Chopin Year in France and Malta
There is a tomb in the Père Lachaise cemetery that is constantly decked with flowers. Musicians or music lovers, touched by a waltz or a mazurka, stop by to place a fragrant and fragile tribute to Frédéric Chopin, the great Franco-Polish composer, the bicentenary of whose birth is being widely celebrated this year with a whole range of events. France was not to be outdone in honouring a man who spent most of his life on its soil. Having arrived in Paris in 1831, the composer died here in Place Vendôme twenty years later. Although Frédéric Chopin was proud to call himself Polish, he established the strongest of attachments to his second homeland. If Poland inspired him deeply and nurtured his talent, it was France that brought it out.
Frédéric was born in Poland to a French father, Nicolas, a young private tutor who went to try his luck and test his ambitions among the nobility of Warsaw. There, Chopin senior married for love and produced four children. The son, Frédéric, had an extraordinary gift for music.
The young Chopin discovered his father’s native land at the age of 19. He was fascinated by Parisian life and caused a sensation in the salons. “His blond hair was silky,” the composer Liszt described him, “his nose slightly curved, his features distinguished, and his manners marked with so much aristocracy that people unintentionally treated him like royalty”.
He moved into boulevard Poissonnière in the 9th arrondissement, a district that came to be very important to him and where you can follow his presence, notably in the exhibition devoted to him in the Musée de la Vie Romantique. The City of Light filled him with enthusiasm. “Paris is everything you could want,” he wrote to a friend. “In Paris, you can have fun, get bored, laugh, cry, do whatever you please”. Chopin gave his first concerts in the salons of the piano manufacturer Pleyel, in rue Cadet. He gave only 19 concerts in 18 years. So many “agonies” he admitted. For the prodigy suffered from stage fright. George Sand, poking fun, suggested he “play without light and without an audience on a dumb piano”. In 2010, such procrastination is no longer an issue and a whole series of concerts, in which all his works will be performed, are scheduled over the year, much to the delight of music lovers.
Two sensitive hearts in Berry
The writer, this “handsome youth” and collector of lovers, smoking a cigar and wearing trousers, was the great love of his life. Eight years of a turbulent and passionate affair united the pale musician of fragile health and dazzling talent with the provocative champion of women’s rights, six years his senior. For Frédéric, George Sand set aside her pen name and went back to being the tender and maternal Aurore Dupin.
At George’s estate in the heart of Berry, Chopin composed tirelessly, touched by grace. The manor house in Nohant brought him health and inspiration. “The place is very pleasant and the hosts could not do more to make me feel at home,” said the painter Delacroix, a close friend of the musician, with delight. “From time to time, bursts of Chopin’s music would drift through the window open to the garden, mingling with the song of the nightingales and the fragrance of the roses!” This enchanting place, Nohant, is now open to visitors and the atmosphere of its erstwhile residents has been kept intact. In June, as part of the Fêtes Romantiques de Nohant, visitors will be regaled with traditional music, theatre and romantic music in the sheep shed, newly converted for the occasion. It is especially here in this setting that you will experience a familiar and moving Chopin during the bicentenary celebrations.
Until his premature death at the age of 39, Frédéric Chopin missed the family spirit of Nohant, from which he was excluded after his break-up with George Sand. The couple had ventured on a disastrous trip to the island of Majorca in Spain. Sick and soon penniless, they even had to resort to the French consul for assistance. The writer, however, spent her nights writing and Chopin spent them composing. He also wrote extensively to his family and friends. This correspondence, in French and in Polish, will be collected in an anthology this year with new translations. The episode in the Balearics turned passion into indifference and an ill-defined boredom. The solitude that had once brought the lovers together, now distanced them. Domestic squabbles finally sealed their fate. It was nevertheless George Sand who best defined the music of her “petit Chopin”: “And then the ‘note bleue’ resonates and there we are, in the azure of the transparent night. Light clouds take on all the form of fantasy”.
A love of two places
Chopin’s music or the art of nuance, of the elimination of frontiers in harmony with the life of the composer, his heart in Poland, his soul in France. “The phrases of Chopin, so free and flexible and tangible, which begin by seeking, by trying to find their place far from the direction of their start,” wrote Marcel Proust, with emotion, “far from their expected goal, phrases that can be played in this flight of fancy only in order to effect a more deliberate and premeditated return, of greater precision, like a crystal with ear-splitting clang, striking you to the very heart”. This chronic condition of Chopin, torn between the homeland he missed and the homeland that sheltered him, is recreated in the major exhibition dedicated to him at the Cité de la Musique this year. It is this emotion, a secret space in which sounds and colours reverberate and of which Chopin was the architect of genius, which Chopin Year in France wishes as many people as possible to share.
All the events of the Chopin bicentenary
“La Note Bleue” [The Blue Note], exhibition at the Musée de la Vie Romantique
“Chopin, l’atelier du compositeur” [Chopin, the composer’s studio], exhibition at the Cité de la Musique.
The Association of Teachers of French in Malta (APFM) organizes a Soirée Musico-Littéraire "unique dans son genre" to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of the music composer Chopin (1810) on Friday 28th May 2010 at St. Gorg Preca College Boys’ Junior Lyceum Hamrun at 6pm.
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