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Paris

Paris, salon in Chopin’s apartment at 9 Square d'Orleans

Paris, salon in Chopin’s apartment at 9 Square d'Orleans, unsigned watercolour. Original lost with the collection of Laura Ciechomska in Warsaw. Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw [F.6267].

 

The Parisian homes of Fryderyk Chopin.

Chopin’s second apartment in Paris was at 4 rue de la Cité Bergère, where he lived for a year from June 1832. ‘It was an apartment in a boarding-house located very near to his previous abode, yet much more comfortable for him’. His new home was situated in a quiet part of an excellent district; his apartment, no. 702, was on the first floor. It was here that his teaching work began in earnest. He gave more and more lessons on his Pleyel piano.

 

‘Paris, rue de la Chaussée d’Antin No 5. I’m now living in the apartment of Franck – he has left for London and Berlin. I feel wonderful within these walls’, wrote Fryderyk in his correspondence after moving into his third flat in Paris. This time, he was not to live alone. The ‘pipe-puffing doctor and pianist’ Aleksander Hoffmann, a friend from Poland several years his senior, moved in. They lived together for some time from 1833, and in 1834 Hoffmann was replaced by another friend from home, Jan Matuszyński, who had just completed his medical studies in Germany. The atmosphere of those days was described by Matuszyński: ‘In Paris I began by going to see Chopin… He has put on weight and grown up, such that I barely recognised him. Today, Chopin is the foremost artist on the piano; he gives plenty of lessons, and all for 20 francs. His compositions are now most readily purchased, and he has written quite a few… The fact that we live together means everything to me! In the evenings we either go to the theatre or pay visits, if we are neither going to the theatre nor on a visit we sit quietly at home in our own company.’ This does indeed seem to have been a successful period in Chopin’s life, as one may judge from a quotation from the correspondence of the Polish violinist Antoni Orłowski: ‘Chopin in good health and strong; he is turning all the French ladies’ heads and driving the men to jealousy. He dictates the fashion, and the elegant world will soon be dressing à la Chopin.’ Fryderyk lived at 5 rue de la Chaussée d’Antin until 1836. This apartment was very elegantly furnished and always filled with fresh flowers. Guests were frequently invited, including Liszt, to play music together, and Chopin’s school friend Julian Fontana would make impromptu visits to spend some time with his friends or play whist. The only difficult moment was connected with Chopin’s health crisis around the turn of 1835 and 1836. Thanks to Jan Matuszyński’s constant care, Fryderyk soon recovered his strength, although unfortunately a rumour of illness, twisted into dreadful news of his supposed death, had already reached Warsaw, preceding his own letter with information on the improvement in his health.

 

Chopin rented his next apartment on the very same street, only a few doors away. He lived at 38 rue de la Chaussée d’Antin from 1836 to November 1838. In 1836, he proposed to Maria Wodzińska and, although he was accepted, the engagement was made conditional upon him keeping it secret and looking after his health. Still today, it is not known how the engagement came to be broken off. Chopin was deeply affected. Yet in spite of the troubles in his private life, Fryderyk carried on a very intensive social life during this time: ‘I have a few people around today, including Mrs Sand, with Liszt playing and Nourrit singing’. According to Brzowski, also present at that musical soirée were Heinrich Heine, Astolphe de Custine, Eugène Sue, Marie Sophie d’Agoult and Ferenc Liszt, Counts Włodzimierz and Bernard Potocki, Wojciech Grzymała and Jan Matuszyński. It was in 1836 that Chopin met George Sand (real name Aurore Dudevant), a writer six years his senior. After several encounters, his initial aversion towards her disappeared, and they soon entered into an ‘intimate friendship’. Somewhat alarmed, Chopin wrote to a friend: ‘God knows what will become of it. I feel seriously unwell’.

 

During his first visit to Nohant, in 1839, Chopin carried on a lively correspondence with his faithful friend and trusted copyist Julian Fontana. Most of the correspondence from this time is devoted to publishing matters which Fontana was coordinating for Chopin, although from a certain point onwards the letters are dominated by the question of accommodation. Chopin considered that the time had come to rent a new apartment, and he burdened his friend with the task of finding one. ‘Chopin gives remarkably detailed instructions, maps and descriptions of streets, and sets out his conditions. Also drawn into these efforts is Grzymała (two letters). He punctuates the practical indications with gallows or schoolboy humour: “Have Moscheles be given an enema of Neukomm oratorios, seasoned with Cellini [Berlioz] and a Doehler concerto”, etc., in a rather indecent style. The apartment search lasts until 8 October, due to the stipulated conditions: “It should be quiet, calm, no blacksmiths nearby, no young ladies. […] Sunny. […] There should not be any odours. Quite high. It should be smoke-free, light, as attractive as possible, in other words a view or garden not made a mess of”. Chopin’s list of requests appears to be endless, but finally he accepts the choice of apartment. He then issues further instructions: ‘Also give orders that […] in the new apartment, once such a competent person, no black thoughts or suffocating coughs come in – think well of me – and forgive me, if you can, many past episodes’. Finally convinced that Fontana has worked a miracle and found the perfect abode, Chopin returns from Nohant in October 1839 and immediately moves in at 5 rue Tronchet, where he will live for the next two years. This apartment was located in a splendid part of a right-bank district, not far from the Church of St Magdalene.

 

Another address considered to be an apartment of Chopin’s, 16 rue Pigalle, actually belonged to George Sand. It is ascribed to Chopin because in the years 1841–42 he did indeed spend most of his time there, and even gave lessons in Sand’s home. The correspondence of Honoré de Balzac includes the following description of this apartment, written after a visit paid to George Sand: ‘She lives at the back of a garden, above the coach houses and stables of a house which fronts onto the street. She has a dining room, in which the furniture is of carved oak. The little boudoir is the colour of coffee with milk, whereas the salon, where she receives guests, is filled with flowers in exquisite Chinese vases. There are always flowers in abundance in the jardinière, as well. The furniture has green upholstery. There is a cupboard laden with curios, there are pictures by Delacroix, her portrait by Calamata, and a wonderful quadrilateral rosewood piano. Finally, Chopin is always there.’

 

In August 1842, Chopin and George Sand rented two apartments close to one another on Square d’Orléans, in an exclusive district near Montmartre. On returning from their summer holiday in Nohant, George Sand moved in at no. 5, and Chopin at no. 9. ‘It seemed the perfect solution: they were separated from each other by only a courtyard. Fryderyk’s ground-floor flat consisted of a hall, a drawing-room and a bedroom, and the windows had an extensive view over the garden’ [Szulc, Chopin…]. Chopin lived on Square d’Orléans for almost seven years, from 1842 to 1849, the year of his death. But this was not his final Paris address.