It is not good for one to be sad, and yet how pleasant it is - a strange state...“ - the Death of Frédéric Chopin in 1849
17 October 1849, Frédéric Chopin died in Paris.
“How strange! This bed on which I shall lie has been slept on by more than one dying man, but today it does not repel me! Who knows what corpses have lain on it and for how long? But is a corpse any worse than I? A corpse too knows nothing of its father, mother or sisters or Titus. Nor has a corpse a sweetheart. A corpse, too, is pale, like me. A corpse is cold, just as I am cold and indifferent to everything. A corpse has ceased to live, and I too have had enough of life.... Why do we live on through this wretched life which only devours us and serves to turn us into corpses? The clocks in the Stuttgart belfries strike the midnight hour. Oh how many people have become corpses at this moment! Mothers have been torn from their children, children from their mothers - how many plans have come to nothing, how much sorrow has sprung from these depths, and how much relief!... Virtue and vice have come in the end to the same thing! It seems that to die is man's finest action - and what might be his worst? To be born, since that is the exact opposite of his best deed. It is therefore right of me to be angry that I was ever born into this world! Why was I not prevented from remaining in a world where I am utterly useless? What good can my existence bring to anyone? ... But wait, wait! What's this? Tears? How long it is since they flowed! How is this, seeing that an arid melancholy has held me for so long in its grip? How good it feels - and sorrowful. Sad but kindly tears! What a strange emotion! Sad but blessed. It is not good for one to be sad, and yet how pleasant it is - a strange state...“ (Chopin as quoted by his fellows when he was in deathbed, a several hours before he died)
The Paris of the 1830s and ‘40s probably was the best of all possible worlds for a young artist. A couple of weeks after the emerging superstar had left Warsaw, the November Uprising against the rule of the Tsar over Congress Poland broke out and soon his Polish compatriots fought no longer for their national identity alone but for their their bare survival. 40,000 fell while fighting the superior Russian army, 80,000 more went in chains to Siberia after Count Pakevich had established proper Tsarist order again in 1831. Following the advice of his French father, Chopin had settled in Paris for good in the meanwhile and wrote back home: “I have arrived in the most beautiful of all worlds”. Nevertheless, his works that included so many elements of his native country, became something of the background music for Poland’s ceaseless struggle for independence during the 19th century while Chopin was in exile and at leisure to become immortal.
|Henryk Siemiradzki (1843 – 1902): “Chopin plays for the Radziwiłłs, 1829” (1887)|
When Chopin met George Sand for the first time in the literary salon of Marie d’Agoult, cohabitant of the other Eastern European superstar domiciled permanently in Paris, his friend Franz Liszt, he was less than enthusiastic. "What an unattractive person la Sand is. Is she really a woman?" However, his prospective mother-in-law got wind of Frédéric’s socialising with the likes of d’Agoult and Sand and the engagement with young Maria Wodzińska was off and it was George Sand who consoled him over the loss. The two, Sand and Chopin, formed a tumultuous relationship for almost ten years. His health was rather fragile since his youth, she called him her “third child”, her political pursuits and views did not interest him at all, she looked at his society friends and sponsors with disdain and when he took the side of her daughter Solange who had become engaged to the fortune-hunting sculptor Auguste Clésinger against the will of her formidable mother, the relationship was virtually over. Solange would visit him on his deathbed two years later and Clésinger made his death mask and a cast of his left hand, the one he had a bit neglected in his works, ironically enough. However, the clock was ticking and while Europe winced under the next wave of revolutions in 1848 and 1849, Chopin’s last hours had come.
|A modern reconstruction of the originally joint and later divided portraits of George Sand and Frédéric Chopin by Eugene Delacroix (1837)|
“Closer to the grave than the nuptial bed”, as Chopin described his condition very aptly, he turned down the proposal of the “Swedish Nightingale”, the famous opera singer Jenny Lind, but the celebrity might have been the provider of the funds necessary to set him up in style after his return to Paris in November 1848. His ex-student, friend and manager Jane Stirling arranged matters, rented a flat at Place Vendôme, his friends played music for him and one, the opera singer Pauline Viardot, remarked that "all the grand Parisian ladies considered it de rigueur to faint in his room." Chopin died and was laid to rest at Père Lachaise while his heart is buried in Warsaw. A year after his death, Jane Stirling scattered Polish soil over Chopin’s grave, obtained by his sister Ludwika, but by then, he had become a symbol figure for Poland long since as well as well as picturesque figurehead for the Romantic movement all over Europe.
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