October 30, 1849. A bright – but somber - morning in Paris. A steady stream of artists and aristocrats file past the black-velvet-draped columns of the neoclassical temple-turned-church, La Madeleine. They take their seats just steps ahead of the uninvited, who rush in behind them. The headcount in the pews is more than three thousand.
Days earlier, a gravely ill Chopin was making his last requests: to burn unfinished manuscripts, to remove his heart to Poland upon his death; that his friend, Delfina Potocka, sing at his bedside one last time.
On October 16th, Chopin made one final request: That Mozart’s Requiem be performed at his funeral. On the 17th, just before two in the morning, he passed away.
In La Madeleine, October 30th, Chopin’s own Funeral March was performed as his casket was being carried out of the crypt. The organist played two of his Preludes on the instrument —built by Cavaillé-Coll in 1846— that is still in use in the church today.
Chopin’s last wish presented a problem, described by Benita Eisler in her book Chopin’s Funeral:
Unknown to the dying man, women were not permitted to sing in the city's parish churches; it had taken days of pleading on the part of Chopin's most powerful friends before a special dispensation was issued by the Archbishop of Paris. The decree allowed female participation provided it remained invisible; thus the women singers, including Chopin's friend Pauline Viardot among the featured soloists, were hidden from view behind a black velvet curtain.