Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recollection: Paris, Chopin and Sand

Frédéric Chopin was born on 1-March 1810. Next Monday will be the bicentennial of his birth. At least this is the date he and his family said was his actual birth date although his birth certificate shows that he was born on 22 February 1810. There will be a number of celebrations in many parts of the world on the occasion of his two-hundredth anniversary. The Warsaw Philharmonic is holding daily concerts of Chopin’s music from 22nd February to the 1st. Even the city of Chicago intends to erect, in downtown Chicago, a copy of the famous Art Nouveau Chopin Monument in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park.

Chopin left his native Poland in 1830 never to return. He lived in France until his death in 1849. He became a French citizen but in his heart he was ardently Polish. His music shows the nostalgic rhythms of his native country as in his polonaises, études and mazurkas. His father was also an ex-pat as he had left his native France for Poland when he was a young man. Composer Frédéric Chopin was very homesick for his beloved Poland and his sentiments are heard in his compositions. Chopin said “music is the expression of our thoughts with the help of sound.”

Postcard of Frédéric Chopin

Most expatriates will at one time or another feel homesick for their native country. From reading my blogging friend Friko’s Musings post I have learned that there is a word in German for this feeling of the native land – it is called “heimat.” It cannot really be translated as the loss of “homeland” or “patrie” but the place where everything gives a sense of belonging. The Goethe Institute mentions that “in the German language, Heimat means origin. It is the environment, the landscape where one was born and the strong association one feels for them. It expresses the place where one has roots and the place one associates with one’s family and childhood. Or the place where one has built up one’s life and where one feels at home.” It is the place where people understand your language and the way you speak it. It is where you know your way around in all things, being the culture, the literature, poetry, humor and more. Chopin was homesick – he yearned for heimat.

The Chopin family apartment in Warsaw

Looking at the Eiffel Tower on TV or other French ads I have had this feeling of heimat, of missing my country of origin. Hearing French songs, eating an authentic croissant have done it too. I did not understand until now that it must have been the same for my father who was an expatriate in France. He was an Armenian who had left his native Turkey as a young man, never to return. In Turkey his mother, my grand-mother, had a beautiful grand piano in her living-room and she played the piano extremely well, especially Chopin music. My father did not play the piano himself but in our apartment in Paris he had a player piano with a wonderful sound.

My father's player piano was a newer model and had a better sound than this one.

From my earliest childhood I heard the music of Chopin regularly. The piano was in the living room where my little bed was placed. Many an evening my father sat by the piano pushing the lever to soften or amplify the sound of the Chopin music. People coming to our apartment would wait by the door outside before pushing the bell so as not to stop his playing – the piano did not sound like a player piano at all so they thought he was the pianist. I think my father felt his own emotions of homesickness, heimat, in Chopin’s preludes or polonaises. So when I hear the music of Chopin I am back in our Paris apartment watching my father at the piano, and I am homesick, too.

When a Polish family living in France decided to return to Poland Nicolas Chopin joined them. There he married a young Polish woman who worked in the household where he taught French to the children. They had four children, one son being Frédéric – which is spelled Fryderyk in Polish. The family moved to Warsaw where Nicolas became a professor of French and literature in the Saxon Palace.

Chopin's parents, Nicolas and Justyna

They soon realized that their son was a music prodigy. Frédéric published his first composition, a Polonaise, in 1817 (then 7 years old) and had his first public performance when he was 8 years old.

News of this young pianist started circulating in Warsaw and many aristocrats requested that he plays in their salons, as in the Radziwill palace owned at the time by Prince Stanislaw Zamoyski.

When Chopin arrived in Paris in 1831 there were many Polish political refugees who had come to France because it was the country where one could talk about freedom. They welcome Chopin in their salons where in addition to rich émigrés he met Balzac, Victor Hugo, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Franz List and the painter Eugène Delacroix who became a lifelong close friend. Chopin quickly became a member of Paris high society.

Chopin with admirers

He gave piano lessons to the children of the aristocracy, at a pretty high hourly fee. He became close friend to the Rothschild’s, one of the richest families in the world who introduced him to their wealthy connections. Chopin had a good knowledge of the French language as well as German, Italian and Latin. He had much social success as he had elegant manners, dressed beautifully and was charming.

Growing up I always saw my mother with a book. One of her favorite French authors was George Sand who had been the most famous French woman author in the 19th century and is considered a “classic” to be studied in schools. Mother gave me several of Sand’s books which I brought back with me to the USA. Here are some below.

George Sand (1804-1876) was the nom de plume of Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, Baroness Dudevant. Her grandmother, Marie Aurore de Saxe (Madame Dupin de Franceuil) had a country estate called Nohant, in the Berry region, near Chateauroult. George Sand grew up in this estate and used it as a setting in many of her books.

She wrote 80 novels, some theatre pieces, political texts, essays and literary criticism. She was considered an early woman feminist and sided with the poor and working class. She felt that women should have rights in a progressive society. She adopted a masculine name for her novels and wore men clothes so she could walk in Paris without being stopped. She was a radical who believed in freedom of expression and showed it in her lifestyle. She was legally separated from her husband in 1835. Chopin met George Sand at a party in 1836 and by 1838 they lived together. They formed a couple of rare talent, both incredibly brilliant in their respective art.

To avoid gossips they traveled to the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain, with George’s two children. At first they stayed in a beautiful villa but when Chopin became ill with bronchitis the landlord asked them to leave. They moved to an old monastery called Valldemosa where Chopin’s health deteriorated. Since birth Chopin had very weak lungs and was sick quite often.

There is a museum on Chopin in Valldemosa

After moving back to Marseille in France for a few weeks they returned to Paris.

Painting by Eugène Delacroix, French 1798-1863

During Chopin and Sand’s liaison they spent their winters in Paris where Chopin would play, often improvising, for their friends at numerous parties. In the summers Chopin would compose new music in Sand's country estate at Nohant.

After 8 years together the relationship was straining. Chopin and Sand had a terrible quarrel in 1847. They decided to live apart. In 1848 Chopin grew exhausted by the life in Paris and became seriously weak. Jenny Lind (1820-1887) the well-known Swedish soprano and wealthy philanthropist, invited him to England. There the English aristocracy greeted him with open arms. He played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But the London smog did not help his lungs and he accepted an invitation to Scotland where he stayed for almost three months. Jenny Lind was his financial benefactor, through the intermediary of a Scottish woman named Jane Stirling, until Chopin died.

Jenny Lind painted by Eduard Magnus, German (1799-1872)

Getting weaker and weaker and speaking no English, Chopin decided to go back to Paris at the end of November 1848. By then he was seriously ill. He could not teach any longer but kept on composing. Doctors were called but they could not do much as his illness which was believed to be consumption (tuberculosis) was not curable at the time.

Knowing that his days were numbered, Chopin requested that his eldest sister Ludwicka come by his side. She arrived in Paris in August 1849 but even under her loving care Frédéric Chopin died in the morning of 17 October 1849. He was 39 years old.

Last photographed known of Chopin, taken in 1849 and a photograph of George Sand

His funeral in the beautiful Church of the Madeleine in Paris was a moving and grand event attended by a large number of artists and distinguished aristocracy. Mozart’s Requiem was performed. Jenny Lind had arranged for this lavish funeral with a special permission by Louis Napoleon, President of France.

La Madeleine, Edouard Léon Cortes, French, 1892-1969

According to his wishes Frédéric Chopin was buried at the Cemetery of the Père Lachaise in Paris. His sister took his heart in an urn back with her to Warsaw where it was sealed in a pillar of the Holy Cross Church.

There are always flowers, at both places. (Click to enlarge pictures.)

Chopin was an accomplished pianist who made the piano even more popular. His sheet music sold extremely well in his time and listeners and pianists play his music now more than ever. Enraptured audiences flock to Chopin concerts to hear his magical romantic melodies. After 200 years his music has still wide appeal and is cherished all over the world. Arthur Rubinstein said: “Chopin was a genius of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences….Even in this abstract atomic age, where emotion is not fashionable, Chopin endures. His music is the universal language of human communication.”

A few years ago I visited the museum of Romantic Life (Le Musée de la Vie Romantique) which is near Pigalle at 7 rue Chaptal. This is an 1830 residence where the owners, the painter Ary Scheffer, hosted Friday-evening salons where George Sand and Chopin used to come as neighbors to visit with great artists. Numerous mementos of George Sand are displayed as well as the hand cast of Chopin’s right hand. It is a small but lovely museum.

The estate of Nohant, where George Sand died on June 8, 1876 can be visited as it is now a national monument, property of the nation. It looks much the same at it did when Sand and Chopin were alive. The decoration is the same as it was until George Sand died. For Chopin, George Sand was the love of his life. She had been everything to him – a lover, a companion, a nurse and a muse.

For my birthday in March 2001 my mother gave me the book “George Sand à Nohant.” It is the history of George Sand in the estate. This was the last book my mother gave me. She passed away in 2002.

Le souvenir est le parfum de l'âme.” George Sand (Memory is the perfume of the soul.)

Picture of rose named Frédéric Chopin


Vicki Lane said...

What a beautiful and romantic story! I knew some of it but you tell and illustrate it so well! I love the picture of Chopin at the piano and the three women swooning over him!

We were listening to some Chopin on the radio earlier today.

And thank you for the explanation of heimat -- it's considerably stronger than just homesickness.

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Coucou Vagabonde ! :o) Chopin, Georges Sand, tes publications sont des plus intéressantes et c'est un vrai plaisir de venir chez toi Vagabonde ! :o) BISES et bon week-end ! :o) ***

alaine@éclectique said...

Thank you for that lovely story of my favourite composer, so nice to read again and you've presented it so beautifully. I'm now going to look for my book of Chopin Mazurkas and sit down and play a few!

Unknown said...

Bonjour Vagabonde
Il est très bien ce reportage su Chopin et Georges Sand,cela m'a permis de revisiter leur vie que j'avais un peu oublié.
Bon dimanche

Ruth said...

Your bio of Chopin and Sand is fantastic, I just love it. I'm listening to one of the pieces while I read.

I have loved that painting by Cortes of the Madeleine since I first saw it a few years ago and posted it at my Paris blog. It's just radiant.

Yes, heimat. I wonder too if there is a word for that feeling you get when you try to say something in one language that you feel you can only say in another? I have several Turkish phrases like that, that just don't have an equivalent in English.

Fennie said...

Thanks for this most interesting piece from which I have learned a lot more about Chopin than I knew before.
(And about George Sand too!) So thanks again.

DJan said...

Oh, I must come back and read this later, since I'm sitting in bed with the morning slipping away. It's written with your usual elegance and research, so it deserves my full attention! Back soon...

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I am with DJan on this post.

Friko said...

you have reminded me of everything I have forgotten about Chopin and Sand and you have brought them back to life beautifully.
Your pleasure while researching and compiling your text shines through.

lorilaire said...

Un grand merci pour ce moment intense d'histoire de deux personnages que j'ai toujours beaucoup admirés !!
Sand pour son courage afin de s'imposer en tant que femme ce qui n'était pas facile à l'époque, ses romans que j'adore, son charisme, et Chopin pour sa musique qui me transporte,je suis issue d'un milieu modeste et mon plus grand regret est de n'avoir pas pu étudier le piano !
Tu est allée visiter le musée du Romantisme !
Quelle chance, j'espère y aller bientôt.
Bisous Laurence

Reader Wil said...

Merci Vagabonde de votre visite et commentaire. Merci aussi pour la belle musique de Fréderique Chopin. Je n'ai jamais lu de livres de George Sand, c'est dommage, n'est-ce pas?! Vos photos sont encore très belles.

Pame Recetas said...

Bonjour Vagabonde!

Jái adoré votre post comme jádore Chopin et G. Sand. Cést magnifique, vous avez fait un travaille trés profonde, et plaine d'amour por le musicien.

Merci por votre visite chez ma Patagonie. Cést bien dommage que je traduit pas mes textes, parfois je pense que ça serait un peut "snob", mais je vais essayer de traduir la prochaine entrée, á l'anglais en tout cas!

Le tremblements de terre continue chez moi, je panique chaque fois, la vie et bien bouleversée ici!

Louis la Vache said...

Fabulouis tribute to Chopin! The local classical station, KDFC, is featuring his music today (1 March). You can stream KDFC from or you can get it in the Classical radio tab at iTunes.

DJan said...

Happy birthday (maybe) to Chopin! VB, this is just the most wonderful story. I did not know of this liaison, although I knew his music and of her free spirit. For him to have died so young! She outlived him by almost 40 years. Thank you for this well written and researched post, and I wish you may find your own place on this side of the pond.

A friend of mine, who escaped Hungary during the Holocaust, speaks five languages. After a recent trip back to Hungary, she says she now speaks none of them without an accent.

Shammickite said...

What a fascinating story. I knew a little about the relationship of Chopin and George Sand, but you have provided all the extra details. I wonder what music he would have written if he had not succumbed to "consumption". I visited his grave in Père Lachaise a few years ago. Thank you for this lovely post.... I really enjoyed reading your words and looking at your pictures.

Vagabonde said...

Vicki Lane, Alaine, Ruth, Fennie, Abe Lincoln, DJan and Shammickite - Thank you for coming to my blog and reading about Chopin. I know the post is long and I thought of cutting out some of it but there was so much to talk about that I could not chop it off. I’ll leave this post on for a few days so there will be more time to read it. I appreciate that you took the time to look at it.

Vagabonde said...

Nancy, Yves1947 et Reader Wil – merci d’être venu me voir. Je suis contente que ce post sur Chopin vous plaise. Il est un peu long, mais il y a tant de choses à dire à son sujet. Amicalement - Vagabonde

Vagabonde said...

Friko – thanks for stopping by dear friend. I see you know me well – I did enjoy tremendously my research for this post .

Vagabonde said...

Louis la Vache – I am pleased you gave me the link to KDFC. I am listening to it right now. Merci beaucoup.

Vagabonde said...

Pamela – Merci beaucoup pour votre gentil commentaire. Je suis contente que vous soyez OK après ce tremblement de terre dans votre pays. J’espère que les secousses vont s’arrêter. Je suis vraiment désolée que ce désastre a touché votre beau pays, le Chili.

Vagabonde said...

Lorilaire – J’ai visité le Musée de la Vie Romantique en 2001, donc cela fait assez longtemps. Si tu penses y aller, essaies d’y aller avant le 11 juillet car ils font une évocation spéciale pour son bicentennaire. Voici le lien: J’ai aussi un lien pour une vidéo à ce sujet: qui est “Sur les traces de Frédéric Chopin à Paris.” Si tu y vas il faudra faire un post la dessus. Merci encore de ta visite.

Louis la Vache said...

«Louis» is happy you like the link to KDFC. The station broadcasts 24/7/365. They've hit on a formula which makes classical accessible to people who otherwise would not be exposed to classical music.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post, it was delightful. Thank you.

Louis la Vache said...

"Louis thanks for your message which I just received but when I clicked on “publish” I received a message from Blogger saying that they were unable to complete it. It was error bX-oogzl0. Have you ever received this message? It does not look like I can publish your comment, sorry."

Yes, «Louis» has gotten this error message. It occurs when you double-click the publish button. Usually if you go back to the previous page and click once, the comment will publish.

This isn't always the case, sometimes that message is caused by some loose gremlin at Blogger.

Anonymous said...

Merci de vous êtes arrêtée sur mes blogs. Quel bel hommage à Frédéric.

Il faut lire la correspondance de Chopin. A travers elle et celles de ses amis et parents l'on y découvre la vraie personnalité de Chopin et quelques vérités y sont rétablies.
George a compté dans sa vie mais aussi Marie Wodzinska à laquelle il était fiancé en 1837. La rupture de ses fiançailles lui causa une profonde peine. Il conserva ses lettres jusqu'à sa mort. Sur l'enveloppe qui les contenait Chopin avait écrit "Mja bieda" (ma peine).

lunarossa said...

What a wonderful post. So great to learn so much new information from you! Although I cannot play the piano, I love Chopin's music. He's my favourite composer. I actually visited his grave in Pere Lachaise a few years ago. The weather was bad and it was terribly spooky. Thanks for the music bist as well. Ciao. A.

claude said...

Mille excuses, Vagabonde, je n'ai ni eu le temps de t'envoyer mes photos de famille ni le temps de lire ce post, mais je repasse dès que je peux, car je suis et vais être encotre occupée cette semaine par le travail.
A plus tard.

madretz said...

When I listened to Fantaisie-Impromptu from the link you provided, I heard it with a completely different ear than I ever have before, thanks to your very well written bio. The photos and links in the right spots made it compelling to read.

Thank you for visiting my blog via Ginnie! I see we have another common blog friend, Shammie. It's hard to believe that just 30ish years ago, the tallest building in Atlanta was the Hyatt! I suppose the round atrium tower had a grand view at the time, but at "only" 22 stories, it's drwarfed by the towers surrounding it. I've never considered myself afraid of heights, but I think I'd prefer a room on the 22nd floor to a room on the 73rd floor! Especially when I read that the missing glass panels on the Westin were from the 2008 tornado, which are just now being replaced! You live in a lovely part of the country. I enjoyed my visit and will enjoy it again next year when we return.

Diary From Africa said...

Thanks for an interesting post with some beautiful pictures, too ! Thanks for your visits and comments on my blog all the way over in Africa :)
Lynda, Kilimanjaro, East Africa

Deborah said...

Vagabonde, this is a tender hommage to one of my favourite composers, so thank you! I really enjoy how you wove in bits and pieces of your personal history - you put a lot of heart into this post.
Last night there was a long program on Arte of Chopin's music played by various pianists, including his concertos, parts of which I find so achingly beautiful that they are almost painful to listen to. I can't explan it better - the music is so exquisite that I am sad it is so fleeting, and that there isn't more of it.

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Un grand merci à toi pour ton gentil mot amical chez moi ...bises et bonne journée à toi Vagabonde ! ***

claude said...

Ptrop de temps encore aujourd'hui, Normalement sans faute je passe demain car après je fais une pause.

Elaine said...

Very interesting post. I think you were right not to shorten it up. It really told Chopin's story well. It is amazing that he accomplished so much in his short life. One has to wonder what he would have created if he had lived longer.

claude said...

Je viens de prendre une belle leçon d'histoire et de musique aussi.
J'aime bien la musique de Chopin mais n'ai jamais lu George Sand.
C'est encore un mucisien de talent parti trop tôt. Lorsque je faisais de la danse, j'ai dansé unef ois sur ses Polonaises. Merci pour ce post très instructif, Vagabonde.

Daniel Chérouvrier said...

Bel hommage à F Chopin et aussi à George Sand.
Elle avait aussi une propriété à Gargilesse au bord de la Creuse.

Dutchbaby said...

You told Chopin's story so beautifully. I loved reading it while listening to both your music clips. I find the painting of the 8-year-old Chopin, perched on a pillow atop a stool, simply enchanting. It's hard to imagine how one could pack so much life into 39 years. Thank you for putting this beautiful piece together with all the great images to accompany your intelligent words.

Ratty said...

I think I have always had this feeling of heimat, even though it's for another state here in the US, not another country. I've been trying very hard to make myself more comfortable in the state I live now. That is one of the reasons I started my blog, so I could push myself to discover a love of the place I live.

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

What a wonderful post indeed Vagabonde!

Sorry about your mother.

Unknown said...

Fantastic post on Chopin! Great work!

Thank you for the nice comment.

Baino said...

So interesting and thank you for the tips on their homes/salons in Paris, must try to get to see them.

Lifecruiser Travel Blog said...

Wow, what a great post about Chopin! Wonderful music played on wonderful music instruments! Funny I should come here right now, to find this article. Hubby plays piano, but not so much Chopin. He had the pleasure of playing on a Steinway once in a Scottish castle - what a dream!

We've actually been in Deia & Valldemossa, but we didn't write so much about it.

Adoorable Deia and Valldemossa Majorca Spain

@nne said...

Un très grand merci pour ce joli "post". A bientôt, @nne

PeterParis said...

So complete and so wonderfully written, with the links to your own life! It makes a touching story even more touching!

✿France✿ said...

Petit bonjour je vais laisser mon fills en classe et je repasse te voir

Angela said...

Merci beaucoup pour votre histoire!
Yes, I am German and know the word Heimat - ever since I spent that year in the US where I loved to be, but did not feel at home!
As I am attempting to learn Polish, I find so many similarities in words and pronunciation! Plage and plaza (pronounced the same way), all the nasals and so many words, very astonishing.
I once read a book by George Sand which she had written for her granddaughter, wonderful. And wasn`t M. Chopin handsome? I also had tuberculosis as a child, but did not die. Thanks to modern times. Love your blog! À bientôt!

sablonneuse said...

That was most interesting reading.
I love Chopin's music but have never read any of George Sand's novels. Now I'm tempted to try - in French.

Vagabonde said...

Louis – Thank you for the link to the radio show. I was finally able to publish your com. Amicalement VB

Lunarossa, Lynda, Deborah, Elaine, Dutchbaby, Ratty, Bhavesh, JM, Baino, Lifecruiser, Peter, Angela and Sabronneuse – Thank you for your kind comments. This post was quite long I know so I really appreciate that you took the time to look at it.

Vagabonde said...

Helen Glehen – Bienvenue sur mon blog. Oui, j’aimerais bien lire la correspondance de Chopin, mais ici ce n’est pas facile de trouver des livres en français. Merci de votre visite.

Nancy, Claude, Deslilas, @nne et France - Je suis toujours très contente de lire vos coms. @nne, bienvenue ici et j’espère que vous reviendrez. Nancy j’ai appris en lisant le post de France que tu arrêtais ton blog. J’espère qu’une fois installée dans ta nouvelle demeure tu pourras reprendre ton blog qui nous fait tous tant plaisir. Claude et France – merci d’être venues me voir. Amitiés VG

Vagabonde said...

Madretz – Thank you for your nice come and long comment. I appreciate your visit to my blog. I hope you’ll come back.

TorAa said...

This is in fact very interesting
We did visit Nohant last Summer.

I did learn a lot from that visit and even more from this fantastic post

Doctor FTSE said...

This is truly a great post! Did you ever come across "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank"? A charming story about a piano "atelier" in Paris, and an American ex-pat searching for a piano. Available from Amazon, UK. I think you might enjoy it.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Thank you for the lovely story of Chopin and Sand and the wonderful illustrations. I'm very familiar with Chopin through piano lessons in my youth, but didn't know anything about George Sand. An incredible love story.

Marguerite said...

Such a fabulous post, mon cher amie! You told his story beautifully and the music clips were wonderful! Chopin was a genius in more ways than one, and Sand was so interesting. Will put the book on my wish list. Merci beaucoup for sharing, cher!

Kenza said...

Toutes mes félicitations pour ce magnifique billet! Très riche et très complet!
Je n'ai pas encore eu l'opportunité de me rendre au Musée de la vie Romantique, mais j'ai visité plusieurs fois les maisons de Sand à Nohant et à Gargilesse...
Très belle soirée et à très bientôt

bowsprite said...

this story is beautiful, I did not know...merci, Vagabonde!

Leslie Noelani Laurio said...

Very nice post; I love all the photos! I didn't know about Jenny Lind's role in his visit to England.

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