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Nowadays, in most instances, the successive stages in a creative process are impossible to distinguish. We work on documents that overwrite changes as we go along, and electronic texts deprive us of any tangible evidence of the effort and time put into our work, which in previous times were documented on paper. And yet the creative process always remains the same. Illumination, idea, chance or trial, then the first attempt, and so a sketch (where one rarely starts from the beginning), a working text, and so real work, and (if al. goes well) a final version, which we still most often want to improve. And that was how Chopin worked. As a thirty-something, at the height of his powers, he had little time to spare, since he worked, taught beautiful rich ladies, attended soirées, where, if he improvised, he still didn’t have time to write anything down, and spent time with the intellectually demanding Mrs Sand, who nota bene knew most about his creative process. He composed during the summer, at her chateau in Nohant, at the piano, with the windows open, while she slept (her creative process unfolded at night). Besides this, he was ‘the most indecisive creature in the world, and only once have I been able to choose well’, as he wrote to Matuszyński from Vienna (he didn’t write what that choice had been).

The items displayed in our exhibition include the manuscript of the ‘little waltz’ in F minor that the 32-year-old Chopin presented to Anna Caroline de Belleville-Oury (the Fryderyk Chopin Institute’s latest acquisition, purchased in June 2012 at an auction in Berlin), a working manuscript of the Tarantella, Op. 43, on which Chopin worked aged thirty-one, and from which Julian Fontana produced a ‘fair copy’ for the French, German and English publishers (purchased by the Institute in 2008 at Sotheby’s in London) and also a manuscript of the Etude in F minor composed for the piano ‘school’ of François-Joseph Fétis and Ignaz Moscheles Méthode des méthodes pour le piano (composed 1839‒1840 or earlier, hitherto considered lost, not even familiar from any reproduction; also purchased in 2008 at an auction in London).

Fryderyk Chopin’s manuscripts are not just testimony to his characteristic creative process and his musical and aesthetic sensibilities, but also subtle evidence of the complex personality of this composer, ‘most indecisive’ man and eminently aware artist. A manuscript, especially a sketch or working autograph, is something that we should not really see. It is intimate material, testifying the composer’s choices, hesitations and difficulties, about which, perhaps, we ought not to know. Finally, it is a source that is not normally accessible, for reasons of conservation, which is al. the more reason to visit our exhibition, at the Fryderyk Chopin Museum from 8th November to 9th December.