You could actually take piano lessons with Frederic Chopin, if you had social class and enough cash.
His students were a mix of great artists and the daughters of the upper classes.
He made his living almost entirely from teaching piano, alone among the great composers in that he made his living solely from teaching.
During the period around the 1840’s he was the most famous piano teacher in Paris, largely because he was also one of the most famous and beloved composers in the world.
His roster of students contained many great and good pianists, among them Mikuli, who became the editor of Chopin’s printed piano music.
Chopin taught at home in a lavish, well appointed studio.
It contained two pianos: one beautiful Erard concert grand, on which the student played, and a small cottage upright, at which the master sat and demonstrated. The master was always fastidiously attired in the latest fashions and had a passion for perfectly white gloves, as well as a four-horse team at the ready should he wish to go visiting the upper class.
The master instructed his students to seek out and play only the finest pianos, as he thought playing on inferior instruments ruined a good finger technique. His emphasis at first was on relieving the tension found in many students’ hands.
There is the famous story of the English millionaire who sought to unlock the secret of the sublime G minor Ballade. “I’ll pay you 10,000 pounds if you will show me the secret of the Ballade.”
Chopin chuckled and said, “Play it for me.” The millionaire offered his rushed, overly emotional rendition of the famed concert warhorse.
Chopin then took the money with a sly smile, and delivered his advice: “Relax.”
The point being, Chopin’s music is tremendously difficult, and, on top of this, you have to be completely loose and relaxed.
He began at eight in the morning and taught all day. This was because, as he said, “All those white gloves cost money.” He was a dandy and fastidious dresser, and traveled only in the highest echelons of Paris high society, where he was in constant demand both as pianist and personality.
To the talented student, he was both inspiring and confusing. Giving great advice was his stock in trade, but one student pointed out that, “The master is so confusing. He demonstrates how I should play, but every time he plays a piece, it is completely different!”
To the untalented, he could be cruel. Many of his students were titled young ladies of very high social standing but little talent who took lessons from Chopin because they could afford to and because it conferred social status to study with such a great master.
But his assistant, Mikuli, noted many times when these rich young ladies would be reduced to tears and run away in horror because the master had criticized their playing most harshly.
Rich or poor, at the end of the lesson the student put their payment in gold on the mantelpiece, while the master discreetly turned his back.
Great masters do not tarnish their hands with your money until your back is turned.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press