LGBT History Month October 4: Frédéric Chopin, Composer

Photo Credit © Wikipedia

b. March 1, 1810
d. October 17, 1849

“Sometimes I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my despair at the piano!”

Frédéric Chopin was a famous Polish French pianist and composer of the Romanic period. Among the greatest composers in history, he was renowned for his solo piano compositions and piano concerti.

Chopin was born in a small town near Warsaw, Poland. His father made a living tutoring the children of upper-class families, before becoming a French teacher. Chopin’s mother and sister played piano, which enthralled him from the time he was a toddler.

As a young child, Chopin took piano lessons from Wojciech Zywny, a talented local musician. Before long, the boy excelled beyond his teacher’s capabilities and the constraints of formal music education.

Chopin composed and published his first work at the age of 7. He was performing at private events and charity concerts before he was 10, and he played for the Russian tsar at age 11. At 16, Chopin entered Warsaw Conservatory of Music, where he studied musical theory from Joseph Elsner, a Polish composer.

Elsner was a Romanticist who encouraged Chopin’s prodigious talent and creativity. At age 20, Chopin moved to Paris, the hub of Romanticism in music.

While gaining recognition for his compositions, Chopin earned a living in Paris as an acclaimed piano teacher. After his spectacular debut, which was attended by the composers Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn, he became an overnight celebrity. His major contributions during this time include the Nocturnes, (Op. 9 and 15), the 2 Études, and Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor (Op. 35).

Chopin was engaged to Maria Wodzinski for a brief time before her parents called off the marriage in 1837. He had what many believe to have been a romantic relationship with the female novelist Aurore Dudevant, who was known by the pen name George Sand. Chopin spent nine years corresponding with Dudevant and composed some of his greatest works during their involvement. Their liaison ended after they spent a winter on the Spanish island of Majorca.

Over the years, biographers and archivists have largely concealed Chopin’s attraction to men and exaggerated his involvements with women. A Swiss radio documentary titled “Chopin’s Men” contended that his sexuality had been strategically misrepresented by Polish historians to comport with the country’s conservative values. Researchers uncovered romantic and suggestive letters that Chopin wrote to men. The music journalist Moritz Weber found historical evidence that many of Chopin’s letters had been intentionally mistranslated, exchanging his male lovers’ pronouns to female.

Chopin contracted tuberculosis and died in Paris at the age of 39. He composed more the 200 works for the piano during his life.

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association and other national organizations. In 2006 Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month.