CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY

Year 1848 Year 1848

Beginning of February. Many days in bed with influenza.

7 February. Sand to Maurice: ‘They write in the newspapers that Chopin is giving a concert prior to his departure. Do You now know where he is going? To Warsaw, or just to Nérac [the place where Solange is residing]?’

10 February. Chopin in a letter to Ludwika Jędrzejewiczowa: ‘As for me, I am as well as I can be. Pleyel, Perthuis, Léo and Albrecht have talked me into a concert. It has been sold out for a week. I am giving it in the Salle Pleyel on the 16th of this month. Only 300 tickets at 30 fr. I shall have the beautiful Parisian society. The king has ordered 10 to be taken, the queen 10, the Duke of Orleans 10, the Duke of Montpensier 10, although they are in mourning and none of them will be there. They will put their names down for the second, which I shall doubtless not give’. He repeatedly returns to the topic of George Sand: ‘she forgets herself, intoxicates as much as she can, and will not wake up until a great pain strikes her heart, which is now oppressed by her head. I did my ten years. May the Lord God love her, if she is not capable of telling true attachment from adulation. […] In any case, nobody will be able to follow in the tracks of the caprices of such a soul’. On himself: ‘Time is a great healer. I have not yet come to myself. That is why I do not write to You, as what I start I burn’.

11 February. To his family about the planned concert: ‘There will be no posters, nor free tickets. The salon will be comfortably arranged; it can accommodate 300 people. Pleyel always makes fun of my folly and to encourage me to give the concert is decking the steps with flowers. I shall be like in heaven, and only familiar faces will meet my eyes. I already have at home the piano on which I play’.

Mid February. Invited to dinner one day with Konstanty Gaszyński by Delfina Potocka. The hostess sang, Chopin accompanied and played solo.

16 February. Concert in the Salle Pleyel – his last concert in Paris. He plays études, preludes, mazurkas, waltzes, the Berceuse and Barcarolle, and together with Franchomme his own Cello Concerto in G minor and Mozart’s Trio in E major (with the violinist D. d’Alard). The instrumental music was punctuated by song, performed by A. Molina de Mendi and G. H. Roger. An enthusiastic review in the ‘Gazette Musicale’. De Custine to Chopin in reaction to his experience of the concert: ‘You have acquired suffering and poetry; the melancholy of the works penetrates the heart yet more deeply’.

End of February. Goes through ‘heavy influenza’.

22 February. Outbreak of the February Revolution in Paris. Reduced number of lessons – and income to live on.

28 February. Solange Clésinger gives birth to a daughter, who dies one week later. Letters and reactions full of solicitude on the part of Chopin.

3 March. To Solange: ‘The birth of Your daughter caused me greater joy than the birth of the Republic. […] Paris is calm out of fear. Everyone is united. Everyone belongs to the National Guard’.

4 March. Final, accidental, encounter with Sand at the home of Charlotte Marliani; Chopin informs her that she has become a grandmother. Sand: ‘They are fighting in Cracow, and You are not there?’

5 March. Justyna Chopin: ‘Your name-day today […] may God bless You in this life and the next’.

9 March. In Clésinger’s sculpture workshop, also over the following few days, in connection with the death of his daughter.

20 March. The Springtime of Nations in Wielkopolska; the rising is led by L. Mierosławski.

4 April. To Fontana in New York: ‘If You want to do good, then sit quiet and do not return until something has definitely started. Our forces are gathering in Poznań. Czartoryski was the first to arrive, but God knows what path it will all follow for Poland to exist once again […] But once it starts, the whole of Germany will get involved, Italy has already begun. Milan has driven out the Austrians, but they remain in the provinces and will fight. […] Moscow will doubtless have trouble at home if it makes a move at the Prussians. The Galician peasants have set an example to those in Podolia and Volhynia, and terrible things are sure to occur, but at the end of it all there is Poland, magnificent, great, in a word: Poland. Therefore, in spite of our impatience let us wait until the cards are well shuffled, so as not to vainly lose the strength that will be so needed at the appropriate moment. That moment is nigh, but not today. Perhaps in a month, perhaps in a year’.

19 April. Sand to Maurice: ‘Today I saw Solange. She feels well and her eyes are looking uglier. […] Chopin is still leaving tomorrow…’.

20 April – 23 November. Seven months in Great Britain. He has several patrons: Stanisław Koźmian, the poet and insurrectionary, Karol F. Szulczewski, secretary of the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Polski [Society of the Friends of Poland] in London, and above all Jane Stirling and her sister Catherine Erskine, ‘my good-hearted Scottish ladies’, who were behind this money-earning sojourn. He gives lessons and concerts in the salons of the aristocracy and in public concert halls. He makes the acquaintance of all the current fashionable society of Great Britain, from Queen Victoria to Charles Dickens. On Lady Byron: ‘Seemingly very kind, and we speak like a goose with a piglet [jak gęś z prosięciem], she in English, and I in French. I understand that she bored Byron’.

End of April. In London, at the residence of Lady Gainsborough, he plays in front of a small circle of listeners ‘of the most illustrious aristocratic circle in England’ (‘they live on names and grandeur’). A letter to his family contains a long list of celebrities remembered from among the audience.

Beginning of May. Apparently gives an intimate recital at the home of Marquis W. A. Douglas: titled guests, duchesses and ladies, many ‘beauties celebrated here’. He also meets his former pupils.

4 May. Admires Jenny Lind in Bellini’s Sonnambula, at the Italian Theatre: ‘She is an original Swede, not in the normal light – but in some polar merry dancers. She makes a huge impression in La Sonnambula’.

12 May. At dinner with Lind, ‘who afterwards sang me Swedish things until midnight. Such a distinctive character as ours is distinctive. We have something Slavic, they something Scandinavian, which is completely different, yet we were closer to one another than an Italian to a Spaniard’. In these days, he also hears Paulina Viardot at Covent Garden singing his own mazurkas to which words have been set: ‘they demanded an encore’.

13 May. To Grzymała: ‘The Philharmonia offered to play with me, but I do not want to, because it is with an orchestra. I went there, observed. […] Their orchestra is like roast beef or turtle soup, strong, sturdy, but nothing more’. He is engrossed in Polish affairs. ‘Here I know all the grimmest news of the Duchy of Poznań through Koźmian Stanisław and Karol Franciszek Szulczewski, to whom [Bohdan] Zaleski recommended me. Trouble and strife’. On 9 May the uprising in Wielkopolska was crushed.

15 May. At Stafford House, the residence of the Duke of Sutherland, he plays in the presence of Queen Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, Wellington and other highly titled persons. Besides his own mazurkas and waltzes – Mozart’s Variations in G minor for two pianos, together with J. Benedict. Also appearing were three singers: L. Lablache, A. Tamburini and G. Mario.

1 June. Listens to Lind in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Heine on the Swedish singer: ‘singing girlhood, sung virginity’.

2 June. To Grzymała: ‘Mrs Rothschild senior asked me how much I cost […] so I replied that 20 gu[ineas]. She is kind-hearted, clearly good, to which she answered me that I play very beautifully, it is true, but she would advise me to take less, as this season one must display more modereszon’. He adds: ‘Had I not been spitting blood for several days, were I younger, were I not lost in attachments as I am, perhaps I would have been able to start a new life’.

23 June. At Eaton Palace, the residence of Lady A. Sartoris (the singer Adelaide Kemble), he gives a concert for 150 people, playing mazurkas, waltzes, études and the Berceuse. Also taking part is the tenor G. Mario.

30 June. To Solange Clésinger, after receiving news from Paris of the suppression of the workers’ revolt: ‘You live so close to the toll-gates where so much blood was spilt. I trust that none of Your friends was among the victims of recent days’.

5 July. Listens to the playing of the young pianist Ignacy Krzyżanowski, who is presented to him. He writes in the youngster’s album: ‘May the Lord God help in Your work’.

7 July. Performs in a concert at the residence of Lord Falmouth on St. James’s Square, along with P. Viardot, who sings, among other pieces, his mazurkas with French words. Chopin plays études, preludes, mazurkas, a nocturne, the Berceuse, the Scherzo in B flat minor, one of the ballades and waltzes.

15 July. Laments with self-irony to Grzymała that he is teaching various young ladies for whom it is necessary solely ‘in order to say that they are having lessons from me’. A rather negative assessment of his stay: ‘Altogether, from the pennies I have gathered, deducting the apartment and carriages, I might be left with some 200 guineas (up to 5000 francs). In Italy one could live for a year, but here not even half. […] I have not played at the residence of the queen, although I did play before the queen at Sutherland’s. […] So perhaps some royal director put a spoke in my wheels so that I would not pay him a visit’. He is in a bad mood: ‘My nerves are in tumult; I am suffering from some foolish longing and in spite of all my resignation I do not know […] what I shall do with myself’. He ends with the questions ‘What is Sol[ange] doing? And her mother?’

18 July. The bad mood becomes more profound: ‘I am no longer capable of sadness or joy – I have used up my feelings completely – I only vegetate and wait for it to end more quickly’.

5 August. Leaves London for several weeks in Scotland, staying with the family of Jane Stirling, with Lord Torphichen at Calder House and with the family of Dr Łyszczyński in Edinburgh.

6 August. To Franchomme: ‘I listen to lovely Scottish songs […] I feel like, for example, a donkey at a masked ball or the E string of a violin strung on a double-bass – surprised, perplexed, stupefied’.

18 August. To Fontana: ‘We are old boobies, on whom time and circumstances have played out their wretched little trills. […] We are unable to give out new tones under poor hands and we stifle within ourselves everything that, for the want of a lutenist, no-one will now get out of us. I am already moribund: je suis tout prêt à crever and You are doubtless going bald and will linger yet over my gravestone like those willows, You remember? – which show their bare heads. […] I am vegetating, waiting patiently for the winter. I dream now of home, now of Rome [?], now of happiness, now of misery. No-one today plays to my liking, and I have become so forbearing that I could listen to Sowiński’s oratorio with pleasure and not die’.

19 August. To his family: ‘If London were not so black, and the people not so heavy and if there were neither the smell of coal or the fog, I would already have even learned English, too. But these English are so different from the French, to whom I have attached myself as if to my own; they so take everything by the pound, they like art because it is luxury; kind-hearted, but such eccentrics that I see how one can become stiff oneself or turn into a machine. – If I were younger, I might even have yielded to being a machine, I would have given concerts in all parts and played the most tasteless scandals (though only for money!); but now…’

28 August. Gives a concert in Manchester’s Concert Hall, for 60 guineas. ‘I was received extremely well; I had to sit at the piano 3 times. A beautiful hall, 1200 people’. Also taking part in the concert are three singers (Alboni, Corberi and Salvi), who successfully perform arias by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi. Chopin plays in the first part a nocturne and the Berceuse, in the second a mazurka, a ballade (F minor) and a waltz. An account of the concert appears two days later in the ‘Manchester Guardian’. A detailed reception is printed on 9 September by the London ‘The Musical World’: ‘Without doubt, his playing is extremely polished – perhaps too much so, and perhaps it would merit the term ‘finesse’ – and his delicacy and expressivity are faultless, although lacking the admirable power of Leopold Meyer, the force of Thalberg, the élan of Herz or the grace of Sterndale Bennet. Nevertheless, Mr Chopin is certainly a great pianist, and no-one may listen to him and not experience a certain dose of enthralment’.

1 September. Writes into the album of Fanny Erskine Wiosna (words by Witwicki).

4–9 September. To Grzymała on his impressions from a visit among the Scottish aristocracy: ‘They are only cousins of great families and great names. […] The entire conversation on genealogy, always resembling the Gospel, how this one was born of the other, and that one of another and that other of another, and thus for two pages up to the Lord Jesus’. Besides this: ‘People weary me with their excessive care. I have no respite and cannot work. I feel alone, alone, alone, although surrounded’.

9 September. To Solange Clésinger: ‘When I was playing my Sonata in B flat minor amidst a circle of English friends, an unusual experience befell me. I executed the allegro and scherzo more or les correctly and was just about to start the [funeral] march when suddenly I saw emerging from the half-opened case of the piano the cursed apparitions that had appeared to me one evening in the Chartreuse [on Majorca]. I had to go out for a moment in order to remember myself, after which, without a word, I began to play on’.

27 September. Matinee concert in Glasgow’s Marchant Hall. Also performing is the singer Giulietta Adelaiso. Chopin gives a programme consisting of the Impromptu Op. 36, a couple of Études from Op. 25, a couple of nocturnes, the Berceuse, one of the ballades and preludes, mazurkas, and waltzes. Among the audience is Marcelina Czartoryska (‘just the same goodness as a year ago. I revived somewhat under their Polish roof’) and also ‘several dozen “noblesses”’. The very next day, the ‘Glasgow Courier’ carries an exceptionally complimentary review: the playing of Chopin ‘over the course of an hour and a half delighted and riveted all of those present. […] The way in which Mr Chopin treats the piano is peculiar to himself alone, and his style is the harmonious combination of elegance, plasticity and humour [?]. All the numbers on the programme were warmly applauded, and the audience left the hall with an expression of the greatest satisfaction’.

1 October. Discontent, complaints and lamentations in the numerous letters to Grzymała from this time: ‘I feel weaker – I can composer nothing, not so much for a lack of desire as for physical hindrances, as I roam each week to a different branch of the family […] For my Scottish ladies give me no peace, only either come to get me or else drive me around the family […] – they will smother me from goodness and I will not refuse them this from politeness. […] Soon I shall even forget my Polish – I shall speak French like an Englishman – and learn English like a Scotsman and will end up like old Jaworek [Józef Jawurek], who spoke 5 languages at once’. A charming description of the nature of his daily occupations and his self-feeling: ‘The whole morning, e.g. till 2 o’clock, I am now completely useless – and afterwards, when I dress, everything annoys me and I so puff and blow until dinner, after which I have to sit at the table for two hours with the men and watch what they are saying and listen to what they are drinking. Bored to death (thinking of something different to them) […] I go to the drawing-room, where all the strength of one’s soul is needed to stir oneself a little – for at this time I am usually curious to listen – after that my good man Daniel takes me up the stairs to my bedroom […] Undresses me, puts me to bed, leaves a candle, and I am free to breathe and to dream till the morning, until the same thing begins once again’.

2 October. To de Rozières about Scotland: ‘Outfits, diamonds, pimples on noses, the most beautiful hair, the most beautiful figures, beings devilishly beautiful and devils devoid of beauty. The last category is everywhere the most commonly represented’. On the planned departure of the Clésingers for St Petersburg: ‘If Sol[ange] goes to Russia, who will talk to her about France? Whom will she be able to address in Berrichon? It would seem to be without significance, but it is the greatest consolation for us in a foreign country when someone takes us to our homeland every time we look at him, when we talk to him or listen to him’.

4 October. Concert in the Hopetown Room in Edinburgh. Chopin plays the Andante spianato from Op. 22, the Berceuse, the Ballade in F minor, an impromptu, a largo and études, preludes, nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes, always rousing particular delight in Great Britain. To Gutmann: ‘I played in Edinburgh; all the local aristocracy gathered to hear me, and they say that it was good – a little success and a little money. This year, Scotland has been visited by Liszt, Grisi, Alboni, Mario, Salvi – in a word everyone’. Three days later a positive review in the ‘Edinburgh Courant’.

12 October. Dedicates to Catherine Erskine, sister of Jane Stirling, the manuscript of a Waltz in B major, an unknown work, possibly composed in Scotland. To Grzymała: ‘Mrs Erskine, who is a very religious Protestant, kind-hearted, may possibly like to make me into a Protestant – as she brings me the Bible, talks of the soul – notes down psalms for me […] always tells me that the other world is better than this – and I know it all by heart and reply with quotations from the Holy Scriptures’.

16 October. To Gutmann: ‘I am in Scotland, in the beautiful country of Walter Scott, with all its memories of Mary Stuart, the two Charleses, etc. I wander from one lord to another, from one count to another. And everywhere they receive me with the most sincere kindness and boundless hospitality, everywhere I find excellent pianos, beautiful paintings and choice libraries; also hunting, dogs, interminable dinners, and finally cellars, of which I make the least use. […] I am writing from the home of Lord Torphichen. Right here above the room that I occupy, John Knox, the Scottish reformer, gave communion for the first time. It all appeals to the imagination […] there is even some red cap which walks about at midnight. And I walk about there in my uncertainty’.

21 October. On the English: ‘Art here is painting, wood-carving, architecture. Music is not art and is not called art, and if you say ‘artist’ your Englishman will think of a painter, architect or wood-carver. And music is a profession, not an art’. On English women: ‘They all look at their hands and play with a noble soul false notes’.

30 October. To Grzymała, in response to his consoling and his questions, possibly caused by the generally evident favour shown to Chopin by Jane Stirling: ‘Even if I could fall in love with someone who could also love me as I would wish, I still would not marry, as we would have nothing to eat and nowhere to stay. […] One person alone can live in poverty, but for a couple it is the greatest wretchedness […] Anyway, there is no need for me to write You all this… […] Hence, about a wife I do not think at all, but of home, of Mother, Sisters. […] In the meantime, what has happened to my art? And my heart, where did I squander it? Hardly do I still remember how they sing back home. This world is somehow passing me by, I forget myself, I have no strength’. He drafts a kind of will, ‘a sort of order in which my things should be put should I somewhere…’.

31 October. Return to London. ‘I roamed around Scotland, but now it is too cold’. In London, his health deteriorates considerably. ‘The doctor visits me every day (the homoeopath Dr Mallan)’. The patient is cared for by Duchess Marcelina Czartoryska: ‘So good to me that she comes to the hospital almost every day’.

16 November. Plays for the last time in public – in the Guild Hall, at a bazaar in aid of veterans of the November Rising. He takes part at the invitation of Lord Dudley Stuart, president of the Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Polski; his appearance goes virtually unnoticed. To Stanisław Koźmian: ‘I have ended my public career. However, You have a little church in the village, give me for the rest of my days a corner somewhere and a piece of daily bread, and for that I shall play You hymns in praise of the Queen of the Polish Crown’[1].

17–18 November. To Grzymała: ‘I never curse anyone, but it is just so unbearable now that I think I would feel easier if I could curse Lucretia [Floriani]… Yet they are doubtless suffering there, too, suffering there all the more so as they will surely grow old in animosity’.

23 November. Departs ‘from this currish London’ under the care of Niedźwiecki and his servant, by rail to Folkestone and from there by ferry to Boulogne-sur-Mer. To Grzymała: ‘Have a bouquet of violets bought on Friday, so the salon will smell sweetly’. In Paris on 24 November.

8 December. Sand to P. Viardot: ‘Did You see Chopin in England, and could You send me some news?’ The reply a week later: ‘Chopin has returned from London, but very ill. […] The Scottish mists did him no good’.

End of the Year. P. Viardot to Sand: ‘He talks of You always with the greatest respect, and I firmly state that he never talks differently’. Dating from this time is a portrait of Chopin painted by Antoni Kolberg. Generally believed to date from 1848 or the beginning of 1849 are his penultimate works: a Waltz in A minor (WN 63) and a Mazurka in G minor (WN 64).


[1] Reference to the Virgin Mary.

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