Frédéric Chopin and his suffering

Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2011 Apr 8;131(7):707-10. doi: 10.4045/tidsskr.10.1056.
[Article in English, Norwegian]


Background: In 2010 we celebrated the bicentennial of Chopin's birth. He left more than 230 fantastic compositions, often described as romantic, emotional and poetic. Chopin composed almost exclusively for piano solo and has been called the pianists' composer. From his teens he suffered from respiratory tract infections, gradually accompanied by haemoptysis, pronounced breathing problems, diarrhoea and loss of weight. He experienced part of his adult life as a period of great suffering. He was 39 years old when he died. The assumed cause of death was tuberculosis, but other possible differential diagnoses have been suggested in recent years.

Material and method: In order to examine the different diagnostic alternatives, a non-systematic search of the literature was carried out in PubMed, Embase, Current Contents, Google and relevant reference books.

Results: The official cause of death was tuberculosis, but the autopsy report has never been found. Both cystic fibrosis and alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency are possible differential diagnoses that can explain his symptoms.

Interpretation: In spite of a disabling disease, Chopin was musically creative right to the end of his life. His suffering must have influenced his musical expression, which is characterised by intimacy and sentimentality. It is unlikely that we will ever find the true cause of death.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diarrhea / diagnosis
  • Famous Persons*
  • Hemoptysis / history
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Music* / history
  • Paris
  • Poland
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / history
  • Spain
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / history
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin Deficiency / diagnosis

Personal name as subject

  • Frederic Chopin