Chopin in love: How a brief encounter in Paris led to one the greatest romances of the 19th century
As a delicate, shy and sickly man, Fryderyk Chopin was an unlikely partner for the notorious cigar smoking, trouser wearing feminist George Sand.
Chopin described Sand in a letter to his parents as a person with a rather repulsive physiognomy, saying: ‘Something about her repels me.’
Yet, Chopin and Sand soon became one of the most iconic couples of the Romantic era.
Fryderyk Chopin met George Sand in Paris in 1836, at a party given by Franz Liszt and his mistress. He was 26 and she, 32. Judged by the standards of the time, she was considered an unattractive woman.
However, over time Chopin’s heart weakened for this beguiling and utterly unique writer.
In the early nineteenth century, it was difficult for a woman writer to be taken seriously in male-dominated literary circles. So, Aurora Dudevant characteristically defied convention and adopted the name George Sand.
She wrote plays and novels and enjoyed renown in Paris. She espoused controversial, feminist views, wore men’s clothes, smoked a cigar and highly valued her independence.
One observer of the Paris scene wrote in his diary: “she was dressed half man, half woman, half dressed, in a shepherd’s vest with sleeves decorated with buttons [...]. To the originality of Mrs Sand it should be added that she smoked a women's cigar almost the entire evening”.
After meeting Chopin, Sand found herself in ‘a state of intoxication’ and launched a campaign to win him over.
Meanwhile, Chopin was in bereavement over being jilted by Maria Wodzińska. At first, the prim and proper Chopin was repulsed by the notorious cigar puffing, trouser wearing novelist.
It took a year and a half before the composer found himself drawn to her forceful personality and celebrity.
She became his source of love and protection. He called her his ‘angel’, and from 1838 the couple were inseparable.
To celebrate their exciting new relationship, the couple took an extended honeymoon, along with Sand’s two children, in the winter of 1838 on the island of Majorca.
At first they experienced euphoria and great passion and Chopin managed to write his 23 preludes. But Chopin's health deteriorated dramatically and the honeymoon turned into a disaster.
They had to move out of the villa they were renting because there were very strict rules on tuberculosis in Spain. Chopin, Sand and the children went to stay in a drafty monastery in Valldemossa.
Their stay was also complicated when the locals turned against them, viewing their relationship as immoral. They did not want to supply them with food and behaved aggressively towards them.
In these difficult circumstances, Sand took on the duties of caretaker and nurse, as a result of which their fiery romance evolved into one based on friendship and affection.
Back in Paris they lived next door to each other. He spent his time in the city giving piano lessons. Despite the high fees he charged, he was an enthusiastic and in-demand teacher.
In the evening he usually went to the opera or was invited to the homes of aristocrats and friends. He had no time to compose.
Sand’s country home in Nohant in central France was Chopin’s salvation. Without the distractions of the city and the need to earn money, Chopin could work on his compositions without interruption.
The couple spent the next eight summers there and during that time Chopin composed some of his greatest music.
However, the familial harmony was shattered in 1847 by complicated relations between Chopin, Sand and her two children Maurycy and Solange.
Chopin and Solange were very close. When a row erupted between Sand and her daughter over her marriage, Chopin took Solange’s side, which was the final straw for Sand, who ended the relationship.
Devastated, Chopin felt his health quickly deteriorate. He was a broken man. His weight dramatically decreased and he coughed continuously.
In the last two and a half years of his life, he only composed a few pages of music.
Chopin and Sand met for the last time by accident in March 1848.
For a long time there was an opinion that Sand underestimated Chopin’s genius and mocked his work. However, Sand was fascinated by Chopin’s work and worshipped him.
Sand described in her autobiography: “I pressed his trembling and icy hand. I wished to speak to him, he slipped away.”