Final Years

Chopin’s public popularity as a virtuoso waned, as did the number of his pupils. In February 1848 he gave his last Paris concert. In April, with the Revolution of 1848 underway in Paris, he left for London, where he performed at several concerts and at numerous receptions in great houses. This tour was suggested to Chopin by his Scottish pupil and sometime secretary, Jane Stirling and her elder sister, the widowed Mrs. Katherine Erskine. Jane Stirling also made all the necessary arrangements and provided much of the necessary funding.

Toward the end of the summer he was invited by Jane Stirling to visit Scotland, staying at Calder House near Edinburgh and the castle (Johnstone, in Renfrewshire, near Glasgow), both owned by Jane Stirling’s family members. It was by then being rumored, even internationally, that Miss Stirling and Chopin would soon announce their engagement but apparently Chopin had no amorous feelings for her. While in Edinburgh he also spent time at 10 Warriston Crescent, residing at the home of the Polish GP, Dr. Adam Łyszczyński, and being treated by him. He was generally so weak that Łyszczyński or his servant had to carry Chopin up and down stairs. He gave a single concert in Edinburgh, at the Hopetoun Rooms on Queen Street (now Erskine House).

In late October 1848, at the home of Dr. Łyszczyński, Chopin wrote out his last will and testament—”a kind of disposition to be made of my stuff in the future, if I should drop dead somewhere,” he wrote his friend Wojciech Grzymała. In his thoughts he was now constantly with his mother and sisters, and conjured up for himself scenes of his native land by playing his adaptations of its folk music on cool Scottish evenings at Miss Stirling’s castle.

Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London’s Guildhall on 16 November 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. His appearance on this occasion proved to be a well-intentioned mistake, as most of the participants were more interested in the dancing and refreshments than in Chopin’s piano artistry, which cost him much effort and physical discomfort.

At the end of November, Chopin returned to Paris. He passed the winter in unremitting illness, but in spite of it he continued seeing friends and visited the ailing Adam Mickiewicz, soothing the Polish poet’s nerves with his playing. He no longer had the strength to give lessons, but he was still keen to compose. He lacked money for the most essential expenses and for his physicians. He had to sell off his more valuable furnishings and belongings.

On 24 March 2011, Warsaw’s Frédéric Chopin Museum recovered long-lost letters belonging to the composer. The letters are dated from 1845 to 1848, and describe his daily life and his Cello Sonata in G minor. The letters were up for display at the Frédéric Chopin Museum until 25 April 2011.