Frederic Chopin

.. re he learnt about the dramatic collapse of the November Uprising and the capture of Warsaw by the Russians. His reaction to this news assumed the form of a fever and nervous crisis. Traces of these experiences are encountered in the so-called Stuttgart diary: The enemy is in the house (..) Oh God, do You exist? You do and yet You do not avenge. – Have You not had enough of Moscow’s crimes or are You Yourself a Muscovite [..] I am here, useless! And I am here empty-handed.

At times I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my despair at my piano!” In the autumn of 1831 Chopin arrived in Paris where he met many fellow countrymen. Following the national defeat, thousands of exiles, including participants of the armed struggle, politicians, representatives of Polish culture and the Warsaw friends of Chopin sought refuge from the Russian occupation in a country and city which they found most friendly. Chopin made close contacts with the so-called Great Emigration, befriended its leader Prince Adam Czartoryski, and became a member of the Polish Literary Society, which he supported financially. He also attended migr meetings, played at charity concerts held for poor migrs, and organized similar events. In Paris, his reputation as an artist grew rapidly. Letters of recommendation, which the composer brought from Vienna, allowed him immediately to join the local musical milieu, which welcomed him cordially. Chopin became the friend of Liszt, Mendelssohn, Hiller, Berlioz and Franchomme.

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Later on, in 1835, in Leipzig, he also met Schumann who held his works in great esteem and wrote enthusiastic articles about the Polish composer. Upon hearing the performance of the unknown arrival from Warsaw, the renowned pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner organized a concert for Chopin in the Salle Pleyel. The ensuing success was enormous, and he quickly became a famous musician, renowned throughout Paris. This rise to fame aroused the interest of publishers and by the summer of 1832, Chopin had signed a contract with the leading Parisian publishing firm of Schlesinger. At the same time, Wessel published his compositions in Leipzig by Probst, and then Breitkopf, and in London.

Having settled down in Paris, Chopin deliberately chose the status of an migr. Despite the requests of his father, he did not obey the Tsarist regulations, issued in subjugated Poland, and never extended his passport in the Russian embassy. Consequently, being regarded as a political refugee, Chopin deprived himself of the possibility of legally revisiting his homeland. Around this time, Chopin renewed his acquaintance with the Wodzinski family. Years earlier, the three young Wodzinski sons had stayed in the boarding house managed by Frederic’s father. Their younger sister, Maria, now an adolescent, showed considerable musical and artistic talent and Chopin fell in love with her and wanted to marry her and set up a family home of his own in exile. The following year, during a holiday spent together with the seventeen year-old Maria and her mother, he proposed and was accepted on the condition that he would take better care of his health.

The engagement was unofficial, and did not end in marriage, for after a year-long trial period, Maria’s parents, disturbed by the bad state of the health of her fianc who was seriously ill in the winter, and especially by his irregular lifestyle, viewed him as an unsuitable partner for their daughter. Chopin found this rejection an extremely painful experience, and labeled the letters from the Wodzinski family, tied into a small bundle, My sorrow. In July 1837, Chopin traveled to London in the company of Camille Pleyel in the hope of forgetting all unpleasant memories. Soon afterwards, he entered into a close liaison with the famous French writer George Sand. This author of daring novels, older by six years, and a divorcee with two children, offered the lonely artist what he missed most from the time when he left Warsaw: extraordinary tenderness, warmth and maternal care. The lovers spent the winter on the Spanish island of Majorca, living in a former monastery in Valdemosa.

There, due to unfavorable weather conditions, Chopin became gravely ill and showed symptoms of tuberculosis. For many weeks, he remained so weak as to be unable to leave the house but nonetheless, continued to work intensively and composed a number of masterpieces: the series of 24 preludes, the Polonaise in C minor, the Ballade in F major, and the Scherzo in C sharp minor. On his return from Majorca in the spring of 1839, and following a period of recovery in Marseilles, Chopin, still greatly weakened, moved to George Sand’s manor house in Nohant, in central France. Here, he was to spend much of his time, returning to Paris only for the winters. This was the happiest, and the most productive, period in his life after he left his family home. The majority of his most outstanding and profound works were composed in Nohant.

In Paris, the composer and writer were treated as a married couple, although they were never married. Both had common friends among the artistic circles of the capital as well as with the Polish migrs. For years, the couple enjoyed a deep love and friendship, but with time the increasingly hostile attitude of George Sand’s son, who exerted a strong influence on the writer, caused ever more serious conflicts. A final parting of ways took place in July of 1847. Grievous personal experiences as well as the loss of Nohant, so important for the health and creativity of the composer, had a devastating effect on Chopin’s mental and physical state. He almost completely gave up composition, and from then to the end of his life wrote only a few miniatures.

In April 1848, persuaded by his Scottish pupil, Jane Stirling, Chopin left for England and Scotland. Together with her sister, Miss Stirling organized concerts and visits in various localities, including the castles of the Scottish aristocracy. This exceptionally hectic life style and excessive strain on his strength from constant traveling and numerous performances, together with a climate deleterious to his lungs, further damaged his health. In November of 1848, despite frailty and a fever, Chopin gave his last concert, playing for Polish migrs in the Guildhall in London. A few days later, he returned to Paris His rapidly progressing disease made it impossible to continue giving lessons.

In the summer of 1849 the eldest sister of the composer came from Warsaw to take care of her ill brother. On October 17, 1849, Chopin died of pulmonary tuberculosis in his Parisian flat. Though he was buried in Paris, his heart was removed from his body and was placed in an urn installed in a pillar of the Holy Cross church in Krakowskie Przedmiscie Music.