Muses: Frédéric Chopin and George Sand


Frédéric Chopin and George Sand, 1917 by Adolf Karpellus


Portrait of George Sand - Eugene Delacroix
George Sand was a French Romantic novelist, one of the first female French writers to establish an international reputation. She become known for behavior unusual for a woman at the time, including openly conducting affairs, smoking a pipe and wearing men's clothing. Sand had been a friend of Delacroix for a number of years, though the painter did not hold her work in high regard. She met Chopin in 1836 and from 1838 conducted a relationship with him for ten years, until two years before he died. Much of the composer's best work was done during those ten years. Though their relationship began as physical, Chopin's failing health in time changed her role to that of caregiver.

Early in 1837, Chopin fell seriously ill. His pulmonary problems were beginning to badly trouble him. He had been jilted by Maria Wodzińska, and at that same time, Franz Liszt introduced to him a woman of much greater fascination and importance. Her name was George Sand. At first, prim and proper Chopin was repulsed by the notorious cigar smoking, trouser wearing novelist. Lacking traditional feminine qualities, he actually asked Liszt if she was indeed a woman. Chopin and Sand eventually formed a romantic relationship. In November of 1838, the couple spent three months in Majorca, where Chopin completed his 23 preludes in each of the major and minor keys.

George Sand is often cast as the villain of the piece, though actually, she did wonders for Frederic Chopin by shielding him from the buffetings of the world. At Nohant, the Sand”s family estate, and under her management, he could escape to another kind of island; a sprawling manor house in the style of Louis XVI, surrounded by woods, fields, and gardens. He played games with the children, improvised at the piano for guests, and organized a puppet theatre. But at the same time, he fretted and agonized over his compositions.


---The French literary historian, Sainte-Beuve, who knew Sand, argued that he couldn’t imagine anything worse than an affair with a woman writer -- because your private life would always end up in print. This is why Oscar Wilde, commenting at the end of the 19th century, could write, “Like Goethe, George Sand had to live her romances before she could write them.” Wilde knew of what he wrote for he did the same. Others have been more hostile. Baudelaire called her "stupid, heavy and garrulous" while Nietzsche dismissed her as "a cow that writes."

In Paris during the winter months, when Nohant was too cold for them, Chopin would toil mightily, but with fewer results. There were too many distractions. Living with Sand in the rue Pigalle and later on the Square d’Orleans, they were the center of a brilliant literary and artistic circle that included Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Balzac and Heine. His concerts were attended by the whole elite of society, the richest financiers, and the aristocracy of birth, fortune and beauty. However, his health was deteriorating and in time, he weighed less than a hundred pounds.:

The so-called honeymoon for Chopin and Sand proved to be a disaster. The people of Majorca were weary of Chopin's coughing, assuming it to be tuberculosis. And Sand did not attend church, which was seen as a scandal. Chopin, at first, thought the island a paradise, but several weeks later his health worsened and he was unable to enjoy the pleasures of the island.

Daguerreotype images are so haunting. This one is of Chopin, 1846 when he was still working on some of his last masterpieces, or perhaps the photograph was taken a little later, around the time of his acrimonious split with George Sand that left him so devastated.

Sand took great care of Chopin and insisted that he spend five months of the year at her country home in Nohant, France, where he would file and polish his compositions of the winter. Chopin and Sand spent almost nine years together and eventually ended their relationship. This was very unfortunate for Chopin because she protected and nursed the increasingly consumptive and irritable composer while attending to his every whim.

The separation with George Sand and his ill health broke Chopin. His weight dramatically decreased while his coughing became continuous. In the last two and a half years of his life, he only composed a few pages of music. He played his last concert in Paris on February 16, 1848; the year of the French Revolution.

His funeral was a major event held at the Madeleine Church (L'église de la Madeleine) in Paris. Mozart's Requiem was played at his own request. He was buried at the Paris cemetery, Père Lachaise, and it is said that there has never been a day since his death that flowers have not been placed on his grave.




Sources: Madam Pickwick

Musical Moments with Anthony Tommasini:Two Operas, Giacomo Puccini's Turandot and Richard Wagner's Siegfried

Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic of The New York Times, performs some of his favorite classical music moments on piano and explains why.





Turandot –The opera's story is set in China and involves Prince Calàf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death.

The Prince tries to convince Turandot to love him. At first she is disgusted, but after he kisses her, she feels herself turning towards passion. She admits that, ever since he came, she had both hated and loved him. She asks him to ask for nothing more and to leave, taking his mystery with him. The Prince however, reveals his name, "Calàf, son of Timur" and places his life in Turandot's hands. She can now destroy him if she wants. Turandot and Calàf approach the Emperor's throne. She declares that she knows the Prince's name: Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore! – "It is ... love!" The crowd cheers and acclaims the two lovers (O sole! Vita! Eternità).



Siegfried, is the third of the four operas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology.

Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock. At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man. However, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath. At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear. In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep. Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods. Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."



Leonardo da Vinci the musician.

 
Viola organista (Codex Atlanticus, 1488–1489)


Watch Leonardo da Vinci’s Musical Invention, the Viola Organista, Being Played for the Very First Time




First performance of the viola organista made by Sławomir Zubrzycki. INTERNATIONAL ROYAL CRACOW PIANO FESTIVAL 18TH OCTOBER 2013, Aula Florianka.

As the archetypal example of the polymathic, intellectually omnivorous “Renaissance man,” he not only attained mastery of a wide range of disciplines, but did his most impressive work in the spaces between them. Given the voluminousness of his output (not to mention the technical limitations of fifteenth-century Europe), many of his multiple domain-spanning ideas and inventions never became a reality during his lifetime. However, just this year, 494 years after Leonardo’s death, we now have the chance to see, and more importantly hear, one of them: the viola organista, an elaborate musical instrument that had previously only existed in his notebooks.

We owe this thrill not just to Leonardo himself, who left behind detailed plans for the (to him, purely theoretical) construction of such devices as this behind, but to a reported 5000 hours of physical effort by Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki, who actually put the thing together.

You can read more at the Sydney Morning Herald, whose article (on “Leonardo Da Vinci’s wacky piano“) quotes Zubrzycki: “This instrument has the characteristics of three we know: the harpsichord, the organ and the viola da gamba,” and playing it, which involves hitting keys connected to “spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair,” and turning those wheels by pumping a pedal below the keyboard, produces exciting unusual waves of cello-like sounds.

Muses: Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Countess Josephine von Brunsvik



Probably the most important woman in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, as documented by at least 15 love letters he wrote her where he called her his “only beloved”, being “eternally devoted” to her and “forever faithful” was  Countess Josephine von Brunsvik. Given that there is no other similar evidence that he might have been in love with any other woman, she is generally considered to be the most likely recipient of the mysterious “Letter to the Immortal Beloved”

Josephine came from an aristocratic family of amateur musicians who lived in a magnificent castle near Budapest. She and her sister Therese were brought to Vienna in 1799 for private piano lessons with Beethoven. His feelings for her are documented in at least 15 love letters penned over a long period. Although she appears to have been attracted to the great composer and moved by his devotion, the surviving correspondence indicates that things never progressed beyond close friendship – family pressure and her suitor’s lack of title and social graces may have had something to do with it.

Josephine married twice: first to the much older Joseph Count Deym, with whom she had four children. When he died in 1804 Beethoven resumed his advances, seeing the young widow far more frequently than decorum permitted. At this most intense period in their relationship, the composer was writing the jubilant finale of his opera Leonore (later revised as Fidelio), a work exalting a virtuous wife and the power of married love. The most tempestuous sonata of his middle period, the Appassionata, was written during this time and dedicated to Josephine’s brother Count Franz von Brunsvik.




By 1810 Josephine had re-married, and her union with Baron von Stackelberg proved an unhappy one.

Beethoven composed the song An die Hoffnung (To Hope) and the piano piece Andante favori as musical declarations of love. He seems to have carried the torch for a long time: it is widely thought that Josephine is the subject of his famous, tormented letter to The Immortal Beloved, written in 1812: “…you know my faithfulness to you, never can another own my heart, never – never – never…”


Peter Schreier, tenor. Walter Olbertz, piano. Adele Stolte, soprano.

Powerful connection between music, memory helps dementia patients



There's a powerful connection between music and memory. So much so, there's a program named just that -- It's tough to have a conversation with Socorro Kennedy, better knows as Miss Cora. She's 90 with dementia and often sits quietly all day.

That is, until the music in a pair of ear phones is turned on.

"She comes alive when you put that music on, from her toes to the top of her head," Naomi Mathes said.

The oldies playing are specifically researched and chosen for her, based on family interviews. Then they're tested and a full playlist is set.

"When you can no longer reach them with words, you can reach them with music," Mathes said.

Mathes is part of the Juliette Fowler Communities. She says music primes your brain to get active again.

"Music is one of the last things to leave that is connected with emotions and memories and is stored in multiple parts of the brain," she said.

Listening to music stimulates Cora's brain so much, she now responds to conversations. She even speaks full, recognizable words.

Although Cora wants more, Mathes said they have to limit her time with music or she will wear herself out.

Mathes says the ear phones are key. Blaring the music on a speaker comes with too many distractions and doesn't have the same affect.

With headphones, Cora gets lost in the moment -- proving that there's much joy left to share -- thanks to every beat, tap and clap.


Reposted from WFAA.com