A portrait of Frederic Chopin by Eugene Delacroix.
It's a mystery that involves a musical genius, his pickled heart and what exactly killed him.
A forthcoming paper in the American Journal of Medicine settles on complications from tuberculosis as Frederic Chopin's cause of death—not an unexpected conclusion since the great Polish composer and patriot was known to suffer from the disease.
While Chopin was buried in Paris in the famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery in 1849, for most of the time since his heart has been stored in a jar of alcohol—likely cognac—and encased in a pillar in Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. As the musician was dying in exile in France, his last wish was that his heart be removed and returned to his beloved homeland.
It had remained there—except for a time during World War II when it was removed and guarded by the Nazis—until a team of Polish scientists decided to definitely settle the question of what caused his death. So in 2014 researchers disinterred the jar to examine its contents. More than 1,000 photos were taken, and hot wax was added to the jar's seal to prevent evaporation, but the jar was not opened.
The heart is described as "massively enlarged and floppy" in the article documenting their findings, to be published in February. It was also covered with a white substance, giving it a frosted look, leading researchers to believe Chopin had suffered from pericarditis, an inflammation of tissue likely caused by tuberculosis.
"Some people still want to open it in order to take tissue samples to do DNA tests to support their ideas that Chopin had some kind of genetic condition. That would be absolutely wrong. It could destroy the heart and in any case I am quite sure we now know what killed Chopin," lead researcher Dr. Michael Witt told the Guardian.