CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY

Year 1841 Year 1841

9 January. News from home: ‘So Józio [Józef Skarbek] is to wed Marynia [Maria Wodzińska], Marynia is marrying Józio and the wedding is assured for May. […] May God bless them and not remember’.

Beginning of the Year. Chopin receives at home Witwicki, Goszczyński and Grzymała. Together with Sand, attends the lectures of Mickiewicz at the College de France.

15 January. Publication begins of Un hiver au midi de l’Europe – an account by Sand of the sojourn on Majorca.

20 January. Eustachy Januszkiewicz (to his fiancée): ‘Mickiewicz is attracting increasingly large audiences; he is increasingly bold and shows us a succession of different landscapes on the vast canvas of Slavic culture. Yesterday he talked of the Slavic language. […] We listened to him in inexpressible rapture. Mrs George Sand sat by him, and by her stood Chopin’. A. Dumesnil (to his parents): ‘He reveals to us a world completely unknown […] I attend together with Mrs Sand. […] She comes with the famous pianist Chopin and leaves in his carriage’.

7 February. Together with Sand and Delacroix at a concert by Paulina Viardot, who sings arias from Rinaldo and Scipione by Handel and Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

14 February. He is ill for several weeks: ‘I am coughing blood, and my doctor forbids me to speak’. In April, ‘he is still suffering, and works like a Negro’ (Sand).

10 March. ‘Le Courrier Français’ prints remarks counterpointing the views of the Parisian cultural élite: ‘The majority of those who most value the talent of Mr Chopin are obliged to take it for granted. The charms of the playing of this pianist are simply microscopic charms. […] His talent is always best assessed by those seated next to the piano’.

12 March. An evening in: plays for Sand and Delacroix.

15 March. Honoré de Balzac to Ewa Hańska after a visit to Sand: ‘She lives at no. 16, rue Pigalle, at the back of the garden, above the coach-house and stables of the house, which fronts onto the street. She has a dining-room in which the furniture is of carved oak. The little boudoir is the colour of milky coffee; the salon, meanwhile, where she receives, is full of plants in magnificent Chinese vases. The jardinière is also always full of plants. The furniture is upholstered in green. There is a cabinet with a host of curiosities, including pictures by Delacroix, her portrait by Calamata. […] The splendid piano is of Brazilian rosewood. Finally, Chopin is always here’.

18 April. Sand to Paulina Viardot: ‘Great, grandissime news, little Chip Chip is giving a huuuuge concert. […] He let himself be persuaded at last’. However: ‘he wants no posters, no programmes, no large audience, and wants nothing to be said on the subject. So many things frighten him that I have proposed that he play without candles and without the auditorium on a mute piano’.

20 April. Heine, in a side-note to concerts by Liszt: ‘Yes, that brilliant pianist is here again, and is giving concerts which work miracles bordering on the magical. He eclipses all other pianists – with one unique exception: Chopin, the Raphael of the pianoforte’.

26 April. Chopin recital in the Salle Pleyel, with the participation of the violinist H. W. Ernst and the singer Laura Damoreau-Cinti. The programme makes it a ‘Majorcan’ concert. He plays preludes, mazurkas, the Ballade in F major, études and nocturnes – with great success. Among the audience are Mickiewicz, Witwicki and – as Liszt puts it – ‘the aristocracy of blood, money, talent and beauty’. Sand to Chatiron: ‘In two hours of two-handed tapping he pocketed six thousand and several hundred francs amidst ovations, encores and the stamping of the most beautiful women in Paris. […] He has earned himself a quiet summer’. Witwicki to Zaleski: ‘Declaim your verse for three-quarters of an hour […] and may they pay You 6,000 francs for it’.

27 April. The Marquis de Custine: ‘It is not the piano that Chopin plays, it is the soul’.

29 April. The publication ‘Trzeci Maj’ [The Third of May, cf. note ix], the organ of the party of Adam Czartoryski, carries a text on Chopin: ‘admired by le tout Paris, whose fame is becoming firmly established’.

2 May. In the ‘Revue et Gazette Musicale’, a famous review by Liszt, not concealing his admiration, but carefully weighed: ‘Chopin played those of his works which most diverge from the classical norms. […] Feeling more comfortable in a private circle than amidst a random audience, he was able […] to reveal himself as he is in essence, that is as an elegiac, profound, pure and visionary poet. He had no need to conquer or to drive anyone to amazement, he was more concerned with arousing a delicate favour than clamorous exaltation and – let us say at once – he was utterly successful […] Two études and a Ballade he was obliged to repeat’. According to Liszt, Chopin possesses ‘an eminently poetic kind of talent’, and ‘the muse of his fatherland dictated him his melodies’, hence his music ‘can be compared with nothing’. Liszt gives a specific interpretation of Chopin’s exceptional renown: ‘He performs rarely […] yet it is precisely this which has forged him a higher reputation, above caprice, and – a shield against all rivalry. […] Thanks to this, Chopin stands far removed from all the battles which have lasted for years between virtuosos of all nationalities; he remains surrounded by a faithful band of followers, enthusiastic pupils and devoted friends, who […] perpetuate the wonder at his genius and reverence of his name’. In conclusion, ‘The voices that had criticized him have fallen utterly silent, as if he had ceased to be a contemporary being’.

12 May. Inscribes in the album romantique of an unknown individual the opening fragment of an Étude in F minor, the first of the études written for the Méthode des Méthodes; one month later, he writes out a fragment of the same work in the album of the sculptor J. P. Dantan (who sculpted a bust of Chopin). A fragment of this Étude appears for a third time (half a year later, 8 December) in the album of Jenny Vény.

15 May. Together with Sand, Delacroix and Kalkbrenner, Chopin listens to the young violinist Teresa Milanollo.

21 May. Death of Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz; the generation of those who remember Polish independence is departing.

May – June. Sand, together with the utopian socialist Pierre Leroux, founds ‘La Revue Indépendante’.

8 June. Date placed on the autograph of a Waltz in F minor (WN 55), presented to one of his pupils, Marie de Krudner.

18 June – 4 November. (Second) summer (and autumn) at Nohant. This stay bears fruit in the shape of seven new opuses (43-49). Sand sketches Chopin working at the piano. The first work composed this summer is the Tarantella in A flat major Op. 43.

27 June. To Fontana, sending Op. 43 for copying: ‘Take a look at the Recueil of Rossini songs […] where the Tarantella (en la) appears. I do not know whether it was written in 6/8 or 2/8. Both versions are in use, but I would prefer that it be like in Rossini. […] I hope that I will write nothing worse in a hurry’. He asks to be sent the Traité du Contrepoint by Luigi Cherubini. This is the first of 24 letters sent this summer from Nohant to Fontana, with a dozen endless ‘chores’ – instructions concerning the copying of works, contacts with publishers and apartment-related matters.

7 July. Sand (to Delacroix): ‘We had an earth tremor here, the second in thirty years […] as the song of Rancogne’s father goes: [Chopin] had all his poor nerves on end. Our village women were of the opinion that the Devil had a hand in it’.

11 July. Sand (to Marie de Rozières): ‘The day before yesterday he went the whole day without saying a word to anyone. Was he ill? Had someone made him angry? Did I say something that disturbed him? The cause I would seek in vain’.

18 July. Ill for several days.

24 July. Wedding of Maria Wodzińska and Józef Skarbek, son of Fryderyk Skarbek. Seven years later they would divorce.

1 August. Sand (to P. Gaubert): ‘Maurice and I spend eight hours a day together, drawing and painting […] meanwhile Chopin gets on with his work and vents his anger on the piano. When his palfrey fails to obey his commands, he deals him a mighty blow with his fist, such that the poor instrument groans onac! [...] He feels he is idling if he is not bending under the burden of work’.

2 August. A two-week sojourn at Nohant by the twenty-year-old Paulina Viardot-Garcia and her husband Louis; she sings both bel canto repertoire and Spanish folk songs, and also takes lessons from Chopin. Her singing would be described three years later by Heine: ‘She is no nightingale, who possesses only the talent of its species […] nor is she any rose, for she is ugly. […] Rather does she remind one of the frightful ostentation of exotic savages, when at some moments of her impassioned singing she opens beyond measure her huge mouth sparkling with the white of her teeth and laughs in terribly sweet and prepossessing scintillation…’ (l May 1844). Chopin listens to her enthralled.

10 August. To Fontana: ‘A few years ago I dreamt something different, but it did not come true. And now I daydream clap-trap [...] Now I am becoming as meek as a baby in napkins’. Some letters to his friend he signs ‘Your old Ch.’

14 August. Amuses himself at a village party at Nohant; he notes Berrichon folk dances (bourrées) and melodies sung by the village women and played by bagpipers.

20 August. To Fontana: ‘The weather has been really lovely for several days, but as for my music, it is ugly. Mrs Viardot spent 15 days here; we spent less time on music than on other things’. He works on a Polonaise in F sharp minor (Op. 44) with a mazurka-style Trio.

23 August. Sand to Delacroix: ‘Chopin asks me to tell You that You must come, You promised Paulina, and that he will play You everything he has composed in his life’. Solange arrives at Nohant from her boarding-school in Paris; Chopin gives her piano lessons.

24 August. He finishes opus 44. He proposes to Mechetti in Vienna ‘a new manuscript (a kind of polonaise, but more of a fantasy)’. To Fontana, who with good intentions presents Antoni Wodziński with a bust of Chopin (sculpted by Dantan): ‘They will not believe that it was not I who gave it to him. In Antoni’s home, I am not received in the same way as a pianist […] Here, everything will go retro in a different colour. These are extremely delicate things that must not be touched. It has happened’.

11 September. He has lost a bet and must ask Fontana to send him from Paris a Strasbourg pâté for 30, 35 or 40 francs: ‘it riles me greatly that so much money need be spent on a pâté, especially when it is needed for other things’. He rails at Liszt (‘He might one day become a member of parliament – perhaps even King of Abyssinia or the Congo – but as for the motifs in his compositions…’), at Mechetti (who even ‘to Mendelssohn did not want to give anything’ for some work), at Marie de Rozières (‘A rod! A rod! The old stalk! […] the sly schemer’), and finally at the supporters of Towiański1 (‘Have they now gone completely mad?! For Mic[kiewicz] and Sob[iański] I fear not; they have strong heads and can survive a few more exiles yet’).

18 September. He returns to the intoxication of Towianism: ‘Mickiewicz will end up in a bad way if he does not mock You’. He intends to break his contract with the London company which had hitherto published his works. To Fontana: ‘That wretched Wessel, I shall no longer send him, that Agréments au Salon, anything ever. Perhaps you did not know that this is how he called my Second Impromptu [in F sharp major] or one of the waltzes’.

30 September. Composes, perhaps in a single day, the Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45, to a commission from Schlésinger, for a collection of works entitled Keepsake des Pianistes, dedicated to Duchess Elizabeth Chernishev. He keeps to his word (‘short, as he wanted’); pleased with the tonal plan of the work (‘well modulated’).

October. Weeks spent busy composing, or rather completing, putting the finishing touches to, four works: the Ballade in A flat major, Nocturnes in C minor and F sharp minor, and the Allegro de concert. The recently composed Tarantella appears in print.

1October. Sand to her co-editors of the ‘Revue Indépendante’: ‘We ought to have Mickiewicz among our collaborators […] I think he will agree, despite his Catholicism […] They believe of late that they have found a new interpretation of Christianism. They consider themselves to be inspired. They hold Mickiewicz to be a prophet […] Mickiewicz has ennobled this folly with his genius and, at the same time, his fierce faith. I think that we could obtain from him a few beautiful pages on Poland […] Chopin is unusually enthusiastic about our plan. You should fanaticise it a little, too. I feared a long struggle with his caution and his customary reserve would be needed. It turned out quite the reverse: it is he who is urging me, giving me strength and zeal’.

9 October. To Fontana: ‘As for Wessel, he is a dolt, a cheat […] If he made a loss on my compositions, it was doubtless because of those idiotic titles that he gave them, in spite of my forbidding it and in spite of repeated ridicule’. The Nocturnes Op. 9 were given the title Les Murmures de la Seine, Op. 15, Les Zéphyrs, Op. 27, Les Plaintives, Op. 32, Il Lamento (B major) and La Consolazione (A flat major), Op. 37, Les Soupirs, the Ballade in G minor La Favorite, in F major La Gracieuse, the Scherzo in B minor Le Banquet infernal, and in B flat minor La Méditation. Chopin did give his consent to some titles, e.g. for Souvenir de la Pologne, given to successive mazurka cycles.

11 October. Misunderstanding with Fontana, who is overloaded with instructions and tormented by complexes: ‘You’re dim-witted if You think that I am keeping count of some debts of Yours. Had You some property in Kujawy, then I might have chased you up [an allusion to the debts of Antoni Wodziński], or if it were thousands’.

18 October. He sends to Fontana for copying the manuscript of the Allegro de concert Op. 46, a work of uncertain history. Sketched in 1831 or during the years 1834–1835 as the beginning of a third concerto, it remained in the form of an Allegro, with no continuation and no instrumentation. If an indirect account is to be believed (E. Borzęcka, according to the recollections of her husband, A. Hofman), ‘This is the first piece that I shall play on my first concert on returning home in a free Warsaw’. Why? He asks Fontana: ‘Take care of my manuscript and do not crumple it, nor soil it or tear it […] for I do so love the tedious things I write’.

20 October. To Fontana: ‘Today I finished the Fantasy [in F minor] – a beautiful sky, a sadness in my heart – but that is alright. If it were otherwise, perhaps my existence would be worth nothing to anyone. Let us hide until death has passed’.

27 October. His mood is philosophic, sombre, nostalgic. To Fontana: ‘Anyway, time flies, the world rolls on, death is at our heels, and my manuscripts at Yours. Do not hurry with this, Dear Friend, as I prefer them to wait in Leipzig for it than for them to pass by the rue Pigalle and find it cold, or dusty, or stuffy or damp. About my apartment do not worry […] May Your old bald pate meet my withering old hooter and let us sing: Long live Krakowskie Przedmieście! to a tune by Bogusławski, the tenor of Krzysztofowicz and the accompaniment of the dear departed Lenz’.

28 October. An attack on Chopin in the London periodical ‘The Musical World’, incidental to a review of some mazurkas (opus 41?): ‘Mr Chopin is far from composing anything banal, but – as many may consider considerably worse – is a producer of the most preposterous and hyperbolic oddities. […] Well might such a hot-headed enthusiast as Mr Liszt utter a poetical “rien” in “La France Musicale” with regard to the philosophical tendencies of Mr Chopin’s music; yet, from our point of view we can see no connection whatsoever between philosophy and affectation, between poetry and swagger, and we would allow ourselves to call to witness the ears and the judgement of all impartial people that all the works of Mr Chopin present a gaudy palette of rhetorical overstatement and excruciating cacophony […] At present, there is some justification for the offences of the poor Chopin: he is caught up in the compelling bonds of that archwitch George Sand, notorious for both the number and the eminence of her romances and lovers; nevertheless, we are surprised at how she […] could allow herself to waste her dreamy existence on such an artistic non-entity as Chopin’. In a reaction to this no-holds-barred assault on the part of its rival publishing house, the firm of Wessel & Stapleton addressed a letter to the editorship attempting to defend Chopin and his works, referring to ‘their immeasurable popularity abroad and finally the unanimous praise bestowed upon them by a host of the greatest authorities. Suffice it to mention here such names as Hector Berlioz, Ferdinand Hiller, Henri Herz, Robert Schumann, Sigismond Thalberg, Ignace Moscheles, Ferenc Liszt, Edward Schnitz, Henri Bertini, Jules Janin, Jules Maurel, George Sand, Frédéric Soulie, H. Balzac, Jules Benedict, Madame de Belleville-Oury, Theodor Doehler, Frédéric Kalkbrenner, John Cramer, Jacques Rosenheim, Charles Czerny, Aloys Schmitt, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Clara Wieck, Alexander Dreyschock, Adolphe Henselt, Catarina Bott, Robena Laidlaw and countless others’.

1 November. Sends Fontana ‘two nocturnes [Op. 48], and the rest [Ballade Op. 47 and Fantasy Op. 49] on Wednesday. […] Please transcribe them – as winter is approaching’.

5 November. Return to Paris. Lives with Sand at 16, rue Pigalle, in a separate wing, a move supervised in the autumn by Fontana. The next day, the first dinner-guest arrives – Eugène Delacroix. Chopin starts up ‘his mill’: lessons, concerts to an intimate audience, proof-reading of editions. November already sees the publication in Paris of seven opuses (44-49), covering all the works composed or completed at Nohant.

12 November. Sends to the Leipzig firm of Breitkopf & Härtel the manuscripts of opuses 46-49; opuses 44 and 45 were published in Vienna.

2 December. Plays ‘in a white tie’ at the royal court in the Tuileries. According to Sand, ‘he is not too content’. Receives from Louis-Philippe a splendid dinner service with dedication, which he sends to his family.

4 December. Sand (to Chatiron): ‘Various beautiful ladies considered that the rue Pigalle is too far from their elegant quartiers. He answered them: Mesdames, the lessons which I give in my room and on my piano for 20 fr. are much better than those which I give outside my home for 30, and in addition a carriage must be sent for me. My ladies will kindly choose… Such an idea would never have entered his head. I suggested it to him and had a hard time convincing him. […] Given his poor health, he should earn enough money to be able to work little’.

8 December. Date beneath which he inscribes a dozen or so bars of the Étude in F minor from Méthode des Méthodes in the album of the otherwise unknown Jenny Vény. From December, his new pupils include the eleven-year-old Karl Filtsch, a phenomenal talent. The very young Anton Rubinstein is introduced to the maestro. Delfina Potocka, also numbered among Chopin’s pupils, appears in Paris for some time in 1841, and subsequently in 1843, 1846 and 1849.

10 December. Musical soirée in the salon of George Sand, with the Marquis de Custine and Delacroix also present. Paulina Viardot sings Mexican songs.

14 December. Mickiewicz begins a new course in Slavic literature at the College de France, critically received, which ends on 1 July of the following year with a lecture on Messianism. The ‘Tygodnik Literacki’ [Literary Weekly] of Poznań would shortly (7 March 1842) put forward a startling parallel: ‘The stance of Mr Chopin in our present situation is more commendable than that of probably anyone’, and when Mickiewicz, who had ‘hitherto led a multitude of our bards, smashed up his fiddle and started intensively thinking – Mr Chopin inherited his power and it is he who feeds the holy flame of nationhood in our hearts’.

28 December. Sand (to T. de Seynes): ‘We are so busy that we almost have no time to see one another; although we live, if not under one roof, through one wall. He gives lessons the whole day and I scrawl over paper the whole night…’.

30 December. In letters from Warsaw, apart from wishes (‘We were together in our thoughts, and broke the wafer[1] with You’), an account of the sojourn in Warsaw of Sigismond Thalberg. Mikołaj Chopin: ‘he was most considerate towards us […] perhaps You will overcome Your aversion, I can assure You that he spoke very highly of You’. His father is curious as to Chopin’s reaction to Liszt’s article: ‘are You still on such good terms with one another as before; it would be a shame were a certain coolness to enter Your friendship’.


[1] Reference to the Christmas tradition in Polish homes of exchanging wishes to the breaking of unconsecrated Eucharistic wafers.