It seemed like a good idea at the time. In early November, 1838, an ailing Chopin set sail for sunny Majorca along with George Sand and two of her children. Once ashore they discovered there were no hotels. A miserable week was spent in cramped quarters above a barrelmaker’s shop. Sand reported “vermin in [the] bed and scorpions in [the] soup.” A month in a bare-walled villa followed. They were evicted. Rumors—and fear--of Chopin’s illness had spread. New lodgings were in order.
Chopin was excited about the move. He wrote to friend Julian Fontana, “I shall…live in a marvelous monastery in the most beautiful spot in the whole world; the sea, the mountains, palm trees…thousand year-old olive trees….” He reported his health, his very person, had improved in this land of “permanent spring.”
The “marvelous monastery”? Abandoned, partially in ruins, eight miles away, uphill all the way--a great spot for a consumptive, the islanders figured. Chopin’s letters grayed: “Here I am, hair uncurled, no white gloves, just white face as usual….I dream of music, but I do not play…there are no pianos here.” He couldn’t tolerate the local diet. His health failed. He barely avoided being bled by the local physicians. His damp quarters reminded him of a coffin standing on end, a “cloister full of terrors and phantoms, even when he felt well,” Sand wrote in her memoirs.
In that chilly chamber stood only a spindly cot and a tiny table. On this table was Chopin’s only anchor: his well-worn copy of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. His mind was full of music—some of it growing bizarre—yet, the pianoless Chopin sat idle and frustrated. It was January before his beloved Pleyel arrived on the island. Within three weeks Chopin announced his 24 Bach-inspired Preludes were ready for publication. Two weeks later, he demanded to leave Majorca immediately.
George Sand summed up the stay as a “frightful fiasco;” “punishment for him, torment for me.” The children? The locals threw stones at them for not attending church. So much for paradise.- Jennifer Foster