Frédéric François Chopin (IPA: [fʁedeʁik fʁɑ̃swa ʃɔpɛ̃]), (March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849) was a Polish pianist and composer. He is widely regarded as one of the most famous, influential and admired composers for the piano.
He was born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin in the village of Żelazowa Wola, Poland, to a Polish mother and French expatriate father. Hailed as a child prodigy in his homeland, Chopin left for Paris at the age of 20. In Paris, he made a career as a performer and teacher as well as a composer, and adopted the French variant of his name, "Frédéric-François". He had a turbulent 10-year relationship with the French writer George Sand from 1837 to 1847. Always in fragile health, he succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosiscitation needed at the age of 39.
Chopin's compositions, which are mainly for the piano, include his Funeral March (part of his second piano sonata but composed long before the other parts) and the twenty-four études and are widely considered to be among the pinnacles of the piano repertoire. Although some of his music is among the most technically demanding for the instrument, Chopin's style emphasizes poetry, nuance, and expressive depth rather than mere technical display. His works are often cited as one of the mainstays of Romanticism in nineteenth-century classical music.
Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola in central Poland near Sochaczew, in the region of Masovia, which was part of the Duchy of Warsaw. He was born to Mikołaj (Nicolas) Chopin, a Frenchman of distant Polish ancestry who adopted Poland as his homeland when he moved there in 1787, and married Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska, a Pole.
According to the composer's family, Chopin was born on March 1, 1810, and he always celebrated his birthday on this day. His baptismal certificate lists his date of birth as February 22, but this was most likely an error on the part of the priest (the certificate was written on 23 April, almost eight weeks after the birth).
The family moved to Warsaw in October 1810. The young Chopin's musical talent was apparent early on in his life, and in Warsaw he gained a reputation as a "second Mozart". At the age of 7 he was already the author of two polonaises (in G minor and B-flat major), the first being published in the engraving workshop of Father Cybulski, director of the School of Organists and one of the few music publishers in Poland. The prodigy was featured in the Warsaw newspapers, and "little Chopin" became the attraction at receptions given in the aristocratic salons of the capital. He also began giving public charity concerts. At one concert, he is said to have been asked what he thought the audience liked best. 7-year-old Chopin replied, "My shirt collar." He performed his first piano concert at age 8. His first professional piano lessons, given to him by the violinist Wojciech Zywny (born 1756 in Bohemia), lasted from 1816 to 1822. Chopin later spoke highly of Zywny, although Chopin's skills soon surpassed those of his teacher.
The further development of Chopin's talent was supervised by Wilhelm Würfel (born 1791 in Bohemia). This renowned pianist, a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory, gave Chopin valuable (although irregular) lessons in playing organ, and possibly piano. From 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where his father was a professor. In the autumn of 1826, Chopin began studying music theory, figured bass, and composition with the composer Józef Elsner (born 1769 in Silesia) at the Warsaw Conservatory. Chopin's contact with Elsner may date to as early as 1822, and it is certain that Elsner was giving Chopin informal guidance by 1823.
In 1829 in Warsaw, Chopin heard Niccolò Paganini play, and he also met the German pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. It was also back in 1829 that Chopin met his first love, a singing student named Konstancja Gładkowska. This inspired Chopin to put the melody of the human voice into his works. Chopin also paid his first visit to Vienna in that year, where he gave two piano performances and received mixed notices, including many very favourable reviews and others that criticised the small tone he produced from the piano.
In Warsaw in December he performed the premiere of his Piano Concerto in F minor at the Merchants' Club. He gave the first performance of his other piano concerto, in E minor at the National Theatre on 17 March 1830. He visited Vienna again in 1830, playing his two piano concertos.
In Vienna, he learned about the November Uprising and decided not to return to Poland, thus becoming one of the émigrés of the Great Polish Emigration. He stayed in Vienna for a few more months before visiting Munich and Stuttgart (where he learned of Poland's occupation by the Russian army), and arrived in Paris early in October. He had already composed a body of important compositions, including his two piano concertos and some of his Études Op. 10.
Career in Paris
In Paris Chopin was introduced to some of the foremost pianists of the day, including Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Hiller and Franz Liszt, and he formed personal friendships with the composers Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Vincenzo Bellini (beside whom he is buried in the Père Lachaise). His music was already admired by many of his composer contemporaries, among them Robert Schumann who penned the now famous review of the Variations Op. 2: "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius."
From Paris Chopin made various visits and tours. In 1834, with Hiller, he visited a Rhenish Music Festival at Aachen organised by Ferdinand Ries. Here Chopin and Hiller met up with Mendelssohn and the three went on to visit Düsseldorf, Koblenz and Cologne, enjoying each other's company and learning and playing music together.
Chopin participated in several concerts during his years in Paris. The programs of these concerts provide some idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life during this period, such as the concert on March 23 1833 in which Chopin, Liszt and Hiller played the solo parts in a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's concerto for three harpsichords, or the concert on March 3 1838 when Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Alkan's teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman and Chopin's pupil Adolphe Gutman played Alkan's 8-hand arrangement of Beethoven's seventh symphony.
In 1835 Chopin visited his family in Karlsbad, whence he accompanied his parents to Děčín where they lived, and then to Warsaw. He returned to Paris via Dresden, where he stayed for some weeks, and then Leipzig where he met up with Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. However on the return journey he had a severe bronchial attack - so bad that he was reported dead in some Polish newspapers.
In 1836 Chopin was engaged to a seventeen-year-old Polish girl named Maria Wodzinska, whose mother insisted that the engagement be kept secret. The engagement was called off in the following year by her family.
Chopin and George Sand
In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d'Agoult, mistress of fellow composer Franz Liszt, Chopin met Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, Baroness Dudevant, better known by her pseudonym George Sand. She was a French Romantic writer, noted for her numerous love affairs with such prominent figures as Prosper Merimée, Alfred de Musset (1833–34), Alexandre Manceau (1849–65), and others.
The composer initially did not consider her attractive. "Something about her repels me," he said to his family. However, in an extraordinary letter from Sand to her friend Count Wojciech Grzymala in June 1837, she debated whether to let Chopin go with Maria Wodzinska or whether to abandon another affair in order to start a relationship with Chopin. Sand had strong feelings and was attracted to Chopin, and pursued him until a relationship began.
A notable episode in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Mallorca (1838–1839), where they had problems finding habitable accommodation and ended up lodging in the scenic, but stark and cold Valldemossa monastery. Chopin also had problems having his Pleyel piano sent to him. It arrived from Paris after a great delay, to be stuck at the Spanish customs who demanded a large import duty. He could only use it for a little more than three weeks; the rest of the time he had to compose on a rickety rented piano to complete his Preludes (Op. 28).
During the winter, the bad weather had such a serious impact on Chopin's health and his chronic lung disease that, to save his life, he and George Sand were compelled to return first to the Spanish mainland where they reached Barcelona, and then to Marseille where they stayed for a few months to recover. Although his health improved, he never completely recovered from this bout. He complained about the incompetence of the doctors in Mallorca: "The first said I was going to die; the second said I had breathed my last; and the third said I was already dead."
Chopin spent the summers of 1839 until 1843 at Sand's estate in Nohant. These were quiet but productive days, during which Chopin composed many works. On his return to Paris in 1839, he met the pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles.
In 1845 a serious problem emerged in Chopin's relationship with Sand at the same time as a further deterioration in Chopin's health. Their relationship was further soured in 1846 by family problems; this was the year in which Sand published Lucrezia Floriani, which is quite unfavourable to Chopin. The story is about a rich actress and a prince with weak health, and it is possible to interpret the main characters as Sand and Chopin. The family problems finally brought an end to their relationship in 1847.
Death and funeral
In 1848 Chopin gave his last concert in Paris, and visited England and Scotland with his student and admirer Jane Stirling. They reached London in November, and, although Chopin managed to give some concerts and salon performances, he was severely ill. He returned to Paris where in 1849 he became unable to teach or perform. His sister Ludwika nursed him at his home in the Place Vendôme; he died there in the small hours of October 17. Later that morning a death mask and a cast of Chopin's hands were made.
He had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral, which was held at the Church of the Madeleine and was attended by nearly three thousand people. The Requiem has major parts for female singers but the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The funeral was delayed for almost 2 weeks, until the church finally relented and granted Chopin's final wish provided the female singers remained behind a black velvet curtain. Also performing was the bass Luigi Lablache, who had also sung the same work at the funerals of Beethoven and Bellini.
Although Chopin is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris; at his own request, his heart was removed and dispatched in an urn to Warsaw, where it is sealed in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross. The Père Lachaise site attracts numerous visitors and is invariably festooned with flowers, even in the dead of winter.
Chopin's music for the piano combined a unique rhythmic sense (particularly his use of rubato, frequent use of chromaticism, and counterpoint). This mixture produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and the harmony, which are nonetheless underpinned by solid and interesting harmonic techniques. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne, invented by Irish composer John Field, to a deeper level of sophistication, and endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurka and the Viennese waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression. Chopin was the first to write Ballades (a genre he invented) and Scherzi as individual pieces. Chopin also took the example of Bach's preludes and fugues, transforming the genre in his own preludes.
Several of Chopin's melodies have become very well known - for instance the Revolutionary Étude (Op. 10, No. 12), the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1), the third movement of his Funeral March sonata (Op. 35), and the world famous Nocturne in Eb Major Op.9 No.2, which is often used as an iconic representation of grief. The Revolutionary Étude was not written with the failed Polish uprising against Russia in mind, it merely appeared at that time. The Funeral March was written as a funereal piece, but it was not inspired by any recent personal bereavement. Other melodies have been used as the basis of popular songs, such as the slow section of the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. 66) and the first section of the etude Op. 10 No. 3. These pieces often rely on an intense and personalized chromaticism, as well as a melodic curve that resembles the operas of Chopin's day - the operas of Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and especially Bellini. Chopin used the piano to re-create the gracefulness of the singing voice, and talked and wrote constantly about singers.
Chopin's style and gifts became increasingly influential: Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin's music — although the feeling was not mutual — and he took melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval after Chopin. Franz Liszt, another great admirer and personal friend of the composer, transcribed six of Chopin's songs for piano. Liszt later dedicated a movement of his Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses to Chopin, titling it Funérailles and subtitling it "October 1849." The mid-section recalls powerfully the famous octave trio section of Chopin's Polonaise, op. 53. Despite this, Liszt denied it had been inspired by Chopin's death but by the deaths of three of Liszt's Hungarian compatriots in the same month.
Chopin performed his own works in concert halls but most often in his salon for friends. Only later in life, as his disease progressed, did Chopin give up public performance altogether.
Chopin's technical innovations also became influential. His préludes (Op. 28) and études (Op. 10 and 25) rapidly became standard works, and inspired both Liszt's Transcendental Études and Schumann's Symphonic Études. Alexander Scriabin was also strongly influenced by Chopin; for example, his 24 Preludes op.11 are inspired by Chopin's Op.28.
Jeremy Siepmann, in his biography of the composer, named a list of pianists he believed to have made recordings of works by Chopin generally acknowledged to be among the greatest Chopin performances ever preserved: Vladimir de Pachmann, Raoul Pugno, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Moriz Rosenthal, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Raul Koczalski, Arthur Rubinstein, Mieczysław Horszowski, Claudio Arrau, Vlado Perlemuter, Vladimir Horowitz, Dinu Lipatti, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Murray Perahia, Krystian Zimerman, Evgeny Kissin.
Rubinstein said the following about Chopin's music and its universality:citation needed
Although Chopin lived in the 1800s, he was educated in the tradition of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Clementi; he even used Clementi's piano method with his own students. He was also influenced by Hummel's development of virtuoso, yet Mozartian, piano technique. One of his students, Friederike Muller, wrote the following in her diary about Chopin's playing style:
Chopin and Romanticism
Chopin regarded the Romantic movement with indifference, and rarely associated himself with it directly. Even so, today Chopin's music is considered to be the paragon of the Romantic style.
However, his music has less of the expected trappings of Romanticism: There is a classical purity and discretion in his music, with little Romantic exhibitionism, personified by his reverence of Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Chopin based the structure of his preludes on the Well-tempered Clavier of Bach). Chopin also never indulged in 'scene painting' in his music or affixing to his works fanciful or descriptive titles, unlike his contemporary Robert Schumann. In addition, unlike his flamboyant contemporary Franz Liszt, Chopin was withdrawn from public life.
All of Chopin's works involve the piano, whether solo or accompanied. They are predominantly for solo piano but include a small number of piano ensembles with instruments including a second piano, violin, cello, voice, and orchestra.
His larger scale works such as the four ballades, the four scherzos, the barcarolle op. 60, the fantaisie op. 49, and sonatas have cemented a solid place within the repertoire, as well as shorter works like his impromptus, mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes and polonaises. Two important collections are the 24 Preludes Op. 28, based loosely on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, and the études Op. 10 and Op. 25, which are a staple of that genre for pianists.
Chopin composed two of the romantic piano concerto repertoire's most often-performed examples, his Opp. 11 and 21. In addition, he wrote several song settings of Polish texts, and chamber pieces including a piano trio and a sonata for cello and piano.
In commemoration of the genius of Frédéric Chopin, the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition is held in Warsaw, Poland every five years. Also, the "Grand prix du disque de F.Chopin" is also held periodically to award notable Chopin recordings, both remastered and newly recorded work.
Jay Chou's November's Chopin Album is named in Chopin's honor.
The following have been named after the composer:
Chopin in fiction
Chopin and Sand's illustrious relationship is embroidered in the 1991 film Impromptu which stars Hugh Grant as Chopin and Judy Davis as George Sand. A possibly more historically accurate depiction of their relationship can be found in the 2002 movie Chopin: Desire for Love by Academy Award nominee director Jerzy Antczak, featuring Piotr Adamczyk as Chopin and Danuta Stenka as George Sand. A Song to Remember released in 1945 is another biographical movie.
Namco Bandai recently announced an RPG for Xbox 360 titled Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream, which features Frédéric Chopin as a major character.