CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY CHOPIN BIOGRAPHY

Year 1837 Year 1837

25 January. A rather cool, matter-of-fact and nostalgic letter from Teresa Wodzińska in Służewo, in reaction to the rare letters from Chopin (‘we received your letter long, long ago’). Chopin sends them a Pleyel piano to Gdańsk, as well as autographs collected for Teresa Wodzińska (Heine, de Custine). Maria adds that she is reading Heine’s Germans and is bored.

End of February. Justyna Chopin to her son, with greetings for his birthday (1 March) and name-day (5 March): ‘What to wish You: perhaps just ask God not to let You out of his holy care and to pour down his blessings’. Two serious accusations: ‘Mrs Wodzińska tells me that You promised her to go to sleep earlier […], yet You did not keep Your word’, and, besides this, Fryderyk had been to see a fortune-teller: ‘She could have made You anxious for some time. So give me Your word […] that You will not visit her any more’.

Early Spring. Last (extant?) letter from Maria Wodzińska: short, just a couple of sentences, conventional, different in tone. Thanks for some ‘lovely portfolio’ sent from Paris. ‘Please accept my assurances of my feelings of gratitude, which I owe to You. Please be sure of the attachment which all our family cherishes for You, especially Your worst pupil and childhood friend. Adieu’. Correspondence will continue with her mother, due to his role as go-between in her contacts with Antoni Wodziński. Maria’s younger sister, Józefa, receives a prayer-book with the words: ‘please sigh for me, too’. Chopin would seem to still cherish some hope.

18 March. The Marquis de Custine proposes a few days’ ‘ride around the outskirts of Paris, in order to see Ermenonville, Mortefontaine and Chantilly’, as ‘salutary for the health’ of Chopin. A period of close mutual contacts, testified to by sixteen letters from the years 1835-1839. Unceasing admiration: ‘You have reached the heights of suffering and poetry; the melancholy of Your works penetrates deep into the heart; with You the listener is alone, even amidst the crowd; it is no longer the piano it is – the soul, and what a soul! […] Only art as you, Sir, feel it is capable of bringing together people divided by the practical side of life; people love and understand one another through Chopin’.

28 March. Sand from Nohant to Liszt: ‘Come as soon as You can. […] Marie [d’Agoult] told me that one may expect Chopin; please tell him that I ask if he might accompany You, that Marie cannot live without him and I adore him’.

31 March. Concert organised by Duchess Krystyna Belgijoso-Trivalzio in aid of Italian refugees and to honour the memory of Vincenzo Bellini. Together with Liszt, Thalberg, J. P. Pixis, H. Herz and K. Czerny, Chopin performs the ‘Hexameron’ variations on a theme from a popular march from the opera I Puritani; each of the pianists in turn performs a variation of his own composition. The concert provided an opportunity for Heine, in the tenth letter Über französische Bühne, to write at length about Chopin, and his oft-quoted words gained an exceptional resonance: ‘His fingers obey his soul alone and are applauded by those who listen not only with their ears, but with their soul. And so he is the darling of the élite […] Born in Poland, of French parents [?], he completed his training in Germany [?]. The influence of these three nations combined in him to make a perfect whole. […] Poland gave him a chivalrous predisposition and her historical suffering, France – a lightness, elegance and charm, and Germany – a visionary depth. […] He is not only a virtuoso, but also a poet. […] Nothing can compare to the joy that he gives us when he improvises on the piano. Then he is no longer either Pole, Frenchman or German, he betrays far loftier origins: he comes from the land of Mozart, Raphael and Goethe; his true homeland is the kingdom of poetry’.

2 April. To the Wodzińskis: ‘There are days for which I know no remedy. Today I would rather be in Służewo than writing to Służewo’.

3 April. Sand to Marie d’Agoult: ‘Tell […] Chopin that I idolize him’. Several times she extends an invitation for Chopin, Grzymała and Mickiewicz to visit Nohant, as yet without success.

6 April. Sand: ‘I am dying for them’.

9 April. Concert given by Liszt in the Salle Erard. According to Brzowski, Chopin does not take part, contrary to what had been announced – he is ill. Liszt performs two of his études (A flat major and F minor, from opus 25) and his own Grand Valse di Bravura Op. 6 (for four hands), in which Chopin was to accompany him.

Spring. Chopin’s illness drags on. De Custine: ‘You are ill; and what is worse, you could become much more seriously ill […] You must allow yourself to be treated as a child’. Entreats him to rest at Saint-Gratien, to spend ‘a month of Your life in the countryside in appropriate conditions’. He spends some time at Enghien Lake.

14 May. He sends to Służewo a letter from Saragossa from the wounded Wodziński; he entreats him to withdraw from his unfortunate escapade: ‘Your blood could serve a better purpose’. He announces his departure for a few days to Nohant, probably not realised.

May (?). An evening with de Custine at Don Giovanni. Paris in raptures over Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. Heine: ‘We do not know what is music, but we do know what is good music. […] Since the times of Don Giovanni, there has surely been no greater phenomenon in the domain of the arts than the fourth act of Les Huguenots’.

Beginning of June. Excursion with Józef Brzowski to the Lac d’Enghien and to Montmorency, abounding in amusing moments, described by his companion on the trip. A visit to the famous Ermitage, immortalised by the sojourn of J. J. Rousseau and A. Grétry, a donkey-ride, and finally a musical evening at the residence of de Custine in Saint-Gratien: Italian arias, Spanish songs, Chopin plays and improvises for many hours.

18 June. Sends to T. Wodzińska information concerning Antoni’s battles in Spain and about gai Paris: ‘When nearby there is misery and turmoil, here […] there are weddings, balls, banquets. They amuse themselves so much that they trample and choke one another’. A deluge of questions: ‘And in Służewo, is the summer beautiful? Is there much shade? Can one sit beneath the trees and paint? […] The piano, do You like it?’

7 July. Receives a passport in connection with his hastily planned departure for London. It carries the following information ‘age 26; height 1 metre 70 cm; hair, eyebrows and facial growth – blond; forehead, nose, mouth – normal; eyes – blue-grey; face oval; complexion fair’.

10 July. In company with Kamil Pleyel leaves on a two-week trip to London. His cicerone is Stanisław Koźmian: ‘without him there would have been for me no London’. Fontana warns Koźmian: ‘he wishes to see no-one, therefore I would ask that his stay be kept secret’. He does not wish ‘to go to listen to boring music’. On this occasion, the playing of Moscheles seemed to him ‘dreadfully baroque’. He is in a terrible state spiritually; he cannot wait for a proposition from the Wodzińskis for a summer encounter.

Around 20 July. In the showrooms of the piano manufacturer H. F. Broadwood plays for a group of chance acquaintances. At the theatre sees Medea, Romeo and Juliet (with G. Pasta) and Fidelio (with S. Schröder-Devrient). Summarises his impressions from London in caricature form, in a letter to Fontana: ‘What English women, what horses, what palaces, what coaches, what affluence, what splendour, what everything from the soup to the razor-blades, everything exceptional – everything identical, everything refined, everything cleaned, yet black as a nobleman’s s…’

Around 23 July. Return to Paris.

14 August. To T. Wodzińska: ‘Your last letter reached me in London […] I thought to travel from there, through Holland, to Germany… I returned home, the season is getting late, and for me will most probably get completely late in my room. I wait for a less sad letter from You than the last. Perhaps my next will be only an addition to dear Antoni’s’. Bids farewell to his dreams of having his own home. Possibly dating from this time is an inscription jotted down by Chopin on a parcel of letters from Wodzińska: ‘my misery’.

9 October. Sand seeks ever closer contacts with the Polish environment, through Grzymała, with Chopin and Mickiewicz. On Chopin she longs to write an article: ‘At least I shall try, and shall do it with utter zeal and adoration’. Breaks her ties M. Bourges and K. Didier, maintains them with F. Mallefille. Chopin slowly enters her environment.

October. Editions of new works: Impromptu in A flat major Op. 29 and 12 Études Op. 25, dedicated to Marie d’Agoult.

20 October. Schumann to K. Montaga: ‘I have just received Chopin’s new études; however, they were written a long time ago. It is sad that over these seven years since he has lived in Paris he has done so little’; in a review in the ‘Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (of 22 December): ‘For they indicate a bold creative force, concentrated in itself, true works of poetry; in details, not without minor blemishes, as a whole – mighty and thrilling’. E. Borzęcka-Hofmanowa recalled thus: ‘one day Chopin sat down at the piano and played all twelve études in a row’.

28 November. On the eve of the anniversary of the outbreak of the November Rising, Chopin writes into the album of an unknown individual the Trio of the Funeral March from the future Sonata in B flat minor.

5 December. First performance of Berlioz’s Requiem, under the direction of Habeneck.

December. Publication of French editions of the Mazurkas Op. 30, Scherzo in B flat minor Op. 31 and Nocturnes Op. 32. Composed between autumn 1837 and spring 1838 are the Mazurkas Op. 33 and Waltzes Op. 34.


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