Born in Zelazowa Wola (near Warsaw), Poland on March 1, 1810, (or February 22, according to his baptismal certificate) was one of the greatest and most revered composers of all time. Fryderyk Chopin was born into a small family with a French father (Nicolas Chopin) and a Polish mother (Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska). He showed an overzealous admiration for the piano at a very young age and was already the composer of two Polonaises at the tender age of seven. At the same age, he gave concert performances to woebegone audiences and stated that the latter was most likely due to the collar of his shirt!
He began studies with the violinist Wojciech Zywny in 1816. Once he had acquired greater skill than that of his teacher, he continued studying at the Warsaw Conservatory under the tutelage of Wilhelm Wurfel. At the age of 15, he was already a published composer (Rondo, Op.1). At 16, he began studies of harmony, theory, figured bass and composition with Jozef Elsner, a composer from Silesia whom also taught at the Conservatory.
In early 1829, Chopin performed in Vienna, where he received several very optimistic reviews. The next year, he returned to his homeland and gave the premiere of his Piano Concerto in F Minor at the National Theatre on March 17. Ulterior to all of this travelling and due to the volatile political situation, Chopin decided he would be best living in Paris, France. On the road, he composed the great Revolutionary Etude, in response to the devastating news that the Russians had captured Warsaw. Once in Paris, he began working on his first Ballades and Scherzi, as well as the first book of the Etudes (Op.10). Most unfortunately, it is also at this time that he began his lifelong struggle against Tuberculosis.
While in Paris, Chopin was in a more than propitious time and location to acquaint with his contemporaries whom were also to form the Romantic Revolution in Paris. Among them were Liszt, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Balzac, Heine, Victor Hugo and Schumann. Most probably reluctantly, the introvert did do so. He also crossed paths with the friend of Liszt's mistress, the French author best known by her pseudonym as George Sand. When they met, she was thirty-four and he twenty-eight. Madame Sand was courageous and domineering: her need to dominate found its counterpart in Chopin's need to be led. She also left an interestingly memorable account of the composer at work:
"His creative work was spontaneous, miraculous. It came to him without effort or warning... But then began the most heartrending labor I have ever witnessed. It was a series of attempts, of fits of irresolution and impatience to recover certain details. He would shut himself in his room for days, pacing up and down, breaking his pens, repeating and modifying one bar a hundred times."
The 1830s in Paris proved to be a rather progressive and productive time for Chopin. He completed some of his most popular works and performed regular concerts, receiving fastastic reviews thereof. However, Chopin was not in favor of public concertizing, therefore imposing a constant demand of him as a composer and teacher. He was loved by the Parisian salons, and he held less reservations concerning these types of performances.
An interesting time he and Madame Sand shared was that of the miserably gelid winter of 1838-39. They stayed in unheated peasant huts and in the Valldemossa monastery. All of which Chopin would complain of the great troubles he would endure of acquiring a piano from Paris in these parts. Much of this miserable and desperate time is depicted in the twenty-four Preludes (Op.28), which were composed at this time. Due to the terrible weather conditions, and Chopin's terrible medical reaction thereof, they were forced to return to Paris, in order to save his life.
For the following eight years, Chopin spent his summers at Sand's estate in Nohant. It is in this location that she would entertain some among France's most prominent artists and writers. Unfortunately, their happiness was relatively shortlived and they traversed from love to conflict. Their intense relationship ended two years before his death, in 1847. Sand had begun to suspect that he had fallen in love with her daughter Solange. They parted in rancour. His friend Liszt even stated that Chopin thought that, in ending this long affection, he had ruined his life. Once found in his later letters: "What has become of my art? And my heart, where have I wasted it?"
On an interesting personal note, Chopin once stated that he was not attracted to Sand. "Something about her repels me," he said to his family. Moreover, once suggested in Sand's correspondence is that Chopin was asexual; that is, that he had no inclination to have sexual relations with anyone, male or female.
Tuberculosis forced the world to be deprived from any further musical gifts of Chopin which, otherwise, may have been blessed upon our musical world. On October 17, 1849, at the relatively young age of thirty-nine, Chopin passed away. Thousands joined together to attend his funeral and pay him homage. The latter was held at the Church of the Madeleine and he was buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. However, he had wished to have his heart entombed at the Church of the Holy Cross in Poland. He also wished to have Polish soil sprinkled over his tomb, and so it was done.
- Epilogue -
Every year, many inspired tourists visit Chopin's grave to pay him homage. To this day, his music has been performed and recorded extremely frequently. The Composer of Poland is known as one of, if not the, best composer of the Romantic period yet; ironically, he did not consider himself of this group. He was of another class and the intense expression and emotion presented in his music is most likely the cause of this all-too-common misconception. Nonetheless, his music has fueled the inspiration of millions of musicians until today and is sure to continue to do so until there is no longer a piano on this planet.
"Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."
- Frédéric François Chopin
Author: Nico Morin-Paul
- The Enjoyment of Music, Ninth Edition, Machlis and Forney, Norton, 2003
- The Encyclopedia of Music, Wade-Matthews & Thompson, Hermes House, 2004
- Various MediaWiki Projects, such as WikiPedia