A Romantic Walk around Frédéric Chopin's Paris

Paris sights that bring you in touch with Chopin:

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Chopin Monument

When Frédéric Chopin left Warsaw in 1830, he  set out for Vienna which he had visited  the year before.  Chopin had aroused interest in his music the previous year  and he now hoped to make a more lasting impression. Unfortunately for Chopin, the time was not right for him. Vienna in 1830 was not short of pianists, and he could not compete with the likes of Thalberg, who had out-performed the rest of the field. After a few months in Vienna and attracting little interest, Chopin decided to move to Paris.

Initially, Chopin had mixed feelings towards the French. He felt some resentment at the French for not having supported the Polish insurgents against the Russians, but nevertheless, he was fascinated by the bustling city.  At that time, Paris had become the center of the new art movement and the heart of Romanticism. Chopin managed to establish himself as a fashionable teacher and as a performer in the houses of the rich.

Chopin’s Paris

Chopin music enthusiasts may be interested in visiting some of the sights that would bring them in touch with this master composer.  Visitors to Paris would generally visit many of these sights anyway as they are on the popular Paris sightseeing trail.

Polish Library – Literary and Historical Society

The Polish Library is one of the places that is a must visit on the “Chopin trail”.  It is the oldest non-French library in Paris and is an important centre of Polish culture in the West.  In this library are preserved not only the memories, but also the spirit, of Polish immigrants who settled in Paris.  Today, you can visit the Chopin room where portraits, drawings, musical scores, letters and mementoes are on display to commemorate the composer.  The Polish Library also has a room devoted to the life and works of Adam Mickiewicz, an eminent Polish poet,  and many other notable Poles.

From the Library you can easily cross the Seine to get to the Hotel Lambert, the former residence of Prince Czatoryski. This active patriot was  the founder of the Polish Library, The Historical Society of Poland as well as several educational institutions for young Polish expatriates.  Prince Czatoryski, noted for his unrelenting causes for Poland, gave lavish balls and “Christmas charities” involving many artists and intellectuals such as George Sand, Delacroix and Chopin.

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Arcades of Palais-Royal

The Arcades of the Palais-Royal

The Palais-Royal complex was redesigned and expanded when Louis Philippe II was resident at the palace. Part of the redevelopment plans included the opening of the gardens and surrounding structures of the Palais-Royal to the public in 1784.

The arcades of the Palais-Royal were filled with boutiques, cafés, salons and many other luxurious shops and the palace complex became an important marketplace frequented by the aristocracy, the middle class as well as the ordinary folks. Chopin was a keen customer of the luxury shops here. The best makers of gloves, hats, etc. had his measurements and all he had to do was instruct his faithful secretary Julian Fontana for the required items to be made and shipped to his address!

The Tuileries Garden

The Tuileries was a place of promenade for Chopin. He also attended the palace which burned down in 1871. Chopin was first invited by Louis-Philippe to perform in the palace in 1838. As a mark of appreciation he was given a tea set with designs that mimicked the monarch and queen. In December 1841, Chopin was invited to perform by the Duke of Orleans, and this time was paid 100 gold francs!

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Jardin des Tuileries - Paris

12, Place Vendôme

This is the last address of Chopin. He settled here, in the fall of 1849, in a comfortable apartment overlooking the courtyard facing south. Chopin’s health declined irreversibly and in early June, he called for his sister Ludwika to be with him . She arrived from Poland and attended to Chopin until the end.

By October, Chopin could barely stand, and neither was he able to play the piano, compose or even “to make himself understood by signs” (H. Berlioz).  Friends and admirers gathered to give him support and surround him with affection. On 15 October, the Countess Delphine Potocka, a close friend of Chopin, had a piano installed by Chopin’s bedside and she played and sang psalms for him. On 17 October, at two o’clock in the morning, Chopin passed away. A few days later, in sorting out his papers, they found inside one of his jackets a letter and a lock of hair from George Sand, his only love.

Place Vendôme today is home to bankers, luxury and branded goods and jewellers, and at no. 10-12 is Bulgari.

Church of the Madeleine

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Eglise de Madeleine

Chopin’s funeral was celebrated in the Church of the Madeleine on October 30, 1849, after a two week delay.  Chopin had instructed that Mozart’s Requiem was to be sung at his funeral.  This caused a ‘technical glitch’ as the Requiem had major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir.  Fortunately, the church finally relented but on condition that the female singers had to remain behind a black velvet curtain.  Pauline Viardot,  a famous mezzo-soprano and a faithful friend and admirer also performed. More than 3,000 people come to pay their last respects to the composer.  (See here for Classical Concerts at La Madeleine.)

A few days later, his sister Ludwika returned to Warsaw, and following the wishes of her brother she carried his heart back to Poland. It has since that time been sealed within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.

Musée de la Vie Romantique

The former home of painter Ary Scheffer, is today dedicated to the memory of the rich romantic life in the New Athens neighborhood. This painter, friend of a generation of Romantic artists of 1830, left many portraits of Chopin.

The house also contains many souvenirs of George Sand, bequeathed by her daughter, Aurore Lauth-Sand. They illustrate the lifestyle of the decade from 1830 to 1840. The memory and works of painters like Géricault, Delacroix, Chopin and George Sand, Liszt, Rossini and Turgenev are still discussed in the workshop-salon.

The Musée de la Vie Romantique is one of 14 municipal museums of the City of Paris.

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Chopin's Paris Trail

Square d’Orléans

At the end of July 1842, Chopin and George Sand left Nohant,  in Berry, to search for a house in Paris. Marliani Charlotte, wife of the Spanish consul, alerted them of a new place – the Square d’Orléans.  It was described as  “English built” - that is to say around a large courtyard, and therefore away from the noise of the streets in the neighborhood.  The place was quickly dubbed the New Athens. Captivated by the place, they signed two leases. George is on the first floor at No. 5 and Frederick at No. 9.  In his small apartment he could receive his students and create his music. Chopin kept this address until 1849 – before he left for Place Vendome.

Les Salons Pleyel

Paris was not only the capital of music, but it was still the capital of piano manufacturing. No fewer than 300 factories were located here. Pape, Erard and Pleyel compete for the best musicians and technical innovations.  Chopin was introduced to Camille Pleyel by Friedrich Kalkbrenner, a great pianist and pedagogue of German origin.  Chopin was invited to give his first recital in the vast Salon Pleyel on February 26, 1832. The accounts of the evening are dazzling and Chopin won the firm friendship of Camille Pleyel.  (See here for Classical Concerts at Salle-Pleyel)

Old Concert Hall of the Conservatoire

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Chopin's Grave at Pere-Lachaise

The Concert Hall of the Conservatory is a Mecca of the music of Romantic Paris. Between 1832 and 1838, Chopin, despite his aversion to public concerts, performed here. But above all, he came to hear the creations of his contemporaries. Berlioz gave his works, such as Symphonie Fantastique created in 1830, then Lelio, Harold in Italy and finally Romeo and Juliet. We could still hear Mendelssohn and Liszt, plus Beethoven’s symphonies under the direction of Francis Habeneck.

Although heavily restored, this room still retains an appearance similar to the original.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise

On October 30, 1849, the composer’s body was deposited in a single vault (Division XI).  It included a little earth from his homeland, which Chopin was given when he left Poland in 1830 and which he had always kept in an urn.  At the top of the tomb is placed Euterpe - muse of music – which, “tearful and having broken the strings of his lyre, plunges his eyes towards the profile portrait of Chopin”.

How about you, what do you think?

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