FREDERICK CHOPIN was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era born on this date and wrote primarily for solo piano (d: 1849). He has maintained worldwide renown as a leading musician of his era, one whose “poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.”
After a failed engagement to Maria Wodzinska from 1836 to 1837, he maintained an often troubled relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin (known by her pen name, George Sand). A brief and unhappy visit to Mallorca with Sand in 1838–39 would prove one of his most productive periods of composition. In his final years, he was supported financially by his admirer Jane Stirling, who also arranged for him to visit Scotland in 1848. For most of his life, Chopin was in poor health. He died in Paris in 1849 at the age of 39, probably of pericarditis aggravated by tuberculosis.
As archivists and biographers are wont to do, Chopin’s have for centuries turned a deliberate blind eye to the composer’s homoerotic letters in order to make the Polish national icon conform to conservative norms.
The music journalist Moritz Weber, searching Chopin’s letters, said he discovered a “flood of declarations of love aimed at men”, sometimes direct in their erotic tone, sometimes full of playful allusions. In one, Chopin described rumors of his affairs with women as a “cloak for hidden feelings”.
“You don’t like being kissed,” Chopin wrote to his school friend Tytus Woyciechowski in one of 22 letters. “Please allow me to do so today. You have to pay for the dirty dream I had about you last night.” Letters to the friend, who was actively involved in Poland’s January uprising of 1863, often start with “My dearest life” and end with: “Give me a kiss, dearest lover.”
Some letters fall just short of being sexually explicit. In July 1837, Chopin wrote to his friend Julian Fontana in Paris from London, reporting with excitement about “great urinals” with “nowhere to have a good tinkle”.
In an 1829 letter to Tytus Woyciechowski cited on the programme, Chopin refers to “my ideal, whom I faithfully serve, […] about whom I dream”, and who inspired an adagio in his recent concerto. Weber argues that the context of the letter makes it clear that this “ideal” is the letter’s addressee himself.
Yet a translation of Chopin’s letters published in 2016 by Warsaw’s Fryderyk Chopin Institute assigns the “ideal” in the letter a feminine pronoun (“not having spoken to her for half a year now”) even though the Polish noun is masculine.
As recently as 2018, a Chopin biography by English-Canadian musicologist Alan Walker described Woyciechowski as a mere “bosom friend”. The erotically charged letters addressed to a man, Walker writes in Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times, were the product of a “psychological confusion”, a “mental twist”, which made Chopin divert thoughts of sexual desire to his friend “that should more properly have been addressed to Konstancja [Gładkowska]”, a Polish soprano with whom the composer has been described as having been infatuated. Sez who?
Weber says his research has found no concrete evidence of Chopin’s love for Gładkowska, or a supposed engagement to 16-year-old Maria Wodzińska. “These affairs were just rumors, based on flowery footnotes in biographies from the previous two centuries,” he told the Guardian in a phone interview. “Neither the Chopin Institute nor his biographers have been able to deliver any proof.”
One wonders why no one has offered any “proof” of heterosexuality, either, other than a presumptive leap of faith that, of course, everyone is heterosexual, aren’t they?