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Stuttgart

Stuttgart, castle

Stuttgart, castle, steel engraving by Emden after a drawing by Heinrich Schönfeld, photographic print from the collection of Maria Mirska. Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw [F.3634].

 

Another stage in Chopin’s journey from Vienna (via Linz, Salzburg and Munich) to Paris in 1831 was Stuttgart. Fryderyk was accompanied by his friend Norbert Kumelski. They stayed in Stuttgart from 4 September, and Chopin met with Pixis, the composer and pianist to whom he dedicated an edition of his Fantasy on Polish Airs. There was nothing to suggest that this brief stop in Stuttgart would inscribe itself in his further fortunes, but it was here that he received news of the defeat of the insurrection in Poland. Fryderyk fell into despair and nervous breakdown. Such is testified by morbid entries about ‘turning into a corpse’ and a ‘living corpse’ in the notebook known as his ‘Stuttgart diary’: ‘Stuttgard. A curious thing! This bed to which I’m going might have served more than one dying person already, and today it is not repulsive to me! Perhaps more than one corpse lay here, lay for quite some time on this bed? – But where’s the corpse that’s worse than me? – A corpse also knows nothing of its father, its mother, its sisters, of Tytus! – A corpse also has no lover… A corpse as white as I. A corpse as cold as I now feel cold to everything. – A corpse has already ceased living – and I have already lived my fill. – My fill? – Is a corpse sated with life? – Were it sated, it would look well, yet it is so wretched – could life really have such a great effect on features, on facial expression, on a person’s insides? Why do we live such a miserable life, which consumes us and serves only to make corpses of us! The clocks in the towers of Stuttgart are beating a nocturnal hour. Ah, how many corpses have been made in this moment around the world?’ He was haunted by a vision of the death of his parents, his sisters, all his friends. He suddenly pictured the complete annihilation of his homeland: ‘I wrote the previous pages not knowing that the enemy’s at the door. The outskirts destroyed – burned – Ja¶! – Wilu¶ on the ramparts has doubtless perished – I see Marceli taken prisoner – Sowiński, that good honest fellow in the hands of those rogues! Oh God, you are! You are and you take no revenge! – Have you not yet had enough of the Muscovite crimes – or – or else you are Muscovy! […] What’s happening with her? Where is she? The poor thing. Perhaps in Muscovite hands! […] And I’m here idle, and I’m here with bare hands, sometimes just moaning, lamenting at the piano, despairing.’ As Ryszard Przybylski opines, in analysing phrases from this diary: ‘In the phantasm of the “living corpse”, Chopin enclosed the experience of the loss of his own identity while retaining the awareness of the existence of his own “I” […] Chopin gained the conviction that his existence had been stripped of meaning. He began to sense his own existence as something needless and absurd, since the spiritual crisis that he experienced in a small hotel in Stuttgart did not concern his views on life, but affected the structure of his consciousness.’ Depressed and distraught, altered forever, he resumed his journey to Paris.