Chopin in Dubai: Or How to Go from Defying to Defining

Last week, I was invited to speak at the Alternative Asset Management Summit in Dubai to talk about crypto assets as a new asset class in investing.

On the flight from London, I was captivated by “Chopin’s Piano” by Paul Kildea which I had recently picked up at a Vancouver bookstore and saved for the long journey.

Chopin’s music not only defied the conventions of the Classics, but defined Romantic music for decades to come.  Hae looked back and forward at the same time, standing on the shoulders of the greats who came before him (Bach in particular, whose Welltempered Clavier was the only score Chopin carried with him on a desolate trip to Mallorca in 1838-39 where he composed the wondrous Preludes on a ramshackle local piano) but also defied them, in a playful dialectic of respect and provocation of past masters, setting his music free from conventions and in doing so, defining a future sound through the sheer gift of his unbounded imagination.

Chopin and Beethoven: They could never have walked together, but talked a lot in music.

His travel companion and femme terrible George Sand watched him compose, a touching snapshot of a frail, diminutive and sickly Chopin forcefully willing his music into the world, iterating his way to aesthetic perfection: 

It was a train of efforts, waverings, frustrated stabs at recapturing certain details of the theme that he had heard; what he had conceived as a unity he now over-analyzed in his desire to get it down, and his chagrin at not being able to rediscover it whole and clear plunged him into a sort of despair. He withdrew into his room for days, weeping, pacing up and down, breaking his pens, playing measure a hundred times over, changing it each time, then writing it out and erasing it as many times, and beginning all over again on the morrow with painstaking and desperate perseverance. He would spend six weeks on a page, only to hark back to what he had first roughed out.

George Sand

Anybody who writes or codes will recognize Chopin’s creative agony Sand describes!

His struggle speaks to the universal theme of how our imagination collides with real-world constraints, the perpetual tension between freedom and form that when resolved, as in Bach’s music, Cicero’s speeches or elegant math, results in true greatness.

Imagination first defies form and form subsequently defies imagination in some perpetual dance we call progress.

At a more mundane level, when asked at the Dubai conference how crypto and blockchain would change the world, I answered that “the thing with the future is that we cannot imagine it”, commenting how blockchain is the “rebel child of capitalism” but that we simply lacked the imagination to know what’s around the corner.

We do know however that those who, like Chopin, willed their imagination into the world are the ones who go from defying the existing paradigm to defining the next one.