Frederic Chopin : gender as a factor in reception.
Frederic Chopin's contemporaries took note of his preference for a piano with a light escapement. They commented that his method of playing was light in touch, and that his demeanor on stage contrasted strongly with that of other performers who were outwardly expressive. Although his performances enjoyed support from some members of his society, most contemporary commentators viewed his performances negatively. His performances were seen as deficient when they were contrasted with those of others, and especially those of Franz Liszt. Some of Chopin's contemporaries saw his playing as feminine and contrasted his works with those of Beethoven, whose works seemed to them to express masculinity. Negative assessments of Chopin's works also appear in later critical and musicological literature. In 1889, the music critic Henry T. Finck suggested that the desire of French, Polish, German and Viennese audiences for what he called "aesthetic jumboism" was detrimental to Chopin's popularity. It is my thesis that smallness has been, and often still is, associated with femininity and that those pianists and authors who advocated largeness - however defined (be it 'grand,' 'healthy,' 'forte,' or 'masculine') - were afraid that Chopin's refined pianism and the "small" aspects of his compositions might be used as evidence that Chopin was not strictly heterosexual. Largeness seems to have been linked in a number of ways to heroism, and it seems that smallness was seen consequently as lacking in heroism. Thus, musicians and musicologists have criticized his works for their lack of complexity and length and for the nature of their melodies, characteristics that I show to have been associated with both size and masculinity. For example, in 1986, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger analyzed Chopin's compositions in a way that seems to me to reveal Eigeldinger's own search for complex underlying forms. This search appears to be an attempt to illustrate that Chopin was intellectually 'heroic' because he could match the organic unification that some musicologists find in the works of other great composers. While the nineteenth-century development of the piano into a powerful concert instrument undoubtedly reflected the changing nature of concert venues and audiences, since recitals moved from the salon to the concert hall, the changes in design could also been seen as reflecting an ever-increasing desire for largeness. The forcefulness and consequent loudness with which Chopin's music was played on these larger pianos might well have caused (and could still be causing) some pianists' physical problems. Jeffrey Kallberg has analyzed an array of gender-oriented metaphors in relation to Chopin's possible gender-ambiguity, wishing to remove the veil of suspicion that surrounds smallness. It is my argument that a veil of suspicion is indispensable when analyzing the language that people have used to describe their experiences with music, because they have used language to express their preferences for certain kinds of experiences. Thus I attempt to show that during the hundred and fifty years since Chopin's death, both pianists' performance practices and musicological discourse have attempted to cleanse Chopin's music from its associations with smallness and, consequently, with femininity.