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Marseilles

Marseilles, entrance to the port

Marseilles, entrance to the port, steel engraving by G. Larbalestier, photographic print from the collection of Maria Mirska. Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw [F.3896].

 

During Chopin’s Majorcan adventure, in the company of George Sand and her children, around the turn of 1838 and 1839, his health deteriorated badly. Consequently, the decision was immediately taken to leave the island. During the sea crossing from Palma, his condition was very severe, and so in Barcelona, at the advice of a doctor, the travellers stopped for several days. The next stage in their journey ended with a three-month period of convalescence in Marseilles. ‘Finally in France’, wrote George Sand in her correspondence a few days after arriving in Marseilles, ‘One more month and we would have died in Spain, both Chopin and myself, he from melancholy and repugnance, I from anger and indignation. […] He no longer spits blood, he is sleeping well and coughing little, but above all he is in France! He can sleep in a bed which will not be burned because he has slept in it.’ A month later, Chopin wrote to a friend: ‘I am dreadfully thinner and miserable looking, but now I am catching up on eating. To my eternal cough add all the ills that the Spanish visited upon me and all the pleasures too, as seeing her anxious the whole time, treating me (because the local doctors, God have mercy), making my bed, cleaning my room, preparing tisanes, denying herself everything for me […] with the children in need of her constant attention. […] Add to this, that she is writing.’ Chopin’s health gradually improved, and he was even able to resume composing. He generally avoided society, but led a peaceful lifestyle, reading a great deal and walking around the immediate area. But at the end of March, he stated, clearly quite wearied by this rhythm: ‘Marseilles is ugly; […] we are a little bored’. The monotonous atmosphere of their stay in Marseilles was shattered by the news of a tragic event: the suicide of Chopin’s friend, the outstanding singer Adolphe Nourrit. The funeral mass, for which Chopin played the organ, was held in the Church of Notre Dame du Mont on 24 April 1838. Sand and Chopin were greatly affected by his dramatic incident.

 

The rest of their stay in Marseilles was marked only by a journey by sea to Genoa, which was related by George Sand: ‘We return from Genoa lashed by a terrible storm at sea. We had marvellous views, wonderful nature, palaces and gardens towering one above the another. […] Yet Chopin was dreadfully tired.’ From 22 May, they travelled together to George Sand’s summer residence in Nohant. From Marseilles, they sailed by boat to Arles, then continued their journey by carriage, via St Etienne, Montbrison and Clermont. Finally, after more than a week on the road, on 1 June 1839 they arrived at Nohant.