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Entries in george sand (2)

Wednesday
May222013

In Which Chopin and George Sand Briefly Thrill Each Other

A Seduction

by CATHALEEN CHEN

Frédéric Chopin and George Sand met in a Parisian salon, where Chopin dueted with his musical contemporary and uncredited wingman, Franz Liszt, while Sand smoked a cigar. It’s rumored that as Chopin played the ivory keys with his frail, ivory fingers, Sand stood beside him, enthralled. When he finished, she leaned down and kissed him on the mouth without saying a word.

For ten years, they were a celebrity couple of turn-of-the-century pre-Victorian Paris, among the intellectual circle of Liszt and Eugene Delacroix. They epitomized romance of the Romantic era — passionate, tumultuous and hauntingly sad, much like the melody of a Chopin Mazurka.

Two years after their last, but only, breakup, Chopin died before he could turn 40. They say it was heartbreak, exacerbating a life-long battle with tuberculosis. But his life had always been tarnished by sickness and deep emotionality, which — on a morose and incidental level — guaranteed perpetual inspiration.

Born into an aristocratic family in Warsaw in 1810, Chopin was hailed as a prodigy by age 7.  It was his older sister Ludwika who taught his first piano lesson and his younger sister Emilia whose death at 14 invoked his penchant for dark, ambivalent refrains. Their father died of the same disease in 1844.

He was an expatriate, living in Paris for the last 18 years of his short virtuoso life, though it was Poland that eventually adopted his Military Polonaise as a sort of unofficial Polish anthem. A reticent and delicate man, Chopin was an obsessive artist with a chronic cough, a dubious match for the fiery Sand.

Six years before Chopin, George Sand was born Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin. Her family had distant relations to Louis XVI and Louis XVIII. By the time she met Chopin, she already harbored the reputation as the most notorious woman in Europe.

She was a Marxist and a cross-dresser, a raging feminist by today’s standards. It was at the height of her literary career when she permanently adopted a male pseudonym. Chopin, sickly and conservative, could never call her by a name as masculine as George, instead opting for the softer Aurore. When they met, Sand was already a devoted mother of two, a political activist and a lusty man-eater — mostly of younger men. Biographers would later characterize Sand as the manipulative seductress of Chopin. But he, the same sickly, wishy-washy 27-year-old musical poet, indeed became the love of her life. And it’s true that he didn’t always reciprocate those feelings. It was Sand who had asked Liszt to set up their meeting, while Chopin initially dreaded the “repellant woman,” as he had written to a friend. “Is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it,” he continued.  

At the time, Chopin was involved with the Polish Maria Wodzínska. Well-groomed and presumably very vanilla, Wodzínska was engaged to the pianist until their matrimonial plans somehow fell through. In sensible and convenient timing, Sand swooped in and swept him away.

According to Liszt’s lofty biography of Chopin, the composer put off meeting Sand until he possibly couldn’t. On their first encounter in that dimly lit salon, Sand won him over as easily as history dictates. Both being patrons of art, Chopin was impressed by Sand’s capacity for music — namely, his music.

By the summer of 1838, they were in an amorous and often scandalized love affair. He would play her his new pieces as she nurtured his precarious health. Not to mention, she introduced a new sexual energy in his life. In the following winter, the two embarked on a vacation to Majorca, a Mediterranean island off the eastern coast of Spain. It turned out to be the most troublesome vacation ever, as Chopin fell deathly sick amidst an unaccommodating local culture. The weather was colder than expected, and at one point, the couple, along with Sand’s two children, was evicted after the landlord discovered Chopin’s symptoms of consumption.

For months, Sand cared for the feeble Chopin. She would cook and clean during the day, and write well into the night. When he finally recovered, they returned to Sand’s home in Nohant, where they would spend every summer until 1842.

In Nohant, a quaint town in Central France, they entertained guests and worked on their respective repertoires. It was there that Chopin composed some of his best work, including his B minor Sonata, the Op. 55 Nocturnes and the Op. 56 Mazurkas. As his health continued to fail, their relationship eventually became mostly platonic. A testament to her devotion, Sand — despite her history of intense sexuality and a track record of casual hookups — stayed with Chopin.

But the relationship suffered as Sand grew impatient with Chopin’s ailing health and temperaments. Aggravated by financial pressures and Sand’s now-mature and manipulative daughter Solange, their tensions prevailed. Sand wrote in a letter, “Chopin is the most inconstant of men. There is nothing permanent about him but his cough.” Even worse, in her 1846 novel Lucrezia Floriani, Sand created a male character as an obvious foil of Chopin, but embodying only his despicable attributes: temperamental, jealous and at times, cruel. They had their last fight in 1847, resulting in permanent estrangement. It was a social ordeal, and between polarized friends and an utter lack of closure, they both convinced themselves that neither loved each other anymore.

Chopin held his last recital the following year in Paris, and in the summer of 1849, he fell too sick to compose. In perpetual bed rest, Chopin asked his stream of visitors about Sand, while she did exactly the same in a letter to his sister Ludwika, who refused to answer. He died that September, with Ludwika at his side.  Sand did not attend the funeral, and his heart and belongings was taken back to Poland. Among his items was a lock of hair in an enveloped embroidered with “G.F.” — George/ Frédéric.

Years before their split, Delacroix had begun a portrait of the young couple.  The painting remained unfinished in Delacroix’s studio until his death in 1863, when, for some godforsaken reason, it was cut in half and sold as individual portraits of Sand and Chopin, two great ­— but separately regarded — romantics. One half is a headshot of Chopin, in which he looks into the distance. Sand’s other half shows her upper body with her head turned down to her left. Her face is soft, unfocused and her mouth slightly agape, a strange pose for a 19th century portrait.

When put together, the two canvases depict a domestic scene in which Sand sits by Chopin’s side as he plays the piano. Like the first time they met, Sand is enthralled, captured as almost uncharacteristically feminine. But the portraits, split and cropped, are now separated by the 800 miles between the Louvre and Copenhagen’s Ordrupgaard Museum — perhaps forever out of context, a dissonance irrevocable by melody. 

Cathaleen Chen is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her twitter here.

"Prelude Op. 28 No. 9 in E" - Chopin (mp3)

"Sonata Op. 35 No. 2 in B flat minor" - Chopin (mp3)

Saturday
Aug222009

In Which We Write To The Ones We Love

Lovers of the Page

The correspondence of George Sand and Gustave Flaubert, if approached merely as a chapter in the biographies of these heroes of nineteenth century letters, is sufficiently rewarding. In a relationship extending over twelve years, including the trying period of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, these extraordinary personalities disclose the aspects of their diverse natures which are best worth the remembrance of posterity.

Flaubert may have been a better disputant; he had a talent for writing. George Sand may have chosen her side with a truer instinct; she had a genius for living. This faith of hers sustained well the shocks of many long years, and this sentiment made life sweet.

TO GEORGE SAND

Dear Madam, I am not grateful to you for having performed what you call a duty. The goodness of your heart has touched me and your sympathy has made me proud. That is the whole of it.

Your letter which I have just received gives added value to your article and goes on still further, and I do not know what to say to you unless it be that I QUITE FRANKLY LIKE YOU.

It was certainly not I who sent you in September, a little flower in an envelope. But, strange to say, at the same time, I received in the same manner, a leaf of a tree. As for your very cordial invitation, I am not answering yes or no, in true Norman fashion.

Perhaps some day this summer I shall surprise you. For I have a great desire to see you and to talk with you. It would be very delightful to have your portrait to hang on the wall in my study in the country where I often spend long months entirely alone. Is the request indiscreet? If not, a thousand thanks in advance. Take them with the others which I reiterate.

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Paris, 15 March, 1864

Dear Flaubert, I don't know whether you lent me or gave me M. Taine's beautiful book. In the uncertainty I am returning it to you. Here I have had only the time to read a part of it, and at Nohant, I shall have only the time to scribble for Buloz; but when I return, in two months, I shall ask you again for this admirable work of which the scope is so lofty, so noble.

I am sorry not to have said adieu to you; but as I return soon, I hope that you will not have forgotten me and that you will let me read something of your own also. You were so good and so sympathetic to me at the first performance of Villemer that I no longer admire only your admirable talent, I love you with all my heart.

George Sand

TO GEORGE SAND

Paris, 1866

Why of course I am counting on your visit at my own house. As for the hindrances which the fair sex can oppose to it, you will not notice them (be sure of it) any more than did the others.

My little stories of the heart or of the senses are not displayed on the counter. But as it is far from my quarter to yours and as you might make a useless trip, when you arrive in Paris, give me a rendezvous. And at that we shall make another to dine informally tete-a-tete.

I sent your affectionate little greeting to Bouilhet. At the present time I am disheartened by the populace which rushes by under my windows in pursuit of the fatted calf. And they say that intelligence is to be found in the street!

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Paris, 10 May 1866

M. Flobaire, you must be a truly dirty oaf to have taken my name and written a letter with it to a lady who had some favors for me which you doubtless received in my place and inherited my hat in place of which I have received yours which you left there. It is the lowness of that lady's conduct and of yours that make me think that she lacks education entirely and all those sentiments which she ought to understand.

If you are content to have written Fanie and Salkenpeau I am content not to have read them. You mustn't get excited about that, I saw in the papers that there were outrages against the Religion in whose bosom I have entered again after the troubles I had with that lady when she made me come to my senses and repent of my sins with her and, in consequence if I meet you with her whom I care for no longer you shall have my sword at your throat.

That will be the Reparation of my sins and the punishment of your infamy at the same time. That is what I tell you and I salute you. They told me that I was well punished for associating with the girls from the theatre and with aristocrats.

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Palaiseau, 14 May 1866

Dear friend, I must tell you that I want to dedicate to you my novel which is just coming out. But as every one has his own ideas on the subject — as Goulard would say — I would like to know if you permit me to put at the head of my title page simply: to my friend Gustave Flaubert.

I have formed the habit of putting my novels under the patronage of a beloved name. I dedicated the last to Fromentin. I am waiting until it is good weather to ask you to come to dine at Palaiseau with Goulard's Sirenne, and some other Goulards of your kind and of mine. Up to now it has been frightfully cold and it is not worth the trouble to come to the country to catch a cold.

I have finished my novel, and you? I kiss the two great diamonds which adorn your face. 

TO GEORGE SAND

Don't expect me at your house on Monday. I am obliged to go to Versailles on that day. But I shall be at Magny's.

A thousand fond greetings from your G. Flaubert 

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Paris, 4 Aug. 1866

Dear friend, as I'm always out, I don't want you to come and find the door shut and me far away. Come at six o'clock and dine with me and my children whom I expect tomorrow. We dine at Magny's always at 6 o'clock promptly. You will give us 'a sensible pleasure' as used to say, as would have said, alas, the unhappy Goulard. You are an exceedingly kind brother to promise to be at Don Juan. For that I kiss you twice more. 

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

It is next THURSDAY, I wrote you last night, and our letters must have crossed.

Yours from the heart, G. Sand

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Paris, 22 August, 1866

My good comrade and friend, I am going to see Alexandre at Saint- Valery Saturday evening. I shall stay there Sunday and Monday, I shall return Tuesday to Rouen and go to see you. Tell me how that strikes you. I shall spend the day with you if you like, returning to spend the night in Rouen, if I inconvenience you as you are situated, and I shall leave Wednesday morning or evening for Paris. A word in response at once, by telegraph if you think that your answer would not reach me by post before Saturday at 4 o'clock. I think that I shall be all right but I have a horrid cold. If it grows too bad, I shall telegraph that I can not stir; but I have hopes, I am already better. I embrace you.

G. Sand

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Saint-Valery, 26 August 1866 Monday, 1 A.M.

Dear friend, I shall be in Rouen on Tuesday at 1 o'clock, I shall plan accordingly. Let me explore Rouen which I don't know, or show it to me if you have the time. I embrace you. Tell your mother how much I appreciate and am touched, by the kind little line which she wrote to me.

G. Sand 

TO GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Croissset Paris, 31 August, 1866

First of all, embrace your good mother and your charming niece for me. I am really touched by the kind welcome I received in your clerical setting, where a stray animal of my species is an anomaly that one might find constraining. Instead of that, they received me as if I were one of the family and I saw that all that great politeness came from the heart. Remember me to all the very kind friends. I was truly exceedingly happy with you. And then, you, you are a dear kind boy, big man that you are, and I love you with all my heart. My head is full of Rouen, of monuments and queer houses. All of that seen with you strikes me doubly. But your house, your garden, your citadel, it is like a dream and it seems to me that I am still there. I found Paris very small yesterday, when crossing the bridges.

George Sand and Gustave Flaubert are contributors to This Recording.

"A Forest" — British Sea Power (mp3)

"Boys Don't Cry" — Lostprophets (mp3)

"Love Song" — The Big Pink (mp3)

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