Harmonic Parenthesis in Early Chopin

Research Article by Michael Rector

University of Melbourne

Context 49 (2023): 1–31

Published online: 14 Mar. 2024


In a well-known journal entry—from April 1849, the year of Chopin’s death—Delacroix describes a day spent with the composer saying, ‘he talked to me about music, and it revived him.’ The journal makes the two men appear intensely sympathetic. Delacroix relates an artistic credo that he attributes to Chopin, but could equally apply to himself: ‘[Art] is reason itself, adorned by genius, but following a necessary path and contained by higher laws.’ In contrast to contemporary critics, who tended to emphasize Delacroix’s use of colour and loose brushwork to label him ‘romantic’, the painter thought of himself as a classicist continuing a tradition represented by the Renaissance masters and Peter Paul Rubens. Similarly, Chopin idolised Bach and Mozart. Later in the same entry, Delacroix shares the composer’s critique of Beethoven; unlike Mozart, ‘he turns his back on eternal principles.’ The boundary between Enlightenment and Romantic ideas is more porous than easy periodisation implies; Chopin and Delacroix are not the only nineteenth-century artists whose work is sometimes more productively understood as an evolution rather than a repudiation of eighteenth-century practices. In the present article I will examine a quintessentially Chopin-esque harmonic device as a development of a technique found in Beethoven.

Download PDF

DOI: https://doi.org/10.46580/cx56246