While Polish composer and virtuoso pianist Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, five months short of his 40th birthday, he left his heart in Warsaw. Obsessively terrified of being buried alive, Chopin requested in his will that his heart be cut out after his death and sent to the city where he grew up. Preserved in a jar of alcohol – probably cognac – the heart was duly smuggled past authorities and across borders (this would go on to happen a few times – at one point it was stolen by the Nazis!) eventually to be encased in the crypt of the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.

The carefully preserved heart, however, has offered researchers an opportunity to lay to rest a mystery that Chopin took, along with the rest of his body, to his grave in Paris: which chronic, debilitating disease afflicted the final years of the composer’s life and ultimately led to his death?

Chopin, heart Frédéric Chopin

The report from the original autopsy in Paris was lost, leaving only anecdotal evidence, and prompting theories spanning tuberculosis to cystic fibrosis. An inspection of the crypt was performed in 2014 to evaluate...

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