Awkward Question for Poland: Was Chopin Gay?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 30, 2020

This photo - the only one on Frederic Chopin known to exist - was taken in 1849.
This photo - the only one on Frederic Chopin known to exist - was taken in 1849.  (Source:Louis-Auguste Bisson )

New scholarship has raised an awkward question for Poland, which is one of the most homophobic nations in the European Union: Was that country's celebrated composer, Frédéric Chopin, gay?

A Swiss radio documentary called "Chopin's Men" examined the issue recently. Music journalist Moritz Weber, appearing on the program, pointed to his own research, in which he uncovered "explicit and romantic passages" in letters between Chopin and other men, CNN reports.

Weber also charged that biographies of Chopin and other writings "swap male pronouns to female ones and downplay, whether intentionally or not, any evidence of Chopin's relationships with men," the CNN article added.

" 'He's talking about love so directly with men,' Weber told CNN. 'Why wasn't that questioned by all these scholars and famous biographers?' "

Weber said Chopin wrote romantic missives "most passionately to Titus Woyciechowski," CNN reported.

UK newspaper the Independent said that 22 of Chopin's letters to are in an archive, and that in those letters he writes passages such as this: "You don't like being kissed. Please allow me to do so today."

And this: "You have to pay for the dirty dream I had about you last night."

Weber pointed out that the composer also wrote similar letters to "many other" male acquaintances.

The documentary has piqued Poland, where Chopin is revered and monuments to him are ubiquitous.

"He's like a holy person" to the Poles, Weber said.

It's a touchy subject for political reasons, CNN notes. "While Poland loves Chopin, its relationship with the LGBTQ community is a painful one," the article notes. "The country's populist government frequently uses harshly homophobic rhetoric, with its Prime Minister complaining of a 'homosexual agenda' threatening the homeland."

Poland's anti-LGBTQ stance is so extreme that the country has come under fire from critics and even from the EU over the government's homophobic rhetoric and policies.

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute sought to put a different spin on those letters, telling the Independent, "If you read them in the Polish original, it sounds a little bit different."

But the documentary noted that in whatever language one reads the letters, the popular assertion in biographies that Chopin was a ladies' man finds no evidence. Moreover, the documentary points out that other evidence suggesting that Chopin sought sexual contact with men by cruising in public places - a practice the English refer to as "cottaging" - has "been ignored," the Independent noted.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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