Frederic Francois Chopin was born in Zelazowa-Wola, near Warsaw, Poland. No one is exactly sure about his birth date; he was born on February 22 or March 1, 1810. He was very gifted when it came to music and was playing the piano in public by the time he was eight years old. Soon after that he was composing music! When he was about sixteen, he studied at the Warsaw Conservatory and went to school there from 1826 to 1829. He left Poland in 1830 and settled in Paris in 1831. He lived in Paris for the rest of his life, except for some traveling. There he became well known in the fashionable salons, even though he barely ever performed in public.
The first person that Chopin fell in love with was Maria Wodzinski. He had known her family since his childhood and fell in love with Maria in 1835 when she was sixteen. He proposed to Maria, but her family did not want them to get married, probably because of his chronic illness.
In 1836, the composer Franz Liszt introduced Chopin to Mrs. Aurore Dudevant, a French novelist whose writing name was George Sand. After meeting her, he said, "I have met a great celebrity, Madame Dudevant, known as George Sand... Her appearance is not to my liking. Indeed there is something about her which positively repels me... What an unattractive person La Sand is... Is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it." His first impression of her must not have lasted, because he had a famous love affair with her, starting in 1837. Their relationship was very tragic and was the most influential and devastating development in his life. They went to the Mediterranean Island of Majorca for the winter of 1838 to 1839. The bad weather he experienced at Majorca weakened his already failing health. The most intense of his piano pieces were composed during the nine years that he lived with George Sand. During this time he was seriously ill with tuberculosis so she nursed him and for a short time he regained his health. Their affair ended in 1846 when they had a big disagreement, one of the last of the many quarrels they had over the years.
It is strange that Chopin did not dedicate any of his published works to either of the two known loves of his life, Maria Wodzinski and George Sand. During his courtship with Maria he dedicated a manuscript of the Waltz, Op. 69, No. 1 to her, but this work was not published until after his lifetime. Of course, he never hesitated to dedicate the exact same work to other women in later years. When Chopin lived with Sand, it was common knowledge among members of high society in Paris. Chopin probably felt that a public dedication to Sand would not be acceptable to Parisian society.
Chopin is one of the masters of piano composition. Not many people now understand what types of music he played by just reading about it, because they don’t know what the words mean. For his solo piano works he wrote three sonatas, four ballades, four large-scale sherzos, about forty mazurkas, and about fifteen polonaises. Sonatas are composed having three or four movements in different forms. A ballade does not have a strict formal design like most instrumental compositions. Chopin’s mazurkas are music for a lively Polish folk dance written in ѕ time and his polonaises are also in ѕ time. A polonaise is a slow and stately dance where there is a promenade march of couples.
For his other solo works there are more names of music that many people in the present may have never heard of. He wrote over twenty-five etudes, eighteen waltzes, a barcarole, a berceuse, a bolero, a fantasie, a tarantella, and several rondos. An etude is a piece of music that is intended to develop skill in technique, like a practice piece; Chopin composed his etudes with artistic imagination so that it could be performed in public concerts showing good taste or artistic value. The barcarole is very interesting because it imitates a boat song with a lively and cheerful rhythm, sung by the gondoliers or boaters in Venice. A berceuse is composed with the qualities of a lullaby. A bolero is for a lively Spanish dance in triple time and seems like a lot of fun. A fantasie had no strict form so Chopin must have composed it however he liked. The tarantella is the music for a rapid Italian folk dance which was originally in 4/4 time, now usually in 6/8 time. The dance was performed by a couple twirling rapidly and was once thought to be a cure for tarantism, a nervous disorder characterized by a large impulse to dance. The rondo has one main theme and after the introduction of each sub-theme, returns back to the main theme.
Chopin was a very creative musician because of the wide variety of music that he made. The Slavic folk harmonies and rhythms show his connections with Poland. He has a lot of Polish nationalism but his music has just as much French or other international styles as Polish. Since he was a nineteenth century composer and in the Romantic era, his music had more emotion. He loved soaring melodies and the how his right hand played like it was singing. He had a great ability to take traditional forms of music and infuse them together in an intimate and intensely emotional way.
Chopin also taught piano from 1832 to 1849, after he had settled in Paris. He divided his time equally between teaching and composing, swapping from summer to winter for each. For six months out of the year, Chopin would have five students a day on average. He would teach from early morning to half of the afternoon, spending about forty-five minutes to an hour with each student. Sometimes the lessons would last for several hours straight to instruct gifted students that he really liked. Some people would have one class a week, and a lot of times two or three, depending whether Chopin was available or how much they could afford to pay. Chopin’s lessons were in great demand and expensive, but sometimes he would offer them nearly free or he would offer a lot of extra lessons. He had about 150 students, but many people that claimed to have been taught by Chopin may have only received advice or claim that to look good, so the real amount was most likely a lot smaller. The students he taught came from all over Europe: France, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Bohemia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, and Norway.
Chopin only gave about thirty public performances in his lifetime and all of his other performances were for small private audiences. The money from teaching was his main income, for only six or seven of his public concerts in Paris or Scotland made a good enough profit. His fame comes almost entirely from more than two hundred of his solo piano compositions. He not only did piano, but also wrote several for the orchestra and chamber music for small groups of instruments.
One of Chopin’s works that everyone has heard at least once is Funeral March. It was written for pianoforte in B flat minor in piano Sonata Op. 35, No. 2. It was composed in 1837 and is a very depressing but good song and it has the perfect title. It has been used for many movies in scenes where a character is about to be executed.
Two years before Chopin’s death, his relationship with George Sand had completely fallen apart. After this, his only musical activity was giving concerts in 1848 in France, Scotland, and England. He was so heartbroken at the loss of her that she was said to be the cause of his death. Even though he continued to compose, he became increasingly ill and was eventually too sick to work. He died suddenly on October 17, 1849 at the age of thirty-nine. He was buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It is sad that Chopin’s career was cut short and no one will ever know what masterpieces he may have created if he had lived longer. Many of the people in Paris that supported him during that time felt this way too.
1. “Chopin, Frederic (Francois) (1810-1849)”.Webster’s Interactive Encyclopedia, c 1997
2. “Chopin, Frederic Francois”. World Book Encyclopedia, c 1970
3. “Chopin the Teacher”.
4. “Classical Composers: Frederick Chopin”.
5. “Fryderyk Chopin: Poet of the Piano”.
6. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, c 1993.
7. “The Unofficial Frederic Chopin Homepage”.
8. World Book Dictionary, c 1970