British-Polish relations date back to further in the past than we might sometimes think. A great example is the relationship between Fryderyk Chopin, Polish composer and Jane Stirling, British pianist. How much impact did this relationship have on Chopin’s career?
Jane Stirling was born on the 15th of July 1804 in Dunblane, Scotland as the youngest of the 13 children. She grew up in a very wealthy family as her father was one of the main Scottish landowners in the 18th/19th centuries. After her mother passed away when she was 12, then later her father at 16, she inherited a large percentage of their fortune. It is believed that she was all young men’s love interest as she was rich, beautiful and popular – some even claim that she rejected around 30 marriage proposals. From 1826 onwards she began spending a lot of time in Paris as she started engaging with music, art and Protestant movement.
Meanwhile, the magnificent Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin was born on the 1st of March 1810 in Żelazowa Wola (close to Warsaw). As Poland had been fully annexed in the late 18th century, Chopin technically wasn’t born in Poland but in Napoleonic Poland also known as Duchy of Warsaw. He started playing piano at around 6 and very quickly turned out to be a child prodigy – he composed two polonaises (in Polish: ‘polonez’) in 1817 and started playing concerts the same year. By 1830 Chopin was extremely well-known domestically and decided to travel, experience new adventures and seek inspirations for new music. He left for Paris at the beginning of November 1830 just before the outbreak of the famous Polish November Uprising. Although he wrote in his journal that he cursed the moment of his departure, he received a French citizenship in 1835, never returned to Poland and stayed there for the rest of his life. However, he never identified as French at all and always kept to his Polish roots by remaining close to his fellow Polish immigrants. The French capital is where his and Jane Stirling’s paths crossed.
Chopin lived in Paris for over a decade before meeting Stirling, he got to know hundreds of influential people, composed many masterpieces, played several concerts, overall earned popularity as one of the most excellent musicians of all time. One of the people he met was a pianist Lindsay Sloper, who was the one to introduce Fryderyk and Jane to each other around 1842. Jane instantly became Fryderyk’s student and formed a very close relationship with him. He was a fan of her piano skills and gave her some lessons to help her get even better. He also referred her to his close friend and collaborator as she had always wanted to learn how to play the cello. In 1844 Chopin dedicated two nocturnes to Stirling. Soon after that she became his secretary, agent and business manager. She arranged a few big concerts for the composer in Paris for 1848, however most of them were cancelled due to him falling ill.
Eventually, later in 1848 Jane suggested that Fryderyk performs a few concerts in England and Scotland – he was still quite ill, however he agreed due to his need for money. His British tour was very successful, thanks to Jane Stirling he even met Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at one of his shows. Between May and October 1848 he travelled to many different British towns and met a lot of people, plenty of them being Stirling’s wealthy relatives. The whole tour made him even weaker and more ill, which is why in late October in Edinburgh he wrote his last will and testament. After that, they returned to Paris where Chopin died on the 17th of October 1849. A few weeks before his death (when he was already extremely ill and it was certain he would die soon) Jane Stirling rented a 7-bedroom apartment for him, purchased his grand piano, paid for all the costs of his funeral, purchased all his remaining furniture etc.
It is clear that the relationship between the Polish composer and the British pianist was very close and intimate. There are speculations as to whether they were connected romantically or not, there is even a rumour that they were secretly engaged. There aren’t any official sources in that regard, however what is certain is that she influenced Chopin’s career and compositions a lot. It only gives us another example of a fruitful relationship between Britain and Poland – something worth remembering on the 211th anniversary of Chopin’s birthday.