Exclusive: New evidence that Chopin was gay

Moritz Weber, music editor of SRF 2 Kultur in Switzerland, has made a programme airing this weekend with suppressed letters showing that Frédéric Chopin had erotic relationships with several men. He sends kisses to his lovers, among other tokens of physical intimacy.

He gives a full list of Chopin’s lovers here.

 

The allegations will be political dynamite in Poland, where gay men and women are being stigmatised by a right-clerical government.

The programme is in German.

Chopin had a perplexing, possibly platonic, public relationship with the French novelist George Sand.

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  • In France, the other country (first or second? another question…) of Chopin there are also several articles and books wroten about his unconventional realtionship with the very famous writer there George Sand. But it never go on that way I think. We will never know the truth and the most important thing is his music.

    • I like that approach…. That you don’t eat meat doesn’t make you a vegetarian, or that you vote for Johnson doesn’t mean you’re a conservative, or that you let yourself be dragged to a Mahler concert by your wife doesn’t mean you like classical music.

    • It could make him homosexual or bisexual .

      What’s “gay” anyway . More like some subspecies or lifestyle choice ?
      “Gay” is a business and media model for financial exploitation . And frequently an attention seeking way of life which draws attention to ones sexuality, where before, it was largely unknown to the general population , apart from a few risqué
      Effeminate males, butch females, or confirmed bachelors …….

  • How pitiful and inadequate that the vaunted Fryderyk Chopin National Institute (NIFC) itself cannot address honestly this central issue about their man.

  • He was probably a transgendered African- American as well! The state of modern musicology is pathetic. At one point in my stupid youth I thought seriously about becoming a musicologist. Thank God I became an Economist and play Bassoon as a serious amateur. I would be in prison after attending one academic conference with this pseudo-academics!

    • My fly on the wall informs me that this was indeed the case. His relationship with Chopin was a cover-up of his real identity and his cigar smoking a discrete signalling to Chopin of amorous availability. But there are also indications that Chopin was a woman and her masculine outfit a cover-up of her vulnerable and discriminated gender, so that her works be not rejected by the publishers. Gender identity was so much more simple in those 19C Parisian salons.

  • Au contraire! He should be hailed as one of the “under-represented and oppressed” composers against the white (heterosexual) patriarchy, which the DIE (diversity, inclusion, equity) crowd desperately seeks. Too bad he’s not black, otherwise his intersectional points would go thru the roof. But he’s LGBTQX whatever, so that’s great. Poles be damned!

  • Shocking that many dozens of polish towns and cities have declared themselves ,with clear signage as “Non LGBT zones “
    Hungary is not so far behind either

  • The whole story with George Sand (and other women, although dismissed in the article), I suppose then, was nothing more than a coverup for his gay relationships? Nowadays it seems that if you did anything good in your life, they will say that you were at least gay, if not more.

    On a serious note, all of the letters provided in the article were quite typical for that time. Emotions were usually exaggerated, men used to kiss each other. The only letters that seem to indicate gay relationships are letters to Woyciechowski, but I’d like to see the original. As far as I understand, all of the letters are taken from “Chopin: His Life” by W. Murdoch, originally published in English (by the way, the same book explicitly mentions that it was considered fashionable for Polish men of that time to kiss each other). What I’d like to see is original letters. A choice of words in English transaction could change impression that they make dramatically.

  • Well he was such a weak, sensitive soul. Who knew – if this is true – that he was politically correct decades ahead of the term?

    • Most of his music is politically incorrect, with violations of the usual standards of phrasing, of harmonic development, of structure. He broke all the rules and created new ones; if this is seen as metaphor, this means that he was both politically incorrect (revolutionary) and a classicist (traditionalist). Musical minds are often quite complex and paradoxical.

  • Unless Weber intends to argue against all of Chopin’s female relationships and sentiments, then it is incorrect to write “gay” in the title.

  • What difference does it make whether he got off with women, men, running naked through the streets of Paris or with a zebra?

    • The image of Chopin running naked through Parisian streets accompanied by a zebra invites for quite unconventional reconsideration of the music.

    • Indeed.

      This is demonstrated by the tragedy of Szymanowski, who had the choice of becoming director of the conservatory of Cairo – which would have been very good for his health and which paid him a very generous salary – and director of the Warsaw conservatory. Out of a cultural-nationalist urge, which was a strong trend in the Interbellum, he choose for Warsaw, which led to his getting stuck in a struggle with conventions and a backward mindset. His health quickly deteriorated and his finances suffered so much that he was forced to undertake undermining concert tours which finished him off in 1937.

      Had he settled in Cairo, he would have had enough time to compose, to travel to and through Europe, and to indulge in his interests in oriental culture and amorous explorations unhindered by European puritanism. The climate could have cured his tuberculosis.

      • It is hard to believe and painful for the residents of ex-colonial British countries like Uganda, Jamaica, Nigeria and west African countries, who still have to exist in this punitive Christian and evangelical anathema
        wherein homosexuals are blackmailed bullied threatened, prosecuted, jailed and frequently murdered. Machetes are the weapon of preference in Jamaica .
        Fortunately we offer asylum for the worst cases, if indeed they are luckily enough to survive and get out

        • Indeed.

          But in the 19th and early 20th century North Africa was quite liberal, according to the many stories of European artists sojourning in those ares (Camille Saint-Saens, Pierre Louys, André Gide etc.).

    • Rolling my eyes. You have a choice now, read a history book for a change or go back to reading distorted non-news from the guardian

  • I think people shall be careful with labels. Gay as a label is a modern Western construct and has its special cultural connotations (which can be visualized by Pride Parades, rainbow flags, villages, gay saunas, gay erotica and pornography). In medical literature, the word “gay” is not used for a reason. Many great men of Renaissance and antiquity as well many men of primitive tribes had homoerotic relations but they should not be described as gay.

    • Correct.

      In Antiquity, variations in amorous taste were considered normal and indeed, a matter of taste, and not seen as a label of identity. Why not? Because it was not important enough to be seen as such. There is a lesson there for modern times.

      • And in the present, especially from experience in the Middle Eastern Arabic Muslim countries
        Male to male sexual encounters are the first experience for young teenagers, as sex before marriage is the big taboo. There is no shame or guilt in this, and it is with great passion and a strong sense of enduring friendship.
        There is very little risk, and vanishingly small number of prosecutions, as this is largely non-penetrative, and the urban myth of stoning and throwing from buildings is the stuff of Wahhabi extremism. Penetration has to be witnessed by 4 people including an imam, and this is as rare as a pink unicorn , as men exercise ultimate discretion and avoidance of “Offence against public decency “ Blackmail can pose a small threat , but that in itself is criminal.
        Apologies for being graphic, but it is only to show how much freedom homosexual or bisexual men have in Islamic and Arabic society, compared to the risk of prison and death posed in many hangover relics of the British Empire like Uganda Jamaica and many other Caribbean islands, Where threats, violence blackmail and actual killings are far more common than in any of the French Spanish and Dutch colonies who apply their mother country’s freedom law and order.
        Muslim countries have much more common sense than to arrest and punish most of their population, for activity that is largely universal, and invisible, and harms nobody. Most men’s wish is to get married and have a family, despite any other inclination

        Sri Lanka has made no arrests or prosecutions in the last 60 years or more, and India is making great progress in making homosexuality legal in many states. The great sadness is that so many Eastern European countries are going backwards and have become vastly more conservative than most Middle Eastern Countries

        • Hear hear!

          Eastern European countries struggle with thier cultural identity, having escaped the soviet umbrella and now feeling threatened by the EU umbrella. So they take refuge into a vision of the past.

        • It’s the modern gay identity they object to, not the act itself. Try being gay in Egypt or Syria and you’ll find out quickly enough what happens.

          • My poor old uncle Henry, who was not gay at all and married with 4 kids, was an anthropologist specializing in cultural identity. As part of an experimental project, he went in 2008 with three collegues to Egypt, disguised as American gays, to interview the locals in some cities and in the country side. After leaving the airport, they mysteriously disappeared and were never ever heard of again.

            Sally

    • Yes, she instead of all the male polish pronouns… and what I find the most devastating is that this translation by Frick is from 2016…

      • You’re correct that the Polish has male pronouns, but it only does so because ideał is a grammatically masculine noun.

        Mam mój ideał, któremu wiernie, nie mówiąc z nim już pół roku, służę, który mi się śni, na którego pamiątkę stanęło adagio od mojego koncertu, który mi inspirował tego walczyka dziś rano, co ci posyłam.»

        This is something that the German translation gets right, in that Ideal is das Ideal, ie grammatically neuter.

        «Ich habe mein Ideal, dem ich treu diene, und mit dem ich schon seit einem halben Jahr nicht gesprochen habe, von dem ich träume, zu dessen Erinnerung das Adagio aus meinem Konzert entstand, DAS (my capitalisation) mir heute Morgen diesen Walzer inspiriert hat, den ich dir übersende.»

        So, the correct English translation should be neither he nor she, but either fudged or left entirely abstract, depending on whether you think Chopin is talking about an ideal person or some kind of artistic ideal.

        «I have my ideal, whom/which I faithfully serve, with whom/which I have not conversed for half a year now, about which I dream, with thoughts of whom/which the Adagio from my Concerto came to be, who/which this morning inspired the little waltz that I am sending you.»

  • I would suggest that it’s not constructive to use the word ‘gay’ (with its manifold connotations and associations). The more neutral ‘homosexual’ seems more likely to help us get to the heart of the matter in this case.

    • No, because that latter term – invented by the puritan medical profession of the 19th century – immediately draws attention to the component that shocked the ignorati the most.

  • Not surprising. Many composers were gay.

    I remember being in the Handel House in London 10 years or so ago and a perplexed guide explaining that Handel left all to his “servant”. That was one way of living together in those days. The guide was clueless.

  • Not the physical intimacy itself with either men or women or both sexes matters here , but the habit of passionate correspondence which reveals an intimate life whose shared intensity may make us, the very lonely and isolated people of the XXI st century, envious.

  • While in pre-modern periods a puffickly natural amorous variation suffered under grave irrational taboos, the labelling in our ‘enlightened’ times is as distorting: putting people into boxes so that they can be treated as a homogenous group instead as individuals. Surely someone like Chopin would have felt as uncomfortable in our times as he must have felt in the 19th century. Labels are dehumanizing and distorting and invite for misunderstanding and discrimination.

    Youthful amorous enthusiasms have been normal since the dawn of time and don’t exclude changes later in life. The suggestion that Chopin had no ‘real’ love affair with Sand is due to the assumption that people never escape the box they have been put into. From the evidence it is clear that Chopin and Sand had a very strong relationship, and the extent to which it expressed itself in terms of intimacies is entirely irrelevant to posterity, and it is the same with Chopin’s ‘lovers’.

  • In 19th century letters full of effusive feelings it is often difficult to get a sense of what is merely stylized sentimentality and what is something more. That later editors/translators changed the hes to shes was unfortunately common practice until recently.

    The Poles already had a gay composer, Szymanowski, to get worked up about. He had an affair with the 15 year-old Boris Kochno, of later Ballets Russes fame, and wrote a revealing novel about his feeings, Ephebos, only part of which has survived. The subtext of his opera King Roger is also pretty obvious.

    • Indeed, postal exchanges in those days of exploding romanticism are burdened with flowery expressions, because it was deemed a sign of sophistication if one cultivated the inner life of emotion, more or less the opposite of our time with sterile email communication and shorthand text messages. Also it was custom to read poetry, even if one deeply detested the genre – being seen with a volume of Goethe or De Musset was a sign of spiritual sensibility. If you read the letter exchange between Wagner and King Ludwig you get an idea of the high-flying emotional climate of those days, which was also a reassuring disguise of real feeling, well-understood by the participants concerned.

      • My late grandmother, born 1914, wrote very effusive flowery sounding letters to those whom she loved, such as me, her granddaughter, although she spoke in a straightforward “modern” way. This was how people were taught to write

  • Yet none of this affects his musical genius so who cares? He suffered enough in life. Let him Rest In Peace regardless of what he may or may not have done or been.

    • I was very disappointed and never want to hear that sentimental, unmanly music again in my life.

      After reading this shocking post, I listened to some Pli selon Pli for masculine consolation. There are still pure spirits around!

      Sally

          • well: http://gayinfluence.blogspot.com/2016/02/pierre-boulez.html
            If you wanna be sure don‘t hesitate to ask at the world famous Lucerne Festival, where he used to be the Founder of the LF Academy. It‘s common sense also there.

            And, gays are also masculine.

            Moreover: If you don‘t wanna listen to music by gay or bisexual composers anymore, you have to avoid at least: Lully, Schubert, Schumann, Tschaikowski, Satie, Ethel Smyth, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Britten, Cage, Henze, Pintscher etc. Not to talk about Vladimir Horowitz, you would have to ban his recordings too, as you can read in his letters to Nico Kaufmann.

          • SaintSaens had the added bonus of transvestism, although most are not gay.
            You missed Poulenc, who liked to stroll down the Champs Elysée holding hands with a fat hairy truck driver .

            Avant Garde !

          • Poor Cris, you didn’t spot the (s)poof! There’s nothing like a sense of humor!
            PS…. avoiding the music of Ethel Smyth wouldn’t bother me at all!

          • I will tell her, but she won’t listen to these composers anyway because they are ‘oldfashioned’ and ‘don’t reflect the concerns of our modern times’ as Boulez does.

  • I’m going to get hate for this, but I am bracing myself for the inevitable parade of hot-topic music history and music theory papers and presentations:

    “Queering the Mazurka: Gay Courtship in 19th Century Poland”

    “Chopin’s Ballades: Motivic Development as Gay Code in the 19th Century”

    “An Analysis of Delacroix’s Chopin/Sand Portrait: Hidden Meaning in Brush Strokes?”

    “The Piano Etudes of Frederic Chopin: Outbursts of Gay Repression”

    “The Friendship of Liszt and Chopin: A Re-examination of the Rift”

    and on and on and on….proceedings, chapters, and books.

    • You may place homosexuality as an equivalence of being left handed but there are clearly people in Poland and Uganda who *do* care. It’s not easy to be Gay in either of those countries.

        • I have a nephew with two left hands who insists on endless DIY jobs in the house with inevitable disastrous results. But I know of a pianist with two left hands who makes an excellent job of Ravel’s concerto, distributing the part for one left hand over two. So, lefthanded people should focus on classical music.

          Sally

  • I am bemused at the many repeated comments here saying “who cares?” as if they are above such sordid banalities as sexual orientation. (I assume none of such commentators are gay themselves, but are eager to distance themselves from any idea that they find a gay Chopin distasteful.). By coincidence I am currently reading Graham Johnson’s wonderful book on Poulenc, who happily refrains from saying about Poulenc’s homosexuality, “who cares?” and thus is able to explore more deeply both the man and the music. He cares!

    • Thanks for alerting me to Graham Johnson’s book.
      Oliver Soden’s biography on Tippett is a joy to read partly for the same reason.

  • So I’m supposed to believe that Mr Moritz Weber, a gay himself, would be completely uninfluenced here by both confirmation bias and personal bias and not use this dubious story as advancing ‘the cause’, esp. during these troubled times in Poland re LGBT?? Too many coincidences

  • Mr. Weber may feel he has discovered some “cover-up” on the part of all Chopin’s fans and the many authors who have documented his life and letters, but all those who have read the biographies/letters will already be very familiar with them, so this is hardly earth shattering knowledge newly arrived at. He seems to have ignored that the time when Chopin was alive, his manner of addressing his friends wasn’t that unusual, nor was kissing them, men walked arm in arm in the street. In the UK, men don’t kiss each other on meeting, but in other European countries, this is quite a usual way of greeting, does this mean this behaviour indicates nationwide homosexuality, of course not, it’s just different customs and cultures. One must also remember that Chopin missed his family and his country deeply, so it’s hardly surprising that he clung to his Polish friends, especially as he’d known many if them since his schooldays, and as such, they were likely to be male. It’s just bizarre that anyone would trouble themselves to make these assertions, and one wonders why. Music is highly personal to the listener & performer as well as the composer, so the sexuality of any of them is irrelevant. Mr. Weber perhaps wants his 15 minutes of fame?

    • Indeed.

      As an aside: in a conservative country like India, youngsters often walk hand in hand and kiss each other regularly, which is both merely a cultural custom and a safe disguise of deeper commitments, and in Thailand the ancient gender fluidity has bubbled-up again in a wildly-successful cult of romantic ‘boy love’ TV drama series, weekly watched by millions of families. It seems that the victorian West has been the exception rather than the rule. So, Chopin was normal ahead of his time.

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