Chopin´s artistry and his illness.
Did Chopin´s fateful disease, and his instinctive understanding of its poor prognosis, influence his musical artistry?
Generally spoken, the relation between an artist´s life and his work has been very much discussed. Concerning Chopin, Franz Liszt wrote that he used his art to reflect on the tragedy of his life. This is, certainly, not true for all his works, but it is undeniably so, that it seems relevant for some of them.
Chopin composed some works that carry a very special, dark and emotional intensity that goes far beyond the musical conventions of the time. Examples are some of the Préludes, especially those in A minor, E minor and B minor Op. 28. Another amazing example is the last movement of the Sonata in B flat minor, about which Robert Schumann said that it was not music at all. Some of these works were undoubtedly composed when Chopin was struck by an awareness of his mortal illness, for example in Majorca 1838.
During the 1840s when Chopin was fighting more and more desperately against his illness, we also notice a dramatic change in his musical style. The beautiful melodies are becoming fragmented, the conception of form is more improvisatory and the harmony still more audacious. One poignant example is the Polonaise-fantasie where Chopin also is mixing two genres. Another remarkable piece, presumably from his last year, is the Mazurka in F minor Op. 68 No. 4 where the advanced harmony is built on extreme chromatics and the melody is remarkably fragmented.
The other relation between Chopinís artistry and his illness is easier to demonstrate - that between the pianist and his illness. Chopin never had the great force in his playing, as for example Franz Liszt. Chopin´s dynamically weak playing became still more recognizable in the 1840s when his illness progressed. During the last years several people witness that Chopin no longer could follow his own dynamic instructions - where he had written fortissimo he played piano. The lack of dynamic force was compensated with a playing style, which was a miracle of fine nuances, shadings and rhythmic liberties. All this made his playing unforgettable and impossible to imitate
2005. Vol. 62, 321-325 p.