07/21/06 - chopin and poland

In today's excerpt - Frederic Chopin and his native Poland:

"At around two in the morning on 17 October 1849, Chopin died of consumption in an apartment in the Place Vendome, that most elegant 18th-century square in Paris. It is almost exactly opposite the hotel where, about 150 years later, Diana, Princess of Wales set out to her death; today, Chopin's plaque can be seen above a very smart jeweller's shop.

"... [He] had been born less than 40 years earlier, in a village near Warsaw. ... The Poland into which Chopin was born, and for which he became a symbol, had long been an unhappy place. For centuries, its borders with Muscovy and the fiefdoms of the Ottoman Empire seem to have been permanently elastic. In seeking their disparate aims, thugs with Romantic names like Boleslaw and Casimir, and their supporters hacked each other to bits. Some of the worst were that ferocious combination of grail and sword known as the Teutonic Knights. Then, two centuries after the Knights ceased to be an active force, the Swedes and Russians inflicted damage on Poland as serious as that experienced by Germany in the Thirty Years War. ...

"The Poles have certainly claimed Chopin as embodying the nationalism of the Polish people, although very few of his works actually contain an identifiable folk tune. Some claim that 'the Polish blood throbs with particular vigour in his warlike polonaises, whose boldly arching melodies are of bent steel', and yet others have found evidence of him making political statements through his music, whatever this may mean. ... Poland and its woes certainly stimulated his imagination; but it seems fair to say that, 'Polish music owes to him something more and something greater than he does to Polish music'. The Poles, when their national identity had been obliterated, rallied around his music; he became a focus for their nationalism."


Michael Steen


The Lives and Times of the Great Composers


Oxford University Press


Copyright 2003, 2010 Michael Steen


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