Chopin plays his final Paris concert - HISTORY
Year
1848

Chopin plays his final Paris concert

“Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars….Beethoven embraced the universe with the power of his spirit….I do not climb so high. A long time ago I decided that my universe will be the soul and heart of man.” This was the assessment Frédéric Chopin offered of his own place in the pantheon of great Classical composers. It is an assessment that neatly captures the emotional expressiveness not only of his quintessentially Romantic compositions, but of his quintessentially Romantic personality. After fleeing his native Poland amid the political unrest of the 1830s, he spent the rest of his life amid the high society of France. Eighteen months before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 39, he gave his final public performance in his adopted city of Paris on February 16, 1848.

Chopin’s works, composed primarily for solo piano or for piano as primary instrument, are credited with expanding both the technical and the emotional range of the instrument. Among the most important of those works are his Préludes (Op. 28) and Études (Opp. 10 and 25), the latter written as technical teaching exercises that have taken on a life of their own as artistic works. But Chopin’s own virtuoso piano performances are nearly as great a part of his legacy as his compositions. “Listen to Chopin play!” wrote the music periodical Le Ménestral in 1848, “It is like the sighing of a flower, the whisper of the clouds, or the murmur of the stars.”

That same review also referenced what was perhaps Chopin’s most defining personal characteristic: his fragility. To Le Ménestral, Chopin was “the sylph of the piano…attached to this mortal world by the merest touch of a finger and nourished by dreams from on high.” His contemporaries in the world of music were sometimes more direct and less charitable: “He was dying all his life,” said Hector Berlioz shortly after Chopin’s death. (The very specific arrangements Chopin made to have his heart removed and given to his sister prior to his burial certainly suggest that he was, at least, well prepared for his death.) Whatever is made of his personal flair for the dramatic, there can be no denying the emotional weight of his work. As Arthur Rubenstein said of him a century after his final Paris concert, “His music is the universal language of human communication. When I play Chopin I know I speak directly to the hearts of people!”

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The most daring act of the age

During the First Barbary War, U.S. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur leads a military mission that famed British Admiral Horatio Nelson calls the “most daring act of the age.”In June 1801, President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea in protest of ...read more

Castro sworn in

On February 16, 1959, Fidel Castro is sworn in as prime minister of Cuba after leading a guerrilla campaign that forced right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista into exile. Castro, who became commander in chief of Cuba’s armed forces after Batista was ousted on January 1, replaced ...read more

Archaeologist opens tomb of King Tut

On this day in 1923, in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter enters the sealed burial chamber of the ancient Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamen.Because the ancient Egyptians saw their pharaohs as gods, they carefully preserved their bodies after death, burying them in ...read more

Tet Offensive results in many new refugees

U.S. officials report that, in addition to the 800,000 people listed as refugees prior to January 30, the fighting during the Tet Offensive has created 350,000 new refugees.The communist attack known as the Tet Offensive had begun at dawn on January 31, the first day of the Tet ...read more

James Monroe marries Elizabeth Kortright

On this day in history, future President James Monroe weds a 17-year-old New York beauty named Elizabeth Kortright. The 26-year-old Monroe, already a famous revolutionary and practicing lawyer, married not for money, but for love. Elizabeth’s father, once a wealthy privateer, had ...read more

Silver dollars made legal

Strongly supported by western mining interests and farmers, the Bland-Allison Act—which provided for a return to the minting of silver coins—becomes the law of the land.The strife and controversy surrounding the coinage of silver is difficult for most modern Americans to ...read more

Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is born

On this day in 1944, novelist Richard Ford is born in Jackson, Mississippi. The son of a traveling salesman, Ford lost his father when he was 16. He graduated from Michigan State University, where he met his wife, Kristina, who became a city planner.After a stint at law school, ...read more

David O. Selznick returns to MGM

On this day in 1933, David O. Selznick becomes vice president and producer at MGM. Selznick became one of the most influential independent producers of his time.Selznick got his start working at his father’s studio, Lewis Selznick Pictures. Selznick’s older brother, Myron, also ...read more

Brush fires ravage South Australia

Brush fires rage across South Australia on this day in 1983, burning thousands of acres, killing 75 people and injuring another 800. There were 24 major fires in total across the region, in addition to scores of smaller ones.The summer of 1982-83 had been extremely hot and dry in ...read more

John Wesley Hardin is pardoned

Infamous gunslinger John Wesley Hardin is pardoned after spending 15 years in a Texas prison for murder. Hardin, who was reputed to have shot and killed a man just for snoring, was 41 years old at the time of his release.Hardin probably killed in excess of 40 people during a ...read more

Capture of Fort Donelson

On this day in 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant finishes a spectacular campaign by capturing Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. This battle came10 days after Grant’s capture of Fort Henry, just10 miles to the west on the Tennessee River, and opened the way for ...read more

Joseph Stalin attacks the United Nations

In a statement focusing on the situation in Korea, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin charges that the United Nations has become “a weapon of aggressive war.” He also suggested that although a world war was not inevitable “at the present time,” “warmongers” in the West might trigger ...read more

Jeff Gordon becomes youngest Daytona winner

On February 16, 1997, 25-year-old Jeff Gordon claims his first Daytona 500 victory, becoming the youngest winner in the history of the 200-lap, 500-mile National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) event, dubbed the “Super Bowl of stock car racing.” Driving his No. 24 ...read more

Russians capture Erzerum

After five days of intense fighting, the Russian army defeats the Third Turkish Army to capture Erzerum, a largely Armenian city in the Ottoman province of Anatolia, on this day in 1916.The Central Powers considered Turkey, which entered World War I in November 1914, a valuable ...read more

Bataan recaptured

On this day, the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines is occupied by American troops, almost three years after the devastating and infamous Bataan Death March.On April 3, 1942, the Japanese infantry staged a major offensive against Allied troops in Bataan, the peninsula guarding ...read more