Frédéric Chopin & George Sand
Frédéric Chopin, the Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, and his partner, the author George Sand, have been connected with Mallorca since their stay on the island over the winter of 1838/39. However, their visit was a productive one it was not a happy one.
Chopin's musical talent was apparent from an early age and started piano lessons at the age of six. He had written his first two pieces by the age of seven and was a favourite when performing his music in aristocratic salons and at public charity concerts. At the age of thirteen he entered the Warsaw Lyceum, where his father was a professor, and in 1826 he began studying music theory at the Warsaw Conservatory.
Chopin left his native Poland in 1831 and lived briefly in Vienna before settling in Paris where he spent much of his life. His musical work now began in earnest and over the years that followed he became a famous figure in Paris; he was, however, also suffering from tuberculosis. Although Chopin secretly engaged a 17-year-old Polish girl named Maria Wodzinska in 1836, he soon called it off. A few weeks later he met Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, a novelist who would be better remembered by her pseudonym; George Sand.
Although Sand was born in Paris, she grew up on her grandmother's estate, Nohant, in central French. She married Baron Casimir Dudevant at the age of nineteen and they had two children, Maurice and Solange. However, Amandine wanted more from life and after leaving her husband in 1831 had several high status affairs. One of her first liaisons was with the novelist and playwright Jules Sandeau and the pair published the novel Rose et Blanche under the pseudonym J. Sand. Amandine continued to use the pseudonym George Sand because female authors were frowned upon by publishers and readers.
To begin with Chopin did not like Amandine but by 1837 they had overcome their differences and began a relationship which would last ten-years. Chopin's health was deteriorating and in the autumn of 1838 the pair decided to spend the winter in Mallorca, hoping the Mediterranean climate would improve Chopin's health.
In early November George Sand and her children left Paris by horse and carriage and headed south via Chalon and Dijon. They sailed from Lyon down the Rhône River to Avignon where they again travelled by carriage through Nîmes to Perpignan near the Spanish border.
Meanwhile, Chopin had made his own way south from Paris accompanied by Juan Álvarez Mendizábal, the ex-Minister of the Treasury who had recently instigated the confiscation of monasteries. The lands were donated to barons to raise money and support for the young Queen Isabella in what would become known as the First Carlist War, a civil war about male supremacy in the Spanish Royal family.
Chopin and Sand sailed on the steamer Le Phénician from Port Vendres to Barcelona and then took the El Mallorquín to Palma, arriving on 8 November. The couple spent a week in the old artillery barracks on Carre Mar, in the centre of Palma, while they looked for lodgings. However, they were turned down several times because they were not married and had two children in tow. Eventually, they arranged to rent a large finca near Establiments and moved into it on 15 November.
To begin with the weather was warm and dry and Chopin piano practice on an old rented piano because his own was still en route. The weather took a change for the worse at the end of the month and the rain and cold made Chopin ill. On 3 December, he complained "I have been sick as a dog during these past two weeks. Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was already dead." The owner Snr. Gomez, was worried that he would catch tuberculosis and made his tenants leave on 10 December, burning the furniture and charged them for replacements.
Son Vent, or Windy House, is on the road from Establiments to Puigpunyent and while it is now abandoned and overgrown, two plaques celebrate their brief stay.
After another search for a place to stay, Chopin and Sand were in Valldemossa on 15 December, staying in the Carthusian monastery, one of those confiscated under Mendezabel. The building was now under private ownership and they rented a suite of rooms which had originally been monks' cells. While the setting was inspiring, the building was cold and draughty and the weather in the Tramuntana Mountains could be cold and damp.
Chopin's treasured Pleyel piano arrived in Palma on 20 December but it was impounded by customs until the import fee was paid. The virtuoso complained "They demand such a huge sum of money to release it that I can't believe it." After two weeks of haggling, Sand agreed to pay 300 francs; it was half the amount customs originally asked for.
The piano reached Valldemossa on 5 January and over the next five weeks he completed many works during what is considered one of the most productive periods in Chopin's life. Sand also made good use of her time, writing about her experiences in A Winter in Mallorca. The Mallorquins did not know what to make of her Bohemian lifestyle as she walked around the village in men's clothes and smoking. She in turn did not always get on with the locals.
Chopin's health deteriorated as the winter weather worsened and by early February 1839 they were forced to leave. The piano again caused them trouble at customs and Sand had to sell it to a French couple, called the Canuts. Their heirs are the custodians of Chopin's legacy on Mallorca and of the Chopin museum in Valldemossa's Monastery.
The four retraced their steps through Barcelona, ending up in Marseille where they stayed until the spring so Chopin could recover and be well enough for the journey north. In May they headed to Sand's estate at Nohant for the summer and by the autumn they were back in Paris. However, the winter in Mallorca
By the 1840s Chopin's health was rapidly deteriorating and the relationship with Sand was coming to an end because he was unhappy about her basing one of her fictional characters on him. The split came in 1847 after Solange and her husband fell out with her mother over money. Chopin continued the friendship with Solange and Sand reacted by accusing the ailing composer of being in love with her daughter. A year later he succumbed to the tuberculosis, although some believe other illnesses contributed to his death. He had died penniless and friends and admirers had to pay for his funeral. While 3,000 people attended, Sand stayed away. She died in June 1876 at the age of 71 and was buried on the family estate.
To follow in the famous couple's footsteps, check out the following instructions;
Start in Palma and find Avenida d'Antoni Maura which runs from the marina into city, next to the Royal Palace. From the roundabout called Plaza Reina, look for the Moorish style arch leading into Calle Mar (at the southwest corner of the plaza) and the artillery barracks is on the right.
Royal Charterhouse of Valldemossa:
Make your way onto the outer ring road, the Via Cintura (MA-20). Take the turning for Establiments (MA-1040) and head north through Secar de la Real. After 2 miles Bear left at the traffic lights next to an Old Stone Cross in the centre of Establiments and follow Calle Molino del Conde for 1 mile; Son Vent is to the right, high above the road.
Make your way back to the (MA-20), head east and turn north onto the Valldemossa road (MA-1130). Drive north for 9 miles into the mountains to find Valldemossa; the monastery is in the centre of the village.
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