Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Prominent Poles

Fryderyk Chopin (aka Fryderyk Szopen aka Frederic-Francois Chopin), composer

Portrait of Fryderyk Chopin, composer

Born: February 22, 1810, Zelazowa Wola, Duchy of Warsaw (presently Poland)

Died: October 17, 1849, Paris, France  

Early days. His father Mikołaj (Nicolas) Chopin, a polonized Frenchman, was employed as a tutor in the Count Skarbek’s manor-house in Zelazowa Wola where his Polish mother, Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska, an attorney’s daughter, was a housekeeper. Several months after his birth, the whole family (Fryderyk Chopin had three sisters) moved to Warsaw, where Mikolaj Chopin was offered the post of French language and literature lecturer in the Warsaw Lyceum. He also ran a boarding school for sons of the gentry. The musical talent of Fryderyk became apparent extremely early on, and it was compared with the childhood genius of Mozart. Already at the age of 7, Fryderyk was the author of two polonaises (in G minor and B flat major), the first being published in the engraving workshop of Father Cybulski. The prodigy was featured in the Warsaw newspapers, and "little Chopin" became the attraction and ornament of receptions given in the aristocratic salons of the capital. He also began giving public charity concerts.

Formative Years. His first professional piano lessons, given to him by the violinist Wojciech Żywny lasted from 1816 to 1822, when the teacher was no longer able to give any more help to the pupil whose skills surpassed his own. Zywny taught the boy the work of classical composers Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but with an ear open and sympathetic to the individualism infiltrating the music of a dawning Romantic Period. Artistically, this period represented an era dedicated to the creation of ideas and impressions, beauty, imagination and sentiment. The music synonymous with this time was intensely personal and emotional. Emphases were placed on color, tone, and dynamics, a rather impressive outbreak from the "follow the rules" Classical Period with its focus on structure and form. Wojciech Zywny's tutelage influenced the young Chopin perhaps immeasurably, as Chopin's compositions were romantically expressive and emotional, yet defined by a purity derived from the Classical Period before him. • The further development of Chopin's talent was supervised by Wilhelm Würfel. This renowned pianist and professor at the Warsaw Conservatory gave Chopin valuable (although irregular) lessons in playing organ, and possibly piano. From 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where his father was a professor. He spent his summer holidays in estates belonging to the parents of his school friends in various parts of the country. For example, he twice visited Szafarnia in the Kujawy region where he revealed a particular interest in folk music and country traditions. The young composer listened to and noted down the texts of folk songs, took part in peasant weddings and harvest festivities, danced, and played a folk instrument resembling a double bass with the village musicians; all of which he described in his letters. Chopin became well acquainted with the folk music of the Polish plains in its authentic form, with its distinct tonality, richness of rhythms and dance vigor. In the autumn of 1826, Chopin began studying the theory of music, figured bass and composition at the Warsaw School of Music, which was both part of the Conservatory and, at the same time, connected with Warsaw University. Its head was the composer Jozef Elsner. Chopin, however, did not attend the piano class. Aware of the exceptional nature of Chopin's talent, Elsner allowed him, in accordance with his personality and temperament, to concentrate on piano music but was unbending as regards theoretical subjects, in particular counterpoint. Chopin, endowed by nature with magnificent melodic invention, ease of free improvisation and an inclination towards brilliant effects and perfect harmony, gained in Elsner's school a solid grounding, discipline, and precision of construction, as well as an understanding of the meaning and logic of each note. This was the period of the first extended works such as the Sonata in C minor, Variations, op. 2 on a theme from Don Juan by Mozart, the Rondo ŕ la Krakowiak, op. 14, the Fantaisie, op. 13 on Polish Airs (the three last ones written for piano and orchestra) and the Trio in G minor, op. 8 for piano, violin and cello. After the third year of his studies Elsner wrote in a report: "Chopin, Fryderyk, third year student, amazing talent, musical genius". In July 1829 Chopin made a short excursion to Vienna. Wilhelm Würfel, who had been staying there for three years, introduced him to the musical milieu, and enabled Chopin to give two performances in the Kärtnertortheater, where, accompanied by an orchestra, he played Variations, op. 2 on a Mozart theme and the Rondo ŕ la Krakowiak, op. 14 , as well as performing improvisations. He enjoyed tremendous success with the public, and although the critics censured his performance for its small volume of sound, they acclaimed him as a genius of the piano and praised his compositions. Consequently, the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger printed the Variations on a theme from Mozart (1830). This was the first publication of a Chopin composition abroad, for up to then, his works had only been published in Warsaw. Upon his return to Warsaw, Chopin, already free from student duties, devoted himself to composition and wrote, among other pieces, two Concertos for piano and orchestra: in F minor and E minor. The first concerto was inspired to a considerable extent by the composer's feelings towards Konstancja Gladkowska, who studied singing at the Conservatory. This was also the period of the first nocturne, etudes, waltzes, mazurkas, and songs to words by Stefan Witwicki. During the last months prior to his planned longer stay abroad, Chopin gave a number of public performances, mainly in the National Theatre in Warsaw where the premičre of both concertos took place. Originally, his destination was to be Berlin, where the artist had been invited by Prince Antoni Radziwill, the governor of the Grand Duchy of Poznan, who had been appointed by the king of Prussia, and who was a long-standing admirer of Chopin's talent and who, in the autumn of 1829, was his host in Antonin. Chopin, however, ultimately chose Vienna where he wished to consolidate his earlier success and establish his reputation. On 11 October 1830, he gave a ceremonial farewell concert in the National Theatre in Warsaw, during which he played the Concerto in E minor, and K. Gladkowska sang. On 2 November 1830, together with his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin left for Austria, with the intention of going on to Italy. Several days after their arrival in Vienna, the two friends learnt about the outbreak of the uprising in Warsaw, against the subservience of the Kingdom of Poland to Russia and the presence of the Russian Tsar on the Polish throne. This was the beginning of a months-long Russo-Polish war. T. Woyciechowski returned to Warsaw to join the insurgent army, while Chopin, succumbing to the persuasion of his friend, stayed in Vienna. In low spirits and anxious about the fate of his country and family, he ceased planning the further course of his career, an attitude explained in a letter to J. Elsner: "In vain does Malfatti try to convince me that every artist is a cosmopolitan. Even if so, as an artist, I am still in my cradle, as a Pole, I am already twenty; I hope, therefore that, knowing me well, you will not chide me that so far I have not thought about the program of the concert". The performance ultimately took place on 11 June 1831, in the Kärtnerthortheater, where Chopin played the Concerto in E minor. The eight months spent in Vienna were not wasted. Strong and dramatic emotional experiences inspired the creative imagination of the composer, probably accelerating the emergence of a new, individual style, quite different from his previous brilliant style. The new works, which revealed force and passion, included the sketch of the Scherzo in B minor and, above all, the powerful Etudes from op. 10.

Career in Paris. In the autumn of 1831 Chopin arrived in Paris where he met many fellow countrymen. Following the national defeat, thousands of exiles, including participants of the armed struggle, politicians, representatives of Polish culture, such as the writer Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Romantic poets A. Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki, and the Warsaw friends of Chopin, the poets Stefan Witwicki and Bohdan Zaleski, sought refuge from the Russian occupation in a country and city which they found most friendly. Chopin made close contacts with the so-called Great Emigration, befriended its leader Prince Adam Czartoryski, and became a member of the Polish Literary Society, which he supported financially. He also attended emigré meetings, played at charity concerts held for poor emigrés, and organized similar events. In Paris, his reputation as an artist grew rapidly. Letters of recommendation which the composer brought from Vienna allowed him immediately to join the local musical milieu, which welcomed him cordially. Chopin became the friend of Liszt, Mendelssohn, Ferdinand Hiller, Berlioz and Auguste Franchomme. Later on, in 1835, in Leipzig, he also met Schumann who held his works in great esteem and wrote enthusiastic articles about the Polish composer. Upon hearing the performance of the unknown arrival from Warsaw, the great pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner, called the king of the piano, organized a concert for Chopin which took place on the 26th of February 1832 in the Salle Pleyel. The ensuing success was enormous, and he quickly became a famous musician, renowned throughout Paris. This rise to fame aroused the interest of publishers and by the summer of 1832, Chopin had signed a contract with the leading Parisian publishing firm of Schlesinger. At the same time, his compositions were published in Leipzig by Probst, and then Breitkopf, and in London by Wessel. The most important source of Chopin's income in Paris was, however, from giving lessons. He became a popular teacher among the Polish and French aristocracy and Parisian salons were his favorite place for performances. As a pianist, Chopin was ranked among the greatest artists of his epoch, such as Kalkbrenner, Liszt, Thalberg and Herz, but, in contrast to them, he disliked public performances and appeared rarely and rather unwillingly. In a friendly, intimate group of listeners he disclosed supreme artistry and the full scale of his pianistic and expressive talents. Having settled down in Paris, Chopin longed to see his family and friends and, seeking refuge against loneliness, decided to share accommodation with the physician Aleksander Hoffman, another Polish exile, and after the latter's departure from Paris, with his Warsaw friend, former insurgent and physician, Jan Matuszynski. In this situation, the composer could meet his parents only outside Poland and when in August 1835 they went to Karlsbad for a cure, Chopin soon followed. Afterwards, while in nearby Dresden, he renewed his acquaintance with the Wodzinski family. Years earlier, the three young Wodzinski sons had stayed in the boarding house managed by Mikolaj Chopin. Their younger sister, Maria, now an adolescent, showed considerable musical and artistic talent and Chopin fell in love with her and wanted to marry her and set up a family home of his own in exile. The following year, during a holiday spent together with the seventeen year-old Maria and her mother in Marienbad (modern day Márianské Lázne in the Czech Republic), and then in Dresden, he proposed and was accepted on the condition that he would take better care of his health. The engagement was unofficial, and did not end in marriage, for after a year-long "trial" period, Maria's parents, disturbed by the bad state of the health of her fiancé who was seriously ill in the winter, and especially by his irregular lifestyle, viewed him as an unsuitable partner for their daughter. Chopin found this rejection an extremely painful experience, and labelled the letters from the Wodzinski family, tied into a small bundle, "My sorrow".

Chopin and George Sand. In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d'Agoult, Chopin met the novelist Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, better known by her pseudonym as George Sand. His relationship with Sand lasted for ten years until they parted after arguments over Sand's children. A notable episode in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Majorca (1838–1839) living in unheated peasant huts and in the then-abandoned (and equally cold) Valldemossa monastery. Chopin would also later complain of having to go to great lengths to obtain a piano from Paris and of the difficulty of moving it uphill to the monastery. Chopin reflected much of the mood of this desperate time in the twenty-four préludes, Op. 28, the majority of which were written in Majorca. The weather had such a serious impact on Chopin's health and his chronic lung disease that he and George Sand were compelled to return to Paris to save his life. He survived but never recovered from this bout.

Death and Funeral. By the 1840s Chopin's health was rapidly deteriorating. He and Sand took several trips to remote locations, such as Nohant-Vic, to no avail. By 1849 most of his major works were completed and Chopin concentrated on mazurkas and nocturnes. His last work was a mazurka, in F minor. Chopin died, officially, of tuberculosis in 1849, although there is some speculation that he may have had another disease such as cystic fibrosis or emphysema due in part to autopsy findings (reported only by his sister) seemingly inconsistent with the initial diagnosis. He had a terror of being buried alive, and asked to be "cut open" to make sure he was dead. He had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral, held at the Church of the Madeleine. The Requiem has major parts for female singers but the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The funeral was delayed for almost 2 weeks while the matter raged, the church finally relenting and granting Chopin's final wish. Although Chopin is buried in the Pčre Lachaise cemetery in Paris, his heart is entombed in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw.

Music Several melodies of Chopin's have become well known; because of their unique melodic shape they are instantly memorable and easily recognized. Among these are 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 used as an iconic representation of grief. Interestingly, the Revolutionary Etude was not written with the failed Polish uprising against Russia in mind, it merely appeared at that time. The Funeral March was written for funerals, but it was not inspired by any recent personal loss of Chopin's. Other melodies have even been used as the basis of popular songs, such as the slow section of the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. 66). These pieces often rely on an intense and personalized chromaticism, as well as a melodic curve that resembles the operas of Chopin's day - the operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and especially 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: Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin's music — although the feeling was not mutual — and he took melodies from Chopin and even named a piece of his Carnaval Suite after Chopin; Franz Liszt, another great admirer of the composer, transcribed several Chopin songs for unaccompanied piano. Liszt later dedicated a movement of his "Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses" to Chopin, titling it "Funérailles" and laconically dedicating it "October 1849." The mid-section recalls, powerfully, the famous octave trio section of Chopin's Opus 53 Polonaise. Chopin had strong opinions of how his music should be performed and many common performances practices of Chopin today are at odds with his aesthetic. Arguably, some of the best records of Chopin include those by Koczalski, Friedman, Cortot, Rubinstein, Malcuzynski, Janis, Magaloff, Pollini and Zimmerman. Chopin performed his own works in concert halls but most often in his salon for friends. Only later in life, as his disease progressed, did Chopin give up public performance altogether. Several of Chopin's piano works carry with them their own technique: his préludes (Op. 28) and études (Op. 10 and 25) rapidly became standard works. They also became influential, inspiring both Liszt's Transcendental Études and Schumann's Symphonic Études. Chopin was the creator of 2 piano concertos, 55 mazurkas, 16 polonaises, 26 preludes, 27 etudes, 21 nocturnes, 4 ballads, and 4 scherzos.

Eponyms. The following have been named after the composer:
• Asteroid 3784 Chopin
• Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport (also known as Frederic Chopin International Airport)
In commemoration of the genius of Frédéric Chopin, the International Chopin Piano Competition is held in Warsaw, Poland every five years.

This article uses, among others, material from the Wikipedia article "Frederic Chopin" licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. :
with extensive additions from an article by Barbara Smolenska-Zielinska (see also there for bibliography)
Barbara Smolenska-Zielinska

Other sources:
Listen to Chopin's music!

Return to home page:
Prominent Poles