Mrs Plynska and the Secret of Chopin

Title: Mrs. Plynska and the secret of Chopin

Original Title: Madame Pylinska et le secret de Chopin

Author: Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

Publishing House: Humanitas fiction

Number of Pages: 120

Cover Type: Paperback

Today I went again to Carturesti Carusel with a friend who’s new in town to show him around. As usual, I couldn’t come empty handed and came back with no less than twelve books.

What is even more special about this is that seven of them are written by whom I can call my favourite author, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. This article is about a book that I devoured in about three hours: Mrs. Plynska and the secret of Chopin.

Unfortunately, lately it has been very difficult for me to read because of a very busy schedule. Life doesn’t always treat you right from this point of view. I can’t complain though, I love what I do, and even during this nasty pandemic I get to exercise my passions. And luckily my job is dedicated to one of the other things I love (for those who don’t know, even though I am a book worm I work in the technical field).

The book I read today is presented from an autobiographical point of view. Although I haven’t found any references online about the existence of Mrs. Plynska in the life of the author or about him playing the piano, the story was presented in a pretty realistic way. Also, taking into account that he has written before from an autobiographical point of view in Night of Fire, I tend to believe that this might be also part of his life experience. One thing that might sustain this theory is the interview he gave for Le progrès, in which he mentioned the following:

Yes, I also wrote a book about Mozart, and one about Beethoven. Music is indispensable for my interior life. Through it I am reborn, I get comfort or I express my distress. Music has an incredible spiritual and emotional influence towards me. I can spend a day without writing or reading, but not without listening or making music. I breath through my ears.

I find this passage pretty interesting and revealing. Taking into account that he is a writer and a philosopher, it is actually curious to hear that he spends more time with music than with writing/reading. Yet again music can have that effect on us.

Getting back to the book, the author introduces us to his first interactions with a piano, when he was a child and was listening to his sister learning how to play it. He first thoughts about it was that it is a parasite meant to torment him. But as his sister learned how to master it, he learned how to love it until he could no longer stay without learning how to play it.

His first years of learning were good, but didn’t make him a good pianist. But as he moved to Lyon he met a Polish woman, Mrs. Plynska, who would give learning some other taste. From picking flowers without spilling the dew and throwing grains into the water to watch circles form to study how the wind blows through the leaves, he started to feel the music, not only play it. It was then when he started actually play better.

The most beautiful thing about this book I think it is the parallel that is made between music and love. Like they are interdependent, like they cannot exist separately. One cannot play until he loves nature, until he feels the wind, until he listens to the silence. What is silence in the end? Is the cause why we actually have music. Music cannot exist if we don’t have silence. Music starts from silence.

Actually this idea reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend a long time ago. Actually I don’t even remember with whom I had this conversation, but it was such a mind blower for me that I don’t think I will ever be able to forget it. And the discussion was that light cannot exist without the dark. Dark is the precondition for light, and light can only be appreciated when you are in the darkness. It is not a very complicated idea, and it is also pretty logical, but who spent time actually thinking about this? We usually take things for granted. I think the same thing goes with music. We need to “listen” to the silence before we can hear the music.

As I mentioned before, the emphasis is made on the connection between love and music. One cannot feel music until he feels love. Only the feeling of love and dedication to one person can make you understand the sounds dancing like waves and blessing your soul. But what is love? In one of the passages, Mrs. Plynska mentiones the following:

You do not actually love unless you are not in love

– page 46

Can love and passion actually be so different? Can they coexist or one cannot exist in the presence of the other? I once believed that love cannot exist without passion, but in time I learned that passion is just a temporary thing that dies with time. And what stands afterwards is real love and respect towards the one next to you. Because you love someone not for some chemical reaction that runs through your veins but for the person that one is, and the joy one can bring to your life. And I know I keep thinking about what the other one can bring to you, but I think I am not wrong when saying that life in its essence is selfish. Why? Because everything we do is for some sort of benefit. Even if it is financial, physical or emotional benefit. Even the ultimate act of sacrificing for one is done at the thought that you cannot bear the thought that someone you love gets hurt. So it is again in an intrinsic way selfish. Actually there is a lot of debate online on this subject and, according to express.co.uk, there have been studies proving this.

There was also a reference in the book that somehow sent to the same idea:

– At 28 years old, Callas was having around 100 kg and couldn’t even see the bandmaster of the orchestra. This is why she was singing perfectly. By addressing her voice to the shadows – so to the entire world -, she was glowing like an obese who wanted to charm people with her voice. Then, when she lost weight, she proved to be seductive. The whale was hiding a Venus. Only that this thing facilitated the catastrophe, the fatal slope…

– Did the diet ruin her voice?

– It ruined her soul. Thin, slim with wonderful forms, she could seduce in some other way. Rival of the most beautiful models, the artist shadowed herself, no longer being necessary. Callas the ugly was singing sublime. Callas the gorgeous less and less well. She was lacking the lack.

– page 90

Ignoring the weight discrimination here, we can see the connection between wanting to please and the way one sings. The ultimate goal was to make people like her. As long as she didn’t have her body to do this, she would work as hard as she could to conquer their hearts with their voice. As it was no longer necessary, her objective could have been fulfilled some other way, so redundancy was eliminated. I did not listen to Maria Callas neither before nor after she has lost weight, probably because she died 14 years before I was born, so I cannot state whether the affirmations of Mrs. Plynska were accurate or not. Even if I would have, I don’t think I would be able to point out the difference since my musical experience cannot compare to the one of a specialist. I can only talk about my opinion over Mrs. Plynska’s words.

In the end I would like to leave you with a passage that touched my heart, as it sums up all the lessons that Schmitt has learned from Mrs. Plynska, music related or not, and as it displays also the heart warming feelings he had for Mrs. Plynska, in the most respectful way we can describe them, despite their tumultuous relationship at the beginning:

I write caressing the flowers in the field without moving the drops of dew. I write by making circles in the water, for waiting the amplification of the waves and their disappearance. I write like a tree moved by the wind, with the stump of intelligence remaining firm and with the leafage of the sensitivity flaring. I write with the good feeling and the relaxation after the act of love, watching my characters deep in the eye. I try to live this way, tasting every second, enjoying the melody of the days, absorbing each note.

– page 118

I think this is the most complete way to describe the secret of Chopin: the love.

© picnicontheshelf, November 29, 2020

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