This statue of Romantic composer Fryderyk Chopin (and I use that spelling for a reason) by Polish artist Robert Sobocinski was unveiled at its home just off Deansgate in September 2011.
The 2.5 metre statue depicts Chopin at his piano staring at one of his many muses Baroness Aurore Lucile Dupon who gazes dreamily in the distance. I am using the word ‘muse’ quite liberally here, what I really mean is one of his many mistresses- but let’s keep things polite, shall we?
Chopin was a composer who was alive between 1810-1849. He was a Romantic at his very core who primarily wrote for solo piano, but also concertos, a few chamber pieces and a handful of songs set to polish lyrics.
He was renowned as one of the best musicians of his era and indeed ever born. As a child prodigy, much like Mozart, Chopin excelled in his craft from a very young age. Although he was born in Poland, he moved to Paris at the age of 21 where he was admired by other big names like Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann. You may see his name spelt the French way- Frédéric.
His Piano is rewound for being technically demanding and expanded the limits of the instrument- not every pianist can play Chopin. In fact, I can never get the sound of my dad murdering Nocturne No. 9 out of my ears- and he’s pretty good at playing the piano. Chopin, however, was a master in playing his own work and his performances of his music were noted for their emotive sensitivity.
When you listen to his music, you can feel the very nature of the word Romantic- and can track how the genre was born. Chopin invented the concept of the Ballade– a sort of musical poem that tracks a story with feeling rather than words.
And, Chopin was a bit of a Romantic himself. He had a very high profile love life and this in combination with his work, young death at age 39 from Tuberculosis made him one of the first musical superstars of all time. Put it this way, Chopin was the 19th century’s very own Kurt Cobain and the leading symbol of the Romantic era.
So, when it comes to this statue, I can see how people find it quite problematic. It’s awkward, ugly and it doesn’t even look like him- but it goes so much further than that.
The sculpture is about Poland, and about our own relationship with Poland and its people here in Manchester. Included in the statue is an eagle in flight- the symbol of Poland and behind Chopin is a battle scene which represents the Polish fight for freedom.
Despite spending most of his adult life in France, Chopin kept his home country very close to his heart. Like I said earlier, his songs were in the Polish language, and much of his music was inspired by folk music like polkas and mazurkas. He never let his true heritage die, and so he is a symbol of Polish excellence.
So, this statue being here isn’t entirely random. Now hear me out. First up the statue commemorates his 201st birthday. It also marks his trip to Manchester in 1848 where he played at what is now the site of The Midland Hotel.
Finally, and most importantly, it marks a moment of recognition for the role of the Polish migrants in Manchester for their contribution to civic life- by celebrating one of their most celebrated sons.
Manchester has welcomed lots of Polish people since the 19th century, and this publicly funded statue acts as a symbol of integration and a token of thanks to their contribution over the years. If that isn’t a heart of gold, I don’t know what is.