Definitions

unexampled

Frédéric Chopin

[shoh-pan; for 1 also Fr. shaw-pan]

Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk [Franciszek] Chopin, sometimes Szopen; Frédéric [François] Chopin; surname pronunciation in English: and French: ; 1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849) was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic period. He is widely regarded as the greatest Polish composer, and ranks as one of music's greatest tone poets.

Chopin was born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, in the Duchy of Warsaw, to a Polish mother and French-expatriate father, and in his early life was regarded as a child-prodigy pianist. In November 1830, at the age of 20, he went abroad; following the suppression of the Polish November Uprising of 1830–31, he became one of many expatriates of the Polish "Great Emigration."

In Paris, Chopin made a comfortable living as a composer and piano teacher, while giving few public performances. An ardent Polish patriot, in France he used the French versions of his names and eventually, to avoid having to rely on Imperial Russian documents, became a French citizen. After some ill-fated romantic involvements with Polish women, from 1837 to 1847 he had a turbulent relationship with the French writer George Sand (Aurore Dudevant). Always in frail health, in 1849 he died in Paris, at the age of 39, of chronic pulmonary tuberculosis.

Chopin's extant compositions were written primarily for the piano as a solo instrument. Though they are technically demanding, his style emphasizes nuance and expressive depth. Chopin invented musical forms such as the ballade and was responsible for major innovations in forms such as the piano sonata, waltz, nocturne, étude, impromptu and prelude. His works are mainstays of Romanticism in 19th-century classical music.

Life

Childhood

Frédéric Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola in Sochaczew County, some fifty kilometers west of Warsaw, in what was then part of the Duchy of Warsaw. His father, Mikołaj Chopin, originally a Frenchman from Lorraine, had emigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of 16 and had served in Poland's National Guard during the Kościuszko Uprising. The elder Chopin subsequently worked in Żelazowa Wola as a tutor to the aristocracy, which included the Skarbeks (one of whose poorer relations, Justyna Krzyżanowska, he married).

Her brother would become the father of American Union General Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski.

According to family records, the couple's second child (and only son), christened Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, was born on March 1, 1810. A parish church document found in 1892 gives his birth date as February 22, 1810. Chopin and his mother, however, mentioned repeatedly in letters that he had been born not on February 22, but on March 1.

In October 1810, when the infant was seven months old, the family moved to Warsaw, where his father took a position as French-language teacher at a school in the Saxon Palace. The Chopin family lived on the palace grounds.

In 1817 Mikołaj Chopin began work, still teaching French, at the Warsaw Lyceum at Warsaw University's Kazimierz Palace. The family lived in a spacious second-floor apartment in an adjacent building. The son himself would attend the Warsaw Lyceum from 1823 to 1826.

In spite of Mikołaj Chopin's occupation, Polish spirit, culture, and language pervaded the Chopins' home, and as a result the son would never—even in Paris—perfectly master the French language. All the family had artistic leanings. Chopin's father played the flute and violin; Chopin's mother played piano, and gave lessons to boys in the elite boarding house that the Chopins operated. Thus the boy early became conversant with music in its various forms.

Józef Sikorski, a musician and Chopin's contemporary, recalls, in his Memoir about Chopin (Wspomnienie Chopina), that as a child Chopin wept with emotion when his mother played the piano. By six, he was already trying to reproduce what he heard or to make up new melodies. He received his earliest piano lessons not from his mother, but from his older sister, Ludwika (in English, "Louise").

Chopin's first professional piano tutor, from 1816 to 1822, was the respected, elderly Czech, Wojciech Żywny. Although the youngster's skills soon surpassed those of his teacher, Chopin later spoke highly of him. Seven-year-old "Little Chopin" began to give public concerts that soon prompted comparison with Mozart as a child, and with Chopin's contemporary, Beethoven. That same year, Chopin composed two polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major. The first was published in the engraving workshop of Father Izydor Józef Cybulski (composer, engraver, director of an organists' school, and one of the few music publishers in Poland); the second survives as a manuscript prepared by Mikołaj Chopin. These small works were said to rival not only the popular polonaises of leading Warsaw composers, but the famous polonaises of Michał Kleofas Ogiński. A substantial development of melodic and harmonic invention, and of piano technique, was shown in Chopin's next known polonaise (in A-flat major), which the young artist offered, in 1821, as a name-day present to Żywny.

About this time, at the age of eleven, Chopin performed in the presence of Russian Tsar Alexander I, who was in Warsaw, opening the Sejm (Polish parliament).

As a child, Chopin showed an intelligence that was said to absorb everything and make use of everything for its development. He early showed remarkable abilities in observation and sketching, a keen wit and sense of humor, and an uncommon talent for mimicry. A story from his school years recounts a teacher being pleasantly surprised by a superb portrait that Chopin had drawn of him in class. In those years, Chopin was sometimes invited to the Belweder Palace as playmate to the son of Russian Poland's ruler, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, and charmed the irascible duke with his piano-playing. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz attested to "Little Chopin's" popularity in his dramatic eclogue, Nasze Verkehry ("Our Intercourse," 1818), in which the eight-year-old Chopin features as a motif in the dialogues.

While in his mid-teens, during vacations spent at the Mazowsze village of Szafarnia (where he was a guest of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł), Chopin was exposed to folk melodies that he would later transmute into original compositions. His letters home from Szafarnia (the famous "Szafarnia Courier" letters) amused his family with their spoofing of the Warsaw newspapers and demonstrated the youngster's literary talent.

An anecdote describes how Chopin helped quiet rowdy children by first improvising a story and then lulling them to sleep with a berceuse (lullaby) — after which he woke everyone with an ear-piercing chord.

Education

Chopin, tutored at home until he was 13, enrolled in the Warsaw Lyceum in 1823, but continued studying piano under Żywny's direction. In 1825, in a performance of the work of Ignaz Moscheles, he entranced the audience with his free improvisation, and was acclaimed the "best pianist in Warsaw."

In the autumn of 1826, Chopin began a three-year course of studies with the composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, which was affiliated with Warsaw University (hence Chopin is counted among that university's alumni). Chopin's first contact with the Polish composer may have been as early as 1822; it is certain that Elsner was giving Chopin informal guidance by 1823, and in 1826 Chopin officially commenced the study of music theory, figured bass, and composition with Elsner. In year-end evaluations, Elsner noted Chopin's "remarkable talent" and "musical genius." As had Żywny, Elsner observed, rather than influenced or directed, the development of Chopin's blossoming talent. Elsner's teaching style was based on his reluctance to "constrain" Chopin with "narrow, academic, outdated" rules, and to allow the young artist to mature "according to the laws of his own nature."

In 1827, the family moved to lodgings just across the street, in the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście 5, in what is now the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Chopin would live there until he left Warsaw in 1830. In 1829, Polish portraitist Ambroży Mieroszewski executed a set of five portraits of Chopin family members (the youngest daughter, Emilia, had died in 1827): Chopin's parents, his elder sister Ludwika, younger sister Izabela, and, in the first known portrait of him, the composer himself. (The originals perished in World War II; only black-and-white photographs remain.) In 1913, historian Édouard Ganche would write that this painting of the precocious composer showed "a youth threatened by tuberculosis. His skin is very white, he has a prominent Adam's apple and sunken cheeks, even his ears show a form characteristic of consumptives." Chopin's younger sister Emilia had already died of tuberculosis at the age of fourteen, and their father would succumb to the same disease in 1844.

According to musicologist and Chopin biographer Zdzisław Jachimecki, comparison of the juvenile Chopin with any earlier composer is difficult because of the originality of the works that Chopin was composing already in the first half of his life. At a comparable age, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven had still been apprentices, while Chopin was perceived by peers and audiences to be already a master who was pointing the path of the coming age.

Chopin himself never gave thematic titles to his instrumental works, but identified them simply by genre and number. His compositions were, however, often inspired by emotional and sensual experiences in his own life. One of his first such inspirations was a beautiful young singing student at the Warsaw Conservatory and later a singer at the Warsaw Opera, Konstancja Gładkowska. In letters to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin indicated which of his works, and even which of their passages, were influenced by his erotic transports. His artist's soul was also enriched by friendships with such leading lights of Warsaw's artistic and intellectual world as Maurycy Mochnacki, Józef Bohdan Zaleski and Julian Fontana.

Young man

In September 1828 Chopin struck out for the wider world in the company of family friend, zoologist Feliks Jarocki, who planned to attend a scientific convention in Berlin. There Chopin enjoyed several unfamiliar operas directed by Gaspare Spontini, went to several concerts, and saw Carl Friedrich Zelter, Felix Mendelssohn and other celebrities. On his return trip, he was the guest of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, governor of the Grand Duchy of Poznań — himself an accomplished composer and cellist. For his host, Chopin composed his Polonaise for Cello and Piano Op. 3.

Back in Warsaw, in 1829, Chopin heard Niccolò Paganini play, and met the German pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In August the same year, and three weeks after completing his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory, Chopin made a brilliant début in Vienna. He gave two piano concerts and received many favorable reviews — in addition to some that criticized the "small tone" that he drew from the piano. This was followed by a concert, in December 1829, at the Warsaw Merchants' Club, where Chopin premièred his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, and by his first performance, on March 17, 1830, at the National Theater, of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. In this period he also began writing his first études (1829–32).

Chopin's successes as a performer and composer opened the professional door for him to western Europe, and on November 2, 1830, seen off by friends and admirers, with a ring from Konstancja Gładkowska on his finger and carrying with him a silver cup containing soil from his native land, Chopin set out, writes Jachimecki, "into the wide world, with no very clearly defined aim, forever."

Later that month, in Warsaw, the November Uprising broke out, and Chopin's friend and traveling companion, Tytus Woyciechowski, returned to Poland to enlist. Chopin, now alone in Vienna, writes Jachimecki, "afflicted by nostalgia, disappointed in his hopes of giving concerts and publishing, matured and acquired spiritual depth. From a romantic... poet... he grew into an inspired national bard who intuited the past, present and future of his country. Only now, at this distance, did he see all of Poland from the proper perspective, and understand what was great and truly beautiful in her, the tragedy and heroism of her vicissitudes." When in September 1831 Chopin learned, while traveling from Vienna to Paris, that the uprising had been crushed, he poured "profanities and blasphemies" in his native Polish language into the pages of a little journal that he kept secret to the end of his life. These outcries of a tormented heart found musical expression in his Scherzo in B Minor, Op. 20, and his Revolutionary Étude.

Paris

Chopin arrived in Paris in late September 1831, still uncertain whether he would settle there for good. With a view to easing his entry into the Parisian musical community, he began taking lessons from the prominent pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner. In February 1832 Chopin gave a concert that garnered universal admiration. The influential musicologist and critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote in Revue musicale: "Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere... Only three months earlier, in December of 1831, Robert Schumann, in reviewing Chopin's Variations on "La ci darem la mano," Opus 2 (from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni), had written: "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius.

After his Paris concert début in February 1832, Chopin realized that his light-handed keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces. However, later that year he was introduced to the wealthy Rothschild banking family, whose patronage opened doors for him to other private salons.

In Paris, Chopin found artists and other distinguished company, as well as opportunities to exercise his talents and achieve celebrity, and before long he was earning a handsome income teaching piano to affluent students from all over Europe. Chopin formed friendships with Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Vincenzo Bellini, Ferdinand Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix, as well as with Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, French writer Alfred de Vigny, and composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.

However, Chopin seldom performed publicly in Paris. In later years he would generally give only a single annual concert at the Salle Pleyel, a venue that could seat an audience of three hundred. He played more frequently at salons — social gatherings of the aristocracy and artistic and literary elite of the period — but preferred to play, in his own home, for small circles of friends. His precarious health prevented his touring extensively as a traveling virtuoso, and beyond playing once in Rouen, he seldom ventured out of the capital. His high income from teaching and composing freed him from the strains of concert-giving, to which he had an innate repugnance. Arthur Hedley has observed that "As a pianist Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances—few more than 30 in the course of his lifetime.

In 1835, Chopin went to Carlsbad, where, for the last time in his life, he met with his parents. En route through Saxony on his way back to Paris, he met old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He had met their daughter Maria, now sixteen, in Poland five years earlier, and fell in love with the charming, artistically talented, intelligent young woman. The following year, in September 1836, upon returning to Dresden after having vacationed with the Wodzińskis at Marienbad, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother Countess Wodzińska approved in principle, but Maria's tender age and Chopin's tenuous health (in the winter of 1835–36 he had been so ill that word had circulated in Warsaw that he had died) forced an indefinite postponement of the wedding. The engagement remained a secret to the world and never led to the altar. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a large envelope, on which he wrote the Polish words "Moja bieda" ("My sorrow").

Chopin's feelings for Maria left their traces in his "Valse in A-flat major, 'L'Adieu,'" ("The Farewell Waltz"), written on the morning of his September departure from Dresden. On his return to Paris, he composed the "Étude in F minor," the second in the Opus 25 cycle, which he referred to as "a portrait of Maria's soul." Along with this, he sent Maria seven songs that he had set to the words of Polish Romantic poets Stefan Witwicki, Józef Zaleski and Adam Mickiewicz.

After Chopin's matrimonial plans ended, Polish countess Delfina Potocka appeared episodically in Chopin's life as muse and romantic interest. For her he composed his "Waltz in D flat major," Opus 64 No. 1 — the famous "Minute Waltz."

During his years in Paris, Chopin participated in a small number of public concerts. The list of the programs' participants provides an idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life during this period. Examples include a concert on March 23, 1833, in which Chopin, Liszt and Hiller performed Johann Sebastian Bach's concerto for three harpsichords; and, on March 3, 1838, a concert in which Chopin, Chopin's pupil Adolphe Gutman, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Alkan's teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman performed Alkan's arrangement, for eight hands, of Beethoven's 7th symphony.

Chopin was also involved in the composition of Liszt's Hexaméron; Chopin's was the sixth (and last) variation on Bellini's theme.

George Sand

In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d'Agoult, mistress of friend and fellow composer Franz Liszt, Chopin met French author and feminist Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin, the Baroness Dudevant, better known by her pseudonym, George Sand. Sand's earlier romantic involvements had included Jules Sandeau, Prosper Mérimée, Alfred de Musset, Louis-Chrystosome Michel, Charles Didier, Pierre-François Bocage and Félicien Mallefille.

Chopin initially felt an aversion for Sand. He told Ferdinand Hiller: "What a repulsive woman Sand is! But is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it. Sand, however, in a candid thirty-two page letter to her friend and Chopin's, Count Wojciech Grzymała, admitted strong feelings for Chopin; in it she debated whether to abandon a current affair in order to begin a relationship with Chopin, and attempted to gauge the currency of his previous relationship with Maria Wodzińska, which she did not intend to interfere with should it still exist. By the summer of 1838, Chopin's and Sand's involvement was an open secret.

A notable episode in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Majorca (8 November 1838 to 13 February 1839), where the four (including her two children) had gone in the hope of improving Chopin's deteriorating health. They had difficulty finding accommodations and ended up lodging in a scenic but stark and cold former Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa.

Chopin also had problems having his Pleyel piano sent to him. It arrived from Paris on 20 December but was held up by customs. (Chopin wrote on 28 December: "My piano has been stuck at customs for 8 days... They demand such a huge sum of money to release it that I can't believe it.") In the meantime Chopin had a rickety rented piano on which he practiced and may have composed some pieces.

On 3 December he complained about his bad health and the incompetence of the doctors in Majorca: "I have been sick as a dog during these past two weeks. Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was already dead."

On 4 January 1839 George Sand agreed to pay 300 francs (half the demanded amount) to have the Pleyel piano released from customs. It was finally delivered on 5 January. From then on Chopin was able to use the long-awaited instrument for almost five weeks, time enough to complete some works: Preludes (Opus 28); a revision of Ballade No. 2, Opus 38; two Polonaises, Opus 40; Scherzo No. 3, Opus 39; a Mazurka (Opus 41); and he probably revisited his Sonata No. 2, Opus 35. This is why the winter in Majorca is still considered one of the most productive periods in Chopin's life.

During that winter, the bad weather had such a serious effect on Chopin's health and chronic lung disease that, in order to save his life, the entire party were compelled to leave the island. The beloved French piano became an obstacle to a hasty escape. Nevertheless George Sand managed to sell it to a French couple (the Canuts), whose heirs are the custodians of Chopin's legacy on Majorca and of the Chopin cell-room museum in Valldemossa.

The party of four went first to Barcelona, then to Marseille, where they stayed for a few months to recover. In May of 1839, they headed to Sand's estate at Nohant for the summer. In autumn they returned to Paris, where initially they lived apart; Chopin soon left his apartment at 5 rue Tronchet to move into Sand's house at 16 rue Pigalle. The four lived together from October 1839 to November 1842 at this address, while spending most summers until 1846 at Nohant. In 1842, they moved to 80 rue Taitbout in the square d'Orléans, living in adjacent buildings.

During the summers at Nohant, particularly 1839 through 1843, Chopin found quiet but productive days during which he composed many works. They included his great Polonaise in A flat major, Op.53, the "Heroic," one of his most famous pieces. It is to Sand that we owe the most compelling description of Chopin's creative processes, of the rise of his inspirations and of their painstaking working-out, sometimes amid real torments, amid weeping and complaints, with hundreds of changes in the initial concept and finally a return to the first idea. She describes an evening with their friend Delacroix in attendance:

As the composer's illness progressed, Sand gradually became less of a lover and more of a nurse to Chopin, whom she called her "third child." But the nursing began to pall on her. In the years to come she would keep up her friendship with Chopin, but she often gave vent to affectionate impatience, at least in letters to third parties, in which she referred to Chopin as a "child," a "little angel," a "sufferer" and a "beloved little corpse."

In 1845, even as a further deterioration occurred in Chopin's health, a serious problem emerged in his relations with Sand. Those relations were further soured in 1846 by problems involving her daughter Solange and the young sculptor Jean Baptiste Auguste Clésinger. In 1847 Sand published her novel Lucrezia Floriani, whose main characters — a rich actress and a prince in weak health — could be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was uncomplimentary to Chopin, who could not have missed the allusions as he helped Sand correct the printer's galleys. In 1847 he did not visit Nohant. Mutual friends attempted to reconcile them, but the composer was unyielding. That year, 1847, brought to an end, without any dramatics or formalities, the relations between Sand and Chopin that had lasted ten years, from 1837.

Final years

Chopin's public popularity as a virtuoso waned, as did the number of his pupils. In February 1848 he gave his last Paris concert. In April he left for London, where he performed at several concerts and at numerous receptions in great houses. Toward the end of the summer he went to Scotland, staying at the castle of his great admirer Jane Stirling and her sister, Mrs. Erskine. Miss Stirling proposed marriage to him; but Chopin, sensing that he was not long for this world, set greater store by his freedom than by the prospect of living on the generosity of a wife.

In late October 1848 in Edinburgh, at the home of a Polish physician, Dr. Adam Łyszczyński, Chopin wrote out his last will and testament—"a kind of disposition to be made of my stuff in the future, if I should drop dead somewhere," he wrote his friend Wojciech Grzymała. In his thoughts he was now constantly with his mother and sisters, and conjured up for himself scenes of his native land by playing his adaptations of its folk music on cool Scottish evenings at Miss Stirling's castle.

Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London's Guildhall on November 16, 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. Then at the end of the month he returned to Paris.

Chopin passed the winter in unremitting illness, but in spite of it he continued seeing friends and visited the ailing Adam Mickiewicz, soothing the Polish poet's nerves with his playing. He no longer had the strength to give lessons, but he was still keen to compose. He lacked money for the most essential expenses and for his physicians. He had to sell off his more valuable furnishings and belongings.

Feeling ever more poorly, Chopin desired to have one of his family with him. In June 1849 his sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, who had given him his first piano lessons, agreed to come to Paris. He had lately taken up residence in a very beautiful, sunny apartment at Place Vendôme 12. It was there, in the small hours of October 17, 1849, that Chopin died.

Later that morning, Auguste Clésinger made Chopin's death mask and casts of his hands. Before the funeral, pursuant to Chopin's dying wish (which stemmed from a fear of being buried alive), his heart was removed and preserved in alcohol, perhaps brandy. His sister later took it in an urn to Warsaw, where it was sealed within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church (Kościół Świętego Krzyża) on Krakowskie Przedmieście, beneath an inscription from Matthew VI:21: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Chopin's heart has remained there—except for a period during World War II, when it was removed for safekeeping—within the church that was rebuilt after its virtual destruction in World War II. The church stands only a short distance from Chopin's last Polish residence, the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście 5.

Chopin had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral. The Requiem has major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The funeral was delayed almost two weeks until the church relented, provided the female singers remained behind a black velvet curtain.

The funeral was held on October 30, 1849, attended by nearly three thousand people. The soloists in the Requiem included the bass Luigi Lablache, who had sung the same work at Ludwig van Beethoven's funeral and had also sung at the funeral of Vincenzo Bellini. Also played were Chopin's preludes no. 4 in E minor and no. 6 in B minor.

Chopin was buried, in accordance with his wishes, at Père Lachaise Cemetery. At the graveside, the Funeral March from Sonata Op. 35 was played, in Napoléon Henri Reber's instrumentation.

Chopin's grave, with its monument carved by Clésinger, attracts numerous visitors and is consistently decorated with flowers, even in winter.

In 2008 a controversy arose over whether Chopin died of tuberculosis and not cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic disease whose complete clinical spectrum was not recognized until the 1930s, decades after his death. The Polish government declined to allow scientists to remove Chopin's heart from its repository for DNA testing.

Memorials

In 1926, a bronze statue of Chopin designed by sculptor Wacław Szymanowski in 1907, was erected in the upper part of Warsaw's Łazienki Park, adjacent to Aleje Ujazdowskie (Ujazdów Avenue). The statue was originally to have been erected in 1910, on the centennial of Chopin's birth, but its execution was delayed by controversy about the design, then by the outbreak of World War I.

During World War II, the statue was destroyed by the Germans, on May 31, 1940. It was reconstructed after the war, in 1958. Since 1959, free piano recitals of Chopin's compositions have been performed at the statue's base on summer Sunday afternoons. The stylized willow over Chopin's seated figure echoes a pianist's hand and fingers. Until 2007, the statue was the world's tallest monument to Chopin.

A 1:1-scale replica of Szymanowski's Art Nouveau statue is found in Warsaw's sister city, Hamamatsu, Japan. There are preliminary plans to erect another replica in Chicago's Chopin Park for the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth.

There are numerous other monuments to Chopin around the world. The most recent, and by a small margin taller than the Warsaw statue, is a modernistic bronze sculpture by Lu Pin in Shanghai, China, that was unveiled on March 3, 2007.

Founded in 1927, the world's oldest monographic music competition, the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition, is held every five years in Warsaw.

Periodically the Grand prix du disque de F. Chopin is awarded for notable Chopin recordings, both remastered and newly-recorded work.

Named for the composer are the largest Polish music conservatory, the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy; Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport; and asteroid 3784 Chopin.

Music

Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, "had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal.... Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano.

Chopin, unlike such composers as Mozart and Schubert, did not compose in a facile manner. He created barely 80 opuses, which all involve the piano. Only a few of them ranged beyond solo piano music, as chamber music or concertos for piano and orchestra. He composed two concertos for piano and orchestra, Op. 11 and 21; three piano sonatas, Op. 4, 35 and 58; a sonata for cello and piano, Op. 65 (Chopin's last composition published in his lifetime); 17 polonaises (one with orchestral accompaniment, and one for cello with accompanying piano); 21 nocturnes; 27 etudes (12 in the Op. 10 cycle, 12 in the Op. 25 cycle, and three in a collection without an opus number); 58 mazureks (several treated sketchily, as occasional pieces); 17 waltzes, 26 preludes, 4 ballades, 4 scherzos, 5 rondos, 4 sets of variations, 4 impromptus, one krakowiak for piano and orchestra, one fantasia on themes from Polish songs with accompanying orchestra, one fantasia for piano, three Scottish dances, a barcarolle, a bolero, a tarantella, an allegro de concert, a berceuse, a contredanse, a fugue, a Grand Duo on themes from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable for cello and piano; a cantabile, a lento, a Funeral March, a Souvenir de Paganini, an Andante spianato before the polonaise in E-flat major, Op. 22; a Feuille d'album, 19 Polish songs for solo voice with accompanying piano.

It is very difficult to briefly characterize Chopin's oeuvre. Robert Schumann, speaking of Chopin's Sonata in b-flat minor, wrote that "he alone begins and ends a work like this: with dissonances, through dissonances, and in dissonances," and in Chopin's music he discerned "cannon concealed amid blossoms." Franz Liszt, in the opening of his biography about Chopin (Life of Chopin), termed him a "gentle, harmonious genius." Thus disparate have been the views on Chopin's music. The first systematic, if imperfect, study of Chopin's style came in F.P. Laurencin's 1861 Die Harmonik der Neuzeit. Laurencin concluded that "Chopin is one of the most brilliant exceptional natures that have ever stridden onto the stage of history and life, he is one who can never be exhausted nor stand before a void. Chopin is the musical progone of all progones until now."

Chopin's music for the piano combined a unique rhythmic sense (particularly his use of rubato), frequent use of chromaticism, and counterpoint. This mixture produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and the harmony, which are nonetheless underpinned by solid and interesting harmonic techniques. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne, invented by Irish composer John Field, to a deeper level of sophistication. Three of Chopin's twenty-one nocturnes were only published after his death in 1849, contrary to his wishes. He also endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurek and the Viennese waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression. Chopin was the first to write ballades and scherzi as individual pieces. He also took the example of Bach's preludes and fugues, transforming the genre in his own preludes.

Chopin reinvented the étude, expanding on the idea and making it into a gorgeous, eloquent and emotional showpiece. He also used his études to teach his own revolutionary style, for instance playing with the weak fingers (3, 4, and 5) in fast figures (Op. 10, no. 2) and playing black keys with the thumb (Op. 10, no. 5).

Several of Chopin's pieces have become very well known—for instance the Revolutionary Étude (Op. 10, No. 12), the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1), and the third movement of his Funeral March sonata (Op. 35), which is often used as an iconic representation of grief. Chopin himself never named an instrumental work beyond genre and number, leaving all potential extra-musical associations to the listener; the names by which we know many of the pieces were invented by others. The Revolutionary Étude was not written with the failed Polish uprising against Russia in mind; it merely appeared at that time. The Funeral March was written before the rest of the sonata within which it is contained, but the exact occasion is not known; it appears not to have been inspired by any specific personal bereavement. Other melodies have been used as the basis of popular songs, such as the slow section of the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. posth. 66) and the first section of the Étude Op. 10 No. 3. These pieces often rely on an intense and personalised chromaticism, as well as a melodic curve that resembles the operas of Chopin's day — the operas of Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and especially Vincenzo Bellini. Chopin used the piano to re-create the gracefulness of the singing voice, and talked and wrote constantly about singers.

Chopin's style and gifts became increasingly influential. Robert Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin's music, and he used melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval after Chopin. This admiration was not reciprocated.

Franz Liszt was another admirer and personal friend of the composer, and he transcribed for piano six of Chopin's Polish songs. However, Liszt denied that he wrote Funérailles (subtitled "October 1849", the seventh movement of his piano suite Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses of 1853) in memory of Chopin. Though the middle section seems to be modeled on the famous octave trio section of Chopin's Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, Liszt said the piece had been inspired by the deaths of three of his Hungarian compatriots in the same month.

Brahms and the younger Russian composers, too, found inspiration in Chopin's examples.

Chopin's technical innovations also became influential. His Préludes (Op. 28) and Études (Op. 10 and Op. 25) rapidly became standard works, and inspired both Liszt's Transcendental Études and Schumann's Symphonic Études. Alexander Scriabin was also strongly influenced by Chopin; for example, his 24 Preludes, Op. 11, are inspired by Chopin's Op. 28.

Jeremy Siepmann, in his biography of the composer, lists pianists whose recordings of Chopin are generally acknowledged to be among the greatest Chopin performances ever preserved: Vladimir de Pachmann, Raoul Pugno, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Moriz Rosenthal, Jozef Hofmann, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Raoul Koczalski, Arthur Rubinstein, Mieczysław Horszowski, Claudio Arrau, Vlado Perlemuter, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, Dinu Lipatti, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Murray Perahia, Krystian Zimerman, Evgeny Kissin.

Arthur Rubinstein said the following about Chopin's music and its universality:

Style

Although Chopin lived in the 1800s, he was educated in the tradition of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Clementi; he used Clementi's piano method with his own students. He was also influenced by Hummel's development of virtuoso, yet Mozartian, piano technique. Chopin cited Bach and Mozart as the two most important composers in shaping his musical outlook.

The series of seven polonaises published in his lifetime (another nine were published posthumously), beginning with the Op. 26 pair, set a new standard for music in the form, and were rooted in Chopin's desire to write something to celebrate Polish culture after the country had fallen into Russian control. The A major polonaise Op. 40 No. 1, the "Military," and the polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53, the "Heroic," are among Chopin's best-loved and most-often-played works.

Rubato

Chopin's music is well known for benefiting from rubato (which was how he himself performed his music), as opposed to a strictly regular playing. Yet there is usually call for caution when the music is performed with wobbly, over-exaggerated, inappropriate "rubato" (e.g. attempting to justify insecure playing, with reference to expressive rubato).

However, while some can provide restrictive quotes about Chopin such as the above, often to the effect that "the accompanying hand always played in strict tempo", these quotes need to be considered in better context in terms both of the time when they were made and of the situations that may have prompted the original writer to set down the thoughts. Constantin von Sternberg (1852-1924) has written:

There are also views of contemporary writers such as Berlioz.

This suggests that Chopin is not to be found at one of the two commonly-encountered one-sided extremes. The two unbalanced views are:

  • that Chopin requires restrictive performance, e.g., a maintenance of strict, even, metronomic rhythm in the left hand;
  • that tasteless, wobbly/insecure performances of Chopin can somehow be justified with reference to "rubato".

Some performers' (and piano-schools') "too-strongly-held one-sided views on Chopin's way of playing rubato" may account for some unsatisfactory interpretations of his music.

Romanticism

Chopin regarded most of his contemporaries with some indifference, although he had many acquaintances associated with romanticism in music, literature and the arts (many of them via his liaison with George Sand). Chopin's music is, however, considered by many to epitomise the Romantic style. The relative classical purity and discretion in his music, with little extravagant exhibitionism, partly reflects his reverence for Bach and Mozart. Chopin also never indulged in explicit "scene-painting" in his music, or used programmatic titles, castigating publishers who renamed his pieces in this way.

Polish heritage

Zdzisław Jachimecki notes that "Chopin at every step demonstrated his Polish spirit — in the hundreds of letters that he wrote in Polish, in his attitude to Paris's [Polish] émigrés, in his negative view of all that bore the official stamp of the powers that occupied Poland." Likewise Chopin improvised music to accompany Polish texts but never musically illustrated a single French or German text, even though he numbered among his friends several great French and German poets.

According to Arthur Hedley, Chopin "found within himself and in the tragic story of Poland the chief sources of his inspiration. The theme of Poland's glories and sufferings was constantly before him, and he transmuted the primitive rhythms and melodies of his youth into enduring art forms.

In asserting his own Polishness, Chopin, according to Jachimecki, exerted "a tremendous influence [toward] the nationalization of the work of numerous later composers, who have often personally — like [the Czech Bedřich] Smetana and [the Norwegian Edvard] Grieg — confirmed this opinion..."

Popular culture

Chopin's life and his relations with George Sand have been fictionalized in film. The 1945 biopic A Song to Remember earned Cornel Wilde an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his portrayal of the composer. Other film treatments have included Impromptu (1991), starring Hugh Grant as Chopin; La note bleue (1991); and Chopin: Desire for Love (2002).

The role-playing video game Eternal Sonata is based on the fictional proposition of a world based on Chopin's music and life, as dreamt by Chopin while on his deathbed. Chopin is a playable character in the game, and much of the music within the game is based on his compositions. The game includes brief descriptions of major events in Chopin's life that reflect on the events and characters in the game.

Works

All Chopin's works involve the piano, either solo or accompanied. Predominantly for solo piano, his oeuvre includes a small number of works for various ensembles, notably a piano trio and a cello sonata.

Over 230 of Chopin's works survive. Some manuscripts and pieces from his early childhood have been lost.

See also

Notes

References

  • Chopin and Other Musical Essays (1889) by Henry T. Finck
  • Michałowski, Kornel, and Jim Samson, Chopin, Fryderyk Franciszek, Grove Music Online, edited by L. Macy (accessed October 31, 2006) (subscription access)
  • Samson, Jim (1996). Chopin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Siepmann, Jeremy (1995). Chopin: The Reluctant Romantic. London: Victor Gollancz.
  • Adam Zamoyski, Chopin: a Biography, New York, Doubleday, 1980, ISBN 0-385-13597-1.
  • Tad Szulc, Chopin in Paris: the Life and Times of the Romantic Composer, New York, Scribner, 1998, ISBN 0-684-82458-2.
  • Zdzisław Jachimecki, "Chopin, Fryderyk Franciszek," Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. III, Kraków, Polska Akademia Umiejętności, 1937, pp. 420–26.
  • Arthur Hedley et al., "Chopin, Frédéric (François)," Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 2005, vol. 3, pp. 263–64.
  • Gerald Abraham, "Chopin Frédéric," Encyclopedia Americana, 1986 ed., vol. 6, pp. 627–28.
  • Selected Correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, collected and annotated by B.E. Sydow, translated and edited by Arthur Hedley, London, 1962.
  • Chopin's Letters, collected by Henryk Opieński, translated by E.L. Voynich, New York, 1973.
  • George Marek R. and Maria Gordon-Smith, Chopin: A biography, New York, Harper & Row, 1978.
  • André Maurois, Leila: the Life of George Sand, translated by Gerard Hopkins, Penguin, 1980 (c 1953).
  • David Ewen, Ewen's Musical Masterworks: The Encyclopedia of Musical Masterpieces, 2nd ed., New York, ARCO Publishing Company, 1954.
  • Benita Eisler, Chopin's Funeral, Abacus, 2004.
  • Krystyna Kobylańska, Chopin in His Own Land: Documents and Souvenirs, Kraków, P.W.M., 1955.
  • The Book of the First International Musicological Congress Devoted [to] the Works of Frederick Chopin, Warsaw, 16th-22nd February 1960, edited by Zofia Lissa, Warsaw, PWN, 1963.
  • [The Book of the Second International Musicological Congress, Warsaw, 10-17 October 1999:] Chopin and His Work in the Context of Culture, studies edited by Irena Poniatowska, vols. 1-2, Warsaw, 2003.
  • Bastet, Frédéric L. (1997). Helse liefde: Biografisch essay over Marie d'Agoult, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, George Sand. Amsterdam: Querido.
  • Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: Pianist and Teacher, as Seen by His Pupils, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 0521367093.
  • Jan Zygmunt Jakubowski, ed., Literatura polska od średniowiecza to pozytywizmu (Polish Literature from the Middle Ages to Positivism), Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1979, ISBN 83-01-00201-8.
  • Wuest, Hans Werner (2001). Frédéric Chopin, Briefe und Zeitzeugnisse. Cologne:

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