Chopin – Polish treasure

When I wrote this article, which served as the script text for the film version, in the Warsaw Philharmonic, the 18th Chopin Competition was taking place. Fryderyk Chopin’s genius music triumphed, played by pianists from all over the world. So let’s remind you of two modest concerts of Chopin, a high school student in a small spa town – back then,
Bad Reinerz, currently Duszniki – Zdrój. It can be said that they were the first foreign Chopin concerts.

When we visited Duszniki, the small town seemed sleepy, melancholic and dusted with snow, but every year when summer comes, it comes alive thanks to the music flowing from the Chopin Manor. And just in 2021, Duszniki also were alive at the 76th International Chopin Festival.

Chopin’s Manor House – Duszniki Zdrój

In the summer of 1826, it was here that sixteen-year-old musical genius – Fryderyk Chopin arrived for treatment with his mother and his sister Emilia.

While walking among the patients at the facility, drinking a mixture of mineral water, herbs and goat’s milk whey, which at that time, was believed that such a mixture would strengthen his fragile health, suddenly, a drama breaks into the quiet life of the guesthouse. One of the patients, a father of four, has passed away.

Patients of sanatorium ask Chopin for a benevolent concert – for orphaned children. The young man of noble heart agreed without hesitating. His first concert was considered a success, and he gave… a second performance. The “Warsaw Courier” wrote, “a lot of praise to him! -children- it brought support”.

Previous Warsaw’s concerts’ successes compared Chopin to Mozart, and these two modest concerts in Duszniki were significant to Chopin’s further musical career. Nevertheless, his father was reluctant for him to study music, and he wished his son to study at the University and not at the Conservatory. However, thanks to the success of these concerts and the strong persuasions of his music teachers, Chopin’s father came around and compromised. Fryderyk began to study harmony and composition at the Conservatory, but he had to fulfil his father’s wish and attend lectures at the University.

After graduating, Chopin went to Vienna, where he found out about the outbreak of the November Uprising against Russia. He wanted to join the insurrection, but his parents and friends had dissuaded him from that decision. Then, finally, the poet Stefan Witwicki wrote to him: “However, I wish you to remember in the future, dear friend, that you left for not to miss your country, but to develop yourself in your art and become the consolation and glory of your family and country”.

And Chopin became an emigrant. He found himself among Polish refugees in Paris. And here in a foreign land – the career of the Polish music genius began, which led him to French aristocratic salons.

In Paris, Chopin meets a famous writer known for many romances, George Sand, the great-great-granddaughter of the Polish king, Augustus II the Strong. Unfortunate for us, the king, a drunkard and a romp, and so strong that history mentions that he was supposed to have approx three hundred descendants … of course, illegitimate. While dying, he cursed Poland and his counsellors who brought him to Poland and begged God for mercy. And here it is, this great-great-granddaughter of August- George. In 1838 Sand befriends Chopin, and this friendship turns into an affair. There have been times of shared happiness – and also times of shared worries. Chopin and George, the lovers, went on the trip to Majorca, to Palma and then to the town of Valldemossa, a perfect, romantic isle, just suitable for those in love and a climate perfect for Chopin’s health. Considering the composer’s health, his weak immunity, and friends’ urging, it seemed an ideal choice.

And we came there, following the footsteps of a famous couple. It is here, in picturesque surroundings, Chopin composed mazurkas, which my Japanese wife especially likes. She had to come here and see this place, mainly since she was writing a book about Poland – and in it, of course – Chopin, whose music adored by the Japanese, could not be missed. The town is beautifully situated, with its narrow streets and old buildings captivating charm! The hill above the city dominates with a beautifully situated monastery – Kartuzy, established in the 14th century. Three years before the arrival of the romantic couple – the order was dissolved, the building confiscated, sold, and the monks’ cells were for rent.

So, George Sand decided for them to live there. In such a village, far from the city, in December 1839 – artists from the great world appeared. They were both already very famous in the artistic spheres of the French capital. Chopin, by virtue of music and concerts in aristocratic salons, George, accomplished writer with many short stories and novels.
Her books were more popular than the works of Balzac and Victor Hugo!

The writer was fascinated by the young genius, his delicacy, sensitivity and manners, and above all, his music. He was completely different from her previous lovers. Delacroix, Chopin’s friend, undoubtedly did not like George Sand. When we look closely at his painting of the lovers, we notice a greyish face embedded in red curtains… I think a viper…
On the other hand, Chopin was initially not at all delighted with the sight of George Sand. He did not like her face, which seemed repulsive and unpleasant … After a year and a half of acquaintance, he fell in love and experienced her fiery romance. Coming to Valldemossa was like their… kind of honeymoon. In these village settings, they were an extraordinary couple!

She, with two children, extravagantly dressed, smoking a cigar or a pipe, shocking everyone, she came with a younger lover and children from a previous marriage! In addition, they did not attend Mass in the church, even though they lived in a monastery. It was unacceptable. The villagers also dissolved rumours that Chopin was sick with tuberculosis, so no one should approach them, and villagers were throwing stones at the children of George Sand. Unfortunately, the residents were not favourable to the newcomers.

The weather was also not favourable, which was the worst for Chopin’s fragile health. When we arrived in the town in September – we had fantastic weather. In comparison, December’s winter climate was unbearable for this couple in love. It was often raining a lot, and cold was excruciating.

Perhaps it was then that one day Chopin sat down to the piano and composed the ‘Rainy Prelude “, in which you can hear melancholy of falling raindrops?

The stone cell was bitingly cold, and it was hard to keep warm in there with the little heater. Cold winds, rains, humidity, it was a killer climate for the composer’s gentle body. He had bouts of coughing and spat blood. The disease progressed. The empty monastic setting aroused his sensitivity, and he began to see and feel the ghost. When she returned with the children, George Sand found him at the piano as if frozen. He was sitting pale, scared, and he thought that a ghost was walking somewhere… !

Nevertheless, on sound, sunny days, Chopin composed and played. The genius talent has exploded! Here he created a series of preludes and composed many mazurkas. George Sand wrote: ‘This Chopin is an angel. His kindness, tenderness and patience disturb me at times. It seems that he is too fragile, too unusual, and too perfect to live long with our challenging and hard earthly life. Being terminally ill, he created on Majorca music that feels like paradise”.

Exhausted from work and a very arduous sea journey below the ship’s deck, carrying black pigs, running on the deck – he returned from the Spanish village to Paris. He worked a lot giving lessons to members of aristocratic families… and he was still composing. Sometimes he gave concerts, and before the unfortunate breakup of the relationship with George Sand – he gave another charity performance for poor Polish emigrants at the Lambert Hotel. But unfortunately, the composer’s health was deteriorating, and in two years, in 1848, the last concert of the “piano poet”… took place. Playwright Ernest Legouvé wrote: “In Chopin, we have two beings: a patriot and an artist; the soul of the first – revives the genius of the second”

As we walked around this unusual monastic museum, we felt sorry for this extraordinary genius whose life must end so quickly!

After the ceremony in the church at the Père – Lachaise cemetery in Paris on October 30 in 1849, the aristocratic, intellectual and artistic elite of Paris arrived. The funeral of Chopin was a colossal event and gathered about 6,000 people. At the head of the procession were: a good friend, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and the representative of the musical world of Paris, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and friend, famous painter Delacroix, Camille Pleyel and members of the Hotel Lambert, Polish emigrants and Chopin’s close friends… and behind them several thousand mourners. George Sand was not present at the funeral!

According to the deceased’s will, the composer’s heart was transported to Warsaw, and the urn with a heart is embedded in the church of St. Cross in Krakowskie Przedmieście. Chopin’s music “scent of paradise”, Polishness and containing human, universal emotions – it resounds all over the world, being the treasure of all humankind.

When the snow melts, spring and summer will come, at Chopin’s Manor in Duszniki, where Chopin, a high school student, gave concerts, the hall would be filled and… his music will sound again. And Fryderyk is waiting for it!

Andrzej Siedlecki