Oskar Schindler

Remembered as the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark and 1993 film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler is famous for saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, despite being a member of the Nazi Party. Schindler knew the consequences of his actions if he were caught, yet he persevered by spending his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases to save the lives of so many people.

Oskar Schindler was born on 28th April 1908 in Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic). His father, Johann “Hans” Schindler, owned a farm machinery business, which he expected his son to work for after completing his schooling. Schindler worked with his father for three years but quit after marrying Emilie Pelzl (1907-2001) in 1928, despite living with his parents for another seven years.

Over the next two years, Schindler worked several jobs, including a brief stint in the Czech army as a lance corporal in the Tenth Infantry Regiment of the 31st Army. After 18 months, Schindler left the army to work at Moravian Electrotechnic, which promptly went bankrupt, leaving him jobless for a year. Schindler’s father’s businesses also folded, so he took a job with the Jaroslav Šimek Bank of Prague.

During the early 1930s, Schindler had an affair with Aurelie Schlegel, an old school friend. She bore two children, Emily (1933) and Oskar (1935), although Schindler claimed Oskar was not his. Around this time, Schindler also developed a drinking problem, resulting in several arrests for public drunkenness. His father was also an alcoholic and abandoned Schindler’s mother shortly before her death in 1935.

In 1935, Schindler joined the Sudeten German Party, a major pro-Nazi force in Czechoslovakia. Despite his nationality, the Nazi Party employed Schindler as a spy for the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Based in Breslau, Poland, Schindler collected information on railways and the military. He also recruited other spies in Czechoslovakia in preparation for an invasion of the country by Nazi Germany. Schindler was caught by the Czech government in 1938 and imprisoned, where he claimed he only took the job for the money to pay the debts accrued by his drinking problem.

After Schindler’s release as a political prisoner under the terms of the Munich Agreement, which aimed to prevent Germany from invading Czechoslovakia, Schindler became a member of the Nazi Party. He continued to work for the Abwehr and moved to Ostrava on the Czech-Polish border with his wife, who did not leave him despite his earlier affair. Schindler continued to conduct spy work, which helped Nazi Germany invade Czechoslovakia regardless of the Agreement. He was also instrumental in the invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of the Second World War.

In October 1939, Schindler temporarily moved to Kraków on Abwehr business. Abwehr agent Josef “Sepp” Aue introduced him to Itzhak Stern (1901-69), his Jewish accountant. Sepp had taken over Stern’s Jewish firm when Jews were banned from owning places of business and homes and stripped of their rights. Schindler asked Stern to look over the accounts of a Jewish enamelware factory he intended to acquire. Stern advised him to buy it outright rather than through the Haupttreuhandstelle Ost (Main Trustee Office for the East), giving him more control about the running of the factory, for instance, the freedom to hire Jews.

Schindler followed Stern’s advice and purchased Rekord Ltd in November 1939, which he promptly renamed Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (German Enamelware Factory). Over time, the company became known by the shorter name, Emalia. Schindler hired 250 Polish staff, only seven of whom were Jews. Much later, the number of staff increased to 1,750 workers, including one thousand Jews. Initially, the increase of Jews coincided with Schindler’s desire to earn money. Jews were cheaper to hire because the Nazi regime controlled their wages.

Life for the Jewish population in Poland became increasingly dangerous in 1940. Schindler felt concerned not just for his business, but for his employees as well. To protect his Jewish workers, Schindler listed his factory as a business essential to the war effort. This allowed his employees to claim exemptions from Nazi projects. Schindler even hired women, children and the disabled as essential workers.

On 1st August 1940, all Jews in Kraków were ordered to leave the city. Fortunately, those with essential jobs were allowed to stay, including Schindler’s workers. Of the 80,000 Jews in Kraków, only 15,000 remained by 1941. Unfortunately, those that stayed were forced to live in Kraków Ghetto, an area surrounded by barbed wire and tombstone-like walls. Aware of the unsanitary conditions of the ghetto, Schindler gradually expanded his factory to include a clinic, shop, kitchen and dining room for his workers. Using his connection with the Abwehr, Schindler smuggled in many items on the black market to improve the lives of the Jewish people in his care.

In 1941, the Nazis began transporting Jews to the Bełżec extermination camp in Poland, where they were murdered. Fortunately, due to their work at Emalia, Schindler’s Jews were saved from such a fate. In 1943, Schindler heard the Nazi party planned to liquidate the ghetto in Kraków and move the Jews to the Płaszów concentration camp. Fearing for his workers, Schindler arranged for them to stay at the factory to protect them from harm.

On 13th March 1943, all of Schindler’s workers avoided the horrors of the camp liquidation. Witnessing the event, Schindler felt appalled by the Nazi party and decided to save the lives of as many Jewish people as he could. He watched in horror as Jews were marched the two miles to the new camp, while those deemed unfit to work were shot in the streets. Those who reached the camp lived in fear of SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth (1908-46), who shot inmates at random every day.

Schindler could not hide his workers in the factory forever, so bribed Göth to let him open a subcamp at Emalia. After much flattery and money, Göth agreed, and Schindler opened his factory as a home to all his workers and 450 Jews from neighbouring factories. Safe from the threat of execution, Schindler’s Jews could observe religious practices and eat the food Schindler purchased on the black market.

Towards the end of 1943, Schindler received word from the Jewish resistance movement by Zionist leaders in Budapest, Hungary. They asked him to spy and report on the Nazi Party members who mistreated the Jews and deliver money from the Jewish Agency for Israel to the Jewish underground.

By 1944, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was drawing near the borders of Poland. The Nazis began closing concentration camps and transporting their prisoners to Auschwitz, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis also planned to close all factories not directly involved with war work. To ensure his factory would not close, Schindler began manufacturing anti-tank grenades and sent more bribes to Göth. Eventually, Göth allowed Schindler to keep his factory, although made him move it to Brünnlitz in the Sudetenland (now the Czech Republic).

A list of 1,200 names was drawn up of Schindler’s 1,000 Jewish workers and 200 labourers at the textile factory belonging to Austrian businessman Julius Madritsch (1906-84). Schindler gradually transported his workers and equipment to Brünnlitz. Around 700 men accidentally ended up in a different camp before Schindler could arrange for their train to be re-routed to the new factory. Similarly, 300 women arrived at Auschwitz, forcing Schindler to send bribes of black market goods, food and diamonds to secure their release.

The move, which took several weeks, plus the money spent on bribes, restricted the amount of food and health care resources for Schindler’s workers. Output at the factory was poor due to the insufficient rations, but Schindler avoided suspicion by obtaining goods on the black market and selling them as his own. Meanwhile, Schindler’s wife, Emilie, surreptitiously gathered food and medicine for the workers.

Determined to save more Jews, Schindler arranged the transfer of 3,000 Jewish women out of Auschwitz to small textiles plants in the Sudetenland. Whilst he had little control over how they were treated by those running the plants, it increased the women’s chances of avoiding the gas chambers and surviving the war.

In January 1945, Schindler received a trainload of 250 Jewish prisoners from another camp. The doors to the wagons were frozen shut and took hours to open with a soldering iron. Twelve people died during the wait, and the remaining 238 were too poorly to work. Had they arrived in Auschwitz, the Jews would have been shot or sent to the gas chambers. Instead, Emilie set up a makeshift hospital and tended to their needs for the remainder of the war.

Schindler and his workers lived in the hope that the Red Army would arrive to liberate the camps in Poland. Schindler continued to bribe SS officers to prevent his workers from being taken away from him due to their inability to work. Finally, on 7th May 1945, the radio in the factory played British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) announcement that Germany had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.

Following the surrender of Germany, Schindler’s Jews (Schindlerjuden) were taken to safety. Their names and photographs are on display at the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, situated in Schindler’s original factory. Schindler, on the other hand, was far from safe. As a member of the Nazi Party and the Abwehr, he was at risk of arrest for war crimes. Itzhak Stern, who helped Schindler throughout the war, and several others wrote a letter detailing Schindler’s role in saving Jewish lives, which he could show to those trying to round up the war criminals.

Knowing the Soviets were unlikely to believe Schindler’s anti-Nazi actions, he and Emilie fled Poland until they reached American lines. In Passau, Germany, an American officer arranged transport to Switzerland. By this time, Schindler was destitute after spending all his money on bribes and the black market. Jewish organisations offered assistance, which Schindler reluctantly took. In 1948, he approached the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with an estimated list of his expenditures at over $1,056,000 but only received $15,000 compensation.

Schindler and Emilie moved to Argentina in 1949 to try their luck raising chickens and coypu. Unfortunately, the business went bust in 1958, and Schindler returned to Germany alone to try to build a successful factory. While in Germany, Schindler received an invitation to visit Jerusalem. While there, a carob tree was planted in his honour on the Avenue of the Righteous. The Avenue honours non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War.

In 1963, Schindler declared bankruptcy after a series of unsuccessful business ventures. The following year, he suffered a heart attack, which left him considerably weakened and less able to work. Fortunately, he remained in contact with several of his Schindlerjuden, who sent him donations as a thank you for saving their lives.

Oskar Schindler passed away from liver failure on 9th October 1974. His body was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, making him the only former member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way. His gravestone features the Hebrew inscription “Righteous Among the Nations”, below which a German inscription reads “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews”.

Schindler and his wife were both awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by the State of Israel. A few other members of the Nazi Party also received the title for their actions to save Jews during the war. Karl Plagge (1887-1958) rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Lithuania, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904-73) helped resistance groups rescue 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population, Helmut Kleinicke (1907-79) saved Jews from Auschwitz, and Hans Walz (1883-1974) financed the emigration of Jews at the beginning of the war.

Schindler was one of the few members of the Nazi Party to turn against the regime and put his life on the line to save thousands of lives. His heroics are immortalised in the novel Schindler’s Ark written by Australian author Thomas Keneally (b.1935) in 1982. In 1993, Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) adapted the book into a film, Schindler’s List, starring Liam Neeson (b. 1952) as Schindler. The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning six for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction.

A copy of the list Schindler compiled of his Jewish workers exists at the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. Notable people on the list include Itzhak Stern, portrayed by Ben Kingsley (b. 1943) in Schindler’s List; Poldek Pfefferberg (1913–2001) portrayed by Jonathan Sagall (b. 1959); Joseph Bau (1920-2002), an artist; and Ryszard Horowitz (b. 1939), a pioneer of special effects photography.


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Chopin: The Man Behind the Music

Frédéric Chopin is remembered as a composer and piano player whose “professional technique […] was without equal in his generation.” With over 230 compositions under his belt, Chopin became one of the world’s first celebrities in the music industry. Influenced by composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Chopin combined new and old techniques to develop new genres of music that made him a leading symbol of the Romantic era. Yet, Chopin died young at the age of 39, robbing the world of his talents. Nonetheless, he left behind a hole that musicians have since tried and failed to fill. How did someone so young achieve everlasting fame and admiration?

Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was the second child born in Poland to Nicolas Chopin (1771-1844) and Justyna Krzyżanowska. There is some discrepancy about his date of birth, which is either 22nd February or 1st March 1810, although the latter is generally accepted today. His father, a Polonised Frenchman, received a teaching post at the Warsaw Lyceum in the same year of his son’s birth, prompting the family to move to the capital. Chopin and his sisters, Ludwika (1807-55), Izabela (1811-81) and Emilia (1812-27), grew up within the grounds of the school where their father taught the flute and violin, and their mother the piano.

Although his parents were musicians, Chopin’s father arranged for his children to have professional music tuition. At the age of six, Chopin started receiving piano lessons from Wojciech Żywny (1756-1842), a Polish teacher who instilled Chopin’s love of Mozart (1756-1791) and Bach (1685-1750). His elder sister Ludwika also received lessons, and they occasionally played duets, but of the pair, it became apparent Chopin was the child prodigy. Chopin gave his first public concert to the Polish aristocracy at seven years old and composed two polonaises, a style of Polish dance. Unfortunately, these manuscripts are missing, so Chopin’s earliest known work is a polonaise in A-flat major, which he wrote and dedicated to his piano teacher in 1821, aged 11.

Fryderyk Chopin at the piano – Eliza Radziwiłłówna

In 1823, Chopin began attending the Warsaw Lyceum as a pupil. As well as academic instruction, Chopin received organ lessons from Czech musician Wilhelm Würfel (1790-1832). In 1826, Chopin enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatory to take a three-year music course under the tuition of Józef Elsner (1769-1854). During this time, Chopin focused on composition work, which he performed at many recitals in the city. Chopin wrote mainly for the piano, but in 1825 he was invited to try out a unique instrument: the aeolomelodicon.

The aeolomelodicon is an obsolete keyed wind instrument consisting of a keyboard and pedal, which when depressed triggered a set of bellows to produce a soft, ethereal sound. The designer, Fidelis Brunner, based it on the earlier, unsuccessful instrument, the aeolodion. The older instrument used steel springs to produce the sound, but Brunner used brass tubes and reeds instead, which proved more powerful. In May 1825, Chopin performed one of his compositions on the aeolomelodicon, for which he received great praise.

The success of Chopin’s performance on the aeolomelodicon led to the invitation to play for Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825) on another strange instrument: an aeolopantalon. Jozé Dlugosz of Warsaw, the inventor of the aeolopantalon, combined the earlier instruments with a piano, which played both in conjunction or separately from the bellows. Impressed with Chopin’s recital, the Tsar presented him with a diamond ring. Another concert was arranged at which Chopin performed his Rondo Op. 1., which subsequently became his first published work.

As a student, Chopin took the opportunity to visit other parts of Poland. He particularly enjoyed staying in the Polish village Szafarnia, where he discovered rural folk music. The atmosphere and traditions Chopin observed differed greatly to the city and made a significant impact on the young composer. Sadly, the death of Chopin’s youngest sister Emilia in 1827 put an end to these excursions, and he returned to his parents, who ran a boarding house for students of the Warsaw Lyceum.

Chopin plays for the Radziwiłłs, 1829 – Henryk Siemiradzki, 1887

In 1829, Chopin completed his education at the Conservatory. The same year, the governor of the Grand Duchy of Posen, Prince Antoni Radziwiłł (1775-1833), invited Chopin to Berlin. As visualised in a painting by Henryk Siemiradzki (1843-1902), Chopin performed for the Radziwiłł family and guests. Chopin also composed a piano and cello piece called Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major for the prince, an aspiring cellist. Yet, when Chopin officially published the manuscript, he dedicated it to the Austrian cellist Joseph Merk (1795-1852), who Chopin claimed was the only violoncellist he respected.

Later that year, Chopin made his debut in Vienna, where he premiered his Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”. These were variations of a song of the same name in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and received favourable reviews, although some commented that Chopin was “too delicate for those accustomed to the piano-bashing of local artists.” Yet, the performance drew attention to the young composer and he played at another concert before returning to Warsaw. When the up-and-coming German composer Robert Schumann (1810-56) heard Chopin play, he exclaimed, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.”

In 1830, Chopin set out “into the wide world, with no very clearly defined aim, forever.” (Zdzisław Jachimecki, 1937) Little did he know he would not see his home city again, which suffered damages during the November 1830 Uprising. Also known as the Polish-Russian War 1830-31, Polish rebels turned the capital into a military garrison, forcing the Warsaw Lyceum and Conservatory to close. Although Chopin expressed his nostalgia for his homeland, he did not return to the city to enlist in the army. Instead, he remained in Western Europe, performing in Vienna and Paris.

Chopin at 25 – Maria Wodzińska, 1835

Chopin arrived in Paris in 1831, inadvertently becoming one of the many expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration who fled from the uprising. To gain French citizenship, Chopin began using the French version of his name, Frédéric François Chopin, yet he always considered himself Polish at heart. While in Paris, Chopin became acquainted with many french composers and artists, including Hector Berlioz (1803-69), Franz Liszt (1811-86) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). He also remained in close contact with his Polish friends, especially Julian Fontana (1810-69), who boarded with Chopin during their years at the Warsaw Lyceum. Although Fontana wanted to establish himself in England, his lack of success prompted him to become Chopin’s “general factotum and copyist”.

Chopin’s debut concert in Paris took place on 25th February 1832 in the salons de MM Pleyel, a virtuoso pianist and piano maker. Critics exclaimed, “Here is a young man who … taking no model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, … an abundance of original ideas of a kind to be found nowhere else …”. Chopin earned the patronage of the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family, and by the end of the year, had a steady income from the publications of his compositions. He no longer relied on public performances or money from his family for day-to-day living.

In 1835, Chopin visited his family in the Slavic city Carlsbad. As it turned out, this was the last time Chopin saw his parents. On his way back to Paris, Chopin stopped in Dresden, where he met the Wodziński family with whom he had made the acquaintance during his student years. While there, Chopin became enamoured with 16-year-old Maria Wodzińska (1819-96), who painted a portrait of Chopin, which is considered the best likeness of all images of the composer. The following year, Chopin returned to Dresden, where he proposed to Maria. From there, he travelled on to Leipzig, where he composed many pieces, which he compiled into an album for his fiancée. Unfortunately, the gift did not receive the reaction for which Chopin hoped, and the relationship came to an end.

While living in Paris, Chopin befriended Franz Liszt, whom he performed with on at least seven occasions. Chopin dedicated 12 Études Op.10 to Liszt, but some historians suggest their relationship was often strained. In a letter, Chopin revealed his jealousy of Liszt’s skill on the piano, saying, “I should like to rob him of the way he plays my studies.” Chopin also forced Liszt to apologise after embellishing one of his nocturnes during a public performance rather than playing the music as written. Yet, Chopin continued to refer to “my friend Liszt” in his letters to other friends and family members.

Another reason for Chopin and Liszt’s unsteady friendship may involve their relationship with women. Liszt felt concerned that his mistress, Marie d’Agoult (1805-76), who wrote romantic novels under her pen name, Daniel Stern, gave Chopin too much attention. His jealousy heightened after Chopin dedicated 12 Études Op. 25 to d’Agoult, especially as the reason for this was unclear. Nonetheless, Liszt and d’Agoult had a lengthy affair, resulting in three children: Blandine Rachel (1835-62), Francesca Gaetana Cosima (1837-1930) and Daniel (1839-59).

Chopin and Sand [detail] – Delacroix, 1838

In 1836, Chopin attended a party held by Marie d’Agoult where he met the author George Sand (born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, 1804-76). At the time, Chopin was still engaged to Maria Wodzińska and thought little of Sands, saying, “What an unattractive person la Sand is. Is she really a woman?” Sand, on the other hand, admitted to her friends her infatuation for the composer. After discovering Chopin and Maria were no longer an item, Sand let her feelings be known to Chopin. By 1838, Chopin and Sands were lovers.

Sand had a reputation for having many lovers and had married, although now separated from Casimir Dudevant (1795-1871), which resulted in two children: Maurice (1823-89) and Solange (1828-99). Chopin appeared unfazed by Sand’s past and agreed to spend the winter of 1838 in Majorca with Sand and her children. Before travelling, Chopin complained of feeling unwell but hoped the Mediterranean climate would revive him. Unfortunately, the couple struggled to find lodgings on the island because the Catholic population disapproved of their relationship. In the eyes of the church, Sand was still married. As a last resort, Chopin, Sand and the children moved into a former Carthusian monastery in the Majorcan village of Valldemossa.

Chopin – Gratia, 1838

Chopin’s health failed to improve, and the prognosis given by three doctors did not make him feel any better. “Three doctors have visited me … The first said I was dead; the second said I was dying; and the third said I was about to die.” Despite feeling miserable, Chopin continued to compose music and completed several preludes, two polonaises, his Ballade No. 2, Op. 38, and worked on Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39. Chopin dedicated the ballade to Robert Schumann, who had recently dedicated a piano solo to Chopin.

The Mediterranean climate that Chopin hoped would cure him failed to materialise. Instead, poor weather ravaged the island, prompting the couple to move to Barcelona on the mainland, then to Marseilles in the south of France, where Chopin spent two months convalescing. Chopin’s health improved a little, and in the summer of 1839, he moved to Sand’s estate at Nohant in central France, much to Maurice’s disgust. The 16-year-old boy wished to establish himself as the man of the house and feared Chopin would take that role from him. Nonetheless, Chopin and Sand continued to spend their summers at Nohant until 1846.

During one of his stays at Nohant, Chopin composed Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 (1842), which gained the nickname Polonaise héroïque (Heroic) during the Revolution of 1848. Many pianists find the piece physically demanding to play, although Chopin usually played it much more gently than most performers. When hearing the music played at the time of the Revolution, George Sand declared, “L’inspiration! La force! La vigueur! There is no doubt that such a spirit must be present in the French Revolution. From now on, this polonaise should be a symbol, a heroic symbol.”

Chopin’s health took a turn for the worse in 1842, the same year he composed the Héroïque. Although he gave solo recitals in Paris, he complained to a friend that “I have to lie in bed all day long, my mouth and tonsils are aching so much.” Soon, Chopin was declining more invitations than he was accepting, and on one occasion, he was discovered on the floor “hardly able to move, bent like a half-opened penknife and evidently in great pain.” The worse his health became, the less work Chopin could achieve. Usually, he wrote dozens of compositions each year, but in 1844, he only managed to complete Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor. Nonetheless, many consider this one of Chopin’s most technically challenging compositions.

The historian Adam Zamoyski (b. 1949) observes, “[Chopin’s] powers of concentration were failing and his inspiration was beset by anguish, both emotional and intellectual.” As well as his health, Chopin had problems with his relationship with Sand, who accused him of being more supportive of her daughter Solange than herself. Nonetheless, Sand continued to care for Chopin, becoming more like a nurse than a lover to the “beloved little corpse”, as she nicknamed him. In 1847, Sand published a novel Lucrezia Floriani, which featured characters based on herself and Chopin – a story that Chopin allegedly admired. Yet, by the end of the year, their relationship ended with an exchange of angry letters.

On 16th February 1848, Chopin performed his Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65 with the cellist Auguste Franchomme (1808-84), but felt too unwell to give any more performances. For a while, Chopin continued to take on pupils, but this soon became too difficult for him. To avoid the Revolution of 1848, Chopin visited England at the suggestion of his Scottish pupil Jane Stirling (1804-59), who arranged an introduction with Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-61). Chopin agreed to perform to the royals, much to the delight of the Prince, who eagerly watched Chopin’s fingers on the piano to observe his technique.

In August, Jane invited Chopin to stay with her family in Scotland, which sparked rumours about a romantic relationship. Whilst Jane desired to marry Chopin, he did not reciprocate her feelings. In letters to friends, he described Jane and her family as boring. Chopin also realised his health was deteriorating rapidly, writing, “They have married me to Miss Stirling; she might as well marry death.” Despite his illness, Jane took him to visit all of her relatives and arranged concerts in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester. At the latter, which he performed on 28th August, Chopin was so weak he needed someone to carry him off the stage.

Chopin on His Deathbed – Teofil Kwiatkowski, 1849

In the autumn, Chopin returned to London with Jane, who continued to support her piano tutor despite his rejection of her romantic advances. On 16th November 1848, Chopin gave his final public concert at London’s Guildhall, even though he was critically ill. Jane continued to look after him and helped Chopin travel to Paris, where he gave the occasional piano lesson. His sister Ludwika came to stay in the city at Chopin’s request, and many of his friends visited him at his bedside, often entertaining him by playing music.

Frédéric Chopin playing at Paris’s Hôtel Lambert – Kwiatkowski

Jane commissioned the Polish artist Teofil Kwiatkowski (1809-91) to produce an oil painting of Chopin on his “deathbed”. He sits in bed surrounded by five guests, including his sister and a pupil, Princess Marcelina Czartoryska (1817-94). This was the artist’s second painting of Chopin, the first being a picture of him playing at a ball at Hôtel Lambert in Paris.

In the early hours of 17th October 1849, a visiting doctor enquired whether Chopin was suffering greatly. Chopin replied, “No longer,” and died shortly after, age 39. According to Chopin’s death certificate, he succumbed to tuberculosis, but more recently, other suggestions have cropped up. These include cystic fibrosis, cirrhosis and pericarditis. Due to Chopin’s popularity, his funeral was delayed until 30th October, and attendees needed to reserve tickets. Over 3,000 people were refused entry to the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, where the service was held, many of whom had travelled from other countries for the occasion. A choir sang Mozart’s Requiem and Chopin’s Preludes No. 4 in E minor and No. 6 in B minor were also played, followed by a rendition of the Funeral March from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 at his graveside.

Auguste Clésinger (1814-83), the husband of George Sand’s daughter Solange, sculpted Chopin’s tombstone, which sits in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. It features the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre. Although Chopin’s body rests under the sculpture, his sister took his heart back to Poland as per her brother’s request, symbolising that he always considered himself Polish.

Chopin’s music is his long-lasting legacy. Preferring to play in salons rather than ballrooms, he adjusted well-established forms of music to suit the setting. His waltzes had faster tempos than those written for dancing, and he was the first composer to write ballades and scherzos as individual concert pieces. Whilst Chopin respected the style of Bach and Mozart, who he regarded as his greatest influences, Chopin also introduced Polish music. As one music historian puts it, “it was Chopin who put the mazurka on the European musical map.”

“Chopin’s unique position as a composer, despite the fact that virtually everything he wrote was for the piano, has rarely been questioned.” (J. Barrie Jones, 1998) Although Chopin’s work does not favour orchestras, his music remains popular and is regularly performed today. An International Chopin Piano Competition is held in Warsaw every five years by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, which is devoted to performances of his polonaises, mazurkas and piano concertos.

To commemorate Chopin’s 100th birthday, Wacław Szymanowski (1859-1930) designed a sculpture of the composer to stand in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park. Unfortunately, an argument over the design and the outbreak of World War One delayed the erection of the monument, but it was finally put in place in 1926. Sadly, the statue was blown up during World War Two by the Germans. Allegedly, on the following morning, a handwritten sign was found in the rubble, which said, “I don’t know who destroyed me, but I know why: so that I won’t play the funeral march for your leader.” The statue was rebuilt after the war and placed on a plinth featuring the inscription: “The Statue of Fryderyk Chopin, destroyed and plundered by the Germans on 31 May 1940, rebuilt by the Nation. 17 October 1946”. Also etched into the monument is a line from a poem by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), which reads, “Flames will consume our painted history, sword-wielding thieves will plunder our treasures, the song will be saved…”

Although Chopin only lived for 39 years, his influence on the world through music is evident. Over 80 societies across the world dedicate themselves to the composer and musician, and more than 1500 videos of performances of Chopin’s works are on Youtube. You can listen to some of the music mentioned in this blog through the following links:
Rondo in C Minor, Op. 1
Variations on “Là ci darem la mano”, Op. 2
Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3
Revolutionary Etude No. 12, Op. 10
Etude No. 2 in F minor “The Bees”, Op.25
Prelude in E Minor No. 4, Op. 28
Prelude in B Minor No.6, Op. 28
Marche Funèbre (Funeral March), Sonata Op. 35
Ballade No.2 in F major, Op. 38
Scherzo No.3 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 39
Heroic Polonaise in A Flat Major, Op. 53
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Sonata for Cello & Piano in G minor, Op. 65


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