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Fryderyk Chopin (Frédéric Chopin) – Biography


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A photograph of Fryderyk Chopin by Louis-Auguste Bisson (1849), source: National Digital Library, www.polona.pl
A photograph of Fryderyk Chopin by Louis-Auguste Bisson (1849), source: National Digital Library, www.polona.pl

On of the most prominent Polish composers, born on 1st March, 1818 (or 22nd February, 1810) in Żelazowa Wola, died on 17th October, 1849 in Paris.

It is not enough for a man to live,
what he needs is fate
Camus

The fate provided Chopin with the stigma of genius. He lived during times which left deep traces in his consciousness. He was born in the Napoleonic era, which was a time of hope for the Poles. He grew up in pre-Uprising Warsaw. During the November Uprising, he was already abroad – in Vienna and Germany. He then settled down in Paris – the cultural capital of Europe at the time – however in his mind he remained faithful to Poland. Wiktor Junosza’s poem perfectly illustrates this:

French sky cried Polish rain on him.

Family

He was a child of the nation and Europe, a son to Justyna Krzyżanowska, an impoverished Polish noblewoman residing in the manor of Fryderyk Skarbek in Żelazowa Wola, and Nicolas Chopin, a Frenchman born in Marainville, Lorraine. His father arrived in Poland in 1787 together with Nicole Weydlich, née Schelling, a wife of Adam Jan Weydlich, a manager of castle owned at the time was by count Michał Adam Pac. Just like his father left France for Poland at the age of sixteen, so did Fryderyk leave Poland and went to France. Thus, the story of the spear side of the family made a full circle. In order to understand how Chopin’s personality and art formed, the general context of his steps, i.e. the events and circumstances which influenced his life ought to be outlined.

Nicolas’s father, François, was a wheelwright, but he also held the role of village administrator in Marainville. Nicolas Chopin was a talented young man. After studies at a middle school in Tantimont, he worked on his talents thanks to connections with the aristocracy, especially the Weydlich family. When he went to Warsaw, he was already quite fluent in German, calligraphy, accounting, poetry, aand was also a beginner in flute and violin playing. His first job was at the Manufaktura Tytoniowa w Warszawie tobacco company, and later he worked as a tutor for Ewa Łączyńska in Czerniewo, where he educated her children, including her daughter Marie, immortalised in Wacław Gąsiorowski’s novel Pani Walewska.

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In 1802, he started working in Żelazowa Wola for Countess Ludwika Skarbek. That is where he met his future wife, Justyna – they got married in 1806 at the church in Brochów. A year later, Ludwika was born in Warsaw. Fryderyk was born in Żelazowa Wola in 1810. According to the family tradition and Chopin’s entry in his declaration of enrollment to the Paris Literary Society from 1833 – he was born on 1st March, while according to the christening certificate written up in Brochów on 23rd April, he was born on 22nd February. His godparents were: Anna Skarbek from Strzyżewo and Nicolas Chopin’s pupil – Fryderyk Skarbek, officially Franciszek Grembecki, as Skarbek resided in Paris.

In the autumn of that year, the family moved to Warsaw, as Nicolas started working at the Warsaw Lyceum – initially as a lecturer, and later as a professor. At the beginning, they lived in the right wing of the Saxon Palace, surrounded by the Saxon Garden. In 1811, Fryderyk’s younger sister, Izabela, was born, and in 1813 – Emilia, who died at the age of fourteen. Nicolas wrote the last letter to his family in Marainville in 1790. He never received any replies from them, therefore the memory dissolved – he did not pass the history of his rural family on to his children, especially that his position in the lyceum raised his social status.

Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Żelazowa Wola. Photo: Franciszek Mazur / Agencja Gazeta
Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Żelazowa Wola. Photo: Franciszek Mazur / Agencja Gazeta

After the school was moved to the Kazimierz Palace in 1817, the Chopin family moved to an apartment in the right annex, on the second floor, under number 18. The first floor was inhabited by the lyceum’s rector, Samuel Linde, while the ground floor – by professors Kazimierz Brodziński and Juliusz Kolberg. Chopin befriended Kolberg’s sons – Oskar (who later became a famous ethnographer), Antoni (a future painter), and Wilhelm, to whom he would write letters during the summer. The children were able to play in the botanical garden on the palace’s hillside. His father ran a very popular boarding house for boys from landed gentry families. The Warsaw Lyceum maintained a high quality and had a top position in the Kingdom. In 1823, Fryderyk entered fourth grade. On Thursdays, fellow professors and artists would gather at Nicolas Chopin’s home. In 1827, the family moved to the Krasiński Palace in Krakowskie Przedmieście.

First music attempts

Music played constantly at the house of Chopin. Fryderyk demonstrated a musical talent very early on. The young boy was introduced to piano by his mother. In 1816-1822, he was taught by Wojciech Żywny, a fiddler of Czech descent. Already at the age of seven, Fryderyk released his Polonaise in G minor and started performing in noble and aristocratic homes, such as for instance the Radziwiłł Palace, in the Belvedere, the residence of Grand Duke Konstanty resided, as well as in the homes of the Czartoryski, Sapieh, Czetwertyński, Pruszak, and Zajączek families, in Zamoyski’s Blue Palace, in the homes of Potocki, Mokronowski, and Grabowski families, of Konstantowa Wolicka, Teresa Kicka, and also in Merchants’ Club (Morsztyn Palace), the house of Klementyna Hoffman née Tańska. In 1818, he presented his two polonaises to Maria Feodorovna, mother of Tsar and Polish king, during her visit to Warsaw. In 1820, Angelica Catalani gifted Fryderk a golden watch with dedication in appreciation of his music.

In the same year, his father became a professor of French in the Military Application School (previously, from 1812, he taught French language and literature at the School of Artillery and Engineering). In 1823, Józef Elsner started giving Fryderyk composition lessons, and from 1826 on, he taught him at the Main School of Music. As a pianist, Chopin was practically self-taught. He didn’t take graduation exams, because he would need to dedicate one more year to studies at high school. At the time, however, it was possible to start higher education immediately after high school, without the need to take exams. Fryderyk demonstrated extraordinary skills. When he was graduating from university in 1829 (at the age of nineteen), Elsner gave him the following evaluation:

Fryderyk Chopin – exceptional aptitude, a musical genius.

Chopin’s childhood and adolescence were the most joyful and careless periods of his life. Surrounded by great love from his parents and sisters, especially the elder, caring Ludwika, he developed different talents – he drew caricatures of teachers, together with his sister staged a miniature comedy play titled The Error, or Presumed Joker, and also founded a children’s Literary Entertainment Society for the lodgers. He also wrote greeting cards and rhymes. He had many friends among his peers, he was their pride and initiator of games and frolics.

Warsaw paths

The prodigy was admired by the socialites and treated like a mascot. During Musical Evenings at the Charity Society affiliated with St. Anne’s Church, he would play piano concerts by Adalbert Gyrowetz, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and John Field. As a student, he was a regular at Buchholtz’s instrument manufacture at the corner of Mazowiecka and Świętokrzyska Streets, at music magazines of Magnus and Franciszek Klukowski, and Antoni Brzezina’s music bookshop in Miodowa Street, where he would try out the new sheet music which arrived from Vienna or Berlin.

Between 1826 and 1830, the Tretter Palace, located opposite Brzezina’s bookstore, housed the Pod Kopciuszkiem café (for theatre artists), and on the mezzanine – café Dziurka, where the youth gathered. Nearby, there was also Honoratka, and in Krakowskie Przedmieście, on the intersection with Kozia Street – Pani Brzezińska café. These are the places where Chopin met with young writers, critics, and musicians.

In 1825-1826, on each Sunday he played the organs in the Visitationist Church. He was particularly attached to the Holy Cross and St. Anne churches, while in 1825 in the Holy Trinity church, he played eolimelodikon for Tsar Alexander I, from whom he received a brilliant ring. The conservatory was located in the old Bernardine sisters monastery building complex, between St. Anne’s Church and the Royal Castle. It hosted some practical classes of the Main School of Music, while the theoretical lectures took place in the Kazimierz Palace.

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These places delineate the area within which Chopin would spend most time. His favourite path, which he took with his friend Tytus Wojciechowski, stretched between Nowy Świat and the Castle Square. He obviously attended performances staged at the National Theatre in Krasiński Square, ran by Karol Kurpiński, including operas by Mozart, Rossini, Spontini, and Boieldieu. He would later compare Weber’s The Marksman from 1826, characterised by, in his words ‘strange romanticism and exceptionally sophisticated harmony’ to its Berlin staging. He also acquainted himself with several Polish operas, for instance by Kurpiński and Elsner. In 1827, he attended Maria Szymanowska’s recital, he listened to talented, younger pianists – Józef Krogulski and Antoni Kątski, while in spring 1828, he had the opportunity to admire the famous Hummel, whose compositions he enjoyed playing.

On holidays

An incredibly important role in shaping Chopin’s composing career was played by summer trips to family estates of his friends, where he would encounter folk music. Did he visit the Skarbek manor, where he was born? There are several accounts about Chopin’s visits in Żelazowa Wola – in the summer of 1823, for Christmas 1825, and for the New Year (together with his sister Ludwika), and in the summer of 1830, which was his last visit before leaving Poland. Reportedly, the instrument which Chopin played was carried outside.

He spent the summer of 1824 in Szafarnia, at the estate of the parents of Dominik Dziewanowski, a school friend. He started editing an extremely funny Kurier Szafarski, in which he signed with an anagram of his name, Pichon. He reported events and gossips from the manor, wrote rhymes, and when miss Ludwika Dziewanowska censored something out, he immediately reacted with a verse:

Proszę bardzo cenzora
Nie krępować mi ozora.
 
[May the censor kindly
Not curb my speech]

He also visited Gulbiny, Sokołowo, and Ugoszcz. He listened to a Jewish band and observed folk rites – so called okrężne (dozhinki) in Obrowo. In 1824, he wrote simple variations on the song Der Schweizerbub, suggested by Elsner.

He visited Szafarnia again the year after. He also went to Toruń. In 1826, he travelled together with his mother via Kalisz and Wrocław to Bad Reinertz (Polish name: Duszniki), where Emilia stayed with Ludwika Skarbek, to improve her health condition. He gave two charity concerts there. The next year, he spent summer in the manor of Count Zboiński in Kowalewo near Płock, from where he went to Gdańsk (which is not entirely confirmed nowadays), and later stayed with his godmother in Strzyżewo. He also made a visit in Antonin, at the Hunting Palace of Antoni Radziwiłł, who was an avid musician, cellist, singer, and composer of, among others, the first music to Goethe’s Faust. The Duke raved over Chopin’s talent.

He spent the summer of 1828 in Sanniki, in the residence of the Pruszak family. He was friends with their son Konstanty, while his sisters – with his daughter Olesia. Fryderyk often played lead roles in Polish and French comedies staged by Marianna Pruszakowa in her Warsaw apartment. In Sanniki, he not only explored the Mazovia folklore, but also had access to a good piano and worked on Trio and reworked Rondo in C major for two pianos, having already written Rondo à la mazur, polonaises, mazurkas, and most importantly – Variations for piano and orchestra Op. 2 and Sonata in C minor.

Travels

In September, he went with Professor Feliks Jarocki, Nicolas Chopin’s friend, to Berlin. He saw several operas, including, besides The Marksman, which he had already seen in Warsaw, works by Gaspare Spontini, Peter Winter, André G. Onslow, and Domenico Cimarosa. He also listened to Cäcilien-Ode by Händel, which expanded his familiarity of contemporary works and musical traditions. On his way back, in Poznań, he visited archbishop Teofil Wolicki, relative of the Skarbek family.

In May 1829, he heard two violinists in Warsaw – Karol Lipiński and the legendary Niccolò Paganini, who gave ten concerts in the capital. His technique inspired Chopin. In the last year of studies, Chopin wrote two compositions for piano and orchestra (Rondo à la Krakowiak and Fantasy on Polish Airs) and, as a graduated composer, he decided to go to Vienna together with his friends. On their way, they stopped in Kraków and visited the city and its surroundings. Chopin’s signature has been preserved in a book of guests in the manuscript section of the Jagiellonian Library, located in Collegium Maius. Fryderyk admired historical buildings, visited Wieliczka, Ojców, and Pieskowa Skała.

During the same time, a grant application which Nicolas wrote to the Ministry of Education with his son’s studies abroad in mind, was rejected by the Minister of Interior – he was refused the support. Chopin was therefore only able to spend a short time in Vienna. At a concert conducted by Wilhelm W. Würfel, whom he knew from Warsaw, he played his Variations Op. 2 on Là ci darem la mano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and improvised a theme from Boieldieu’s opera La dame blanche and a pentatonic wedding melody Oj chmielu, chmielu. The variations were received so enthusiastically that Chopin, as he wrote, did not hear the orchestra, and surprised everyone with his improvisations. Haslinger released Variations, which met with appreciation and great interest. During the second concert, which was free of charge, he played his Rondo à la Krakowiak and Variations. He came across a kind circle of musicians, which included Carl Czerny and Leopoldine Blahetka, he met a friend from the university Tomasz Nidecki, and saw several new operas, by the likes of Méhul and Meyerbeer.

On the way back, he visited Prague, Teplice, and Dresden. In Teplice, he performed at the house of Prince Clary, where he improvised on a theme from Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto. In Dresden he saw Goethe’s Faust, where excerpts from the opera Faust by Spohr were played during the intermissions. He returned to Warsaw via Wrocław and Kalisz.

Concerts in F minor and E minor

Encouraged by the achievements in Vienna, he started composing his first Piano Concerto in F minor, then first etudes, waltzes, and in 1830 – nocturnes. He participated in Joseph Kessler’s music evenings, where he heard for instance chamber compositions by Spohr, Hummel, Beethoven (Trio Op. 97 ‘Archduke’). In the autumn, he went for a week to Antonin, where he played music with Duke Radziwiłł, he wrote Polonaise for cello and piano, and also played for his daughters – Wanda, whom he gave lessons to, and Eliza. In December, he took part in a concert where he improvised on themes from Joseph Drechsler’s popular musical comedy The Maiden from the Fairy World or the Peasant as Millionaire, adapted by Józef Damse.

He first verified his Concerto in F minor in a home setting with Kurpiński and friends, and later played Fantasy on Polish Airs on 17th March at the National Theatre. Kurpiński conducted the orchestra. He repeated the concert on 22nd March, however with Rondo à la Krakowiak instead. The reviews were incredibly positive –

Poles have been fortunate to have Chopin, just like Germans had Mozart.

– however an excessive confidence of some sound ideas was condemned. Chopin was a little bit irritated, but he nonetheless accepted the criticism with modesty and started writing his second Concerto in E minor.

During that time, Fryderyk admired, apart from the singing skills of Henrietta Sontag, also her grace, although he already had feelings for a young singer Konstancja Gładkowska. Chopin started composing music for Stefan Witwicki’s collection Idyllic Songs, including Życzenie (The Wish), Hulanka (Merrymaking), and Czary (Witchcraft). He created sketches of compositions and wrote in diaries of, for example, Elsner’s daughter – Emilia. In July, he went to Poturzyn to visit Tytus Woyciechowski, his best friend, and spent the second part of holidays in Żelazowa Wola. That was the last time he visited his place of birth.

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Just like the previous concert, he first tried out Concerto in E minor, with an accompaniment of a quartet at home, in front of, among others, Elsner, Kurpiński, Dobrzyński, and Soliva. Witwicki immediately announced in Powszechny Dziennik Krajowy on 25th September:

It is a work of genius.

On 11th October, Chopin performed at the National Theatre, opposite Anna Wołkow and Konstancja Gładkowska, who aroused attention in her white dress and roses in her hair. The recital included Symphony by Karol Goerner, who played his own Divertissement for French horn after Concerto in F minor. Carlo Soliva was the conductor. Chopin was delighted.

The road to emigration

On 2nd November, he left together with Tytus Woyciechowski for Vienna (via Wrocław and Dresden). He was sent off at Wola Toll House by Elsner with a group of students, who performed his cantata with lyrics by Ludwik Dmuszewski: Zrodzony w polskiej krainie, niech Twój talent wszędzie słynie (Born in the Polish Land, May Your Talent Achieve Fame Everywhere) (see Marita Albán Juarez and Ewa Sławińska-Dahlig, Polska Chopina, 2007).

In Wrocław, Chopin met the bandleader Joseph Schnabel and spontaneously gave an evening concert with Rondo and Concerto in E major and improvised on a theme from Auber’s La muette de Portici. He visited several Polish houses in Prague and continued to Vienna with Tytus.

After several days in Vienna, they received news about the outbreak of uprising in Warsaw. Tytus returned, leaving Fryderyk with his heart torn, because he wasn’t able to fight for freedom. Chopin started spending time with musicians and engaged in concert life. He didn’t play a concert of his own until seven months later. It was a charity concert – Chopin played after Weber’s overture Euryanthe, starting with the first movement from Concerto in E major, and after a performance of a male quartet, the following parts: Romanze and Rondo. He couldn’t count on publication of his compositions, however Pietro Mechetti bought Introduction and Polonaise in C minor for cello and piano.

He abandoned the plan to travel to Italy. Instead he went to Paris via Salzburg, Bavaria, and Württemberg, however with a passport for a journey to London, as the post-revolutionary Paris (after 1830) was perceived unfavourably by the Russian and Austrian authorities. In Munich, he played a successful concert at the Philharmonic Society, and in Stuttgart he heard the news about the fall of the uprising, which he took very badly. His entries in Dziennik testify to this.

In Paris

On 5th October, 1831, he found himself in Paris – en passant, so to say, and stayed there until the end of his life. He explored the city in the company of other Poles, such as Antoni Orłowski, Wojciech Sowiński, Ludwik Plater, and Walenty Radziwiłł. He passionately listened to operas by Rossini, Auber, Hérold, and Meyerbeer, he adored the singers – Maria Malibran, Giuditta Pasta, Laura Cinti-Damoreau, as well as Giovanni Rubini, Adolf Nourrit, and Luigi Lablache. He was also greatly interested in concerts at the Conservatory. Paris was bursting with the new order under the rule of Louis Philippe, the awakening current of Romanticism, but it did not forget about the solidarity with Poles and manifested it in the streets.

Thanks to a recommendation letter from Dr Johann Malfatti from Vienna, Chopin earned the liking of Ferdinand Paër, who helped him obtain a stay permit and acquainted him with many leading composers, such as Rossini, Cherubini, Baillot, Kalkbrenner, Hiller, Mendelssohn, and Liszt. A planned three-year pianist course with Kalkbrenner never happened however, which worked out well for Chopin, given the development of his composition talents.

Kalkbrenner and a cellist of Polish descent Ludwik Piotr Norblin, whose student, August Franchomme, was friends with Chopin, helped organise Chopin’s first concert. The concert in Pleyel Hall took place on 25th February, 1832. The main attraction was supposed to be Grande Polonaise précédee d’une Introduction et d’une Marche for six pianos (two soloists – Kalkbrenner and Chopin as well as four accompanying parts – Ferdinand Hiller, Camille-Marie Stamaty, George Alexander Osborne, and Wojciech Sowiński). Chopin played Concerto in E major with an accompaniment of a string quintet, several nocturnes, mazurkas, and Variations Op. 2. There were also other performers.

He also played the first movement from Concerto in E major at the Conservatory on 20th May, 1832. A concert on 30th December, 1832 in the house of Count Apponyi was immensely important for Chopin’s artistic and pedagogical career. He also started playing concerts with other pianists. On 23rd March, 1833, he performed Allegro from Bach’s Concerto for three keyboard instruments together with Hiller and Liszt (he repeated the repertoire at the Conservatory on 15th December). At a celebratory concert for Harriet Smithson, Berlioz’s fiancée, which took place on 2nd April, 1833, he and Liszt played André Onslow’s Sonata in F major for four hands, and later at Henri Herz’s concert, he played together with him, his brother Jacques, and Liszt a composition by Herz for two pianos and eight hands on the theme from Il crociato in Egitto by Meyerbeer, while on 25th April at Athénée Musical – second and third movement from his Concerto in E minor.

Performances in France

In 1833, between July and August, Chopin spent a few days in Brussels. On his way there, he stopped in Lille. Pleyel sent an instrument, but for Kalkbrenner. There is no information about an official concert by Chopin, however it is known that he possibly played on this instrument in a lounge (according to Carl Canstatt’s reports, as interpreted by Sophie Ruhlmann). In late August, he went to Touraine, to visit the Forest family, which was friends with Franchomme. He gave a few lessons to their daughter, Adele.

The latest research by Jean Jude (Pleyel 1757-1857. La passion d’un siècle, 2008) shows that on 3rd September, 1833 Chopin played in the Tours town hall. After Boieldieu’s overture La fête du village voisin, performed by the Tours orchestra conducted by Hippolyte Ferrand, Franchomme played his fantasy and air varié. In the second part of the concert, Chopin played Romanze and Rondo from Concerto in E major, and later Variations Op. 2 on a theme from Mozart with orchestra’s accompaniment, and later, together with Franchomme, Duo concertant on a theme from Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable. Applause encouraged him to improvise on themes from Boieldieu’s The White Lady, Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, and L’air patriotique des Polonais – weaving his two mazurkas into the latter improvisation. The reviews were mixed – Chopin’s and Franchomme’s talent was greatly appreciated, the uniqueness of Chopin’s style was stressed, as his music wasn’t for everybody, but he would also be denied the title of a top notch artist. On his way back, Fryderyk visited Lille.

In 1834, Chopin gave three concerts – on 16th February at Maurice Schlesinger’s night, on 14th December at the third celebratory concert for miss Smithson, and on 25th December, when together with Liszt he played Grande Sonate Op. 47 by Moscheles for four hands and Liszt’s Grand Duo on Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words for two pianos.

In 1835, Chopin performed with Hiller in his Grand Duo Op. 135 for two pianos (22nd February), took part in Stamaty’s concert (15th March), he also played his Concerto in E major (?) with orchestra at a concert in honour of Polish emigrants (5th April), as well as Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in E-flat major Op. 22 (26th April) at an event in honour of François Habeneck, who was a conductor at the afore mentioned concert.

Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, who documented Chopin’s first public concerts in Paris (in L’ univers musical de Chopin, 1987), later mentioned his occasional appearances in 1838 – at Charles V. Alkan’s concert (3rd March), when, together with Pierre Zimmermann, Alkan, and Adolph Gutmann, they played Allegretto and Finale from the 7th Symphony by Beethoven, with two pianos and eight hands, as well as a tribute concert to Antoni Orłowski, a school friend. Chopin played Concerto in E major, Andante spianato, and Grande Polonaise Op. 22.

Earlier on, in 1837, he took part in father Belgiojoso’s initiative, which consisted in six pianists (Liszt, Thalberg, Czerny, Henry Herz, Pixis, and Chopin) writing variations on a theme from Bellini’s The Puritans. Thus, Chopin played various compositions, not just his own, at the same time creating new ones. Throughout the first half of 1830s, he created some wonderful music – Romantic miniatures, mazurkas, two series of etudes Op. 10 and Op. 25, and Ballade in G major.

European journeys

Chopin also became a popular piano teacher. In May 1834, he went with Hiller to Aachen for a music festival in the Lower Rhine region. There, they listened to Händel, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Together with Mendelssohn, they went to his house in Düsseldorf, where they played and debated. The next day, Chopin and Hiller travelled down the Rhine to Koblenz, while Mendelssohn accompanied them to Cologne, where they toured churches.

Chopin spent the beginning of summer 1825 in the Enghien health resort outside of Paris, near Montmorency. Niemcewicz, whom Chopin liked to visit, resided there. From there, it was close to St. Gratien, where marquis Astolphe de Custine, for whom Chopin often played, had a castle. Having learned that his parents were going to visit Karlsbad, he quickly made the decision to go and see them. He spent three joyful weeks with them. They stayed in Tetschen (present Děčín), in the residence of count Thun-Hohenstein. Chopin taught his two sons Chopin taught in Paris, while during the stay at the count’s residence, he gave lessons to his daughters – he dedicated Waltz in A-Flat major Op. 34 No. 1 to Josefine.

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Later, Fryderyk went to Dresden, to the Wodziński family. The sons of Wincenty and Teresa – Antoni, Feliks, and Kazimierz – attended the Warsaw Lyceum and lived in Chopins’ boarding house. Mrs. Wodzińska maintained close relationships with writers and artists. When her and her children were staying in Geneva, no other than Julisz Słowacki fell for her young daughter Maria. Chopin spent a lot of time with Maria in Dresden, they played and talked together, and he eventually fell in love with her and promised to visit again the next year. Later, he went o Leipzig, where he and Mendelssohn played their respective compositions to one another. There, met Schumann, Friedrich Wieck and his daughter Clara, who would later marry Schumann. She gave a beautiful performance, which included two etudes by Chopin. On the way, he also stopped in Heidelberg, where he visited the family of his student, Adolf Gutman.

After returning to Paris in October, he fell very ill, however by December he was better and co-organised a fundraising market for Polish immigrants. Chopin took part in charity concerts, especially those which supported Poles. He even entered a conflict with Karol Lipiński, who was weary of taking part a concert like this, fearing the reaction of the Russian Embassy.

In July 1836, he again saw Teresa Wodzińska and Maria in Mariánské Lázně (Marienbad). They spent the entire time together – Chopin was so deeply in love that he didn’t respond to any letters or invitations, and when they were in Dresden, he proposed to the seventeen year old Maria. Later he went to Leipzig, when he met with Schumann (to whom he played his compositions) and with Clara Wieck. Before continuing his journey, he laid a wreath at the monument of Prince Józef Poniatowski. In Kassel, he saw Ludwig Spohr and returned to Paris via Frankfurt.

Music bookstores started to stock many compositions by Chopin – Concerto in F minor, Polonaises Op. 26, Ballade in G minor, Mazurkas Op. 24, and new Nocturnes in C-flat minor and in D-flat major Op. 27. Chopin had his biggest supporter in Schumann, who wrote for Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, although the latter did not fully comprehend the Preludes Op. 28, published in 1839, or Sonata in B minor Op. 35. At that time, Chopin was already writing new mazurkas and nocturnes. Letters from Maria Wodzińska were increasingly cold and not promising – they did not give hope for a meeting or for reciprocated feelings. In July, Chopin went with Pleyel to London, where he met with a famous piano manufacturer Broadwood.

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Relationship with George Sand

In February 1838, he was invited to the Tuileries palace, where he played and improvised in front of the royal family. That is when the novelist George Sand (real name: Aurora Dudevant) appeared in Chopin’s personal life. She had met him before, but it wasn’t until April 1838, during a visit to countess Charlotte Marliani, when she decided to seduce him. She sent him a note saying: ‘On vous Dore’ (I adore you), while the actress Marie Dorval added: ‘So do I.’ Later George Sand became closer with the Polish environment and sent a letter to Fryderyk’s friend, Wojciech Grzymała – the famed thirty page long letter, in which she convinced him that Chopin should finally forget about his old flame and redirect his feelings towards her. Fryderyk didn’t like her at the beginning, but later he developed passion and love for her. In the autumn of 1838, he followed her and her children – Maurice and Solange – to Mallorca.

They first lived in a villa near Palma de Mallorca, however the diagnosis of Chopin’s tuberculosis and strict Spanish sanitary laws forced them to move to a Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa. After a period of euphoria caused by the climate, nature, and George Sand’s affection, a catastrophe came. The weather changed radically, and Chopin’s health drastically declined. George Sand nursed him with devotion. In spite of such a grave physical crisis, Chopin sent his Polonaises Op. 40 to Fontana, put together a series of Preludes Op. 28, worked on a Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Ballade in F major, and also wrote a Mazurka in E minor, which he called the Palma mazurka.

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From early January on, he was able to use a piano sent by Pleyel, however on 13th May, he left Mallorca in a rush. He first went to Barcelona and next to Marseille, where he was recovering under doctors’ eye. He later went to Genoa together with George Sand, and on 22nd May, they travelled via Arles to Nohant, to the writer’s residence, where Pleyel’s piano, ordered by the host, waited for Chopin. During that summer, Poles – Stefan Witwicki, Wojciech Grzymała – as well as Emmanuel Arago, a man of letters, politician, and attorney, stayed in Nohant. Chopin wrote a new piece – Sonata in B minor.

Parisian residences

Before going to Mallorca, Chopin changed apartments in Paris several times. First, up until March 1832, he lived at 27 Boulevard Poissonnière, next, until mid June 1833 – at 4 Cité Bergère, until September 1836 – at 5 rue de la Chaussee d’Antin (with Jan Matuszyński), and until spring 1839 – at number 38 on the same street. In autumn, upon returning from Mallorca and Nohant, he moved in to 5 rue Tronchet, while George Sand and her children lived at 16 rue Pigalle, where Chopin moved in in early November 1841 and stayed there until September 1842. The longest period he rented an apartment was from August 1842 to the end of May 1849. It was a place at 9 Square d’Orleans, a charming neighbourhood in the heart of Paris referred to as New Athens. There were many authors, musicians, and artists living on that green square surrounded by houses. George Sand’s apartment was on the first floor, at number 5.

In the autumn of 1839, after his return from Nohant, Chopin met the renowned Ignaz Moscheles and their first joint concert took place already on 29th October, at Louis-Philippe’s estate in Saint-Cloud. It began with their respective solo performances. Next, they played Moscheles’ Sonata in E-flat major for two pianos together, and improvised. In 1840, Chopin published his compositions written in Mallorca and Nohant (Op. 35-41) through Troupenas, however the Preludes Op. 28, sent from Mallorca, had already been released in June 1839 by Adolphe Cateline. Chopin had the opportunity to listen to the dress rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem in the Conservatory hall on the occasion of the repatriation of Napoleon’s remains and their burial at the Church of the Invalides, which took place on 15th December, 1840. It made a huge impression on him. He would be reluctant to part with a pocket-sized edition of Requiem’s score for the rest of his life.

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Chopin’s concert in the Pleyel hall on 26th April, 1841 was a seminal event. Chopin played Preludes, Ballade in F major, Scherzo in C-flat minor, as well as mazurkas, nocturnes, etudes, and accompanied Laura Damoreau-Cinti and the violinist Heinrich Ernst. The event was also attended by the elites of the art world: Berlioz, Liszt, Kalkbrenner, Mickiewicz, Heine, Delacroix, as well as the critics Ernest Legouvé and Léon Escudier. Liszt’s review affected his relations with Chopin negatively. The concert became a major cultural event in Paris.

The Nohant years

Chopin returned to Nohant in 1841, to spend the summer there. He composed Tarantela, Polonaise in F-flat minor, Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Prelude in C-flat minor Op. 45, and Nocturnes Op. 48. He also created sketches for the first part of the piano concerto, which he had intended to compose in early 30s, and published them as Allegro de concert Op. 46. On 20th October, he completed Fantasy Op. 49 and at the beginning of November returned to Paris. A part of the Polish circles was at the time leaning towards the Tovianist movement – an obsessive ideology of Polish messianism – which Chopin was very upset about. On 2nd December, he gave another performance at the royal court in Tuileries, and on 21st February, 1842, he played in the Pleyel Hall. He performed with other artists – Pauline Viardot and Franchomme. He played Andante spianato, Ballade in A-flat major, three etudes from Op. 25, four nocturnes, three mazurkas, and Impromptu. Once again, he met with great ovation and admiration.

Chopin left for Nohant already in May, and met there with Delacroix, who liked and valued him greatly. That year, he worked on Ballade in F minor, Scherzo in E major, Polonaise in A-flat major, and Mazurkas Op. 50. After moving to Square d’Orleans, Chopin, George Sand, and Charlotte Marliani formed a community of sorts – they ate together at Charlotte’s, spent time in George Sand’s living room, and listened to music at Chopin’s. In 1842-1843, Chopin attended performances by Pauline Viardot, Julian Fontana, and Polish dancers Roman and Konstancja Turczynowicz, and also promoted his youngest student, Karol Filtsch.

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He again spent the summer in Nohant, where Viardots came with their daughter Louisette. Chopin and George Sand went on plenty of walks, rode donkeys together, they also went on a trip along the Creuze River towards the ruins of the castle in Crozant. He composed Nocturnes Op. 55 and Mazurkas Op. 56. After his return to Paris, he didn’t felt unwell throughout the winter. He became very depressed by the news of his father’s death, which reached him on 25th May, 1844. His sister Ludwika and her husband Kalasanty Jędrzejewicz came to Paris and to Nohant. Chopin saw his sister, who best understood his longing and sorrows. That year brought about Berceuse and Sonata in B minor.

Health crisis

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, Portrait of Frédéric Chopin, photo by Jan Morek / Forum
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, Portrait of Frédéric Chopin, photo by Jan Morek / Forum

In the first months of 1845, his health condition declined, however he attended parties as soon as he was feeling better. He also gave a semi-public performance at Hôtel Lambert, owned by Prince Czartoryski. He spent the summer months of 1845-1846 in Nohant, where he composed Mazurkas Op. 59, Barcarolle, the last of major pieces for solo piano – Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 61, Nocturnes Op. 62, Mazurkas Op. 63, and continued working on Cello Sonata. In November 1846, he left Nohant and never returned again. Conflicts, prejudices, and misunderstandings arose around the issue of Solange’s marriage to the sculptor Auguste Clésinger, which led to an ultimate split between Fryderyk and George Sand.

On 16th February, 1848, Chopin decided to play a concert in the Pleyel Hall, featuring singers (Molina di Mendi and Gustave Roger with Meyerbeer’s arias), violinist Delphin Allard, and Franchomme. They played Trio in E major by Mozart and Cello Sonata, but without the first part. Chopin played a nocturne, Barcarolle, several etudes, Berceuse, selected preludes, mazurkas, and waltzes. The room was filled exclusively with elites, including the royal family and members of the aristocracy, as well as a circle of artists and Chopin’s friends. It was Fryderyk’s last concert in Paris.

He didn’t feel very well in the post-revolution Paris, so he followed the suggestion of his student Jane Stirling, who was from Scotland to go on a concert tour in England and Scotland. At Duchess Suntherland’s party, he met Queen Victoria. He played waltzes, mazurkas, and Mozart’s Variations in G minor for two pianos together with Julius Bénédict. Unfortunately, the queen did not invite him to play at her court. Chopin played in the house of the singer Adelaida Sartoris (23rd June) and in the palace of Lord Falmouth (7th July), where Pauline Viardot also gave a performance of Chopin’s mazurkas which she adapted for vocals, and lyrics by Louis Pomey.

In August, Fryderyk went to Scotland, to the Calder House castle near Edinburgh which belonged to Lord Torphichen, the brother in law of Jane Stirling and her sister Katherine Erskine. Sadly, the climate did not help him. He was so weak that he needed to be carried up the stairs. On 28th August, he played in Manchester, in front of a massive audience (1,500 people), one of his ballads, Berceuse, and other compositions on a Broadwood piano. The orchestra played overtures by Beethoven, Weber, and Rossini, and there were also singers featured in the concert.

He returned to Scotland, where he stayed in Johnstone Castle near Glasgow, owned by Miss Houston, the second sister of Jane Stirling, and later in Strachur by Loch Fyne, in the house of Lady Murray. On 27th September, he gave a concert in Glasgow, which included one of his ballads, Berceuse, Andante spianato, Impromptu in F-flat major, selected etudes, preludes, Nocturnes Op. 27 and Op. 55 (dedicated to Stirling), Mazurkas Op. 7, and the last waltzes. Gulietta Adelasio sang at the concert. A week later, he performed a similar repertoire in Edinburgh. Chopin’s itinerary however also included the residences of Sir William Stirling-Maxwell in Keir, Lady Belhaven in Wishaw, the Hamilton Palace, and Calder House.

On 16th November, after his return from London, despite a physical and spiritual exhaustion, he took part in a charity concert for Polish immigrants. He played very quietly, while the ball preparations were underway in a neighbouring room. The concert was attended by a group of engaged listeners, however after one hour Chopin needed to lie down in bed. He was utterly weak.

Death

He spent winter in Paris in Square d’Orleans, however the only old friend he had left was Charles-Valentin Alkan. Chopin would be visited by Franchomme, Delacroix, Marie de Rozières, and Clésinger. He tried to go back to composing, but he struggled with it. He wrote lyrical miniatures and mazurkas: in G minor and in F minor, and Nocturne in F minor (which were published posthumously).

He spent the summer in Chaillot near Paris (currently in the Trocadero area). On the way to Bois de Boulogne, he stopped at the Zaleskis from the village of Passy. He was sometimes accompanied by a great compatriot – Cyprian Kamil Norwid, who wonderfully memorialised Chopin’s magnificence in Nekrolog (Obituary), in the poem Fortepian Chopina (Chopin’s Piano). Father Aleksander Jełowicki also grew close with Fryderyk. Chopin was visited by Franchomme, Adolphe Gutmann – Chopin’s talented student, Jeny Lind – a Swedish singer whom he met in England, the aged Angelika Catalani, Delfina Potocka, whom Chopin adored, members of the Czartoryski family, and even Duchess Anna Sapieha née Zamoyska, who was terrified by Chopin’s hemorrhages.

Doctor Jean Cruveilhier diagnosed the last stage of tuberculosis and recommended rest [recently the hypothesis that Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis has been meeting with growing interest]. Terrified Fryderyk wrote to sister Ludwika asking her to come with her husband and the fourteen year old daughter, Ludwika. His mother sent him 1,200 franks, while Jane Stirling, who didn’t want to offend Chopin, offered him a loan of 25,000 franks – of which Fryderyk only accepted 15,000.

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In September, Chopin moved to 12 Vendôme square. On 7th October, the agony began. Chopin decided to confess, received Communion and the final anointing. On 15th October, Delfina Potocka arrived and sang for Chopin upon his request. Franchomme and Marcelina Czartoryska started playing Sonata for cello and piano, but they had to stop, as the patient felt very sick. Teofil Kwiatkowski was painting a picture of Chopin with his sister and friends. Marcelina Czartoryska, Solange, Gutmann, and others, stayed by his bedside. Fryderyk died on 17th October at 2 a.m.

The next day, Clésinger took a death mask and a cast of Chopin’s hand, while Kwiatkowski painted a watercolour of Chopin’s head on a pillow. Autopsy was performed, and Chopin’s heart removed, so that, following Chopin’s will, it could return to his homeland, while the body was embalmed. An official funeral took place on 30th October in St. Madeleine Church. Chopin’s Funeral March was played in Henry Reber’s orchestration. Louis Lefébure-Wély played two preludes – in E minor and in B minor, on the organs. Mozart’s Requiem was performed by the orchestra and choir of the Concert Society under the baton of Narcisse Girard, with soloists, such as Pauline Viardot and Luigi Lablache.

Fryderyk Chopin. Człowiek i muzyka / Fryderyk Chopin: The Man and His Music, Prof. Irena Poniatowskia, publ. MULTICO, cover
Fryderyk Chopin. Człowiek i muzyka / Fryderyk Chopin: The Man and His Music, Prof. Irena Poniatowskia, publ. MULTICO, cover

The funeral procession to Père Lachaise was truly royal. It was led by Prince Adam Czartoryski and Meyerbeer. The pall was borne by Aleksander Czartoryski, Marcelina’s husband, Franchomme, Delacroix, and Pleyel. The coffin was followed by Ludwika with daughter, Jane Stirling, and a host of Chopin’s friends and compatriots. The grave monument was funded by a committee headed by Delacroix, and sculpted by Clésinger. It was revealed on the first anniversary of Chopin’s death on 17th October, 1850.

Fryderyk’s heart, which was brought to Warsaw by Ludwika, was laid in the Holy Cross Church, and in 1880, a funerary monument carved by Leonardo Marconi was revealed on the pillar where his urn is stored. Chopin’s fate was consummated. His music remained as his legacy.


 

Author: Irena Poniatowska. Text source: Fryderyk Chopin: The Man and His Music, publ. MULTICO, Warsaw 2010. Transl. AM, November 2016

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Music