The Balearic island of Mallorca is inextricably linked with Chopin: it was in his stay there in the winter of 1838-9 that he completed the composition of one of his most famous sets: the 24 Preludes, Op. 28, as well as working on the Op. 38 Ballade, the Op.39 Scherzo and other celebrated works.

Chopin's Piano © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Chopin's Piano
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Chopin’s visit to the island, together with his lover, the writer George Sand and her son, was intended to improve the health of both Chopin and Maurice: Chopin was probably already suffering from the tuberculosis that most historians believe was the cause of his death a decade later. The trip can best be described as fraught: after a brief spell living in the villa “Son Vent” at the island’s capital Palma, the nature of Chopin’s illness raised fears that he was contagious and the couple became distinctly unwelcome.

The Cartuja Real at Valldemossa © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
The Cartuja Real at Valldemossa
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

The situation was resolved by a move to the village of Valldemossa, in the hills West of Palma at the top of a beautiful river valley. Three years earlier, the properties of Carthusian monks in Spain had been subject to confiscations, and their monastery in Valldemossa – known as the “Cartuja Real” – was secularised and forced to rent out their cells.

View from the terrace of Chopin's cell in Valldemossa © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
View from the terrace of Chopin's cell in Valldemossa
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

After some difficulty, a small upright Pleyel “pianino” was sent to Valldemossa, paid for 50/50 by Pleyel (who was Chopin’s publisher as well as his piano maker) and by a French banker, Bazille Canut. Today, you can see the piano in the room where Chopin played it, the cell having been turned into a small museum, which is still owned and run by the heirs of the Canut family.

Orange tree in the terrace © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Orange tree in the terrace
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

The word “cell” may be misleading: the one rented by Chopin and Sand comprised three small but high-ceilinged and airy rooms, plus a garden terrace with a spectacular view of the valley below – a riot of green, with a particularly attractive orange tree dominating one corner. The rooms are now packed with various memorabilia: letters, pages from the score of the Preludes, editions of Sand’s memoir “Un hiver à Majorque”, writings by Liszt and plenty more. They’ll also sell you a rather lovely CD of all of the works that Chopin worked on during the stay.

On a fine day – and most days in Mallorca are fine – the square outside the Cartuja is an oasis of shady calm, the drive up the valley is very lovely and the people in this intimate museum give a charming welcome. Chopin and Sand were unhappy here, but it’s hard to escape the thought that they were rather missing the point, even if we’re the beneficiaries of great music as a result.

Keyboard of Chopin's Pianino © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Keyboard of Chopin's Pianino
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd