diagnosing genius

ID_PI_GOLBE_CHOPI_AP_001 In her Histoire de Ma Vie, the author George Sand describes an encounter with Frédéric Chopin upon returning one night from a trip to Palma. Chopin was playing a melody on the piano, in the grip of a strange delirium. “He saw himself drowned in a lake,” she wrote:

heavy and ice-cold drops of water fell at regular intervals upon his breast, and when I drew his attention to those drops of water which were actually falling at regular intervals upon the roof, he denied having heard them. He was even vexed at what I translated by imitative harmony…. His genius was full of mysterious harmonies of nature, translated by sublime equivalents into his musical thought, and not by a servile repetition of external sounds.

The work that Chopin was playing that night — according to “The hallucinations of Frédéric Chopin,” an article published recently in the journal Medical Humanities — is thought to be the Prelude in D flat major, or Prelude in F sharp minor, or even Prelude in B minor. But for the authors of the article — Manuel Vázquez Caruncho and Franciso Brañas Fernández — the exact piece Chopin was playing, or how it got composed, is less interesting than what might have been happening in Chopin’s mind while he was composing.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.