Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Chopin

Music History Monday: An Auspicious Debut

186 years ago today – on February 26, 1832 – the not quite 22 year-old Frédéric Chopin made his highly anticipated Paris debut at the Salons de Pleyel – the tony concert hall of the Pleyel Piano Company – at 9 rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement. (Alas; the concert hall is no longer there. At the time of this writing, the building is occupied by a café/brasserie called “Le Petit Cadet”; a small produce market called “Cours des Halles”; a bookstore called “La librerie de JB”; and a high-end grocery and sandwich shop call “Castro Maison”. My goodness if the original walls could speak what stories they could tell!) Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 in Warsaw, Poland, the child of a Polish mother and a French father. His father Nicolas had come to Poland in 1787 when he was sixteen years old, and remained there to avoid being drafted into the French Revolutionary Army. By the time Frederic was born in 1810, his father had become a teacher of French, a Captain in the Polish National Guard, and a genuine Polish patriot: something he would pass on to his son. Chopin – who was, after all, the […]

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Music History Monday: Chopin’s Heart

167 years ago today – on October 17, 1849 – the brilliant Polish-born composer Frédéric Chopin died in his apartment in Paris’ très chic Place Vendome. He was 39 years, 6 months, and 16 days old when he died and was attended by Dr. Jean Cruveilhier, France’s leading authority on tuberculosis. A few months before his death, Dr. Cruveilhier had diagnosed Chopin with tuberculosis, and Cruveilhier ascribed TB as the cause of Chopin’s death on his death certificate. There was a certain tragic romance associated with tuberculosis in nineteenth century Europe. Dubbed the “White Plague”, TB was thought to imbue its victims with a heightened artistic sensibility. Reflecting on just this, the prototypical Romantic poet Lord George Gordon Byron, wrote, “I should like to die from consumption.” (He didn’t; he died of a septic infection at the age of 36. No romance there at all.) In a letter to a friend, George Sand wrote of her beloved Frédéric Chopin, “Chopin coughs with infinite grace.” So idealized was the “spiritual purity” tuberculosis presumably bestowed on its sufferers that it became stylish for mid-nineteenth century women to affect the appearance of a consumptive by making their skin as pale as possible. (As […]

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