If I could have coffee with Chopin

by Leora Eisenberg, Special to MPR
March 3, 2014

What am I supposed to say to the man who wrote my favorite music? Do I just come out and say it: "How am I ever supposed to be able to play your Fantasie-Impromptu in C Sharp Minor?" Or, maybe, "Who do you think does the best rendition of your Waltz 64 op. 2? Kissin or Rubinstein?"

But that's just silly. (It's Kissin, obviously.) I don't need to invite Frederic Chopin for coffee so that he can answer these questions. You don't invite arguably the most well-known Romantic composer so that you can bombard him with superficial questions regarding the people who try to interpret his music. Better to bombard him with questions regarding the music itself.

Maybe questions like: "Mr. Chopin, what was the driving force behind your creativity?"

He would probably sigh and stir the milk in his cup (he's too delicate to drink coffee). Maybe he would answer that his love affair with George Sand inspired him. Perhaps he would say that his longing for his homeland, Poland, allowed him to compose profoundly emotional pieces. Maybe he'd say that he simply enjoyed making music.

"Mr. Chopin, did you just...intuitively create music? Or did you have to study music theory in order to compose your pieces?" "Well," he would begin, "I would say that I improvise when I write my pieces. However, that doesn't mean that work, time and effort didn't go into them." (On the part of the composer and the performer, I would mutter.)

"The music would just...come to me," he might continue. "But in order to be able to improvise like this, I had to have a thorough knowledge of music. Scales, chords, music theory in general. Improvisation, while it may seem so simple, requires a firm grasp on what you are going to create."

I think for a moment as I look out the window, scanning the passersby for a pale, handsome man who carried himself regally, but looked a little depressed. Another question pops into my mind: "What makes for a good interpretation of a piece of music?"

"A good interpreter," he might reply, "puts her own spin on the music. A poor interpreter blindly plays the music put in front of her, without any personal style or flair."

I smile to myself as I imagine him saying all this. I drum my fingers on the table and then think that would probably annoy him. Where is he?

"Mr. Chopin," I say to myself, "if someone successfully interprets a piece of your music, what makes his interpretation so successful?"

His characteristic smile would play across his face as his eyes would shine just for a moment.

"Do you know whom I respected most? Mozart and Bach. Liszt had talent, but he wasn't the standard. The first step to interpreting well is to know the standard. You must be fluent in every twist and turn the music can give you. Mozart and Bach gave me those twists and turns.

"And then, you must forget the standard and perform. Let the music or the words or the paint — whatever you are interpreting — pulse through you as you yourself become the music for those few short moments that you are playing."

As I muse to myself, a man with black, silky hair enters the shop with a kingly air, and sighs. I take a deep breath and approach him.​

Leora Eisenberg is a tenth grader at Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul. She enjoys doing yoga, learning foreign languages, singing, and experimenting in her kitchen. All while listening to Chopin, of course.

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