Frédéric Chopin

(22 February or 1 March 1810, Zelazowa Wola - 17 October 1849, Paris)


Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish-French composer and pianist of the Romantic period. Today he is best known for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Born in a family with some artistic learnings, his father, a Frenchman emigrant, played the flute and violin, Frédéric took his first piano lessons from his mother. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Warsaw, where his father was a high school french teacher. His talent emerged quickly and so Wojciech Zywny, a Czech pianist, took little Frédéric under his wing to nurture his talent, soon after he made a reputation as a pianist in the saloons of Warsaw. 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.

After he graduated high school, he attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where he studied composition with the Silesian composer Józef Elsner. Having noticed his exceptional talent, his teachers did not encase him in a rigid education but rather stimulated his special qualities.

In the Warsaw musical life, the Italian opera occupied an important place (endeared by Chopin) as well as the pre-Romantic music of Hummel, Moscheles, Field and the national music. It was the period in which close contact with folk music became necessary for asserting national culture, used as a weapon of struggle for liberation from the tyranny of the tsarist. After his trip to Berlin and Prague, where he comes in contact with the works of Spontini, Rossini and Mayerbeer, Chopin visited Vienna and made his performance debut there in 1829. In March and October 1830 he presented his new works to the Warsaw public and then left Poland with the intention of visiting Germany and Italy for further study.

During his brief stay in Germany he finished his Scherzo No. 1, marking a new stage in his creation, not only by lyrical confessions, but also by echoes of the adamant Polish fight against tsarism. At Stuttgart, he composed his Revolutionary Etude in C minor, in which he expresses his vigorous protest against the oppressors of the Polish nation, and a call to arms of all Polish patriots.

In the year of 1831 he arrives to Paris, where he will live for the rest of his life. He began giving piano lessons and concerts in public halls, but more often in the private salons of nobility, for he didn't love the big concert hall, he found the experience of playing for a small audience more intimate. His new piano works at this time included two startlingly poetic books of études (1829–36), the Ballade in G Minor (1831–35), the Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835), and many smaller pieces, among them mazurkas and polonaises inspired by Chopin’s strong nationalist feeling.

During his years in Paris he was to become acquainted with, among many others, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Ferdinand Hiller, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix, and Alfred de Vigny. Chopin was also acquainted with the poet Adam Mickiewicz, principal of the Polish Literary Society, some of whose verses he set as songs. Chopin received invitations to other salons, even at the court of King Louis Philippe. Thus, in October 1839, both Chopin and Moscheles were invited to Saint-Claude to perform in front of the King, Princess d'Orléans, and the Queen. In the beginning there wasn't a friendship relationship between the two, Chopin considered him mediocre while Moscheles considered Chopin a fancy Polish. Having met more often, they somehow became friends.

After his health got worse, in early March 1839 he arrived in Marseille, and, thanks to a skilled physician, Chopin was sufficiently recovered after just under three months for him to start planning a return to Paris. From 1842 onwards, Chopin showed signs of serious illness. After a solo recital in Paris on 21 February 1842, he wrote to Grzymala: "I have to lie in bed all day long, my mouth and tonsils are aching so much." He was forced by illness to decline a written invitation from Alkan to participate in a repeat performance of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony arrangement at Erard's on 1 March 1843.

In February 1848 he gave his last concert in Paris and then traveled with his student Jane Stirling to England and Scotland for a long concert tour, that exhausted him. His reception in London was enthusiastic, and he struggled through an exhausting round of lessons and appearances at fashionable parties. Chopin lacked the strength to sustain this socializing, however, and he was also unable to compose. By now his health was deteriorating rapidly, and he made his last public appearance on a concert platform at the Guildhall in London on November 16, 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees.

Chopin’s small output was mostly confined to solo piano; yet within its limited framework its range is seen to be vast, comprehending every variety of musical expression. Over 230 works of Chopin survive, some of his compositions from early childhood have been lost. All his known works involve the piano, and only a few range beyond solo piano music, as either piano concertos, songs or chamber music. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne (invented by the Irish composer John Field) to a deeper level of sophistication, he was also the first to write ballades and scherzi as individual concert pieces. He exploited the poetic potential of the concept of the concert étude, already being developed in the 1820s and 1830s by Liszt, Clementi and Moscheles, in his two sets of studies (Op. 10 published in 1833, Op. 25 in 1837).

He gained and has maintained renown worldwide as one of the leading musicians of his era, whose "poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation."

Here  you can find a list of Frédéric Chopin's compositions.