for the Piano-Forte. Planned for less sophisticated beginners, the little pieces, titled “Amusements,” were chosen with an eye to a much larger market and contained nothing by Chopin. [Back]

[42]. The Musical World and New York Musical Times, vol. 7 no. 13 (26 Nov. 1853) 99. Although this journal received news from many cities in the U.S. and Europe, only the large works performed were named and even those performances were not commented on. See also Downes, “The Taste Makers,” op. cit., 235. [Back]

[43]. An interesting source for what was played in New York is Andrew C. Minor’s Piano Concerts in New York City, 1849-1865, unpublished master’s thesis, University of Michigan, 1947. Boston had fewer opera and symphony performances at this time and Bostonians were more receptive to piano and chamber music than New Yorkers. Indeed, that seems to have been an important reason for Dresel’s choice of Boston as his residence; he felt that his talents and interests would be more appreciated there (David Urrows, “Apollo in Athens,” in American Music, XII/4 [Winter 1994] 350). [Back]

[44]. New York Times, 14 Oct. 1854, p. 4. The critic of the Evening Post went so far as to compare the early Christians-driven to worship in obscure places, with those who love the “great tone prophets, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Beethoven [and] are generally obliged to assemble in obscure nooks . . ., leaving the open concert hall to the … potpourris and fantasias” of the likes of Thalberg and Gottschalk (3 Feb. 1857, p. 2). [Back]

[45]. DJ, vol. 18 no. 18 (2 Feb. 1861) 360. [Back]

[46]. The Musical World and New York Musical Times, vol. 8 no. 15 (15 April 1854) 177. The American-born Willis had studied composition in Germany and apparently had heard Chopin play in Paris. In 1875 a writer for the Baltimore Bulletin described the elegant playing of Von Bülow similarly: he “plays the wild arabesques that Chopin throws around his themes, with such a soft touch, so legato, yet so crisp, that they seem almost to be felt rather than heard” (DJ, XXXV/19 [25 Dec. 1875] 147). [Back]

[47]. The review of Ruch Muzyczny, 16 May 1860, cols. 335-36. Brzowska’s playing in a concert of 11 May 1860, on the eve of her marriage, was effusive in its praise for her versatility of inspiration that “unites . . . performer with composer,” among other things (Ruch Muzyczny, 19 Sept. 1860, cols. 622-23). [Back]

[48]. DJ, vol. 12 no. 8 (21 Nov. 1857) 268. A much later article titled “Karl Klauser” by Leopold Damrosch leads me to believe that Klauser, who had taught at Miss Porter’s School, was the author of the program notes (DJ, XXXI/26 [23 Mar. 1872] 203-04). [Back]

[49]. DJ, vol. 25 no. 12 (2 Sept. 1865) 94. [Back]

[50]. DJ, vol. 39 no. 18 (16 Aug. 1879) 136. [Back]

[51]. DJ, vol. 33 no. 12 (20 Sept. 1873) 96. [Back]

[52]. DJ, vol. 39 no. 5 (22 May 1869) 39-40. The list for the Boston seasons of 1867-69 consisted of the Concertos Opp. 11 (played four times) and 21 (once);” the Impromptu Op. 29, Fantasie-Impromptu, Fantasie Op. 49, Andante spianato Op. 22 (twice) [the list does not mention the Polonaise here]; Rondo Op. 16, Mazurkas, 10 or more; Polonaises Op. 22, Op. 26 (the latter twice); Etudes, 4 at least; Scherzo from Sonata Op. 35 (twice); Scherzo Op. 54, and others; Ballades Op. 23 (twice), Op. 47; Berceuse “Notturnos, Valses, Preludes, etc. &c, &c.” (DJ, XXIX/7 [19 June 1869} 55) [Back]

[53]. DJ, vol. 28 no. 26 (13 Mar. 1869) 415. De la Motte, a native of New Orleans, had studied in Europe and returned to the U.S. in 1853. [Back]

[54]. Zofia Chechliąska, “Chopin reception in nineteenth-century Poland,” op. cit., 212. [Back]

[55]. Carl Wolfsohn gave a Chopin cycle in Philadelphia in one season between 1863 and 1866, which would have included a number of all-Chopin programs (George Kehler, The Piano in Concert, 2 vols. [Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1982] II, 1405). Other such programs include Anton Rubinstein in New York on 19 May 1873 (DJ, XXXIII/3 [17 May 1873] 22); Hans von Bülow in Philadelphia, 1875, and in Boston on 8 April 1876 (Kehler, I, 200, 202); Annette Essipoff in New York on 2 May 1877 (Kehler, I, 357) and Boston on 9 May 1877 (DJ, XXXVII/4 [26 May 1877] 32); Carl Wolfsohn in Chicago on 12 May 1877 (Kehler, II, 1406); Emil Liebling in Evanston, IL in August 1878 (DJ, XXXVIII/11 [31 Aug. 1878] 295; and William H. Sherwood at a Normal Music Institute in Canandaigua, NY on 14 August 1880 with a lecture by Max Piutti (DJ, XC/17 [14 August 1880] 135). [Back]

[56]. The Etude, vol. 6 no. 4 (April 1888) 62. [Back]

[57]. E.g., Henry Cood Watson, Review in The Albion, V/48 (28 Nov. 1846) 575; New York Evening Post, 3 Feb. 1857, p. 2; DJ, XXVI/13 (15 Sept. 1866) 310, 311; J.S. Dwight, “The Intellectual Influence of Music,” in Atlantic Monthly, XXVI/157 (Nov. 1870) 615; William Smythe Babcock Mathews, “On the Use of Studies in Piano Teaching,” The Etude, VI/4 (April 1888) 65. [Back]

[58]. DJ, vol. 30 no. 26 (11 May 1871) 416. [Back]

[59]. In The Etude of June 1884, Presser (the magazine’s publisher) had advertised an imported Complete Piano Works of Chopin, edited by Klindworth and Scharwenka. [Back]

[60]. Morning Courier & New-York Enquirer, 25 Nov. 1846, p. 2; probably by Richard Grant White, a co-editor of the paper. [Back]

[61]. DJ, II/11 (18 Dec. 1852) 86. Cf. Liszt, Chopin, (Paris: Escudier, 1852) 10. [Back]

[62]. Chopin’s other works presumed to be in sonata form were also criticized. A reviewer for the Cincinnati Commercial wrote of the Sonata Op. 35 as played by Edwin Perry: “It was evident that the free, airy spirit of Chopin’s genius felt itself somewhat fettered and imprisoned with the exact and inflexible forms of the sonata, so that the work seemed a singular mixture of two distinct styles-the florid impassioned with the downright thoughtful. Yet the sonata was full of intrinsic beauty” ([2 May 1880] p. 6). [Back]

[63]. From Chicago in DJ, vol. 18 no. 13 (29 Dec. 1860) p. 318. [Back]

[64]. 7 Mar. 1854, p. 6. Fry returned in 1852 from six years in Paris and London as a correspondent for the New York Tribune, then “the most powerful newspaper in the country.” He became its general editor and music critic (New Grove Dictionary of American Music, I, 538). [Back]

[65]. From the Boston Daily Advertiser, 5 Jan. 1872; reprinted in DJ, XXXI/21 (13 Jan. 1872) 164. A review of the Nocturne Op. 48/1, probably by the same critic, in the Daily Advertiser admired its “quiet loveliness,” but called attention to “the perverse oddities of form [!] which mark its latter portions …” (21 Mar. 1873, p. 1). [Back]

[66]. Musical Magazine, (England) July 1835, p. 111. In Germany Ludwig Rellstab, editor of Iris im Geliebte, was a strident critic of Chopin’s music. [Back]

[67]. DJ, vol. 7 no. 1 (7 Apr. 1855) 6. [Back]

[68]. Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, 11 Jan. 1837, cols. 25-26. Interestingly, Georges Mathias recalled in 1897 that neither his father-“a very good musician,” nor he understood much of that Ballade on first hearing. “At that time it was the music of the future” (Mathias’s Préface to Isidore Philipp’s Exercices quotidiens tirés des oeuvres de Chopin [Paris: J. Hamelle, ca. 1897 based on the plate number] VI). [Back]

[69]. Probably by Charles Bailey Seymour, New York Daily Times, 20 Mar. 1855, p. 4. [Back]

[70]. Lawrence,c, II, 561-62. [Back]

[71]. DJ, vol. 24. no. 23 (4 Feb. 1865) 389. [Back]

[72]. From A.A.C. to DJ, vol. 32. no.15 (19 Oct. 1872) [321]. [Back]

[73]. DJ, vol. 39 no. 9 (26 Apr. 1879) 67. Of Op. 38 Ritter repeated what Chopin supposedly told Schumann, that “it was while perusing [Mickiewicz’s poems] that the idea of this Ballade first awoke in his mind” (DJ, 39 no. 10 [10 May 1879] 73). [Back]

[74]. Chicago Tribune, 7 Mar. 1890, p. 4.[Back]


Sandra P. Rosenblum is best known for her book, Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music: Their Principles and Applications, which was selected a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 1989. She has edited sonatas by Scarlatti and Clementi and is the author of numerous journal articles on performance practices in keyboard music of the Classic and Romantic periods, subjects on which she has also lectured widely. Ms. Rosenblum has held two appointments as Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, a Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and has been a grantee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her current research is concerned with the history of performance practices in Chopin’s music as well as reception of that repertoire. Formerly Ms. Rosenblum was on the Music Faculty and was Chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Concord Academy.