23rd January 2004 at 00:00
In the Prelude to Act 1 of Verdi's La Traviata, a portrait of the heroine Violetta, dying of TB, is presented in two parts: first a stumbling theme with constantly changing dynamic markings, and then a lyrical second subject - a "love song" full of suppressed but deep-burning fervour. Then listen to the Prelude to Act 3, where Violetta lies on her consumptive deathbed. Now the same opening sequence of chords wanders tragically away into C minor and D flat - the love theme is missing and the whole ends in quiet offbeat sobs. Chopin's F minor Mazurka (Op 68 No 4) is another dramatic musical response to TB. Its morbid repetition of phrase, its faltering moments of forced vivacity, its anticipation of dissolution - these evoke romantic genius struggling to overcome fatal disease.

Tuberculosis killed the composer shortly after the piece was written.

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