Twelve Studies in Chopin

Style, Aesthetics, and Reception

by Maciej Golab (Author)
©2014 Monographs 202 Pages


The studies collected in this book fall into four chief thematic areas of research on Fryderyk Chopin’s life, stylistic changes, creative output, and musical reception. The first one is devoted to the origins of the composer’s artistic formation in the context of his connections with the Main School of Music at the Royal University of Warsaw. The second thematic area is tied to the problem of Chopin’s musical language and transformation of his individual style. The third group of studies concentrates on issues in Chopin’s musical aesthetics, while the fourth and final one is devoted to the questions of composer’s reception in the 19th-century musical culture in light of the practice of musical transcriptions at the time.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Part I. The Origins of Chopin’s Artistic Formation
  • 1. Studies at the Main School of Music of the Royal University of Warsaw (1826–1829)
  • 2. Teaching of Music Theory by Józef Elsner at the Main School of Music of the Royal University of Warsaw
  • 3. On the Fragments of Music from the Last Sheet of the Trio in G Minor op. 8
  • Part II. Chopin’s Musical Language and Individual Style
  • 4. Stylistic Change: from Stile brillante to the Late ‘Synthetic Style’
  • 5. Harmony and Tonality
  • 6. On the Tristan Chord
  • Part III. Chopin’s Music Aesthetics
  • 7. Contribution to Western European Romanticism
  • 8. Imaginatio Crucis in the Last Song Melodia?
  • 9. Polonaise: The Riddle of its Melodic Figure
  • Part IV. Transcriptions of Chopin’s Works
  • 10. Nineteenth-century Transcriptions of Masterworks: An Attempt at Typology
  • 11. Nineteenth-century Transcriptions of the Polonaise in C sharp Minor op. 26 no. 1 for Violin and Piano
  • 12. On Jan Karłowicz’s Concept of the Revolution in Musical Notation (with the Example of his ‘Philological’ Transcription of the Prelude in B Minor op. 28 no. 6)
  • Index of Chopin’s Works
  • Index of Names

← 8 | 9 →Preface

The present book has a meaningful, conceptual title. It ties into Chopin’s set of studies, which differ in their content and musical problems, yet are stylistically coherent. Just as the piano studies group themselves internally into larger entities, the book is a retrospective collection representative of my musicological research. The studies collected in this book fall into the four chief thematic areas of my research on Fryderyk Chopin’s life, creative output, and musical reception. The first of these areas includes studies devoted to the sources of the composer’s artistic formation in the context of his connections with the Main School of Music at the Royal University of Warsaw. Attempts at reconstructing both the programme of the young artist’s compositional studies, and the course in music theory given under the watchful eye of Józef Elsner, are supplemented by a heuristic analysis of the rare Chopin sketches surviving from the Warsaw period on the last autograph sheet of the Piano Trio op. 8. The second thematic area is tied with the problem of Chopin’s musical language and transformation in his individual style. Here, the first paper yields a synthetic ‘take’ of this transformation: from the stile brillante, to the late synthetic style. The second paper constitutes an overview of existing studies in Chopin’s harmony and tonality, while proposing a systematisation of his compositional means in this area. The last paper lets us concentrate on the so-called Tristan chord and its appearance in the composer’s chromatic harmony.

The third group of studies in the present volume concentrates on issues in Chopin’s musical aesthetics. A fundamental question posed in the first study is: what did Chopin have to offer Europe after leaving the still provincial Warsaw? Which elements of his ‘artistic accoutrements’ were to become universal traits, and decisive in this composer’s coming into organic belonging to European Romanticism? Two subsequent papers are thematically related and raise the issue of the Baroque rhetorical figure imaginatio crucis, which appears in some compositions (polonaises, songs) and whose genesis I attempt to discuss assuming various points of view. The fourth and final group of studies is devoted to the questions of Chopin’s reception in nineteenth-century musical culture in consideration of the immensely popular musical transcriptions of the time. In the first study, I undertake an attempt to systematise nineteenth-century transcriptions ← 9 | 10 →of this composer’s works from the point of view of the original works’ degree of transformation. The second study is a comparative analysis of three different transcriptions of the Polonaise in C sharp Minor op. 26 no. 1 for violin and piano (Lipiński, de Groot, Wilhelmj). Finally, the present book’s closing paper reminds us of a little-known project in the creation of a new musical notational system by Jan Karłowicz, resulting in a transcription of the Prelude in B Minor op. 28 no. 6, which in turn invited much discussion in the Warsaw musical press of the nineteenth century’s final decade.

Studies included in the present book were written in the span of around 20 years. They were published in various languages: Polish, German, and English. Their dispersed nature enticed me to collect them into a volume in which I hope the reader will identify the ingredients of a defined methodology in respect to this key Polish composer’s output. I also wish to express my gratitude to the Faculty of Historical and Pedagogical Sciences at the University of Wrocław for its financial support of the publication, all my previous publishers for their permission to retrospectively disseminate their material, and my long-time translators, Wojciech Bońkowski, John Comber, and Maksymilian Kapelański for their conscientious English renderings of my work.

Maciej Gołąb

← 12 | 13 →1
Studies at the Main School of Music of the Royal University of Warsaw (1826–1829)

The fact that Chopin was a student of the Warsaw University remains relatively unknown to historians of 19th-century Polish culture. This is partly caused by the current state of research on the University’s history. Chopin’s name is absent from Rafał Gerber’s biographical dictionary of Warsaw University students,1 the author having followed the incomplete Księga Zapisu Uczniów Królewskiego Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego [Register Book of Students of the Royal University of Warsaw] as his source. Chopin is never mentioned in Józef Bieliński’s fundamental monograph of the University, either, based on the now lost Archive of Public Education,2 although that book provides valuable insights into the formal status of the University’s music department. Chopin’s name is never mentioned in the earlier works of Aleksander Kraushar or Szymon Askenazy,3 nor does it appear in the later book of Maria Wawrykowa.4 Yet 19th-century music history, although ignored by later “political” historiography, already pointed to that nodal point in the biographies of both musicians as well as in the history of the Warsaw University as a whole.

← 13 | 14 →What were the real reasons of overlooking the relations between Chopin, Elsner and Warsaw University?

Primarily, this resulted from the sources. The documentation of the Main School Music was lost in Polish revolutions and not even Erazm Nowakowski, the first historian of higher education in the 19th century, had access to those archives.5 The archive of Józef Elsner, professor of the Royal University of Warsaw and head of the Conservatoire, was also lost, including the texts of his university lectures as well as the grades given to his composition students, who included not only the young Chopin but also a number of other eminent musicians. Moreover, the period in question is poorly documented in Chopin’s letters. The uncertain dating of some Chopin compositions from that time hinders any a precise reconstruction of his tuition with Elsner. The relations between Chopin and Elsner and Warsaw University must therefore be reconstructed from partial sources; as Tadeusz Frączyk remarks, “we do not know the full truth on [Chopin’s] conservatoire studies or his years at the University.”6

Secondly, the reduced interest in this issue arises from the ancient and rather complex administrative and institutional controversy between the direction of the University and two governmental bodies: the Home Commission and Public Education Commission. The controversy concerned the establishment of a musical centre at the new University of Warsaw. The administrative status of the Warsaw Conservatoire was ambiguous, resulting from competence injunctions on a governmental level, as well as its very limited autonomy. Consequently, the Conservatoire’s activities were boycotted by a large part of the professors and administration. That majority did not see room within the University for music theory tuition which the latter enjoyed e.g. at Vilnius University, where lectures were held between 1803 and 1825 by Jan Holland. Therefore, it is a musicologist’s task today to clarify the relations between the Main School of Music and the Royal University of Warsaw, as well as Chopin’s status as a student, and to attempt a reconstruction of his compositional curriculum under Józef Elsner.7

← 14 | 15 →The documented history of musical composition theory at the University of Warsaw begins on 17th November 1818. On that day, Józef Elsner made the first step towards establishing a chair that would make it possible “to lecture music at the university”. He petitioned the authorities to “open a chair of music, which should address thoroughbass, composition and theory of higher music, in the aesthetic aspect.”8 He also postulated the establishment of a Conservatoire with both vocal and instrumental classes. His endeavour must have enjoyed the support of a part of the intellectual and artistic milieu in Warsaw, but also met with strong opposition, since the Institute of Music and Declamation (i.e., the Conservatoire) was only formally inaugurated more than two years later, on 25th April 1821. Moreover, its formal status was very ambiguous, a fact that handicapped this institution for years to come. It was subdivided into a secondary school of drama, subordinated to the Home Commission, and a musical department formally belonging to the Section of Fine Arts of the Department of Sciences and Fine Arts, itself subject to the Public Education Commission. In that Section, Elsner only obtained a nomination for “interim professor”. The Institute, therefore, was an incoherent institution and it is no wonder that it was attached to the University “based on a voluntary agreement between the Home Commission and the Education Commission, despite protests from the University itself”, as related by Bieliński.9

Three institutions to report to are never a good idea. The University protested unanimously and as indicated by Frączyk, “among those who opposed joining music with literature and painting, there were professors of the Department of Science and Fine Arts.”10 Bieliński thus related the objections of Dean Feliks Bentkowski, who went as far as to threaten with his demission: “Which professor will wish to give a lecture when teachers and pupils of the musical school make noise over his head [?].”11 Imposed by the authorities on the young University, the new musical section was if not ignored, then surely marginalised in the first years of its operation. The statute of the Royal University of Warsaw, passed in 1821, did not establish any such Section within the Department of Sciences and Fine Arts. In the yearly reports of the Chancellor, Father Wojciech Anzelm Szweykowski, there was never any mention of the Conservatoire. One exception happened in ← 15 | 16 →1822, when he wrote: “last year, the Musical Conservatoire, in which the youth happily started to develop their talents, was merged with this section [of Fine Arts].”12 The number of students of the Conservatoire was not taken into account within the University’s total, nor was that of Conservatoire lecturers.13

That situation would likely have continued until the University was dissolved, had Elsner not petitioned the University Board in 1824 for music lectures to take place in the University buildings “until [he] obtains the position of ordinary professor”14 (before, lectures had taken place in the convent of Bernardine Sisters on Krakowskie Przedmieście Avenue, now demolished). On 5th August 1824, the University Board referred Elsner’s request to the Government Commission, together with the following statement, signed by Jerzy Samuel Bandtkie on behalf of the Chancellor:

“[The Board] does not know precisely how much that Institute reflects the intentions of the Government, not being informed of students’ enrolments, progressions, or performances, not having any rules laid out for supervision, and not receiving any notifications regarding lecturers or students of that school. In fact, a practical school of this kind should not, for different and equally valid reasons, be joined with the University. Nonetheless, the theory of musical composition may be taught at the University to university students, and in appreciation of Mr. Elsner’s long-time merits, the Board supports his request estimating that it deserves the attention and approval of the Government Commission. Should Mr. Elsner obtain the title of ordinary professor, the Board will put forward a motion that he lecture the theory of musical composition at the University, becoming subject to all obligations binding a professor of the University.”15

The university authorities this time took a much more favourable stance than back in 1821, a fact undoubtedly influenced by the artistic successes of Elsner and his school. The Government Commission approved Elsner’s request and as soon as the following week, on 12th August 1824 (impressive speed of procedures in the 19th century!), sent a nomination for Elsner to become a permanent (ordinary) professor of composition, and Chancellor of the Conservatoire, to the ← 16 | 17 →University Board. On the same occasion, he was also provided with engagements for seven teachers: Józef Bielawski (violinist), Henryk Lentz (organist), Józef Jaworek (pianist), Mikołaj Winen (woodwind), Józef Szabliński (brass), Jakób Bailly (horn), Józef Wagner (cellist), and Walenty Kratzer (singing). From this time onwards, the Index Prælectionum of the Warsaw University included information not only on the theoretical, but also the practical duties of the newly nominated professor of musical composition: “Josephus Elsner Prof. P. Ord. explicabit Theoriam compositionis musicæ alteraquoque hebdomadæ die Jovis, hora 12–1, Compositionem vero musico-practicam tradet in Conservatorio musico diebus Lunæ, Mercuri et Veneris hora 4–6.”16

Over the years, a compromise was reached: the practical curriculum continued to be performed at the former monastery of Bernardine Sisters, (who, in turn, were relocated to a new seat in Przasnysz), thus protecting the university professors from the nuisance of “noise making”, while the lectures in “practical composition” and “music theory in the aesthetic aspect,”17 which together formed the so-called third department of the Conservatoire, were promoted to the rank of university lectures. That progress must have satisfied Elsner who always strived for compositional training to achieve academic status; nonetheless, the administrative position of the Conservatoire as such remained rather vague. With this in mind, the Commission of Public Education sent a motion to Elsner on 22nd July 1826 asking him to draw a project of the final detachment of the Music Section from the Conservatoire, so that the former could satisfy all the requirements of university education. Consequently, Elsner formulated a statute containing 17 articles. That very moment can be considered the final integration of the Main School of Music within the University of Warsaw.

In Article 1 of that Statute, we read: “The Music section of the Department of Fine Arts, under the name Main School of Music, will remain under the supervision of one of the members of the Education Commission”. Article 2: “The Main School of Music will consist of: a) the Chancellor, who will be a professor ← 17 | 18 →of counterpoint and composition, b) a professor of organ playing and practical thoroughbass, c) two teachers of string instruments, d) a teacher of woodwind, e) a teacher of brass, f) two teachers of the clavichord, g) a teacher of advanced singing”. Article 3 discusses the subject matter of studies: “Theory of music, thoroughbass and composition, from the point of view of grammar, rhetorics, and aesthetics, will be lectured as has been hitherto, in one of the university rooms. The same subject matters in the practical aspect, as well as all instrumental teachings, will be given in an appropriate room of the Conservatoire”. Article 4 clarifies the name of the subject matters and the duration of tuition: “All teachings will be spread over a two-year course, excluding that of counterpoint and composition, where graduation may only be obtained at the third year. The last year of this course will be dedicated to practical classes only.”18

Following these gradual changes, on 13th February 1827 the Home Commission released Elsner from his former position of Chancellor of the Conservatoire and consequently, he fully passed to the University as professor and Principal of the Music Section (Main School of Music) within the Department of Fine Arts. From then on, it was Elsner who enrolled new students on the Section, chaired the yearly exams, and reported every six months to the Dean of the Department of Sciences and Fine Arts on the functioning of his School, sending updated student lists and exam protocols. A price to pay for that relative independence of the Main School of Music both with regard to the content of its teaching and its organisational matters was that its graduates did not receive a royal diploma; the latter remained an appanage of students of other sections. When in the fall of 1826, after graduating from the Warsaw Lyceum (although without a “qualification patent”, i.e. maturity exam), the young Chopin joined the Main School of Music, its university status was unquestioned. In the academic year of 1826/27, Chopin was a first-year student, followed by second-year in 1827/28 and third-year in 1828/29.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
Harmonie Musikstil Transkriptionen Kompositionstechnik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 202 pp., num. fig., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Maciej Golab (Author)

Maciej Gołąb is head of the Department of Musicology at the University of Wrocław. He specializes in 19th and 20th century music history and theory, Chopin studies and methodology of musicological research. He is editor of the series Eastern European Studies in Musicology and author of the monograph Musical Work Analysis. An Epistemological Debate (Frankfurt am Main 2008).


Title: Twelve Studies in Chopin