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This Other World

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Twenty-one-year old Frédéric Chopin was discovering a galaxy of famous musicians of the day when he wrote to a friend back in Poland in December 1831:

Paris is whatever you want it to be. You can entertain yourself, be bored, laugh, cry, do whatever you want and nobody notices you because thousands of others are doing the same thing you are, and everyone follows his own inclinations. I don’t know where else you can find so many pianists– so many dolts and so many virtuosi.

I came here with very few introductions…but in Stuttgart, when I received the news about the taking of Warsaw, I made up my mind to migrate to this other world. Through Päer, who is court composer here, I have met Rossini, Cherubini, Baillot, etc.–and also Kalkbrenner. You can’t imagine how curious I was about Herz, Liszt, Hiller, etc. They are all zero compared to Kalkbrenner. I admit that I have played like Herz, but aspire to play like Kalkbrenner.

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If Paganini is perfection, Kalkbrenner is his equal, but in a very different style. It would be hard to describe his calm, charming touch, his incomparable evenness, and the confidence that he showed in every note. He’s a giant walking over Herz and Czerny and all–and over me.

What can I do about it? When I was introduced, he asked me to play something. I would’ve preferred to hear him first, but, aware of how Herz plays, I put my pride in my pocket and sat down. I played my E minor…I amazed Kalkbrenner, who asked me at once if I was not a student of John Field, because I have Cramer’s method and Field’s touch. That delighted me. I was even more pleased when Kalkbrenner, sitting down at the piano and wanting to do his best, made a mistake and had to stop! But you should have heard it when he started again. I had never dreamed of anything like it.

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