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Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.

France

Mickiewicz and Chopin Part 3

Polish Expats in Paris

18 February 2011

(Read Part 1)

The Salon Chopin of the Musée Adam Mickiewicz is the only space in Paris dedicated to this dynamic musician of both Polish and French ancestry.  In this room of the museum we saw many fascinating articles relating to the great composer and pianist: copies of Chopin's autograph manuscripts, a Pleyel piano from Chopin's time, a cast of Chopin's left hand, a lock of his hair, his favorite chair, the last photograph taken of Chopin, and his death mask.

There is also a Delacroix drawing of Chopin, which was a study for the famous painting that now hangs in the Louvre.  This oil painting of Chopin has an intriguing history.  It was originally a double portrait, with Chopin playing piano as writer George Sand (her pen name) listens and sews.  In 1838, when the painting was made, Delacroix’ friends Chopin and Sand were deeply in love.

 

 Frédéric Chopin and George Sand as painted by Eugène Delacroix
(photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

 

Eight years before Delacroix was to paint his portrait, Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849; Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin in Polish) had left his native Poland on a concert tour, carrying with him its soil in a silver cup.  He had recently composed songs to two poems by his compatriot Adam Mickiewicz.  Little did Chopin know that the same month, the November Uprising in Warsaw would ensure that he could never return.  The next year when he arrived in Paris, he may have been looking back to his native soil when he penned the achingly wistful Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 at the age of 20.

In 1832, Chopin met Mickiewicz in Paris and they became friends for life.  Chopin would explain to Robert Schumann that the Ballades he had composed around this time were inspired by the Ballady poems of Adam Mickiewicz. Chopin's many mazurkas, polonaises, and even a krakoviak also recalled his native land.

Then, four years later, Chopin met Aurore Dupin (George Sand’s given name) through the composer Franz Liszt.  It was not such a demanding task to notice her because she wore men’s suits and a top hat, carried a cane, and smoked large cigars.  Chopin’s reaction after meeting her was, “What an unfriendly woman!  Is she really a woman?”  George Sand’s reaction was equally unenthusiastic:  “That Chopin, he’s a little girl!”

Later, however, she heard him play the piano and other instincts took over.  Soon they were a package deal.  But then Chopin started experiencing health problems and in 1839, on the advice of a doctor, they moved — George Sand, her two children from an earlier marriage, and Chopin — to the island of Majorca to spend the winter.  It is thought that a potential duel (this can also be a serious health-threat) with one of Sand’s former suitors additionally necessitated this trip.  While there, Chopin composed many of his opus 28 Preludes (pieces that I find enormously gratifying to play), and Sand made notes for her book, Un hiver en Majorque, in which she details their tragicomic experiences on the island.

Back in Paris, in 1842, they participated with Delacroix, Balzac, and others in concerts and readings.  But Sand left Chopin in 1847.  They saw each other once in 1848, when they knew for certain what they had only suspected before:  he had consumption (tuberculosis).  After Chopin’s death in 1849 at place Vendôme 12, Sand took a lock of his hair that she had saved and put it in an envelope, writing on it, “Chopin le pauvre” — poor Chopin.

Chopin was buried in Paris’s Père Lachaise, where his grave monument can be seen today.  His heart, however, was removed and placed in an urn that is immured in a pillar at Warsaw’s Holy Cross Church.

 

Chopin's grave monument in Cimetière Père Lachaise, Paris

 

The pillar in Warsaw's Holy Cross Church where Chopin's heart is immured

 

About the portrait:  Delacroix held onto the painting of Chopin and Sand, as it was technically unfinished.  After Delacroix died in 1863, the portrait was paradoxically cut into two separate works and sold separately, almost as if the subjects had wanted it that way.  While the painting of Chopin is at the Louvre, the painting of George Sand is in Copenhagen's Ordrupgaard Museum.

I should also mention something that Chopin did before he died.  In the winter of 1848-49, when he was in the final stages of his illness, Chopin would go to visit his old friend and compatriot, Adam Mickiewicz, who was also ill at the time, and play the piano to comfort him.

One last thing:  after the museum tour, we spoke with our guide and learned that she was born near Zelazowa Wola, Chopin’s birthplace.  That explains why her pronunciation of the velar L was just right.

 


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: