first encounters sorel and sorel: When Frederic Chopin met George Sand

Illustration by Edward Sorel Text by Nancy Caldwell Sorel Next week: Charles de Gaulle met Franklin D Roosevelt

Nancy Caldwell Sorel
Sunday 23 October 2011 09:01

Like one of his own preludes, Chopin's first encounter with George Sand arrived at its logical conclusion with no promise of there ever being more to come. It took place in Paris in the autumn of 1836. Franz Liszt, intimate friend of both, had long wished them to meet, but Chopin had resisted. He abhorred intellectualising in general, and by women in particular. His tastes were as delicate as his constitution. He liked his women young, beautiful, of impeccable ancestry, preferably innocent, at the least discreet. George Sand was none of the above.

An introduction became inevitable, however, when Sand moved into rooms below those shared by Liszt and his mistress, Countess Marie d'Agoult, at the Hotel de France, not far from Chopin's apartment at 38 rue de la Chaussee d'Antin. Mme Sand had therefore to be included in the small soiree at Chopin's on 5 November. Franz, Marie and George arrived together. Chopin, fragile and charming, with his aquiline nose, long, tapering fingers and aristocratic manner, found himself greeting a small (less than five foot tall) dark- haired woman clearly older (by six years) than he, who wore - as he had been warned to expect - trousers.

It was an exceptionally relaxed evening. Chopin clowned about gently for his guests, trying not to be appalled by Sand, who puffed away at her cigar, philosophised madly, and addressed all alike in the second person singular. Tea was served.

Later both Chopin and Liszt played. The latter exuded his usual virile charm, but in deference to the assembled company, Sand did not take her accustomed position, crouched in an ecstatic ball under the piano. She became, instead, especially when Chopin performed, cool and aloof, the detached observer. It was a role played for his benefit, but Chopin did not know that yet. "I have made the acquaintance of a great celebrity: Mme Dudevant, known by the name of George Sand," he wrote home to his family in Poland. "Her appearance is not to my liking and doesn't please me at all"

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments