Saturday, 5 June 2010

Chopin in Majorca

Valledemossa, Majorca

In the autumn of 1838, before the onset of another Polish winter, Fryderyk Chopin travelled to the island of Majorca with his lover, the delightfully unconventional French author Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the name of George Sand. Chopin was in poor health and had been advised that the change of climate would do him good. [Edit, 28th April 2011: thanks to Peter for his comment below. Chopin in fact left Poland in 1830 and had been living in Paris when he went to Majorca. He was advised that the change of climate might do him good, but as Peter says, the Polish winter had nothing to do with it.]

The pair took a luxurious villa near Palma, but before long the conservatively Roman Catholic locals, aghast at their behaviour (it was bad enough that they didn't attend church, but Dupin was fond of a cigar and wore trousers), took against them. They were evicted, and moved to an abandoned monastery in the hilltop village of Valldemossa.

In their new, more spartan accommodation, things went from bad to worse. It rained incessantly; they were no more popular with the neighbours than they had been in Palma - and Chopin was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which of course was incurable. "Every attempt," according to Sand, "at cheerfulness and calm was frozen in my breast by the gloom."

But here's the thing: the months that the couple spent on the island were, creatively speaking, intensely productive. Sand wrote Un Hiver a Majorque, which I haven't read but is apparently a lively account of their time there; and Chopin composed a number of very beautiful pieces, among them one of my favourites, his Prelude in D flat, the 'Raindrop' (!)

I mention all this because a few weeks ago I was asked to choose three pieces of music for a programme on BBC Radio Ulster, and my initial selection was Dave Grusin's theme from On Golden Pond; Paul Brady's The Island; and Chopin's Raindrop. It was all very last minute and I emailed the list to the presenter the day before.

Then Lynn, looking at my choice for the first time, said, "It's all rather sombre, no?" Well, yes, I had to admit it was - in fact, a minute and a half into the Chopin piece it gets positively funereal. So I had a change of heart, and when I arrived at the studio I handed over a CD of the soundtrack for the movie Big Night, which features the wonderful Claudio Villa performing Stornelli Amorisi. A better balance altogether - but I didn't get to play the Raindrop, so here it is, Vladimir Horowitz on piano:-

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