One of music’s greatest ever composers, Frédéric Chopin, was passionately in love with men – despite historians previously dismissing the relationships as mere friendships.
Born in 1810 in Warsaw, the composer became one of the leading musicians of his era. He remains a national hero in Poland – a country sharply divided over LGBT+ equality.
But now music journalist Moritz Weber has claimed that historians and biographers have spent two centuries ignoring and even mistranslating his homoerotic letters to make them conform to Poland’s conservative standards.
In a two-hour radio show on Swiss public broadcaster SRF, Weber says the historians have exaggerated rumors of Chopin’s affairs with women. He even claims the great pianist enjoyed ‘cottaging’ – looking for sex partners in public toilets.
In one letter from 1837, Chopin wrote to his friend Julian Fontana, expressing his excitement about ‘great urinals’ in London.
Weber discovered a ‘flood of declarations of love aimed at men’ in Chopin’s letters – including direct erotic comments. Meanwhile the composer used rumors of affairs with women as a ‘cloak for hidden feelings’.
In one of 22 letters, Chopin wrote to his school friend Tytus Woyciechowski, saying:
‘You don’t like being kissed. Please allow me to do so today. You have to pay for the dirty dream I had about you last night.’
He finished many of the letters to Woyciechowski with the words ‘Give me a kiss, dearest lover.’
Despite that, musicologist Alan Walker described Woyciechowski as merely a ‘bosom friend’ in his 2018 biography of Chopin.
In one of the letters, in 1829, Chopin describes Woyciechowski as his ‘ideal’.
However when Warsaw’s Fryderyk Chopin Institute translated Chopin’s letters in 2016, they used a feminine pronoun to identify his ‘ideal’. Weber says in the original letter in Polish, the noun is masculine.
Nevertheless, academics look likely to continue to debate Chopin’s sexuality.
The Guardian asked translator David Frick, a retired professor in Slavic languages at Yale University, about the translation of the 1829 letter. But he rejected the accusation that translators had changed its meaning.
Frick claimed: ‘He [Chopin] was a Romantic who definitely didn’t discriminate between men and women in his expressions of “love”. But to say that there is some sort of conspiracy behind “missing” letters in the various critical editions is absurd.’
The revelations may embarrass homophobic officials in Poland who claim their hate is based on the country’s culture.
The country still runs several music festivals which bear his name. Meanwhile the capital’s main airport is named Warsaw Chopin Airport in his honor.