Famous Death Masks Composer Frederic Chopin

About the history of the plastar death mask made of composer Frederic Chopin.


FREDERIC CHOPIN (1810-1849), Polish-French composer

"As this earth will suffocate me" (also translated "as this cough may choke me"), "I implore you to have my body opened, so that I may not be buried alive." Unable to speak, the composer wrote this final message hours before he died. Accordingly, his heart was sent to his native Poland and interred in the Church of St. Croix at Warsaw.

Chopin had lived at 12 Vendome Place in Paris for only three weeks before his death from tuberculosis on Oct.17, 1849. There, a few hours later, a young sculptor, Jean Baptiste Clesinger, took a cast of the composer's face and hands. Clesinger was the son-in-law of novelist George Sand, whose well-publicized love affair with the composer had terminated in 1847. Hostile at first, Chopin had finally warmed to Clesinger, and they had become good friends.

"After death," wrote Franz Liszt, "his face regained its youthful beauty, its pure expression, and that serenity to which it had now been long unaccustomed. His youthful loveliness, so long dimmed by bitter sufferings, was restored by death."

Chopin's body, decked with banks of flowers, lay in state for 13 days. The delayed burial was occasioned by a sex-discrimination problem. Chopin had requested that Mozart's Requiem besung at his funeral, but the women singers required for such a performance were normally excluded from such participation at the Church of the Madeleine, where the ceremony was to take place. Finally, however, permission was granted, and Chopin was buried in pomp at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, along with a quantity of Polish soil that the composer had saved as a souvenir of his homeland.

The mask is now owned and exhibited by the Royal College of Music in Manchester, England.

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