Why Chopin the Ungrateful

Women in Chopin’s life

The role of women in Frédéric Chopin’s life (1810 – 1849) is unquestionable. Starting with his mother, Justyna Krzyżanowska and ending with the notorious partner – the French writer, George Sand, representatives of fair sex exerted an enormous and profound influence both on his personality and artistic output. His music is full of dedications to women who were more or less emotionally connected with him. Whether Chopin was successful in his love life is a rhetorical question. Suffice it say that the bulk of his music, particularly towards the end of life,  bears witness to suffering and disillusionment. As an artist, not without a reason called a Romantic one, Chopin was oversensitive and vulnerable at times. His feelings remained unfulfilled or unreciprocated. Be it a breakup of the engagement to Maria Wodzińska or a turbulent and ambiguous relationship with George Sand. One thing is certain, however. What Chopin sought in his relationships with women was the memory of his parental home both in Żelazowa Wola and Warszawa, where he was treated with warmth and affection. His life of an immigrant in France, by and large, his second homeland, was filled with misunderstandings and embitterment caused by the feeling of alienation. No woman could fill that void, no matter how much they tried.

Private tutees 

Most of the women associated with Chopin, especially in his Parisian period, which in fact constitutes a half of his prematurely-ended life, were his private tutees. Admired or even treated with reverence, Chopin lived off his private lessons, which were given to representatives of the international aristocratic circles orbiting Paris, the period’s centre of the artistic universe. Although the composer entered into some intimate relationships with his private students, for instance with Delfina Potocka, most of his relationships with them were of mercantile rather than amorous character. These affiliations were in a way symbiotic, based on mutual profit, which prevented Chopin from building a permanent and fulfilling relationship with an appropriate representative of the opposite sex.

Devoted altruists?

Whether Chopin’s women were altruistic in their dealings with him is not for us to decide. There are traces of their unquestionable devotion. Regardless of the sincerity of their attitudes, one fact is undeniable: Chopin died a solitary and broken man, even though surrounded at his deathbed by his friends and his elder sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewiczowa. To paraphrase the chorus of Gazzebo’s cheesy Italo-Disco song, popular in the 1980s: they used to say they loved Chopin, but whether they really did will remain a perennial mystery.


Was Chopin responsible for this state of affairs? To a great extent he was. Tormented by bouts of tuberculosis, constantly yearning for his native country and the family he had left behind, he is said to have been very edgy or even impetuous. Acting slightly churlishly, after the breakup with Chopin, George Sand revealed publicly how difficult he was to handle and how hard it was to nurse him. Like most Poles, Chopin was a constant moaner. Underappreciated, underrated, but most of all, underpaid, Chopin must have been a difficult case to cope with.

Jane W. Stirling and her father - John Stirling of Kippendavie - by Henry Raeburn

The one 

There was, however, one woman who was able to put up with all of these adversities and the character failures Chopin had become infamous for. Her name was Jane Stirling. She was a Scottish aristocrat who, like very many women from Chopin’s milieu, became his student, and thus his ardent admirer. Together with her sister, Katherine Erskine, she organized Chopin’s last tournèe around England and Scotland, the aim of which was to improve Chopin’s precarious living. Always in the shadows, she supported him financially in a most generous way; she sponsored his stately funeral. Not discouraged by the fact that Chopin died a bankrupt, she organized auctions and bought all the artifacts connected with the composer. It is thanks to Lady Jane that Chopin’s memory has withstood the test of time. As if she had been a character in a second-rate novel, she was rejected by Chopin and treated very unfairly. Chopin, towards the end of his life, revealed his most unpleasant trait: ungratefulness. The aim of our project is to make amends for the great faux pas that he committed by simply saying:

 Thank you, Scotland; thank you, Miss Jane Stirling!


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