Muses: Frédéric Chopin and George Sand


Frédéric Chopin and George Sand, 1917 by Adolf Karpellus


Portrait of George Sand - Eugene Delacroix
George Sand was a French Romantic novelist, one of the first female French writers to establish an international reputation. She become known for behavior unusual for a woman at the time, including openly conducting affairs, smoking a pipe and wearing men's clothing. Sand had been a friend of Delacroix for a number of years, though the painter did not hold her work in high regard. She met Chopin in 1836 and from 1838 conducted a relationship with him for ten years, until two years before he died. Much of the composer's best work was done during those ten years. Though their relationship began as physical, Chopin's failing health in time changed her role to that of caregiver.

Early in 1837, Chopin fell seriously ill. His pulmonary problems were beginning to badly trouble him. He had been jilted by Maria Wodzińska, and at that same time, Franz Liszt introduced to him a woman of much greater fascination and importance. Her name was George Sand. At first, prim and proper Chopin was repulsed by the notorious cigar smoking, trouser wearing novelist. Lacking traditional feminine qualities, he actually asked Liszt if she was indeed a woman. Chopin and Sand eventually formed a romantic relationship. In November of 1838, the couple spent three months in Majorca, where Chopin completed his 23 preludes in each of the major and minor keys.

George Sand is often cast as the villain of the piece, though actually, she did wonders for Frederic Chopin by shielding him from the buffetings of the world. At Nohant, the Sand”s family estate, and under her management, he could escape to another kind of island; a sprawling manor house in the style of Louis XVI, surrounded by woods, fields, and gardens. He played games with the children, improvised at the piano for guests, and organized a puppet theatre. But at the same time, he fretted and agonized over his compositions.


---The French literary historian, Sainte-Beuve, who knew Sand, argued that he couldn’t imagine anything worse than an affair with a woman writer -- because your private life would always end up in print. This is why Oscar Wilde, commenting at the end of the 19th century, could write, “Like Goethe, George Sand had to live her romances before she could write them.” Wilde knew of what he wrote for he did the same. Others have been more hostile. Baudelaire called her "stupid, heavy and garrulous" while Nietzsche dismissed her as "a cow that writes."

In Paris during the winter months, when Nohant was too cold for them, Chopin would toil mightily, but with fewer results. There were too many distractions. Living with Sand in the rue Pigalle and later on the Square d’Orleans, they were the center of a brilliant literary and artistic circle that included Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Balzac and Heine. His concerts were attended by the whole elite of society, the richest financiers, and the aristocracy of birth, fortune and beauty. However, his health was deteriorating and in time, he weighed less than a hundred pounds.:

The so-called honeymoon for Chopin and Sand proved to be a disaster. The people of Majorca were weary of Chopin's coughing, assuming it to be tuberculosis. And Sand did not attend church, which was seen as a scandal. Chopin, at first, thought the island a paradise, but several weeks later his health worsened and he was unable to enjoy the pleasures of the island.

Daguerreotype images are so haunting. This one is of Chopin, 1846 when he was still working on some of his last masterpieces, or perhaps the photograph was taken a little later, around the time of his acrimonious split with George Sand that left him so devastated.

Sand took great care of Chopin and insisted that he spend five months of the year at her country home in Nohant, France, where he would file and polish his compositions of the winter. Chopin and Sand spent almost nine years together and eventually ended their relationship. This was very unfortunate for Chopin because she protected and nursed the increasingly consumptive and irritable composer while attending to his every whim.

The separation with George Sand and his ill health broke Chopin. His weight dramatically decreased while his coughing became continuous. In the last two and a half years of his life, he only composed a few pages of music. He played his last concert in Paris on February 16, 1848; the year of the French Revolution.

His funeral was a major event held at the Madeleine Church (L'église de la Madeleine) in Paris. Mozart's Requiem was played at his own request. He was buried at the Paris cemetery, Père Lachaise, and it is said that there has never been a day since his death that flowers have not been placed on his grave.




Sources: Madam Pickwick

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