Saturday, February 12, 2011

Answer: What was the conference that took Chopin away from Warsaw?

When reading about the life of Chopin a few years ago I'd read about this trip, but never knew much about it. It seemed like a pivotal moment, but I wanted to know more!  How to find out? 

 I already knew that in September of 1828 the 18-year old Chopin went to Berlin with a family friend, Feliks Jarocki, a man who was managing the biology museum at the University of Warsaw.  

But why did they go?  What was the motivation?  

From the Wikipedia article on Chopin I found that Jarocki traveled to Berlin to attend a "scientific conference."  Fine.  But WHAT was the conference?  

Finding this wasn't immediately obvious, but the query [ Chopin Jarocki Berlin ] (just cutting the query down to the essential parts) led me to a Google Books result... the Letters of Chopin!  

In his letter to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski from Sept 9th, 1828, the young Chopin describes "The King of Prussia has empowered his university to invite the leading learned men of Europe for a session of naturalists with the famous Humboldt as its president..." 

And with a quick search in Books for [ Chopin Jarocki Berlin ] you can quickly come across a treasure trove of letters and commentaries on his letters.  Another great resource are his letters, collected and commented upon by Marucyc Karasowski (published 1906)  -- Page 44 identifies the conference as the "Naturalists Congress" as led by Alexander von Humboldt.  

It's fascinating to learn the Chopin wrote a letter nearly every day.  These were often fairly short, but not quite as brief as our modern emails...  and fascinating to read this portrait of daily life in central Europe in the mid 19th century.  

The search moral?  Books are your friend... especially for questions like this, of history and the interplay of people and events.  

Frederic Chopin

Search on!

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