Chopin’s Piano: On Mallorca, A Century-Old Musical Mystery Finally Solved

For generations, two families in Mallorca have laid competing claims to the legacy of Frédéric Chopin. Starting in 1838, the Polish composer lived in a room on the island with his mistress, and composed some of his great works. But which room was it? And

Valldemossa, Mallorca, where Chopin sojourned with his mistress, George Sand, in 1838
Valldemossa, Mallorca, where Chopin sojourned with his mistress, George Sand, in 1838
Camilo Jiménez

The news from the courthouse in Palma de Mallorca comes as a tough blow Frédéric Chopin fans who paid good money to see what was supposed to be the piano and living space used by the legendary composer during his late-in-life sojourn on the Spanish island.

For a century, the Ferrá-Capllonch family, which owns "Cell Nr. 2" in the former Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa, lured tourists to where they claimed Chopin had lived with his mistress, George Sand, and her children. The site also features the piano on which he supposedly completed his 24 Preludes (Op. 28).

As it turns out, they were wrong – about both the living quarters and the famous piano. Based on extensive research, the jurists were able to show conclusively that the instrument in Cell No. 2 was built after Chopin's 1849 death, and that the composer had in fact occupied another cell – one that's owned by a family with the surname Quetglas.

The court awarded the Quetglas family exclusive marketing rights, cutting the Ferrá-Capllonch family completely out of the Chopin legacy. What's more, the Ferrá-Capllonch family must now publically announce that their piano is not the real thing. The piano had attracted approximately 300,000 tourists per year to Valldemossa, where visitors paid for tickets based on the idea they were buying a bit of proximity to the life and work of a man who is one of music's all-time greats,.

Chopin came to Mallorca on Nov. 15, 1838 accompanied by his mistress, the French writer Amantine Dupin, Baroness Dudevant (1804-1876), who used the pseudonym George Sand. At the time, Mallorca was considered a remote location. Valldemossa was even more off the beaten path – a dark village in the picturesque Tramuntana mountain range, an ideal place for a celebrated musician to get well away from it all. Sand wrote a book about the sojourn, Winter in Mallorca, which was to become as much a part of her legend as it is of Chopin's.

A three-generation family feud

Chopin afficianados from around the world flock to the charterhouse, which belongs to the Ferrá-Capllonch and Quetglas families and was turned into a museum in 1910. Exhibits include letters, musical scores, drawings – even some of Chopin's hair. Over time, restaurants and souvenir shops set up business, and the old monastery became something of a pilgrimage site. But soon enough, hostilities broke out between the two families, and the feud has carried on through three generations.

As early as 1932, Chopin biographer Édouard Ganche went to Mallorca to try and clear up the issue of the cell and the piano. He interviewed the Quetglas banking family and examined their piano, made by the Pleyel company, which at the time was in their home. Ganche stated that this was without a doubt the instrument played by the composer, so the family moved it back into the cell they owned.

The problem was that the Ferrá-Capllonch family was already advertising their piano as the real thing, and when they heard of the recent developments on the Quetglas side, they announced that their instrument – made by the Oliver Suau company – had been "certified as authentic." The arguments went on for years, outliving the Spanish Civil War and Franco's dictatorship, with the Ferrás enjoying the upper hand.

By the 1990s, the Quetglas family had had enough, and had a new edition of Édouard Ganche's book published. More and more Chopin experts were meanwhile casting their vote with the Quetglas cell and piano. There was documentation to support them. One letter that Chopin penned to French piano maker Camille Pleyel stated: "I'm sending you the Preludes, that I finished composing on your piano." The missive seemed like fairly conclusive evidence. Additional proof was found in an account by a translator of Sand's book who had spoken with someone who was alive at the time and personally confirmed that the room occupied by Chopin was in fact the Quetglas cell. Finally, a drawing by Sand's son, Maurice, shows details specific to the Quetglas cell.

Before issuing their verdict, the judges in the Palma case visited the charterhouse. Their decision appears to put an end to a long-lasting farce. Still, the Ferrá-Capllonch family, while it may have lost the case, still has a huge collection of Chopin memorabilia – and they are also the organizers of Valldemossa Chopin Festival.

Read the original story in German

Photo - hanspoldoja

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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