I ♥ Chopin News….

How did Chopin die? It matters
The popular image is of Chopin as a frail consumptive – we should be given the chance to find out whether this is true.
Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – music – http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/music/

An thought-provoking column by the Guardian’s music critic, who argues that Chopin’s heart is worth a scientific investigation.   Worth a read.

…..It’s all about his heart: after his death in Paris in 1849 (he left Warsaw in 1830, never to return, thanks to political and social upheaval), the composer’s will stipulated that his heart should be returned to Warsaw. His sister, Ludwika, came back to Poland, with Chopin’s most vital organ pickled in a jar of cognac. This ghoulish cocktail was buried in one of the pillars of the Holy Cross Church, in Warsaw’s old town – the first on the left as you go in to the church’s rather austere interior, in fact, and it’s marked with a plaque, and a mandatory group of tourists having their photo taken; at least it was when I was there earlier this year.

The Polish government is refusing to allow this holy of holies of Polish music to be removed from its resting place (usually, to say of a composer that their heart is in their homeland would be no more than metaphorical whimsy; with Chopin, it’s literally true). However, the scientists are trying to prove something genuinely important: this isn’t the same as trying to find out if a lock of hair really was Beethoven’s or Brahms’s, or if some random 18th-century skull actually did house Mozart’s grey matter. What they want to do is to take a sample of the heart to show that Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis. His symptoms – his physical frailty, his difficulty breathing, and periods of exhaustion – have always been assumed to be down to tuberculosis. But if it was the genetically acquired cystic fibrosis instead, then we’d have to rethink the notion of Chopin dying from the Romantics’ favourite disease, consumption….

There’s more. Virtually the entire reception history of Chopin, his music and his biography, is seen through the frame of his supposed physical weakness, whether it’s the image of him as effete saloniste, or a performance practice that has stressed the lyrical intimacy of his works rather than their structural integrity…..But his music, instead of merely reflecting his sickliness or the way he succumbed to his physical frailty, is heroic: not just in the way he created a whole new approach to playing and composing for the piano, but also because his creativity transcended the hardships of his life.

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