By Bernard Osser (AFP) – Mar 2, 2010
WARSAW — Tsarist Russia berated it as subversive, Nazi Germany banned it outright and to this day, for Poles, the cascading notes of Frederic Chopin still symbolise their country's long struggle for independence.
After hearing Chopin's quintessentially Polish "Mazurkas" and his "Revolutionary Etude", Robert Schuman, a German and like Chopin a renowned 19th-century composer, understood, describing the music of his Franco-Polish contemporary as "cannons hidden among blossoms".
Chopin wrote the powerful and turbulent "Revolutionary Etude" as an expat in his father's native France, where he landed after an 1830-31 uprising of Polish insurgents against the 1795 partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Having refused to take a Russian passport, Chopin was never able to set foot on his and his mother's native soil again after the doomed insurrection.
Schuman showed ironic foresight when he said of Tsar Nicholas I, if "this powerful and autocratic monarch of the north knew the danger of the enemy he has in the works of Chopin (...) he would ban his music."
As indeed, after the 19th-century partition of Poland the tsar censured public performances of Chopin's music as dangerous.
In 1863, Russian troops even destroyed the piano Chopin had played as a child prodigy in Warsaw, throwing it out the second storey of a building in symbolic revenge for a failed assassination attempt against the Russian governor of Poland.
No one before nor anyone since Chopin "has been able to create a sonic universe from the melodies and rhythms surrounding Poles," said Stainslaw Leszczynski, deputy director of Poland's Chopin Institute in Warsaw. "He delved into folklore and created music that has become folklore."
Chopin's music "is intuitively Polish, even if this in itself is difficult to define," Leszczynski told AFP.
Later on, the Nazis too perceived the power of this native whose music they banned during their brutal World War II occupation of Poland.
So potent was the perceived threat of his expressive compositions that the Nazis even blew up a monumental statue of the composer in Warsaw's sprawling Royal Lazieki park.
"The Germans wanted to destroy Poland's national heritage, and this included Chopin's music which stirred patriotic sentiments," Leszczynski said.
In 1958, the statue was rebuilt and returned to the park. Chopin concerts are still played there every Sunday from April through to September in what has become a weekend ritual for many residents of the capital.
"His music is timeless, always beautiful, very moving, very Polish," Monika Hama, a 42-year-old elementary school vice principal told AFP as she listened to the vibrant notes of Chopin's "Minute Waltz". It played from one of several musical benches set up along central Warsaw areas Chopin once frequented, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.
Records point to either February 22 or March 1 as Chopin's birth date, and more than 250 musicians and singers performed for seven days and nights over the last week in a marathon tribute in the Polish capital.
The Warsaw Philharmonic also held daily concerts during the week, as part of year-long events in Poland, and abroad, to mark the composer's bicentennial.
"It's the quintessence of Polish romanticism, overflowing with all sorts of emotions -- sadness, joy, love or profound weariness," Hama said.
Even Polish children recognize the composer.
"I like Chopin's music because it's a little bit sad and a little bit happy," said eight-year-old Jas Adamczyk. He wasn't sure when he first heard the composer but thinks "he's cool" and could identify the inimitable notes of Chopin's Opus 53, known as the "Heroic Polonaise", emerging from another bench.
"It's sad, melancholy. Poland's history was very turbulent and Poles experienced so much suffering and misfortune," said Michal, 24, an art student who gave only his first name.
"Chopin also suffered personally from serious illness and the turbulence surrounding Poland at the time. I think this is why he wrote such beautiful, profound music," he added.
Born in Zelazowa Wola near Warsaw in 1810, Chopin died in exile in Paris in 1849 of what was then diagnosed as tuberculosis, but which some experts now believe may have been cystic fibrosis.
His body is buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but his heart was sent back home.
It lies inside a crystal urn filled with alcohol in Warsaw's sprawling and ornate baroque Church of the Holy Cross. It was brought back from Paris in 1849 -- as Chopin wished -- by his elder sister Ludwika.
A commemorative plaque at the site is inscribed with a Biblical passage from the Gospel of Matthew: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
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