Chopin had come to Britain at the invitation of Jane Stirling, a spirited member of an old and wealthy Scottish family, who, with her widowed sister, Katherine Erskine, ﬁrst met the composer in 1840 in Paris, where Jane became at ﬁrst a promising pupil of Chopin's, then a devoted friend and patron.
Her admiration for the composer almost certainly blossomed – on her part at least – into something more, and after his death she became known as "Chopin's widow".
Jane Wilhelmina Stirling was born at New Kippenross, near Dunblane, in 1804, the youngest daughter of John Stirling of Kippendavie, who died when she was just 12 (a striking portrait by Raeburn shows father and daughter together). Her mother died a few years later and Jane was brought up by her older sister, Katherine. Stirling became an adept student of Chopin's, the composer assuring her that "one day, you will play very, very well".
Paris, where Chopin had lived since 1831, was in the throes of the 1848 revolution and Stirling urged him to come to Britain. Chopin was in poor health, he was suffering of tuberculosis, and still recovering from the end of his intense nine-year relationship with the author and proto-feminist George Sand.
In April 1848, the composer duly arrived in London, where he gave lessons to society ladies and played twice in two aristocratic saloons. At the same time Thalberg held twelve concerts in various theaters. Chopin had an aristocratic audience, Thalberg a mixed, aristocratic and bourgeois audience. And Chopin, writing to a friend, said: "For the bourgeois class it takes something extraordinary and mechanical, which I don't have." The entrepreneurial bourgeoisie was brought to power by the revolution and adopted the concert as its cultural institution.
On 5 August that year, he took advantage of Stirling's invitation and, accompanied by Muir Wood, the son of an Edinburgh music publisher, took the train for the Scottish capital.
In Scotland, he found himself doing the rounds of Jane's extensive network of wealthy relatives, a circuit which would become increasingly onerous to the ailing composer. He spent two and a half weeks as guest of Lord and Lady Torphichen, at Calder House in West Lothian, and then, following an eight-hour journey south to play a concert in Manchester, there was a further round of family seats, including Johnstone Castle in Renfrewshire, Keir House in Perthshire and Strachur House on Loch Fyne.
He found a more relaxing environment, however, in the Edinburgh home of a Polish-born doctor, Adam Lyszczynski, at 10 Warriston Crescent. There, Chopin would play the piano to accompany Lyszczynski's wife as she sang. He was so weak that his Irish servant, Daniel, had to carry him up the house's steep staircase.
Quite apart from his illness and bouts of depression, Chopin's personality didn't make him the easiest guest – he could be vain, snobbish and anti-Semitic. In Scotland, he was granted lavish hospitality, but clearly found the process exhausting. He loved Keir House, for instance, but, speaking little English, found the after-dinner conversation heavy-going, and he wrote to a friend, "Everything irritates me and I continue to gasp until dinner, after which I must remain seated for two hours with the men, watching them talking and listening to them drinking. Bored to death, I let my mind wander in between making polite gestures and comments in French."
The ever-solicitous attentions of Jane and her sister were starting to pall. "My Scottish ladies give me no peace, and come for me to drag me round all the members of their family. I always give in – they will suffocate me with their goodness, but good manners prevent me from declining."
While he had an interest in folk music, and wrote to a friend: "I listen to lovely Scottish songs". His enthusiasm evaporated at Strachur House when his hostess, Lady Murray, produced a concertino, "and she began to play on it the most atrocious tunes… Every creature seems to me to have a screw loose."
Meanwhile, Stirling's sister, Katherine Erskine, seems to have been determined to make a Kirk convert out of the Catholic composer: "Mrs Erskine," he wrote, "who is a very religious Protestant, kind-hearted, may possibly like to make me into a Protestant – as she brings me the Bible, talks of the soul – notes down psalms for me…"
But did Jane, who at 44 was six years older than Chopin, entertain thoughts of marriage to him? Chopin himself dismissed any such possibilities by commenting in a letter: "I am closer to a cofﬁn than to a marital bed."
Jane Stirling absolutely adored Chopin, and she probably fancied to become a second George Sand to him, but Chopin deﬁnitely wasn't interested.
In Glasgow Chopin played a concert in the now-demolished Merchant's Hall, which was well received, although the Glasgow Herald tempered its enthusiasm by remarking that "Mr Chopin is evidently a man of weak constitution… We incline to the belief that this master's compositions will always have a far greater charm when heard en famille, rather than in the concert room."
His illness was making it increasingly hard for Chopin to perform at all, but The Scotsman's review of the Edinburgh concert a week later found his style a refreshing contrast to "the Donner und Blitzen school of pianists".
To a certain extent he disappointed people because he couldn't play very loud: it was "beautiful, but muted."
Chopin's Scottish performances were effectively his swansong.
Before returning to Paris, he played at a Polish charity ball at London's Guildhall, but the noisy crowd were more intent on dancing and socialising than listening to the fading master.
He left London on 23 November for Paris, where he died on 17 October the following year.
Jane and her sister helped to pay for the lavish funeral at the Church of the Madeleine, which was the ﬁrst occasion on which Chopin's own Sonata N. 2 in B ﬂat minor, now universally known as a funeral march, was played Jane bought up much of Chopin's music and possessions, including his piano, to send to what would become a museum to the composer in Warsaw.
In Chopin's tomb in Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, she secreted – along with a note of the "correct" date of Chopin's birth – a petal of a rose from her family home at Kippenross.
It is said she wore black for the rest of her life.
Calder House, Mid Calder, Livingstone, West Lothian