Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Frédéric Chopin: Sex and Death



In 1836, at a party hosted by Liszt's mistress Marie d'Agoult, Chopin met the French author George Sand (whose real name was the far more evocative Aurore Dudevant). He initially felt an aversion to Sand, and wrote, "What an unattractive person la Sand is. Is she really a woman?" However, by early 1837, Chopin’s relationship with fiancée Maria Wodzińska was floundering. Maria's mother had made it clear to Chopin in correspondence that a marriage with her daughter was unlikely to proceed. It is thought that she was influenced by his poor health and possibly also by rumours about his associations with women such as d'Agoult and Sand. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a package on which he wrote, in Polish, "My tragedy".

Sand, in a letter to Grzymała of June 1838, admitted strong feelings for the composer and debated whether to abandon a current affair in order to begin a relationship with Chopin; she asked Grzymała to assess Chopin's relationship with Maria Wodzińska, without realising that the affair, at least from Maria's side, was over.

In June 1837 Chopin had made an incognito visit to London in the company of the piano manufacturer Camille Pleyel where he played at a musical soirée at the house of James Broadwood. Returning to Paris, his association with Sand began in earnest, and by the end of June 1838 they had become lovers. Sand, who was six years older than the composer, and who had had a series of lovers, wrote at this time: "I must say I was confused and amazed at the effect this little creature had on me ... I have still not recovered from my astonishment, and if I were a proud person I should be feeling humiliated at having been carried away ..." The two spent a miserable winter on Majorca (8 November 1838 to 13 February 1839), where, together with Sand's two children, they had journeyed in the hope of improving the health of Chopin and Sand's 15-year-old son Maurice, and also to escape the threats of Sand's former lover Félicien Mallefille. However, after discovering that the couple were not married, the deeply religious people of Majorca became inhospitable, making accommodation difficult to find; this compelled the group to take lodgings in a former Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa which gave little shelter from the cold winter weather.

George Sand by Nadar: 1864

On 3 December, Chopin complained about his bad health and the incompetence of the doctors in Majorca: "Three doctors have visited me ... The first said I was dead; the second said I was dying; and the third said I was about to die." Chopin was diagnosed with tuberculosis and treated for it in accordance with contemporary practice, including bloodletting and purging. Tuberculosis figured in his death certificate, despite the alleged absence of typical organ changes.

The hypothesis that Chopin suffered from cystic fibrosis was first presented by O’Shea in 1987. It has been supported and popularized by physicians from the Medical University of Poznań. Arguments for cystic fibrosis as the chief cause of Chopin’s complaints are: the onset of the condition in early childhood, possible familial occurrence (Emilia), gastrointestinal symptoms, intolerance of fat-rich meals, recurrent infections of the lower respiratory tract, also suppurative, with exacerbations in winter, recurrent infections of the upper respiratory tract (laryngitis, sinusitis), barrel chest (visible in some photographs and caricatures), low tolerance of physical exercise, an episode of heatstroke (more frequent in cystic fibrosis), caries (more pronounced in this disease), and putative infertility. Chopin had no children.

Photograph of Chopin by Bisson, c. 1849
Info: Wiki
By North Utsire

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