“The pen burns my fingers” was Chopin’s excuse for his aversion to writing. Consider, then, this tantalizing line from his lover George Sand’s journal: “Chopin has promised to write a method in which he will deal not only with technique, but with theory. Will he keep his word?”
George Sand also observed that Chopin “speaks little and seldom about his art, but when he does it is with a wonderful soundness and clarity…But even in private he is reserved, and only at the piano does he open his heart.” So did Chopin keep his word?
Well, yes…and no. Chopin did indeed begin a Project de Méthode – a “Sketch for a Method” on the art of piano-playing. Sixteen pages of dense, smuged, and often-illegible words in Chopin’s own hand, chockful of revisions, deletions, and margin-scribblings….and utterly fascinating insights.
Take his introduction: “People have tried out all kinds of methods for learning to play the piano, methods that are tedious, useless, and have nothing to do at all with the study of the instrument. It’s like learning, for example, to walk on one’s hands in order to go for a stroll. Evenutally one is no longer able to walk properly on one’s feet, and not very well on one’s hands, either.”
Later, he writes, “Dear Child, You’ve had excellent lessons in music. You’ve been taught to love Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven. You can sight-read the works of the great masters. You lack only what one calls fingers.” How to get them? Don’t start with the white keys, advises Chopin: “It is useless to start learning scales with C major, the easiest to read, but the most difficult for the hand…Begin with one that places the hand at ease, with the long fingers on the black keys..like B Major.” Chopin’s “Method:” the barest outline of a work both monumentally ambitious and minutely detailed; his Unfinished Symphony. - Benjamin Roe