Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)

Frédéric Chopin was a Polish virtuoso pianist and composer. He was one of the greatest composers for the piano in history and, (aside from a few songs and chamber pieces for cello), wrote almost exclusively for it,

Chopin was born into a musical family and raised in Warsaw. His older sister was his first piano teacher and by the age of 7, he was an accomplished child prodigy, giving public concerts and composing his first pieces. At the age of 15, he entered the Warsaw Conservatory and excelled in piano, music theory, and composition. After graduating at the age of 18, he began to perform in some of the important cities of Europe, including Vienna, and by the age of 20 he had premiered both of his piano concertos, his only works for orchestra. He was acclaimed as a genius and encouraged by composer Robert Schumann in his work as a music critic and reviewer.

After the Russian army put down a failed rebellion in Warsaw, Chopin moved to Paris, where he was part of an influential group of creative artists, including fellow composers Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, and Franz Liszt, as well as painter Eugène Delacroix, novelist and playwright Alfred de Musset, and writer Amandine Dupin, (better known by her pen name of George Sand), with whom he had an infamous 10-year affair. (This artistic circle is depicted in the film Impromptu.) Chopin was in chronic ill-health since childhood and Sand eventually functioned as much as a nurse as a lover to the composer. Two years after his break with Sand, Chopin fell ill with tuberculosis and died in Paris. Mozart’s Requiem was sung at his funeral, and several of his own pieces were played, including his Piano Sonata No. 2, with its famous “Funeral March” theme. Franz Liszt also played the organ for his funeral. He was buried at the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery, but his heart was preserved and taken by his sister to Warsaw, where it was placed inside a column in the Holy Cross Church. Although he lived an immoral lifestyle with Sand, he was raised in a devout family and in his last months experienced a profound spiritual renewal.

Chopin’s legacy as a composer for the piano remains unmatched. He invented the musical form of the ballade and greatly extended the other forms that he wrote. In addition to the 2 piano concertos and 3 sonatas, he wrote numerous technically and musically challenging works for solo piano, including a number of etudes, polonaises, waltzes, mazurkas, scherzos, fantasies, as well as his celebrated nocturnes. Although he rejected programmatic titles for his works, they are filled with a deep range of emotional expression. Many of his best-known works were given additional descriptive titles by later composer or performers, including the “Minute” Waltz, “Military” Polonaise, “Revolutionary” Etude, “Raindrop” Prelude, and “Funeral March” Sonata. One of his final works was his Cello Sonata, in which the accompanying piano plays an equal, if not at times, more dominant role, than the solo instrument. His music has been the standard for all future pianists and has had many notable interpreters, including Arthur Rubinstein,  Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Martha Argerich, and Maurizio Pollini.

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