Polish expatriates to honour ‘Chopin’s widow’

Polish composer and pianist Frederick Francois Chopin. Picture: Getty
Polish composer and pianist Frederick Francois Chopin. Picture: Getty
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He was an international superstar whose arrival in Scotland created a sensation with the movers and shakers of the day clamouring to meet him and secure coveted invitations to his concerts.

But the importance of a Scottish woman who invited the renowned Polish composer and virtuoso pianist Frédéric Chopin to perform in her homeland and is credited with preserving his legacy is an almost unknown tale.

Miniature of Jane Wilhelmina. Image: Alfredi Dagli Orti/REX/Shutterstock

Miniature of Jane Wilhelmina. Image: Alfredi Dagli Orti/REX/Shutterstock

Now Scotland’s Polish community is preparing to mark Chopin’s arrival in Edinburgh in August 1848 and honour the enduring contribution of his pupil and patron Jane Stirling, who after his death became known as “Chopin’s widow”.

Izabella Brodzinska, chairwoman of the Scottish Polish Cultural Association Edinburgh, said a small concert will be held in the house in Warriston Crescent in Edinburgh, then the home of a Polish doctor, where Chopin stayed while visiting the city.

“Chopin means so much to Polish people living in Scotland,” she said, “This autumn we’ll commemorate the tremendous help he was given by a wonderful Scottish lady.

“The Jane Stirling Festival sees events in both Scotland and Poland and this latest one will delight Chopinologists everywhere.”

10 Warriston Crescent, where Chopin stayed in 1848 while visiting Edinburgh

10 Warriston Crescent, where Chopin stayed in 1848 while visiting Edinburgh

Stirling, then 44, was the daughter of a wealthy landowner near Dunblane and had been a pupil of Chopin’s in Paris. In 1848 the 38-year-old musician was living in Paris, and was depressed following the ending of a long-term relationship.

After his influential clients began to flee Paris due to the outbreak of revolution, Stirling invited him to London, where he performed for Queen Victoria before travelling to Scotland.

Stirling took him on a tour of Scotland including Johnstone Castle in Renfrewshire, Keir House in Perthshire and Strachur House on Loch Fyne where he gave a number of performance as well as major performances in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Scotsman’s review said his style made a contrast to “the Donner and Blitzen school of pianists”.

One of Chopin’s most prestigious Scottish engagements was playing at the Caledonian Rout – a musical extravaganza at Hopetoun Rooms in Edinburgh’s Queen Street – which some historians hail as the precursor to the Edinburgh International Festival.

Some believed Stirling hoped to become Chopin’s wife but her feelings were not reciprocated. The composer, who had dedicated two nocturnes to Stirling, was suffering from tuberculosis and wrote in a letter to a friend: “I am closer to a coffin than to a marital bed.”

He also complained that “my Scottish ladies [Jane and her sister] won’t leave me in peace and keep coming to fetch me and drive me round their family.”

The composer was irked by some of his Scottish hosts, saying that although he had listened to “lovely Scottish songs” one of his hostesses, Lady Murray, “produced a concertina and she began to play on it the most atrocious tunes...Every creature seems to me to have a screw loose.”

When Chopin died in Paris the following October. Stirling was among those at his bedside. She secreted a rose petal from her family home in his tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Stirling bought many of his belongings, including his piano and shipped them to the Chopin Museum in Warsaw. She wore black for the rest of her life.