Chopin, daguerreotype by Bisson, c. 1849Frédéric François Chopin(UK: /ˈʃɒpæ̃/, US: /ʃoʊˈpæn/,French: [ʃɔpɛ̃], Polish: [ˈʂɔpɛn]; 1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era who wrote primarily for solo piano. He has maintained worldwide renown as a leading musician of his era, one whose “poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.”
Chopin was born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin in the Duchy of Warsaw and grew up in Warsaw, which in 1815 became part of Congress Poland. A child prodigy, he completed his musical education and composed his earlier works in Warsaw before leaving Poland at the age of 20, less than a month before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising. At 21, he settled in Paris. Thereafter—in the last 18 years of his life—he gave only 30 public performances, preferring the more intimate atmosphere of the salon. He supported himself by selling his compositions and by giving piano lessons, for which he was in high demand. Chopin formed a friendship with Franz Liszt and was admired by many of his other musical contemporaries (including Robert Schumann).
After a failed engagement to Maria Wodzińska from 1836 to 1837, he maintained an often troubled relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin (known by her pen name, George Sand). A brief and unhappy visit to Majorca with Sand in 1838–39 would prove one of his most productive periods of composition. In his final years, he was supported financially by his admirer Jane Stirling, who also arranged for him to visit Scotland in 1848. For most of his life, Chopin was in poor health. He died in Paris in 1849 at the age of 39, probably of pericarditis aggravated by tuberculosis.
All of Chopin’s compositions include the piano. Most are for solo piano, though he also wrote two piano concertos, a few chamber pieces, and some 19 songs set to Polish lyrics. His piano writing was technically demanding and expanded the limits of the instrument: his own performances were noted for their nuance and sensitivity. Chopin invented the concept of the instrumental ballade. His major piano works also include mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, preludes and sonatas, some published only posthumously. Among the influences on his style of composition were Polish folk music, the classical tradition of J. S. Bach, Mozart, and Schubert, and the atmosphere of the Paris salons of which he was a frequent guest. His innovations in style, harmony, and musical form, and his association of music with nationalism, were influential throughout and after the late Romantic period.
Chopin’s music, his status as one of music’s earliest superstars, his (indirect) association with political insurrection, his high-profile love-life, and his early death have made him a leading symbol of the Romantic era. His works remain popular, and he has been the subject of numerous films and biographies of varying historical fidelity.
Chopin’s birthplace in Żelazowa WolaFryderyk Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, 46 kilometres (29 miles) west of Warsaw, in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw, a Polish state established by Napoleon. The parish baptismal record gives his birthday as 22 February 1810, and cites his given names in the Latin form Fridericus Franciscus (in Polish, he was Fryderyk Franciszek). However, the composer and his family used the birthdate 1 March,[n 1] which is now generally accepted as the correct date.Chopin’s father, Nicolas Chopin, by Ambroży Mieroszewski, 1829Watch given by soprano Angelica Catalani to 9-year-old Chopin on 3 January 1820Fryderyk’s father, Nicolas Chopin, was a Frenchman from Lorraine who had emigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of sixteen. Nicolas tutored children of the Polish aristocracy, and in 1806 married Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska, a poor relative of the Skarbeks, one of the families for whom he worked. Fryderyk was baptised on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1810, in the same church where his parents had married, in Brochów.His eighteen-year-old godfather, for whom he was named, was Fryderyk Skarbek, a pupil of Nicolas Chopin.Fryderyk was the couple’s second child and only son; he had an elder sister, Ludwika (1807–1855), and two younger sisters, Izabela (1811–1881) and Emilia (1812–1827). Nicolas was devoted to his adopted homeland, and insisted on the use of the Polish language in the household.
In October 1810, six months after Fryderyk’s birth, the family moved to Warsaw, where his father acquired a post teaching French at the Warsaw Lyceum, then housed in the Saxon Palace. Fryderyk lived with his family in the Palace grounds. The father played the flute and violin; the mother played the piano and gave lessons to boys in the boarding house that the Chopins kept. Chopin was of slight build, and even in early childhood was prone to illnesses.
Fryderyk may have had some piano instruction from his mother, but his first professional music tutor, from 1816 to 1821, was the Czech pianist Wojciech Żywny. His elder sister Ludwika also took lessons from Żywny, and occasionally played duets with her brother. It quickly became apparent that he was a child prodigy. By the age of seven Fryderyk had begun giving public concerts, and in 1817 he composed two polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major. His next work, a polonaise in A-flat major of 1821, dedicated to Żywny, is his earliest surviving musical manuscript.
In 1817 the Saxon Palace was requisitioned by Warsaw’s Russian governor for military use, and the Warsaw Lyceum was reestablished in the Kazimierz Palace (today the rectorate of Warsaw University). Fryderyk and his family moved to a building, which still survives, adjacent to the Kazimierz Palace. During this period, Fryderyk was sometimes invited to the Belweder Palace as playmate to the son of the ruler of Russian Poland, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia; he played the piano for Constantine Pavlovich and composed a march for him. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, in his dramatic eclogue, “Nasze Przebiegi” (“Our Discourses”, 1818), attested to “little Chopin’s” popularity.EducationEditFrom September 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where he received organ lessons from the Czech musician Wilhelm Würfelduring his first year. In the autumn of 1826 he began a three-year course under the Silesian composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, studying music theory, figured bass, and composition.[n 2] Throughout this period he continued to compose and to give recitals in concerts and salons in Warsaw. He was engaged by the inventors of the “aeolomelodicon” (a combination of piano and mechanical organ), and on this instrument, in May 1825 he performed his own improvisation and part of a concerto by Moscheles. The success of this concert led to an invitation to give a recital on a similar instrument (the “aeolopantaleon”) before Tsar Alexander I, who was visiting Warsaw; the Tsar presented him with a diamond ring. At a subsequent aeolopantaleon concert on 10 June 1825, Chopin performed his Rondo Op. 1. This was the first of his works to be commercially published and earned him his first mention in the foreign press, when the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitungpraised his “wealth of musical ideas”.Józef Elsner (after 1853)During 1824–28 Chopin spent his vacations away from Warsaw, at a number of locales.[n 3] In 1824 and 1825, at Szafarnia, he was a guest of Dominik Dziewanowski, the father of a schoolmate. Here for the first time, he encountered Polish rural folk music. His letters home from Szafarnia (to which he gave the title “The Szafarnia Courier”), written in a very modern and lively Polish, amused his family with their spoofing of the Warsaw newspapers and demonstrated the youngster’s literary gift.