Episode 40: The Skeleton in Chopin's Closet

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35: iii, 'Funeral March'

rc-skeleton2-200Most stories about the Funeral March from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 are as somber as the music itself. But one — perhaps a tall tale associated with the work — paints a picture so macabre it may just strike your funny bone.

Nicolas Slonimsky’s book of Musical Anecdotes is chock-full of colorful stories. An opera performed by cats. A musical bed. And a tale, from the French painter, Felix Ziem, about Chopin’s Funeral March. It seems Ziem had an eccentric friend who owned a real human skeleton. On hearing about it, Chopin became fascinated and asked to see it. A dinner was arranged and during dessert, out came the skeleton...who apparently joined Chopin on the piano bench. Ziem recounts:

“Chopin, his face pale…had enveloped himself in a long, winding sheet…and held the ghastly skeleton. The silence of the salon was all at once broken by the sound of music – slow, sad, profound, splendid music, music such as none of us had ever heard before. The beautiful sounds succeeded each other and were gradually fashioned into the world-renowned Funeral March. On to the end played Chopin, still grasping the skeleton, and so spellbound were we that not until the last note was struck did we really recover our senses. Then we hastened to congratulate the shroud-robed musician and reached his side just as he was on the point of fainting.” - Ted Weiner

Radio Chopin Episode 40: The Skeleton in Chopin's Closet



Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35: iii, 'Funeral March'