Frederic Chopin was alone among the great composers in that he made his living almost entirely from teaching piano.
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 grand, on which the student played, and a small cottage upright, at which the master sat and demonstrated.
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.
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 money.
By John Aschenbrenner Copyright 2000 Walden Pond Press. Visit http://www.pianoiseasy.com to see the fun PIANO BY NUMBER method for kids.
John Aschenbrenner is a leading children's music educator and book publisher, and the author of numerous piano method books in the series PIANO BY NUMBER.