The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Learn about the odd history of Frederic Chopin’s heart and its long, eerie journey from France back to Poland. | January 4, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849, below in a photo from 1849) remains one of the greatest and most popular of all classical composers, both for amateurs or students and for professional performers.

As they say, he was “the poet of the piano,” and he composed almost exclusively for that instrument, even revolutionizing and modernizing piano technique through his two books of etudes.


Chopin, who was one of the greatest melody writers in the history of Western music, is also known for his fusing of the clarity and counterpoint of the Baroque and Classical-era styles with the emotion or passion of the Romantic style. Chopin loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did NOT like, admire or play most of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

But Chopin was also a famed dandy who wore a new pair of lavender kid leather gloves every day and who was known for his love affairs. That is probably why some images of Chopin (like the one below from Getty Images) tend to glorify him or idealize him, and to make his as handsome, as beautiful, as his music.

Chopin drawing Getty Images

But most people probably do not know much about his quirkier side.

And nothing in Chopin’s life seems more quirky than his death and The Tale of Chopin’s Heart.

It all stems, as I recall, from his terrifying fear of being buried alive. But then the story gets complicated and involves France and Poland, World War I, the Roman Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.

Here are two links to fill you in.

The first comes from NPR (National Public Radio):

The second comes from The Huffington Post:

There is also research that questions whether Chopin actually died from tuberculosis or from some other malady.

But that is another story from another time.

And here is a YouTube video of the last piece that Chopin composed: His Mazurka in F Minor Op, 68, No. 4, as played by Chopin master Arthur Rubinstein. The mood of the piece seems to fit the sad story.






  1. As for his actual heart, too weird, kind of like the frozen head of Ted Williams, or Einstein’s brain. Leave it alone. I think FC looks a little like Christopher Walken in that picture.

    Comment by 88melter — January 4, 2015 @ 10:39 am

  2. Chopin’s ailment may have been cystic fibrosis, or so I have read. His love affairs were more affairs, that is to say relationships of complexity, than love, in my view. The biography about him that emphasizes the Paris of his day, I believe the title is simply Chopin in Paris, talks about much of this material.
    Of course, the 800-lb gorilla in the room is and always will be, was Chopin gay or not? Since there really was no established way of self-identifying as a homosexual in those days, socially, psychologically, or even politically, that is kind of a false trail.
    The photo used here is the only known photo of Chopin. His illness was about to enter its final and most debilitating phase, so he looks a bit better than he did 6 months or a year after it was taken.
    An idealized image of the quintessential Dreamer Romantic Proto-genderqueer Artist icon of the artsy-est city in the 19th century, I am shocked, Shocked, to find that fantasy is going on here…
    MBB, a Chopin fan…Big News there, eh?

    Comment by 88melter — January 4, 2015 @ 10:37 am

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