Who Was Chopin?
Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was a Polish composer and piano virtuoso, who lived a short but rather eventful life. He was born in Poland in 1810, and died before his 40th birthday in 1849 after a long battle with tuberculosis. His music technically belongs to the Romantic period, yet his work was primarily more indicative of work produced in the Classical and Baroque periods. His favorite composers were Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. However, he is most identified as a Romantic composer despite his own objections to be so called.
Chopin was a child prodigy; some called him a second Mozart. By the age of seven, he had already composed two polonaises, and had begun to give concerts. It is significant that a child this young could be so gifted at the piano. He did not start formal lessons until he was six, which suggests incredible talent. After a concert given when he was seven, he was asked by a reporter what he thought the audience liked best about his performance. His answer: “My shirt collar,” endeared him to Polish audiences, because though he was a prodigy, he was still quite charmingly, a child.
Chopin’s family moved to Warsaw so he could study with some of the masters. He received lessons but his skills often were superior to those of his teachers. As a young adult, he traveled to Vienna and was inspired by a performance by Paganini, a German pianist with a great deal of showmanship. While in Vienna, he learned of an uprising in Poland that kept him from returning home.
Since returning to Poland was unsafe, he went from Vienna to Paris, and soon found himself a friend of other great composers and pianists like Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. In Paris, he also met the poet George Sand, who preferred to be called by her pen name rather than her official title as Baroness Dudevant.
Chopin’s introduction to Sand resulted in a romantic relationship of ten years that was frequently stormy and ended when Sand wrote Lucrezia Floriani a semi-autobiographical account of a wealthy actress who cares for a sick and weak prince. He was infuriated at Sand’s profile of him, and ended their relationship.
Depressed after ending his relationship with Sand, and quite ill from tuberculosis, Chopin died two years later, with his elder sister at his side. Over one thousand people attended his funeral in Paris, and though he was buried in Paris, he requested that his heart be buried in Poland. This request was carried out, and his heart resides in an urn at the Pillar of the Holy Cross Church in Krakow, Poland.
Unlike his contemporaries, Chopin continued to enjoy a great deal of popularity as a composer. All of his works feature the piano, as either a solo instrument or accompaniment. He is credited with reinventing the Polish folk music, the mazurka, and also for his interpretation of the nocturne, a musical style new to his time.
Today Chopin’s most popular works are considered the Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49, Nocturnes 7 and 8, and Impromptus 2, Op. 36 and 3, and Op. 51. His work is often showcased in piano recitals, and is considered standard fare for advanced players.
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