On November 16 1848, Chopin ‘played like an angel’ at Guildhall, yet this performance was to be the composer’s final public appearance
Chopin was feeling unwell but when the carriage came to the door in St James’s Place he climbed inside and rattled away into the cold November evening. The maestro looked out of the window at the darkened streets of Westminster and considered the performance he was to give that night. It was to be his last…
Frederic Chopin’s glittering career ended with a concert at Guildhall and a blue plaque marks his time and final departure from his temporary home in St James’s.
Chopin was dying from tuberculosis when he beat a retreat from revolutionary Paris in 1848 and found sanctuary in London. The Polish-born composer, whose music still delights and moves millions across the world, was hard up when he arrived in Westminster, but friends and patrons rallied around during his stay.
He played concerts to bring in much-needed money, including one at a house at Eaton Place on June 23, and another in St James’s Square on July 7 – and the grandest was at Lancaster House on May 15 where Chopin played before the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Chopin visited Scotland during the summer, but was back in the capital by the end of October and St James’s Place was where he made his home.
On November 16, his Guildhall performance was part of the Annual Grand Dress and Fancy Ball and Concert in aid of the Funds of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland – to raise money for Polish refugees fleeing after failed attempts to win independence for their homeland. One witness said that, despite his poor health, Chopin summoned the energy to play “like an angel”.
He left London for Paris on November 23 and never played in public again. He died a year later, on October 17, 1849, aged just 39.
Images show: Portrait of Frederic Chopin by his fiancée Maria Wodzińska, 1835 (National Museum in Warsaw), and the house in St James’s Place where Chopin stayed during his visit to London in 1848