National Geographic : 1957 May
mous French writer who shared Chopin's visit to Majorca. The intervening century has only added to the beauty of the ancient castle and convent. Chopin and George Sand came to Majorca in search of sunny balm for the composer's failing health. They settled first near Palma, but the heavy winter rains, combined with the local fear that Chopin's lung ailment was contagious, forced them to seek a more con genial setting. Chopin Rented a Monk's Cell The Carthusian convent, established by King Martin of Aragon in 1399, had been secularized in 1836 and the monks driven out. Their comfortable three-room cells, each with a garden, were for rent. Chopin secured one of these lodgings (page 636). His first letters from there, like those of George Sand, were songs of pure bliss. "Under this sky, one feels oneself permeated by a poetic feeling," wrote the composer. But disillusionment was not far behind. The Pleyel piano which Chopin had ordered from Paris was long in coming, and when it did reach Palma, customs and transportation difficulties further delayed its arrival at the monastery. The rains that had plagued the couple followed them to Valldemosa, and Chopin's health continued to deteriorate. George Sand, nursing him like a mother, found him a "detestable patient." When the piano finally arrived, he set to work composing in an attempt to mend his straitened finances, but spells of racking coughs made every day and night a torment. Yet it was under these circumstances, George Sand wrote, that the master created "the finest of his short pieces which he modestly called Preludes." And in her biog raphy she describes one cold and rain-swept night in which he wrote that short crystalli zation of beauty famous for a hundred years as the "Raindrop Prelude." "That evening's prelude," she wrote later, "was full of rain drops beating on the monas tery roof, but they were transformed by his imagination and singing gift into tears falling on the heart." Chopin and George Sand left the island in the early spring of 1839. Later Madame Sand was to write bitterly of that unfortunate winter. And yet little more than a century later Majorca has made a veritable shrine of their quarters. Every day crowds wend through the stony passages, gaze at the piano on which Chopin poured out his tortured genius, and listen breathlessly as guides point out the "very room where Chopin slept."