What's a lesson from Chopin cost?

An etching showing Polish romantic composer Frederick Chopin (1810-1849).

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Tess Vigeland: Get out the cake and candles for today marks the 200th birthday of someone near and dear to my heart as a classical pianist: Frederick Chopin. To think -- if I had lived in 19th century France I might've been able to take a lesson from him. But it would have cost me 20 francs to be exact, a pretty penny in its day.

Our friends at the classical station WDAV in Davidson, N.C., looked into it for their series "Radio Chopin," We'll call it "Chopinomics." Jennifer Foster reports.


JENNIFER FOSTER: "I'm a revolutionary, money means nothing to me." -- a famous quote by Chopin.

So, just how much was a franc worth in Chopin's day? Debatable, but estimates range from $2.50 up to $4.80. That would put the price tag on a piano lesson with Chopin between $50 and $96. Sound reasonable for a piano lesson with the man about whom Robert Schumann shouted, "Hats off, gentlemen -- a genius!"? Hats off is right. Dinner's off, too, considering the average daily wage for an unskilled laborer in Paris in 1823 was one franc. That's three weeks' wages to pay for one lesson if you don't eat.

In 1982 Chopin and the first two bars of this Polonaise in F Minor appeared on the Polish 5000 zloty bill. This year, The National Bank of Poland is adding their two cents' worth with a release of special, collectible Chopin banknote valued at 20 zloty -- about $6.77. Fourteen of the new notes if you want a lesson from the old poet of the piano!

From Davidson, N.C., I'm Jennifer Foster for Marketplace.

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