Valldemossa monastery, with views over the valley
One of the rooms the couple lived in
Sand had made the courageous decision to leave the husband she didn't love as far back as 1830 when she travelled to Paris to pursue her literary career. Sand was friends with the cultivated company of the day who thought she was terrific, including Delacroix, Balzac and Liszt. And now I find I have mentioned her before in this blog: George Sand had a party where she introduced Franz Liszt to the famous performer Lola Montez. A very successful introduction it was, too :)
However Sand's great love was clearly Fredric Chopin, a man significantly younger than herself whom she met at a party given by Franz Liszt's friends.
It was her proto-feminism that grabbed attention, as she rather stuck out in her day as a free woman, challenging traditional expectations of women, wearing trousers and demanding equality and non-violence in relationships. This most interesting of women was very liberated for her time, especially since she lived with Chopin without benefit of clergy. And she didn't go to church on Sundays!
The locals must have been disturbed by their behaviour because the couple was evicted from their expansive villa in the island's capital city Palma. Chopin, Sand and the two children moved inland to an old, stone-built Carthusian monastery in the hilltop town of Valldemossa, where they lived in its rather basic accommodation that the brothers had once slept, prayed and studied in. With three rooms and a garden terrace, they lived a rather spartan existence.
The ride from the harbour to the mountain village passes through olive and almond trees as the elevation increases from the coast. The village is quite charming, and the ancient monastery has been preserved very carefully. In addition to the cells occupied by Chopin and Sand, the church and pharmacy are both interesting. On my tour, the drugs and equipment in the pharmacy looked exactly as you imagine they would have looked in 1838-9. And following our tour of the monastery, all the visitors were entertained by a Chopin piano concerto.
The unusually miserable weather and the islanders' lack of hospitality during their year on Majorca was well described in Sand's book A Winter in Majorca (published Paris 1855). It is said that the islanders were not happy with the book and Sand was threatened with a law suit by some Palma lawyers after Winter in Majorca first appeared.
So why was this couple so important for Valldemossa? Majorca's Chopin Festival has been held every Sunday in August since 1930. The festival takes place in the chapel at the Valldemossa Monastery, consisting primarily of works by Chopin, alongside works by other composers as well. The Festival is famous enough to attract well known musicians from all over the world. As well as concerts, there are exhibitions and other events associated with the festival.
Chopin's tomb, Pere Lachaise cemetery