Chopin, Frédéric (1810 – 1849)
“I can scarcely breathe, je suis tout prêt à crever (I am ready to die)…”
An extraordinary and important four-page autograph letter signed by Frédéric Chopin (“Ch”), 18th August 1848. A famous valedictory letter containing frequent black humour, in which the composer confides to his friend Julian Fontana his melancholy and morbid feelings brought on by physical decline.
He writes from Scotland (“12 miles from Edinburgh if that gives you any pleasure to know”), opening, “My dear friend, If I felt better I would travel to London tomorrow in order to give you a last embrace… We are a couple of old cembalos on which time and circumstance have played out their miserable trills. Yes, old cembalos, even if you protest against being associated with me in such a way. That means no disparagement of your beauty or respectability: the sound-board is perfect, only the strings have snapped and a few pegs have jumped out. But the only real trouble is this: we are the creation of some famous maker, in his way a kind of Stradivarius, who is no longer there to mend us. In clumsy hands we cannot give forth new sounds and we stifle within ourselves those things which no one will ever draw from us, and all for lack of a repairer”.
He goes on, “I can scarcely breathe: je suis tout prêt à crever (I am ready to die). And you, I am sure, are growing bald: you will hang over my tombstone like one of those willows at home, do you remember?” He goes on to note that he has been thinking about their mutual friends Johnny, Antoni, Witwicki and Sobanski, who “keep coming into my head. All those with whom I was in most intimate harmony have died and left me. Even Ennike our best tuner has gone and drowned himself; and so I have not in the whole world a piano tuned to suit me.”
He continues in wistful tone, “I am writing this nonsense because nothing sensible comes into my head. I am vegetating and patiently waiting for the winter. I dream now of home, then of Rome; now of happiness, then of misery. No one plays now to my taste, and I have become so easy to please that I could cheerfully listen to an oratorio by Sowinski without dropping down dead. It reminds me of Norblin, the painter, who said that a certain artist in Rome saw another’s picture, and the effect was so disagreeable… that he died!” Chopin closes, “All that is left to me is a long nose and a fourth finger out of practice. It will be disgraceful if you don’t send me a line in answer to the present epistle… Give yourself a kiss from me, and don’t pull a long face. Your old, Ch.” Splitting to folds, otherwise in very fine condition.
This letter dates from the middle of Chopin’s final tragic tour of London and Scotland. He gave several concerts in Scotland between August and October 1848 – only the desperate need for money had led Chopin to consider playing in public, something to which he was now averse and for which he lacked the necessary energy, dying as he was from tuberculosis. His correspondent, Julian Fontana (1810 – 1865) was one of his closest friends, often acting as intermediary between the composer and his publishers.