It was Mahler’s birthday last week, but because of recent columns devoted to his work, I decided on Chopin, whose Concerto No. 1 in E-minor (Opus 11) will be played at 2:30 p.m. today by Laura Kargul and the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra at Olin Hall in Topsham. (Tickets are $15 for adults and free for ages 18 and younger.)

Although Chopin is known as a miniaturist (wrongly) and Mahler as the composer of gigantic symphonies, the two have much more in common than would appear at first glance.

Chopin disliked orchestration, as is evident in the First Concerto, while Mahler reveled in it. What the two have in common is what is still brought up as a major defect in their works: the lack of traditional “classical” form.

Chopin is arguably the first great composer whose music is virtually autonomous in the Romantic sense — art for art’s sake, uninfluenced by social, cultural or political considerations.

One might argue that Chopin’s Polish nationalism shows in such works as the “Revolutionary” etude, but all such compositions stand perfectly well on their own, without “stupid” titles, as Chopin himself called them.

What makes his work so revolutionary is its very lack of imposed form. The form it has, which is perfect, comes from internal necessity rather than a formula.

Chopin invented his own categories, and when he did adopt a traditional one, as in the concerto, the restraint on his genius is evident.

Of one piano sonata, a critic noted that Chopin had simply linked together three of his wildest children. Of the E-minor concerto, the critic said that Brahms had written a concerto without piano, and now Chopin had composed one without orchestra.

Like Schoenberg a century later, Chopin realized that the musical vessels he had inherited would no longer hold water.

Even within the confines of the classical concerto, the first — composed in 1833 when the composer needed a display piece for Paris — is the kind of music that, when well played, makes one leave the car radio turned on in the parking lot in spite of being late for an important meeting.

It is largely disregarded in analyses of Chopin’s work. Schumann didn’t like it, in spite of being well aware of the younger man’s genius. Liszt, of all people, thought it a result of virtuoso fever, which, he said, attacks composers in their youth.

Like Rachmaninoff’s concertos, it drives formalist critics right around the bend. But it’s still there, often performed and recorded, almost 200 years after it was written by a callow youth.

Rigid musical structure, according to the Marxists, is an artifact of patriarchal control and social hierarchy.

It is ironic that Marxist critics should cite Chopin as the exemplar of autonomous music, when the composer hob-nobbed with the aristocracy, demanded what he was worth — “pay-up thou beast” was his motto with publishers — and for a piano lesson charged double what a physician received for a house call.

The money was put in an envelope on the mantelpiece, so that neither teacher nor pupil had to soil themselves with filthy lucre.

Paradox, thy name is music.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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