CHOPIN'S HEART -- by Steven Lagerberg
It was a shock for many when in the summer of 2008 news headlines around the world announced that a leading Polish cystic fibrosis expert, a Professor Wojciech Cichy, had made the extraordinary claim that cystic fibrosis and not tuberculosis had been the illness most likely suffered by Chopin. What was even more shocking to learn was that he and his Polish investigatory team had already announced their audacious plans to retrieve and reopen the glass urn containing the composer's long-preserved heart presently concealed in a column in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. If that weren't enough, they also planned to dig up the remains of his younger sister, Emilia. And all of these rather gruesome and creepy activities were to take place on the eve of the bicentennial celebrations of Chopin's birth in 2010. Just think, the most revered relic in Poland, strangely absent during that special celebratory year!
I first heard this news while on my way to Nohant, France, where members of the International Federation of Chopin Societies were about to meet. As a physician and founder of a Chopin Society in Seattle, I was eager to visit this historically significant place and have the opportunity to question my colleagues about this novel scientific quest. Nohant was the site of the ancestral home belonging to the famous French novelist and Chopin's cross-dressing companion of nine years, George Sand. At this idyllic private hermitage, freed from the constraints of his hectic teaching schedule and far from the oppressive summer heat of Paris, Chopin composed some of his loveliest works.
Although the Polish investigative team was obviously eager to proceed with the probing of this near-sacred relic, I was soon to learn that the musical world was not. For many, any such inquiry was a violation of the first magnitude!
As I found myself in the unique position of knowing a bit about Frédéric Chopin and then also understanding both the challenges as well as the opportunities of the proposed scientific investigation, I felt it was nearly my duty to tell the untold story of Chopin's heart. I had met with those entrusted to decide the fate of this investigation and was later to know, and indeed even collaborate with its principal investigator, Dr. Wojciech Cichy. As no one else possessed the inside information about Cichy's proposed study and its implications for Chopin lovers around the world - a book was born.
My book explores Cichy's claim that Chopin's official cause of death was bungled from the beginning and then uncritically accepted by his many biographers. It also explores the 39-year life of Chopin, looking for any tell-tale clues that might explain his mysterious illness. The book describes the many hypotheses currently considered for Chopin's malady and selects the top three for a detailed analysis. It also discusses the scientific, ethical, and religious issues of the investigation and examines the underappreciated effect the composer's chronic illness had on his highly praised compositional style. The work is a culmination of my research into these many medical and historical details throughout my travels in Poland, France, and the United States.
"Chopin's Heart: The Quest to Identify the Mysterious Illness of the World's Most Beloved Composer" is currently available for sale online at Amazon.com and other channels. It should arrive in major bookstores this spring.
About the author: Dr. Steven Lagerberg (email@example.com) is a retired physician, founder of the NW Council of the Chopin Foundation, and an amateur musicologist. Along with Dr. Wojciech Cichy, he is attempting to gain access to Chopin's preserved heart in an attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding the composer's illness. Dividing his time between Paris and Seattle, Dr. Lagerberg currently assists talented young pianists as they aspire to a professional career.