ROSSINI AND BEETHOVEN
When preparing the Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61 for performance, one is also approaching one of allegedly least performative pieces by the super-pianist-composer Chopin. ‘Performative’ in the sense, that the outline of a score is indubitably and intimately intertwined with a performative practice, if not a performance practice. More than probably any other work by the composer, op. 61 seems liberated and independent from his performing persona. His pianist persona is however still there, as the work is scored for the piano and the piano only, and can be satisfactorily instantiated and realised solely on the piano. Its unique position is all the more noteworthy as Chopin simultaneously was writing pieces in still typically and undeniably performative genres, originating from either traditional folk musical, non-literal forms, as the Mazurkas, or from his own performing merits, above all the presumably unsurpassedly inspired late night raptures of improvisations in the midst of a small, selected circle of friends. By the way, with the genius-dandy Frédéric Chopin, everything was selected, and he thus embodies the classical music culture’s most fundamental, mandatory, self-sustaining and revered premise, in life as in art. 
Regarding Chopin  I understand – or launch – the concept of ‘late style’ to encapsulate both certain characteristics of a group of works, as well as a certain compositional practice, that is: way of composing, a method. As with several other (at least significantly original) composers of the 19th century, one may trace the very Romantic split inwardly in their production, the one coined by Raphael Georg Kiesewetter already in 1834 as the «Rossini and Beethoven style», respectively.  That is: one designated and directed towards a performance, the stage, and the other associated with the motivic and developmental work prototypically inherent in pieces by Beethoven. Scores of the first category are merely sketches for the performer, a manual for a stage presentation; in the second the scores are tantamount to philosophical documents subject to exegesis as texts.  Although the Mazurkas are inextricably tied to an oral tradition of the rural Poland, the «Rossini style» with Chopin simply, and perhaps as expected, manifests itself more unambiguously in operatically influenced pieces, not least imprinted by Italian opera’s la grande melodia as well as its rubati, improvisations and embellishments. As we know, Chopin did not encounter Italian opera and mastersingers only after his arrival in Paris, although he famously attended (as far as he had a chance to) every opera premiere in the Romantic capitol. Anything but a musical province, he could already from childhood on hear most of them in the city of Warsaw. For the rest of his life he kept track of all the great singers of the time, the Italian virtuosi, and enjoyed to share, or maybe even display, his detailed, precise and exact knowledge and judgement about their splendours as well as flaws. Supreme examples of «Rossini style» or off-springs of a such with Chopin, especially in the fashion of the contemporary elegant and light bel canto, are of course the Nocturnes, but even more clearly and unveiled in the early larger works, before his emigration, as in both of the concerti and the virtuoso cantilena style pieces. On the other hand, he constricts himself from implementing more typically operatic staging and role acting in his works, as we find them in Liszt, e.g. in his piano concerti. Liszt’s E flat major concerto is little less than a concise opera with a muted libretto.
The «Beethoven style» also appears relatively early in Chopin’s production, and can – surely understood more as a contrasting principle to Rossini than something related to many of the more specific properties of Beethoven’s œuvre  – be distinctly identified e.g. in the Preludes op. 28, and in fact, and maybe paradoxically, in the two series of Etudes opp. 10 and 25. These are prominently and sui generis directed towards not only performance, but development of technique: the industrial means, tools and technology of performance. On the other hand, they are far from being recipes for stage events, and bear witness to a strong, relentless and almost ascetically orientated structural awareness with the young composer. Beyond reasonable doubt the Etudes also should be understood as compositional studies; however not en route from the apprentice to the full-fledged composer – which he was, long since. But as precision instruments of navigation useful for voyages towards unknown continents.
«Beethoven style», that is, a compositional method and strategy of a predominantly constructional bend, is par excellence a contrapuntal style with Chopin – notwithstanding his almost Wagnerian harmonic refinement, which is arguably more horizontally than vertically driven. His interest and engagement in counterpoint reached an apex at the beginning of the 1840s, where he sought new inspiration by once again plunging into the fugues of Bach, and, besides, the teachings of Cherubini. Importantly, and in this context too often neglected, J. S. Bach forms a significant impulse also of a performative kind for Chopin: Das wohltemperiertes Klavier was practised daily by the composer – and even more intensively prior to public performances (although he never included Bach in his concert repertoire). In other words, pianistic performativity with Chopin is not simply equivalent to lush, improvisatory virtuoso salon style or decorated Italian opera arias only;  it also implies the naked, disciplined and unforgiving art of fugue playing.
His interest for counterpoint and fugue as principles of composition is, if not before, verified by his documented conversations with the painter and friend Eugène Délacroix. Chopin gives a mini-lecture for Délacroix where appoints the fugue to be «the pure logic of music» and postulates, that «knowledge and skills in fuga is to recognise the element of rationality and necessary consequence, which is imp  erative to the art of music.» Délacroix is mesmerised by Chopin’s «scientific way of treating and explaining artistic subjects», and praises highly these obvious connections between art and science – when such are envisaged by «a man like Chopin.» The gulf between the two is then bridged, «rationality is crowned by genius» – this is how he sees his friend and how his art comes about.
But Beethovenianism with Chopin also implies an acute interest for motivic work, strands and relationships, structural identity, variation and coherence – down to the utmost detail. Besides, this method definitely touches upon certain moral issues of work and discipline, or a kind of textual zealousness we most of all are used to associate with the great Viennese composer.  Chopin obviously got many of his ideas from improvising, but for all of the works mentioned here, his working process was slow and meticulous. He was chiseling and polishing over and over. An apparently glaring contrast to claims of an improvisatory method is his statements in the letters to Julian Fontana from Nohant in August 1841. He writes, «Tomorrow you will receive the Nocturnes [op.48], and by the end of the week the Ballade [op. 47] and the Fantasia [op.49]; I cannot polish them enough.» 
‘LATE STYLE’ AND SITUATING OF THE POLONAISE-FANTAISIE IN CHOPIN’S ŒUVRE
The very term ‘late style’ is modernistic and used iconically about Beethoven’s third period (and habitually including both phases of it), with the last five piano sonatas, the 9th Symphony, the Missa Solemnis and the «Galitzin Quartets» as centrepieces. This creates a certain precedence as to how the term should be interpreted, and has since been associated with a homeless style, something displaced or far ahead of its time, profanely apocalyptic, aesthetically fragmentary or a meta-style, that thematises and comments on both style phenomena, and the phenomenon and mandates of art per se. But the term has proved contagious, and the application of the concept of ‘late style’ has, especially via Edward Said’s Neo-Adornism,  been spread benevolently across all art forms and been generously attached to widely different expressions and manifestations, from Michelangelo and El Greco via Goethe to Verdi and J. M. W. Turner, to mention but a few. In their highly critical article «Late Style(s): The Ageism of the Singular», Linda and Michael Hutcheon (with support from Gordon McMullan  and others) attack the entire ‘late style’  discourse as being chiefly a quasi-mythological construct where the devotees appreciate selected pieces of art within a set of predetermined parameters. Whether one appreciates these works or rather consider them to be e.g. results of deteriorating abilities, or mere eccentricities at the best, depends on aesthetic preferences, according to Hutcheon. The article’s approach and position is predominantly psychological and biological-medical, and it harvests its arguments from these fields. Regarding aesthetics and the intrinsic qualities of the actual works, its discussion is much less convincing, or obsolete. In fact, late style is not very much concerned with age or ageing per se. Beethoven wrote his last works as a mature man, not as a geriatric. And what we find to be late style characteristics, or where the notion of late style might serve as an explanatory and descriptive model, in some works of Chopin, can positively not be an offspring of high age. The man was in his mid thirties. However, it is not wrong to say that aesthetic orientations of the kind I describe here, are quite often imbued or accompanied by premonitions of death or perishability. Which does not automatically entail that the artist’s competence and mental abilities are crumbling. As Adorno speaks of interesting examples of «late works without late style»,  we may for Chopin rightly talk about «late style without high age». Maybe less enigmatic than Adorno’s case with Ludwig van Beethoven, but just as interesting.
It may also be objected rather self-evidently, from a chronological point of view, that what I, if so provisionally, call late style with Chopin, is most probably just a beginning of a second, or a middle period. But this does not indicate or point to more than any shift in style or orientation. My arguments for, or more boldly, determination of, a late style are grounded in recognition of a specific blend and web of aesthetical ingredients.
In Chopin’s production, there is a small leap in time after the last Ballade op. 54 to a cluster of opuses listed in his letter to Leipzig in 1846, starting with the Barcarolle op. 60 in Chopin’s supposedly favourite key, F-sharp major (or G-flat major – chiefly due to the fact that it lied so well in his hand, so much for embodiment), that might be said more surely to exemplify something like a late style of Chopin’s. Behind him are a series of pieces that, in the method of writing or compositional approach, are related. In addition to the last two Ballades, the Fantaisie op. 49, the fourth Scherzo in E major, the B minor Sonata and the Berceuse op. 57 belong to the same herd and breed. In between there were several new groups of Nocturnes and Mazurkas. However, in the following two or three years there is much that shows that Chopin was living through a sort of creative crisis, where composition work was going unusually slowly. Chopin the perfectionist allowed nothing to leave him unless it met his sky-high demand for quality, but that does not mean that he could not also compose easily. The Prelude op. 45 was written down in one single spell, and the same applies to several other shorter works. But from autumn 1844 he complains about a certain stagnation, or that he is not happy with what he is creating. According to G. Sand he called what he did «detestable» and «miserable», and a letter home to Warsaw 20 July 1845 shows signs of idleness, distraction and discomfort. He confides that he does not play much, and that this is the fourth time he sits down to finish the letter. It obviously feels somewhat invigorating for him to inform his family that, after all, the B minor sonata and the Berceuse are now out in print, and that the pieces are maybe not too difficult for his older sister Ludwika to play. He evidently recognises the need of another renewal, or to conquer less familiar terrains, overcome new barriers. Or he is teeming with something that still has not found its language.
There are reasons for claiming that already his first Ballade op. 23, psychologically and structurally, is a burgeoning late style, or forms the pathway to it. A wedge, that is enriched by studies of counterpoint and is finally pushed in, breaking open his aesthetic universe in the middle of the 40s. The piece is heroic-pessimistic, urged by a sense of loss and forebodings about his ill-fated homeland, having just been left behind. The composer is throughout his life apparently governed by disparate affinities and creative drives, not to say rules. In pressured and changing times, it is as if he makes contact with aesthetically deep structures that at times he truly experienced as his ‘true path’ – a concurrence with his aesthetic conscience. As suggested above, the technique applied in op. 23 can also be seen in the light of his innovations in the two collections of Etudes, opp. 10 and 25, which chronologically frame its origin, and the «Revolutionary Etude» is perhaps a part of the same narrative as the Ballade. A similarly concentrated energy also characterises several of the Preludes op. 28, but Chopin’s new sense of form appears to break through in op. 23.
After the mid-40s, there are hints to believe that Chopin identifies himself to a considerable degree with the work of a mathematician or a scientist and associates this especially with a contrapuntal technique that now asserts itself more than ever, and that this is precisely an expression of the most genuine and deep principles («eternal principles», cf. the conversation with Delacroix), and therefore also the most enduring and (most universally) valid.  In the meantime he had given birth to the Barcarolle op. 60, the Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61 and two Nocturnes, op. 62, as well as the Cello Sonata op. 65.
The Barcarolle is a superb demonstration of Chopin’s talent to unfold an apparently inexhaustible compositional imagination within a strict framework. The piece also stands out in the way that it is homogenous in its basic character – given through the rolling 12/8 rhythm – but at the same time full of surprising episodes and wide-ranging modulations. Typical polyphonic techniques such as canon and stretto are made use of, in accordance with accepted practice, particularly in the concluding section, and the harmony is riddled with chromaticism, as in the F minor Ballade. The Barcarolle is performatively related to the following Polonaise-Fantaisie: Both pieces are notoriously hard to present effectively and convincingly, although for slightly different, or in fact partly opposite, reasons.
One may ask whether Chopin with op. 60 has yet reached the final or possibly second phase of his late style. It depends on the criteria. But when we arrive at the Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61, one is unequivocally dealing with a work, which, in quite a different dimension and in quite a different way from its predecessors, fills the criteria of the established (and Modernisticly inspired) idea of late style. The piece has an up until then unheard polynomial narrative structure, although Chopin experimented with the polonaise form in both opp. 44 and 53 (as early as the F-sharp minor Polonaise he was in doubt about whether he should call it Polonaise or Fantaisie). In particular it is the middle sections of these, which are irregular and where one sees a desire to blend the genres. Nevertheless one may speak of an overall ternary form, ABA (an extended Lied-schema – as with a majority of Chopin’s compositions, including the Etudes). Op. 61 abandons it; the piece may rather be regarded as a broadened B section where elements of A are pressed in – thus twisted, with the inside out. At first hearing the work is quickly perceived as formless and disjointed, or at any rate rhapsodic. The different sections or segments – to which I will return more in detail below – can loosely be defined as an improvisatory style, impro-polonaise, polonaise, ballade-polonaise, mazurka-ballade etc., but the identities are ambiguous. A particular trait in Chopin’s late style as expressed here is his desire to broaden and lengthen unstable sequences – and on several levels. Likewise he creates expectations that are not fulfilled and cultivates the fragmentary. In other words it is a work that makes itself, the music, and terms of style or genre the subject of debate – or on the whole makes the art’s ability for completion problematic.
The language is, however, stripped down to essentials, and op. 61 is in truth not only one of the most unadorned pieces Chopin ever wrote, but also one of the most consistent. To discover this one ought to follow Chopin’s own advice about going to the analysis: «Any work selected for study should be carefully analysed for its formal structure, as well as for the feelings and psychological processes which it evokes.»  Op. 61 can at first glance appear as a sprawling, chaotic patchwork; it is definitely an ‘impure text’. But it is also translucent. A conspicuous interplay between unveiling and concealing, disclosing and bewildering is here maintained as his aesthetic strategy. The C-flat of the opening (enharmonic with B natural) instead of C as the third of the chord of A-flat, forms a gateway to understanding the harmonic development of the whole work. The intervals and small set motifs that make up the original cells in several of the Ballades, most obviously in the third, also form the building blocks here: third, fourth, second (plus the sixth). In variable order. This is so striking that one may speculate whether behind, or as a basis for most of the opuses mentioned of above, there lies an Urstück. Which – in so far as Chopin is in touch with this aim – could only manifest itself in ever new aspects and individual works.
It is fair to assert, then, that the Polonaise-Fantaisie in particular, is «Beethovenian.» And even late style Beethovenian; abstract, austere. In this sense it is also open-ended, by virtue of having the quality of the unfinished. This does not contradict the work’s superb structural coherence; the presence of the unfinished is more attached to its predilection for the unstable and the fragmentary, its many contrasting moods and genres and the joints and tricky transitions between them. The examples are numerous: Already the opening chords and quasi arpeggios are left with question marks; then comes the first intervention of the polonaise, and likewise a foreboding of the work’s main theme as well some of its conflicts, ending in nothing (b. 5-6); shortly thereafter at the introduction of the polonaise ordinaire (b. 21-22) – although it can be questioned whether it is (see below). The transitory pains and ambiguities are often augmented and extended, as in the double-third passage (b. 52-55), and of course the famous unhinged, immanently polyphonic semiquaver combination of minor seconds and octaves introducing the B major middle section, which again are preceded by unbearably insisting and struggling minor sevenths (b. 128-144). Eventually we are left weightless and directionless at the non-gravitation point before the return into the atmosphere, as it were, – that is, before we are sucked into the maelstrom of the coda (b. 221-225).
If the works of late style are leaking subjectivity through their fractures, cracks and fissures (freely after Adorno), op. 61 testifies to a lot of subjectivity. The piece has globally speaking got its point of the absolute zero (b. 180), where everything just seems to stop or freeze, or where the known concepts of romantic dramaturgy are suspended. This also, interestingly, if not decisively, coincides with the nombre d’or (golden section, here calculated just by bar numbers, not by e.g. musical or expressive weight or density). This bridge from the B major middle section to retrospect polonaise fragments, first in G sharp minor, forms the Polonaise-Fantaisie’s definite concave focus, its negative, formal accent and caesura; here it turns its inside out:
Die Zäsuren aber, das jähe Abbrechen, […] sind jene Augenblicke des Ausbruchs; das Werk schweigt, wenn es verlassen wird, und kehrt seine Höhlung nach außen. Dann erst fügt das nächste Bruchstück sich an, vom Befehl der ausbrechenden Subjektivität an seine Stelle gebannt und dem voraufgehenden auf Gedeih und Verderb verschworen; denn das Geheimnis ist zwischen ihnen, und anders läßt es sich nicht beschwören als in der Figur, die sei mitsammen bilden. 
Op. 61 may superficially seem deconstructionist by virtue of its fragmentary or heteroglossic character. But its real deconstructionist feature is its watching from aside, its self-critical strategies. Also in this it shows to be Beethovenian, as we may find this quality even in early works of the Viennese composer. Kramer points to the emphatic difference between Mendelssohn’s «Spring Song» and the violin sonata by Beethoven also dubbed «Spring» (Op. 24).  The first character piece depicts and epitomises the bourgeois garden, content and complacent within its own limits, whereas the sonata immediately after the idyllic and harmonious opening phrases, chivalrously handed over to the piano by the violin, starts questioning, even doubting, itself. The work simply instigates and enters a «Spring sonata discourse». The same with the Polonaise-Fantaisie: It initiates – even in the Foucaultian sense – a discourse of its own, and on its own and late style’s behalf. Its statements oscillate triangularly between declarations, negations and reflections.
Last, but not least, the historical location of the Polonaise-Fantaisie is lacking neither actual importance nor symbolic poise. And it is a historical portrait with a double exposure. Firstly, op. 61 was written and published close to the very middle of the century, where we experience a noticeable shift in ideals and attitudes in social as well as cultural life. As we have seen, Chopin testifies to the shift himself, in his fascination for natural sciences. Op. 61 might be seen as a transitory piece, or rightfully homeless. At least we have so far provided it a lodging in the paradigm of homelessness of late style. But maybe it doesn’t even belong there. Slightly melodramatic we could claim that it is caught up in the abyss between the poetic and the positivist half of the 19th century.  Somehow, then, it suggests a counter-alternative to the Wagnerian trajectory towards phantasmagoria. Had Chopin lived on, we might have seen the dawn of a «realistic Romanticism», increasingly and unbashfully embracing the mindset of the sciences – although a composer like Brahms to some extent, and in his own fashion, took on the assignment. Hence, the poetry of the op. 61 is removed and indirect, of another kind – and if not of another world, probably of another style. Performers are often searching for it, and just as often they look for it in the wrong places. That is, it is not in family with the early century’s poetic idioms as we find them in miniatures and charming character pieces, beautiful slow movements and ravishing melodies, lush sound and lyrical orchestration, or in Lieder. It is impalpable, ambiguous and somehow barren; sometimes it appears with a strangely acrid after-taste, and frequently it is experienced as a dream or a memory, as a witness to something that has already been, like rubbles of poetry, memorials of bygone beauty.
This leads to the second and more private exposure of the historical portrait, and also to a final argument for the presence of late style. «The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence. […] In my end is my beginning,» says T. S. Eliot in his arguably late style cyclic poem Four Quartets. Also the Polonaise-Fantaisie is cyclic in terms of biography and artistic merits. It consummates a journey and a generic development starting with a feeble compositional attempt of an unusually gifted seven years old boy in Warsaw: A little polonaise in G minor.
TEXT AND ‘TEXT’ – SOME CONSIDERATIONS
«There is but one school: The German,» Frédéric Chopin once remarked, primarily with reference to various styles of playing – but probably also education, or teaching of piano playing.  No doubt, his line was, as usual with him, communicating a multilayered message, and not unlikely of a subtly sarcastic kind. Certainly he pointed to some aesthetical preferences and priorities and pedagogical methods, but just as much that the Germans tended to treat any musical, artistic and performance-related subjects in a systematic (or negatively, schematic) way, that is: scholarly. Whether op. 61 is predominantly Beethovenian or not, let us proceed in a Teutonic manner. After having assumed on a general basis that op. 61 is situated at the core of the literal and textual Chopin, the editorial issues come afore. As for the first editions and autographs, these are discussed exhaustively in Henle’s text critical Urtext edition from 1970.  To construct a complete edition (as Henle aspires at), one needs to lean on both of these first publications as well as on Chopin’s manuscripts. Of particular interest is the way he corrected the Paris edition (Schlesinger/Brandus) before the work travelled on to Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig (although they were out for sale almost simultaneously). From Brandus he would habitually ask for two proofs, but never from Breitkopf.  Obviously, he would like to consider the German edition as final. Maybe he then had a sense of the work having left him for good, – abroad and beyond control, cf. «I declare that I have ceded this property to the said firm for all times and for all countries including Russia and excepting France and England.»  The corrections give us an idea of Chopin’s relationship to both composing and notation, and what emphasis he attached to (the exactitude of) expression signs and articulation etc. Some of his corrections are of wide-reaching importance, like the placement of the hairpins (crescendo and decrescendo signs) for the two seemingly identical passages, although in different keys, in b. 92–93 and 97–98, respectively. The discrepancy occurs in the last of these couple of bars. In the Paris edition it says diminuendo (later replaced by a hairpin) in the first passage, and this is simply just replicated in the second. Whereas in the Leipzig edition, they are different: In the latter it shows a crescendo towards the top and the downbeat (which also makes it an appoggiatura). Leipzig, and Paris: