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Chopin's Men (1/2)
Aus Passage vom 13.11.2020. Bild: KEYSTONE / AP
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Late Outing Chopin was Homosexual – and Nobody should Know

Polish composer Frédéric Chopin described his love for Tytus Woyciechowski in many letters. But they were partly mistranslated or disappeared in mysterious ways.

In no ambiguous terms those letters contained passionate and partly erotic declarations of love. They were addressed to men – in particular to his Tytus.

«As always, I carry your letters with me. What joy it will be to pull out a letter of yours and assure myself that you love me; or at least to gaze at the hand and the writing of him, whom only I am able to love!» (3/27/1830)

a portrait of a younger man
Legende: Most of Chopin’s relationships to men have so far not been appraised nor studied. Getty Images / DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI

The Letters have Disappeared

Of all the things it is the very letters Chopin received from Tytus and from other men that are presumed lost. They are likely to also contain homoerotic text:

«Dearest Tytus! I received your last letter, in which you tell me to kiss you.» (11/14/1829)

old portrait of a men with a mustache
Legende: Chopin’s most passionate and affectionate correspondence was with Tytus Woyciechowski. Wikicommons / Zbiory Fototeki Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina w Warszawie

Chopin’s letters to those men were written in Polish – too high a barrier for many researchers. They thus depend on translations. Many translations are fraught with consequential errors. In numerous passages for example male pronouns in Polish were translated as female in the target language.

Translations in the test – Chopin to Matuszyński

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Ale nie tylko dla mego anioła pokoju, bo jak go kocham, (…)

Czy nie chorowano? Przypuściłbym łatwo coś podobnego na takim czułym stworzeniu. (…)

Uspokój, powiedz, że póki sił starczy... że do śmierci... że po śmierci jeszcze mój popiół będzie się słał pod nogi.

(Frédéric Chopin an Jan Matuszyński, 26./29.12.1830 (Access 12/6/2020) / Z. Helman, «Korespondencja F. Chopina», 2009, pp. 461f.)

Aber nicht nur wegen meines Friedens-Engels, denn, wie liebe ich ihn, (...)

Ist man nicht erkrankt? Ich würde bei einem feinfühligen Geschöpf leicht so etwas annehmen. (...)

Beruhige dich, sag, dass, solange die Kräfte da sind… bis zum Tode... dass nach dem Tode meine Asche unter die Füße gestreut wird.

(translation according to quality standard ISO 17100 commissioned by SRF, 9.2020)

But not only on account of my angel of peace, for as I love her, (…)

Has she not been ill? I would easily assume something of the sort from such a sensitive creature. (…)

Reassure her, tell her that so long as I have strength… that unto death… that after death my ashes will yet be spread under her feet.

(D. Frick, NIFC Warsaw 2016)

ce n’est pas seulement à cause de mon ange de sérénité, car, vrai comme je l’aime, (…)

N’a-t-on pas été malade? Je supposerais facilement quelque chose de ce genre de la part d’un être si sensible. (…)

Tranquillise-la, dis-lui qu’qussi longtemps qu’il me restera des forces… que jusqu’à la mort… que même après la mort, mes cendres se déposeront sous ses pieds.

(B. Sydow, Paris 1953)

Doch wahrlich nicht nur um meines Friedensengels willen! Denn bei meiner Liebe zu ihm: (…)

War man nicht etwa krank? Bei einem so gefühlvollen Geschöpfe würde ich es leicht annehmen. (…)

Beruhige sie, sage ihr, dass so lange meine Kräfte hinreichen, dass ich bis zum Tode…. dass ich noch nach meinem Tode meine Asche unter ihre Füsse streuen werde.

(B. Scharlitt, 1911. Somewhat more precise here, but generally more selective edition by K.Kobylanska, Berlin 1983)

Unproven Footnotes Refer to Women

In line with the footnotes it was (and still is) suggested that Chopin speaks about women. But the statements in the footnotes are not corroborated anywhere.

None of the renowned biographers like Alan Walker nor the powerful Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw (NIFC), which is internationally acclaimed as the temple of knowledge about Chopin, can deliver tangible proof or mention sources for an alleged love affair of Chopin with Konstancja Gładkowska or Maria Wodzińska, nor for a putative engagement with the latter.

«We actually have nothing to K. Gładkowska. With Wodzińska we have nothing.» (Aleksander Laskowski, press spokesman NIFC)

text where all the "she" pronouns are crossed out
Legende: Was Chopin writing about a woman or a man in the «Stuttgart Diary»? According to this translation, the answer is clear. D. Frick, «Chopin's polish letters», NIFC 2016

Mythical Romances

Chopin himself writes nothing about the romantic affairs described in those footnotes in flowery terms. The respective teenagers play only a very marginal role in his letters. The alleged affairs and the unproven engagement all belong in the realm of myths.

Translations in the test – Chopin to Woyciechowski

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«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.» (Chopin to Woyciechowski, 10/3/1829. Souces: NIFC, 11/13/2020 / Z. Helman, «Korespondencja F. Chopina», 2009)

«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 mir heute Morgen diesen Walzer inspiriert hat, den ich dir übersende.» (translation according to quality standard ISO 17100 commissioned by SRF, 9.2020)

«I have my ideal, whom I faithfully serve, not having spoken to her for half a year now, about whom I dream, with thoughts of whom the Adagio from my Concerto came to be, who this morning inspired the little waltz that I am sending you.» (D. Frick, “Chopin's polish letters», NIFC 2016)

The same mistake is also found in older editions of the letters (e.g. B. Sydow, Correspondance de F. Chopin, 1953-60).

Most researchers today agree that Chopin’s much-described «relationship» with George Sand was no romantic relationship in the traditional sense. For him it may have been a partnership of convenience.

Systematic Construct

The rather coarse but all the more systematically built-up construct from footnotes and mistranslated words has stubbornly persisted until today.

It still distracts the attention from what’s obvious from Chopin’s own hand: his equally intimate and passionate feeling for Tytus Woyciechowski, who may have been the love of his life. And his feelings for J. Matuszyński, A. Wodziński und J. Fontana. In Paris he lived together with Matuszyński and Fontana for several years.

Chopin’s Men

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Chopin knew his male lovers from his youth in Warsaw. Most of them lived in the boarding house managed by the Chopins. All those relationships have so far not been appraised and studied.

  • Tytus Woyciechowski: Music lover, amateur pianist, studies law in Warsaw. From spring 1829 pioneering agriculturist in Poturzyn. Chopin’s letters to Tytus are the most affectionate and passionate. It is to him that he dedicated his Variations op. 2 and the composition of the Waltz op 70 no. 3. In summer 1830 he visited him on his farmstead for two weeks, and in November the two of them traveled to Vienna together.
  • Jan Matuszyński: Amateur flutist, studied physician. Lived with Chopin in Chaussé d’Antin in Paris from 1834 – 1836.«I have good reasons for staying with him: he is my everything. We spend the evenings going to the theatre or on visits – unless we stay at home, amusing ourselves.»
  • Julian Fontana: Pianist and copyist, lived with Chopin in Chaussée d’Antin from 1836 – 1838. Fontana took care of numerous commissions for him, but also harbored deep feelings for him, as is evident from many of his letters.
  • Antoni Wodziński: Like Tytus he fought in the November Uprising in Poland. When he is in Paris in 1836 he wrote:«Chopin had already asked about me. He is even more dazzling. We see each other every day. I was with him at the opera the first night.»And Chopin wrote to him: «Believe me, I think of you as of Tytus.»
  • Wojciech Albert Grzymała: Chopin also knew the distinctly older diplomat and banker from his youth in Poland. Already in the 1830s he played a prominent role in Chopin’s life in Paris. Grzymala was also friends with George Sand and her confident. He wrote about Chopin’s «relationship» with George Sand: «Chopin was unfortunate in meeting George Sand. She has poisoned his very existence.»

Appearance versus Reality

Chopin deliberately separated inside and outside. He paid careful attention as to how he appeared in public – a recurring motive in his letters and a quality often observed by his environment.

«One must respect the concealment of hidden feelings.» (5/15/1830)

Musicology has long found it difficult to deal with the homosexuality of great classical musicians. Also Schubert, Tchaikowsky and many others were alleged to have had romantic affairs with women.

Chopin's Men (2/2)
aus Passage vom 15.11.2020. Bild: KEYSTONE / AP
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Distorted beyond Recognition

To date, Chopin’s emotional and erotic relationship with Woyciechowski, the most important relationship in his life, has been distorted or marginalized beyond recognition – even in otherwise reliable sources of reference. In Wikipedia proven details of this relationship were instantly deleted.

«I am going to wash. Don’t kiss me now, because I haven’t yet washed. You? Even if I were to rub myself with Byzantine oils, you would not kiss me, unless I forced you to do so by magnetism. There’s some kind of power in nature. Today you will dream that you’re kissing me! I have to pay you back for the nasty dream you brought me last night.» (9/4/1830)

Homosexuality as a Political Issue

With Chopin the issue is loaded with a political dimension today: For the Catholic leaning national conservative ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) Chopin’s love for Tytus Woyciechowski is likely to be most unwelcome. After all, many of its high-ranking representatives act aggressively against minorities, even supporting inhumane ideas like «LGBTQ-free zones».

Frédéric Chopin is heralded as a national hero in Poland, the idolized national composer. Poles hold him in equal esteem as Pope John Paul II or Marie Curie and they like to associate themselves with his name and his music. The current government would be hard pressed to explain Chopin’s love for men, as it transpires from his letters. They will probably keep trying to prevent any official recognition of the fact.

Swiss Public Radio’s Art Channel, SRF, Passage, 11/13/2020 and 11/15/2020, 8 p.m.

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