Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Chopin's Roses for Valentine's Day (Vol. 4, No. 2)

The association of roses with love goes back to the times of Sappho, an ancient Greek poet (or, rather as 19th century writers would say, poetess), whose fragments of love poems have inspired countless poets with their vehement passion and colorful metaphors since her death more than two and a half thousand years ago. In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s translation, Sappho’s rose is “the eye of the flowers… the grace of the earth” and “the lightning of beauty that strikes through the bowers / On pale lovers that sit in the glow unaware.” Sappho’s rose “breathes of love” and its petals “laugh with the wind…”

The Song of a Rose

By Sappho, translated by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

For Zeus chose us a King of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose, and would royally crown it;
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it!
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair,
Is the lightning of beauty that strikes through the bowers
On pale lovers that sit in the glow unaware.
Ho, the rose breathes of love! ho, the rose lifts the cup
To the red lips of Cypris invoked for a guest!
Ho, the rose having curled its sweet leaves for the world
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the wind as it laughs from the west.

The roses that Sappho and Browning wrote about blossomed once a year and had much smaller, though often much more fragrant flowers than the roses we know today. Our long-stemmed hybrid tea roses are the offspring of repeatedly blooming china roses, hybridized by artificial pollination and often grafted onto sturdy rootstock of the common dog rose that is resistant to cold and disease. We pay for the year-round abundance of flowers with their fragrance…

Here’s a lovely simple variety of Rosa Gallica, called by the French Rosier d’Amour and the Germans rose d’Autriche, or the Austrian rose. Its description in a book of rose images by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (Les Roses, 1817-1824) penned by Claude-Antoine Thory is poetic in its own right, especially for readers who do not know botanical terminology:

 “Its stems are armed with thorns… that break off easily, leaving numerous scars. The leaves consist of five… oval leaflets… doubly dentate with glandulous edges… The Rose of Love has a corolla of five petals … The aromatic flowers grow singly or in clusters or two or three at the end of the secondary branches… The pyriform and slightly hairy fruits are reddish or orange when ripe. They last well into the winter.”

The Latin name of this variety is “Rosa gallica pumila” and it refers to the small size of the shrub, graced with enormous, bright red flowers. But how does “glandulous” look like? And what about “tomentose” (not to mistake for “comatose”)? The meaning of “Pyriform” we can guess – it probably refers to the shape of the flame, that, just like the flame of true love, lasts well into the winter.

Apparently, this is a wild rose widespread in Germany and growing with vigor: “it can reappear and multiply almost as rapidly as it is uprooted.” How does it do it? In three ways: “through self-sown seeds, offshoots, and subterranean roots.” (from Frank J. Anderson’s commentary, 1979). For the farmers, it was worse than a weed, because its branches were thorny and when they took it out once, it kept coming back with a vengeance.

Now, isn’t it just like real love? Even the unwanted one? If it is real, it will survive anything and everything. It will be unchanged from the day it miraculously appeared, to bless a life that was empty without it, to the last breath on Earth, well into the winter of life. Will it survive beyond the grave? I think it will, but let us return to the roses.

Another simple type of rose (with one layer of petals, typically 5 to 8) was known in Chopin’s time as “The Rose of May” (Rosa cinnamomea). Its blossoms had five red, heart-shaped petals around a yellow heart. It blossomed just once a year, in May.  

By the time Chopin arrived in Paris in 1831, though, the beauty of such fragrant, once-blooming roses had found new, foreign competition. 

He had with him his two Piano concerti, the first composed and second published Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 21 (1829-1830) included a lovely Larghetto, the apotheosis of love in music. 

The Rose Garland

I thought roses.
I thought rich, velvet blossoms.
I thought a red rainbow
from deep crimson to delicately pinkish.

The secret was underground
where the roots sustain
the multi-hued orgy of sensuous allure –
flowers opening to dazzle and fade.

The strength of the rose
is invisible – you see the blush
of seduction in each leaf and petal,

 You admire their charms.
Yet, you care for what’s out of sight,
not for the obvious.

I thought your love.
I thought how you adore me.
I went deeper down to the source.

The rose, Sappho’s lightning
of beauty, breathes love,
laughs at the wind and wonders.

The mystic rosebush dances,
crowned with the royal
garland of fire.

(c) 2008 by Maja Trochimczyk

Roses Out of This World – Bengal? China? 

The European rose gardens greatly benefited from the conquests made by the British in India and China - and from the Egyptian adventures of Napoleon himself. When English officers and merchants went to China in the middle of the 18th century, they came back with rose varieties they named after themselves. Thus, Slater and Parson in 1752, followed by Hume and Park around 1792, entered the History of the Rose. Thanks to these Oriental newcomers, English and French gardens were filled with rose blossoms from spring through winter frost.

Napoléon’s first wife, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814, crowned in 1804, and divorced in late 1809), loved roses so much she dedicated a garden at her residence of Chateau de  Malmaison to these magnificent flowers. Assisted by dedicated and talented gardeners, she managed to gather over 250 varieties in a formal rose garden that survived her death in 1814 and the fall of Napoleon in 1815. Apparently, during Napoleonic wars, containers with Hume Blush Tea-Scented China Rose imported for Empress Joséphine’s Rose Garden were let through the English naval blockade.

The spectacular blossoms from Empress Joséphine’s collection at Malmaison were immortalized in painting. Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) recorded the shapes and hues in splendid engravings and watercolors, while Claude-Antoine Thory (1759-1827) provided their vivid, botanical descriptions. The images from Les Roses (1817-1824) still delight with their exotic beauty – I call these roses “exotic” because many varieties found on these colorful pages had died out and no longer exist.

 Redouté’s roses have strange names: the cottony rose, the moss rose, the great cabbage-leaved rose… Sometimes the names reflect the roses’ convoluted history. Let’s take as an example the Bengal Rose with blood purple flowers (Rosa indica cruenta). Brought to England from China by T. Evans, it flowered for the first time in an English garden in 1810. Despite its Indian name, it was a true China rose; Chinese gardeners, no doubt, spent centuries perfecting its blossoms.

I love the abstractness of its description: “The bifid stipules are bordered with pendiculate glands. The flowers, which can sometimes be quite big, are terminal… The corolla consists of five or six rows of petals with that slightly velvety purple-red or blood-red color which Professor de Candolle has likened to the color of arterial blood.” Oh, the poetry of bygone science!

 A Chopin’s Rose? Roses? 

Here’s another imperial conquest: a Sultana’s Rose, also known as La Maheka or Rosa gallica maheka. Apparently, it came to Europe at the end of the 18th century via Holland. It may have something to do with Dutch holdings in Indonesia, or maybe it was found in India, or Persia, or China… The genealogy of this rose remains shrouded in mystery. Yet the French loved it so much that Redouté’s botanist, Thory, wrote: “this fine rose is so well-known to rose-lovers that we hardly feel a need to describe it.”

 If it was so well-known perhaps Chopin saw it, too. A Sultana’s Rose blossom may have been contrasting with the jet-black tresses of a woman he noticed at a ball in 1841. He was going to describe this “goddess that enchanted him with a rose in black hair” when he received a letter from his friend, Julian Fontana and started thinking about home, family and his past in Poland.

He then may have remembered the roses worn a decade earlier by a charming singer, Konstancja Gładkowska (1810-1889), whom he admired to the point of infatuation. She sang during his farewell  concert in Warsaw, held in October 1830. On this occasion, Ms.  Gładkowska was “in white, with roses on her head, dressed beautifully to enhance her charm” and sang better than ever before (Chopin's letter to Tytus Wojciechowski, 12 October 1830).

Were roses Chopin’s favorite flowers, then? Perhaps… His description of his room in George Sand’s mansion at Nohant in a famous letter to his family, written on 18-20 July 1845, is revealing:

 “In the middle stands my desk, where I write, on the left there are some music papers of mine – Mr. Thiers and poetry (with a moustache), on the right Cherubini, in fron of me this “repetier” that you sent in its screen (Four o’clock). Roses and carnations, pens and piece of sealing lacque, left by Kasalanty. – I’m always with one leg with you – and with another in the room next door – where the Lady of the House works – and not at all here in this moment – only, as usual, in some strange space. — These are, probably the “espaces imaginaires” (imaginary spaces) – but I am not ashamed of that. . .”

Kasalanty Jedrzejewicz was the husband of Ludwika, Chopin’s beloved sister. In 1848, feeling lonely and homesick in Scotland, Chopin returned, in his thoughts, to the beautiful gardens he remembered from his youth (Chopin's letter from Edinburg, 10 August 1848): “It is so good that Ludwika went to the countryside! Both my dearest Mommy and good old Isabel (“i Mameczka, i Izabelisko”) should also drive by a garden, in which I can see all the flowers, fruit, and the wood of the fence.”

Rose Anna Czartoryska

These “imaginary spaces” blossomed into music, Chopin’s nocturnes and mazurkas. In real life, this sick and lonely émigré found a substitute family among friends that included Princess Marcelina Czartoryska (1817-1894), his most famous disciple who kept the memory of his pianistic style alive long after his death.

Another Princess from Chopin’s circle, Anna  Sapieha, Princess Czartoryska (1799-1864) was the elegant and wise wife of the leader of Polish émigrés in Paris, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861). After a long career in Polish politics that ended with chairing the national government during the November Uprising in 1830-31, Prince Czartoryski emigrated to Paris and ruled over the émigré community from his residence, Hotel Lambert. Among other achievements, Prince and Princess Czartoryski founded the Polish Library and Museum in Paris, and, of course, patronized Chopin.

Princess Anna dedicated her life to supporting culture and charitable endeavors; her name frequently appears in Chopin correspondence. On 27 February 1835 General Jozef Bem wrote to Chopin about a well attended evening at the Princess Czartoryska who was showing off Chopin’s still unframed portrait that she intended to also display at the court.

While living in Paris, Chopin often visited Princess Czartoryski’s salon and played for her, but their association dates back to Chopin's early career in Warsaw. The young composer purposefully sought the Princess's patronage before they both left Warsaw; this may be seen from the fact that Princess Anna Czartoryska is the dedicatee of his Rondo a la Krakowiak in F Major, Op. 14, composed in 1829. Her name appears on the manuscript (in Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland) and on all the printed first editions of this piece: the French published by Schlesinger, the German by Kisnter, and the English by Wessel and Co.

No doubt, the Princess admired Chopin’s music. As George Sand noted in a letter to her son, Maurice Dudevant (May 1, 1846), the Czartoryskis attended a concert given by Chopin at his home: “Yesterday, at his home, Chopin gave us his music, flowers, and lots to drink. Prince and Princess Czartoryski attended, along with Princess Sapieha, Delacrois, Louis Blanc, as well as D’Arpentigny, Duvernet with his wife, D’Aure, and Paulina with Viardot.” Apparently, Chopin also greatly enjoyed the smaller musical soirees at the Czartoryski salon, where he “performed enchanting fantasies made from Polish melodies.”

 At the end of his life, the ailing composer gratefully accepted help from Princess Anna, in the form of a certain Mrs. Matuszewska sent to keep him company at night and care for him in his illness (Chopin’s letter of July 2, 1849 to Wojciech Grzymala, with news about his failing health written four months before his death).

What is the reason that I talk about Princess Czartoryski in an essay on Chopin’s Roses? She had her own rose, of course. Rose historian, Yuta Arbatskaya discovered its history. The rose “Anna Czartoryska” was created in 1845 by Jean Pierre Vibert (1777-1866), an expert rosarian and a wounded veteran of Napoleonic army, who received a rose collection with its records from another famous gardener, Jacques Louis Descemet (1761-1839). Descemet, in turn was forced off his land by the British troops and went to live in Russia; his rose will soon make an appearance.

As Arbatskaya writes, the Czartoryska rose belonged to the family of “Gallica/Provins.” It had red flowers with a violet tint, and full corollas of up to 40 petals. Unfortunately, this rose did not survive. It may have been similar to the rose reproduced above. With "magnificent purple-red semi-double" flowers the Provins roses (Rosa gallica) have earned the most unusual description by Thory (in Redouté's Les Roses): "The finely dentate, pointed leaflets grow on hispid leafstalks on which some glands and a few small hooked thorns may be seen, and which have at their base pointed, denticulate, glandulous bifid stipules. The penduncles of the flowers are hispid."  Yes, hispid, indeed...

To return from botany to history, it is important to note that the aristocratic “Anna Czartoryska” was not an aberration, but rather an element of a larger pattern in the history of French rose names. After the Polish émigrés displaced by the fall of the November Uprising in 1831 descended upon Paris, French sympathy for the Polish cause gave rise to a great variety of charitable efforts and high society fashions – such as dance (the mazurka and cracovienne became quite popular), and the roses.

According to Arbatskaya, the French gardener Vibert created and commercially distributed such Polish-named rose cultivars as:

  •  'Sobieski' (1836, named after King Jan Sobieski who defeated the Turkish army at Vienna in 1683), 
  • 'Sulkowski' (1841, named probably after Antoni Pawel Sulkowski, 1785-1836, an army general in the Duchy of Warsaw, and an officer in Napoleon’s army), 
  •  'Dabrowski' (1848, dedicated to General Henryk Dąbrowski, the leader of the Polish Legions, immortalized in Poland’s national anthem of 1794, Dąbrowski’s Mazurka), and 
  •  'Nowalinska' (1852, the identity of this Polish woman is unknown).

 Rose Belle Aurora Poniatowska 

Redoute’s portraits of roses were not limited to those from Empress Josephine’s rose garden at Malmaison. He also documented, with biological exactness, the specimens from other notable rose collections in France, such as Paris’s botanical garden where he taught painting. (He had been the teacher of Marie Antoinette and survived, as rose painter, the French Revolution, to serve new dynasties). As Arbatskaya writes, his favorite student was a young Polish noblewoman, Aurora Poniatowska. Not surprisingly, there’s a rose of this name among the engraved plates of his book.

Known also as Belle Aurore, this delicate pink rose belongs to the family of Alba roses and was created in 1820 by a French rosarian, Jacques-Louis Descemet (1761-1839), a friend of Redouté who named the beautiful rose after the painter’s most favored and talented student.

Aurora Poniatowska (1800-1872) was not, as some commentators wished, an illegitimate daughter of Poland’s last king Stanislaw August Poniatowski. Thanks to the research of Yuta Arbatskaya, a rose historian from Crimea, we know that Aurora came from a minor branch of the Poniatowski family and studied painting in Paris. Her father, Count Józef Ignacy Poniatowski was a colonel and served under the famous Prince Józef Poniatowski, a general in Napoleonic Army.

Did she manage to meet Chopin in Paris, before returning to her family estates in the Ukraine? Probably not. Her studies and her rose name date her Parisian sojourn back to ca. 1820, when Chopin was merely 10 years old. He came to Paris in 1831. His biographical sources do not name her, a forgotten beauty who enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame, to be remembered only by a rose named in her honor.

In order to create beautiful, large, and fragrant blossoms, such as the Belle Aurore, gardeners crossed the “new” arrivals (whose thousand-year Chinese history was not known in the West) with their own roses. Thus many new varieties appeared, the tea rose among them. Josephine’s gardener, Andre Dupont is sometimes credited with inventing this novel art of hybridization, though we have noticed the names of Descemet and Vibert among his colleagues. Through artificial pollination, Dupont created 25 of the varieties found in Empress Josephine’s Rose Garden. Some sources attribute the Poniatowska rose to his creations (Arbatskaya favors Descemet, and I'll take her word for it).

Rosa Aurora Poniatowska from Yuta Arbatkskaya

Gallicas, Hybrid Teas and Chopin Roses

The shapes of most blossoms in Redouté’s paintings are quite different from the tall, tubular flowers we see in delicately fragrant or scentless hybrid teas of our times. These were the gallicas, albas, damask, china, and moss cultivars of Old Garden Roses. Many ancient roses blossomed just once a year and had a lovely fragrance; they were all the more precious for it. Chopin was particularly sensitive to scents; he could not stand foul odors and loved fragrant flowers, such as roses or violets. We may guess that for him the exact shape of the flower was less important than its ability to freshen the air with a beautiful scent. The rose was an aromatic symbol of a connection to his beloved family in Poland…

Roses and carnations were George Sand’s favorites, and these delightful flowers could be found on Chopin’s desk in Nohant… What about romance, then? In 1838, George Sand (whose given name, to close the circle of roses, was also “Aurora”) compared the composer himself to a rose: “Chopin arrived this evening from Perpignan, fresh as a rose and rosy as a beet” (“frais comme une rosé et rosé comme un navet”) she wrote to a friend, Carlotte Marliani, in Paris (Sand's letter of November 1838). This letter was sent from Mallorca where, alas, Chopin’s health suffered a major setback. On December 3, 1838, the composer wrote from Palma to Julian Fontana in Paris: “I was sick as a dog for the last two weeks: I caught a cold despite the 18-degrees warmth, roses, oranges, palms, and figs.”

The fragile beauty of roses did not save him. He died young. His music survived. And look at roses today! How different they are from those of the past. Let anyone who ever saw a rose deny the truth of Evolution, and let them deny the human role in creating evolution… The world is still unfinished and we have a role to play in shaping it, in defining what it will become. For proof, we do not need to look further than a rose and its magnificent blossoms. . .

It takes courage and persistence to create a new rose. According to the gardening site Help Me Find (www.helpmefind.com), three rosarians had this courage as they strove to express the romantic beauty of Chopin’s music in their roses:

  • In 1980, a Polish rosarian, Stanisław Zyła created a large, yellowish-white hybrid tea, with a warm, sunny center. Its ivory petals have the hue of old piano keys. This rose appears with three different names: Chopin, Frédéric Chopin and Fryderyk Chopin. 
  • In 1968 Charles W. Ellick created a red hybrid tea rose "Chopin" with large flowers of up to 40 petals, of moderate fragrance. This rosebush flowered "in flushes" through the summer. 
  • In 2008, to honor the old-fashioned variety of Gallica/Provins (like the Anna Czartoryska rose), Pirjo Rautio created another “Chopin” rose, which was medium-large, with very large and very full blossoms. Its petals, described as “cherry-red with violet-red edges” had “cherry-red flecks,” they aged to violet. Like Old Garden Roses, this Chopin bloomed once, in late spring or summer.

It is perhaps the same Gallica-variety roses (Sultanas, Bengal, India, of May?) that enchanted Chopin’s friend, painter Eugène Delacroix in June 1842 at Nohant, as he listened to Chopin’s music: “At times, through an open window overlooking the garden, mixed with the singing of nightingales and the fragrance of rose blossoms the melodies of Chopin’s music reach me, because he never stops working here…” [“Par instants, il vous arrive par la fenêtre entr'ouverte sur le jardin des bouffées de la musique de Chopin qui travaille de son côté; cela se mêle au chant des rossignols et à l'odeur des rosiers.”] (Letter of Eugène Delacroix of 7 June 1842 from Nohant to J.B. Pierret in Paris)

A Summer Rose Dream 

Rose petals float down 

Onto the desk covered with music 
Pages of notes and ink blots 

Chopin looks out the window 

A carmine blossom in her black hair
Exotic beauty at the ball 

He sees the eglantine roses 

The picket fence of long ago 
His sister smiling 

Fragrance spills on the velvet 

Of night, notes scatter 
On a canvas of his thoughts 

His fingers search for memories 

On smooth ivory keys 
Roses and nightingales, roses

(c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

What joy it would have been to join Delacroix and listen to Chopin’s music among the nightingales and roses of Nohant… Perhaps he'd be playing his Impromptu no. 3, or maybe the Nocturnes op. 55? A perfect Valentine's Day dream for the lovers of music and roses!
Rosa  Celeste, photo by Yuta Arbatskaya, from "Aurora Poniatowska" article.


Special thanks to Yuta Arbatskaya for her articles on Aurora Poniatowska and Anna Czartoryska roses (www.kajuta.net). I wish to thank Daphne Filliberti of Rose Gathering (rosegathering.com) for the information about Chopin roses on How to Find it website and other rose material. I also thank Ewa the Gardener from EwaInTheGarden blog for her lovely Chopin roses. Certain Redouté roses were scanned, other ones found on Wikipedia - English, German, French and Dutch editions. With gratitude to everyone who posts information and pictures free of charge!



Poem by Sappho, translated by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Greek Poets in English Verse, William Hyde Appleton, ed., Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

 Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1816-18), Les Roses, 168 plates with descriptions by Thory. The originals burned with the Louvre in 19th century. Copies were published and continue to be reproduced. The text quoted above is attributed to Delanuay and translated into English, in an album P.-J. Redouté – Roses, Liber, 1986.

 Frank J. Anderson, ed. The Complete Book of 169 Redouté’s Roses, New York: Abbeville Press, 1979.

Yuta Arbatskaya, “Fair Aurora Poniatowska rose: History of the name” paper presented at the 18th Tsarskoye Selo Academic Conference, “Russia – Poland: Two Aspects of European Culture” at the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo, 26–28 November 2012. In Russian.

Yuta Arbatskaya, "Rose Anna Czartoryska" online entry, at www.kajuta.net/node/2791

Philippe Gentil (1982). Chateau de Malmaison. Imprimerie Moderne du Lion, France.

Chopin's Letter on the Website of the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin, Poland www.nifc.org. In Polish, English translation by Maja Trochimczyk.

Chopin Rose Photo from a Polish gardener's website: Ewa in the Garden, http://ewainthegarden.blogspot.com



From Lois P. Jones (via FB, February 13):

An astonishing collection of insights into the history of roses interlaced with delicious 
selections of Chopin and poetry on the subject of roses. Gorgeous indulgence and 
no calories from chocolate. hmmm Thank you!

From Sharon Chmielarz (via email):

Feb. 22 and I've just found the time to read through your blog, Maja.  
What a wonderful creation–words, poems, photos, music, lush red background.  
Thank you for alerting me to it.