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Frederick Niecks' biography of Chopin

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Oil painting of Frederick Niecks, author of a comprehensive Chopin biography (1888).Research updated 8 February 2014
Frederick Niecks (1845-1924) is the author of the first comprehensive biography of Chopin.  He was an unknown German viola player and organist in Dumfries, Scotland, when he worked on the Chopin project in the 1879-1890 period:  The Life of Chopin - Frederick Chopin As a Man and Musician.¹

In 1891, Fr. Niecks became Reid professor of music at the University of Edinburgh.  According to the press, it was an "indirect" result of the Chopin biography of 1888.²  Niecks, born in Düsseldorf and having retained his German nationality, had to return to Germany when World War 1 broke out in 1914.

Nevertheless, the biographer Niecks of 1888 is inaccurately called "Professor Niecks" by scholars from James Huneker to Arthur Hedley and by PG ebooks.  In 1987, a book by a well-known musicologist misrepresents Niecks as a "Scottish musician ... of German extraction".

Frederick Niecks:  The Life of Chopin -
Frederick Chopin As a Man and Musician

This two-volume Chopin biography was published in English by Novello, Ewer & Co.in both London and New York in 1888, 1890 and 1902;  and in German by F.E.C. Leuckart in Leipzig in 1890.  It was then unprecedented in format, information sources, detail, etching, volume, multinational distribution, and four rapid editions including the German translation. - It must have boosted Chopin's reputation.

Patron of the biography:  Jenny Lind

In the preface, Frederick Niecks names Jenny.Lind-Goldschmidt (1820-1887) among his few surviving "chief sources of information".  Icons of Europe's research shows that many of the other chief sources had known or been dependent on the wealthy and influential Jenny Lind (e.g. Lindsay Sloper), and that she commissioned Niecks and her Novello friends for the Chopin biography project.³

The title "... As a Man" sounds like a pun on the depth of Jenny Lind's relationship with Chopin - a subject expanded with: "... he had made the best possible impression upon her [Jenny Lind], not only as an artist, but also as a man" (vol. 2, p. 284).

Flawed sections of the biography
Icons of Europe's research also shows that Frederick Niecks' sections on 1841-1849 and the posthumous years are flawed with half-truths, hearsay, misinformation, omissions, hints and puns.

He also insists that Chopin only gave lessons in piano and omits to say that Chopin taught the Art of Singing since late 1832, apparently based on Manuel Garcia, Sr's method.  These sections have later been cited and sometimes 'adapted' by various writers, sowing significant and lasting inaccuracies in Chopin literature.

Apparently covering for Jenny Lind's doings, Niecks often misrepresents or plants.confusion about events involving.Jane Stirling, George Sand (e.g. Lucrezia, 200 letters), Delfina Potocka and other people (e.g. Chopin's funeral).  He sometimes cites 'witnesses', who were not present at the events (e.g. Liszt in 1849).  No.information has been found on whether Niecks could speak French with witnesses in Paris.

Frederick Niecks makes scant reference to Jenny Lind in the biography - in contrast with Chopin's upbeat letters about their many private meetings in 1848-1849, and with Niecks' preface naming her among his "chief sources of information".

Jenny Lind's Memoir 1820-1851 of 1891, edited by her German widower and also published widely in a similar format, is equally scant with information about Chopin.  It includes fabricated information on 1848-1849 and on Mendelssohn.


Etching of Fryderyk Chopin by Teofil Kwiatkowski;  from Frederick Niecks' biography of Chopin.

Etching of Chopin (1810-1849) by Teofil Kwiatkowski placed opposite the title page of Frederick Niecks' elaborate biography of Chopin.


Fryderyk Chopin Institute has recent had Niecks' biography of Chopin translated into Polish.
  It apparently still misrepresents the identity and role of Jane Stirling.


To clear up the misinformation and confusion in Chopin literature today and reinforce the legacy beyond his oeuvre, it would be necessary for Poland to produce a new and authoritative:

- Biography of Chopin's life;
- Translation of his letters;
- Review of Chopin cult;
- Artwork inventory.

Revisit Chopin's life and times in these three books:  >> Click

Essay submitted in
December 2004 to
Chopin in the World.

Niecks at Wikipedia

¹ Frederick Niecks' modest position prior to 1891 is a fact stated in the preface of
his posthumous biography Robert Schumann, edited by Christina Niecks, London,
Toronto, New York, 1925, in which Fr. Niecks' friend A.C. Mackenzie says (p. viii-ix):

"Niecks, Leopold Auer's pupil and Ferdinand Hiller's admiring disciple, expressed
(somewhere in 1868) a desire to come to this country;  and just at a time when
we were greatly in need for a competent viola player to take part in a series of
chamber concerts in my native city.  By a fortunate chance I was soon able to
secure a modest position for him as organist and teacher in Dumfries."

It is telling that Frederick Niecks' wife, Christina, says in the subsequent NOTE
of the Schumann biography (p. x):  "For many years my husband had collected
information and documents for a Life and Work of Robert Schumann on a large
scale, but other work continuously prevented the execution of the project."

In addition to the Chopin and Schumann biographies, Frederick Niecks only
published A Concise Dictionary of Musical Terms, Augener & Co., London 1884.

The Monthly Musical Record wrote in 1915 (Niecks returned to Germany at the
outbreak of WW1) that the Chopin biography had “indirectly led to” Niecks' position
as professor.  While praising Niecks’ career, the journal also observed:  “His whole
professional life has been one long big accident [including] the manner in
which he first came to be regarded as the greatest living authority on Chopin”.

³ Icons of Europe submitted its research findings on Frederick Niecks to the Fryderyk
Chopin Institute on 1 April 2006 for an essay competition of Chopin in the World.

Icons of Europe holds all rights on the research material developed
 since 2002.  This online summary, copyright © 2003-2009 Icons of
 Europe, B-1380 Brussels, may be quoted in part or be reproduced
 as a whole, provided that the source is specified as:
"Cecilia and Jens Jorgensen, Icons of Europe, Brussels".

"Portrait of Professor Frederick Niecks in a gown",
oil on canvas by Robert Henry Alison Ross.

Frederick Niecks writes:  “... etching after a charming pencil
drawing in my possession” (vol. 2, p. 344).  Obviously,
Jenny Lind is the most likely holder of this drawing
by Teofil Kwiatkowski, whom she met in 1849.