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Frederic Chopin Biography

Frederic Chopin Biography

Frédéric-François Chopin (March 1, 1810 - October 17, 1849) is widely seen as the greatest of Polish composers and an outstanding pianist as well.

Chopin was Born in Zelazowa Wola in central Poland to a French father and Polish mother. Chopin started his musical education in 1816, and he composed his first work in 1817, and Chopin made his first appearance on stage in 1818. Chopin studied music first with Joseph Elsner, and after 1826 in the Musical School in Warsaw. In 1830 Chopin left Poland for France and lived the rest of his life in Paris, where he died of tuberculosis in 1849. Chopin was companion to novelist George Sand for ten years, but she left him when Chopin got tuberculosis, and he died soon after that. His friends were Franz Liszt and Vincenzo Bellini (beside whom he is buried in the Père Lachaise).

Although Chopin is buried in Paris, his heart is entombed in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, Poland.

Chopin's music belongs to the Romantic period of classical music.

He made his debut in 1818, playing a concerto by Gyrowetz. In 1824 Chopin entered the Warsaw Conservatory; the following year saw the publication of his Rondo in C minor, Op.1. He premiered his own F minor and E minor Concerti in Warsaw in March and October of 1830. Late in that same year, Chopin left Poland forever. Chopin lived and performed in Vienna for eight months and in 1831 arrived in Paris, where he played his F minor Concerto and the La' ci darem Variations early in 1832. After 1835, his appearances as a concert pianist were infrequent. In 1837 he entered into his celebrated liaison with the writer George Sand, which ended in 1846. His main source of income was teaching. He gave his last recital in Paris early in 1848, and later that year arrived in Great Britain. He died in Paris in 1849. At his funeral, which was held at the Madeleine, Mozart's Requiem was given. He is buried at Pere-Lachaise, where, according to legend, there has never been a day when flowers were not placed on his grave.

Chopin spent most of the first twenty years of his life in Warsaw. The Polish capital was rather provincial; still he was able to hear many of the best artists of the time perform there. Italian opera and singing in general had an indelible effect on him, through the performances of such great singers as Angelica Catalani. Long before Liszt heard Paganini, Chopin was learning from his violinistic feats.

Hummel, too, played in Warsaw, and his tentative Romanticism and richly ornamented keyboard layout ignited Chopin's precocious genius. Other influences during his adolescence included Spohr's then strangely exotic chromaticism, Field's fragrant nocturnes, and the mysteriousness of Weber. Of equal importance were the dance forms of his homeland. From the age of eight, Chopin occupied himself with them, haunted by their rhythms, dreaming of an idealized Poland. The last page of music he wrote was a mazurka.

As a pianist, Chopin was left to develop on his own. Warsaw had no piano teachers of importance, and Chopin's instruction was given over to a local violinist, Adalbert Zywny. Awestruck by his pupil's talents, he let Chopin sprout his own unique wings. To his credit, he instilled in him a love for Bach and Mozart, the only masters whom Chopin admired without reservation. There was also the fatherly guidance of his composition teacher Josef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, who understood him and nourished him without too many strictures. When the twentyone-year-old Chopin arrived in Paris, Chopin was momentarily dazed by the old-fashioned perfection of Kalkbrenner, who tried to convince him to enter upon a three-year course of study with him. Opinions on the matter roared back to him from Warsaw: the pianist Maria Szymanowska screamed, "He is a scoundrel. His real aim is to cramp his genius." Elsner, too, quickly realized that "they have recognized genius in Frederic and are already frightened that he will outstrip them, so they want to keep their hands on him for three years in order to hold back something of that which nature herself might push forward."

Indeed, Chopin was a new and freer pianist, free from the conventional discipline of stiff bodily action. And his music was entirely new, demanding novel forms of hand coordination. Schumann was the first to understand this, ending his review of the Variations on "La ci darem la mano," Op. 2, with the now-celebrated line: "Hats off, gentlemen. A genius!" Chopin was well aware of his own originality. At nineteen, he announced to a friend the creation of his Etudes: "I have written a big technical exercise in my own special manner." These would soon be known as his Twenty-four Etudes, Opp. 10 and 25. When first composed, they offered severe stumbling blocks to older players of the day. The German critic Ludwig Rellstab advised, "Those who have distorted fingers may put them right by practicing these studies; but those who have not, should not play them, at least, not without having a surgeon at hand." But the Chopin Etudes have come to rule the world of piano playing, forming an encyclopedic methodology, a summary of Chopin's enlarged vision of piano technique. They provide the equipment for the rest of Chopin's almost invariably difficult music, and give the key to music after Chopin. If only one set of piano etudes were to be preserved, these would be the unanimous choice. They contain all that Clementi, Cramer, Czerny, Berger, Moscheles, Hummel, Steibelt, and others were striving for technically, couched in music of incomparable beauty. They are a challenge for every generation of pianists, and few can feel equally comforTABLE in all. They are small in form; as each develops a single technical idea, they demand an enormous endurance, while musically they are as exposed as Mozartian writing.

Chopin was one of the most original harmonists in history, creating an exquisite chromatic garden. "Chopin's chromaticism," wrote Gerald Abraham, "marks a stage of the greatest importance in the evolution of the harmonic language. . . . ". He was the first composer seriously to undermine the solid system of diatonic tonalism created by the Viennese classical masters and the contemporaries in other countries." As a creator of ornamental fioritura, he is without equal in the nineteenth century. Chopin displayed an almost inexhaustible resource in discovering pianistic formations that are uniquely suited to the instrument. To transcribe Chopin or to change the medium in any way destroys the music's evocative power, more than with any other composer. It was born for the piano. Chopin extended the scope of the left hand to such a degree that it constitutes a miracle of imagination. Finally the entire range of the instrument was available for exploration. Just compare a Mozartian Alberti bass or a Field nocturne with a late Chopin nocturne. With Chopin, the impossible was achieved-singing upon the piano. The instrument was suddenly capable of iridescent and shimmering tone, where the pedal counts for all. It was widely noted how Chopin's feet were in constant motion. He was probably the first pianist to consistently use half and quarter pedaling. Never had music been capable of such fluidity, such palpitation, such atmospheric effect.

Hearing Chopin play the A-flat Etude Op. 25, No.1, Schumann imagined "an Aeolian harp that had all the scales, and these were intermingled by the hand of the artist into all sorts of fantastic embellishments. It was rather an undulation brought out more loudly here and there with the pedal, all gorgeously entangled in the harmony."

Chopin's influence, pianistically and harmonically, spans two centuries, from Liszt to Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, to Debussy, Granados, and Szymanowski. His mazurkas and polonaises let loose the flood tide of ethnicity in music, which is having an impact even today. This delicate, ethereal being created, in the words of George Sand, "a revolution in the language of music and with only one instrument."

Chopin was consumptive, becoming more frail year by year. He scaled down his playing as a result, developing dozens of gradations of soft sounds. How he envied Liszt his power. Naturally he had a horror of large halls, and late in life he begged his friend, the Irish pianist George Osborne, not to attend a recital he had to give in Scotland. "My playmg," he told him, "will be lost in such a large room, and my compositions will be ineffective." Nevertheless, his pupil Georges Mathias attested, "What power! Yes, what power, but it lasted a few bars; and what exaltation and inspiration! The man's whole BODY vibrated."

Chopin's technique was flawless, and he always caused great excitement with the evenness of his scales and the careful manipulation of his legato. The pianist-writer Wilhelm von Lenz noticed him "changing his fingers on a key as often as an organ player."

The chief characteristic of Chopin's playing was his highly personal and wayward use of tempo rubato. In Chopin's view of this device, "the left hand is the conductor; it must not waver or lose ground; do with the right hand what you will and can." (Liszt's description of the much-discussed tempo rubato is more pictorial: "Do you see those trees? The wind plays in the leaves, life unfolds and develops beneath them, but the tree remains.") When Meyerbeer insisted that Chopin played his own mazurka in 4/4 time instead of 3/4, Chopin was furious and hotly denied it. Yet when his trusted friend Charles Halle' pointed it out to him, the Pole slyly called the rhythmic aberration a national trait. Berlioz, too, said that Chopin simply could not play in time. In truth, however, the freedom of his playing and his music was not fully understood. The Classicist Ignaz Moscheles, whose playing Chopin called "frightfully Baroque," could not understand Chopin's music until he heard him play it. Moscheles then confessed, "The harsh modulations which strike me disagreeably when I am playing his compositions no longer shock me, because he glides over them in a fairylike way with his delicate fingers.

Chopin's piano music remains the most frequently played in history. He is one of the few universal masters, and has never suffered an eclipse. Almost every note he wrote is in the permanent repertoire. Arthur Rubinstein confirmed: "When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall, there is a happy sign of recognition. All over the world men and women know his music. They love it; they are moved by it. Yet it is not Romantic music in the Byronic sense. It does not tell stories or paint pictures. It is expressive and personal, but still a pure art."

Anton Rubinstein called him "the Piano Bard, the Piano Rhapsodist, the Piano Mind, and the Piano Soul," declaring that "whether the spirit of the instrument breathed upon him, I do not know . . . but all possible expressions are found in his compositions, and are all sung by him upon this instrument." The world rightly knows Chopin as "the poet of the piano." Indeed, the instrument's very prestige would be in jeopardy without his contribution. His works, almost all for the piano, include:

58 mazurkas

19 waltzes

17 polonaises

21 nocturnes

4 ballades

4 scherzos

2 fantasies (if you include the Fantasie-Impromptu)

26 preludes

27 etudes

4 impromptus

3 ecossaises

2 bourrees

1 bolero

1 fugue

3 sonatas for solo piano

2 concertos for piano and orchestra

1 sonata for cello and piano

2 other works for cello and piano

1 piano trio for violin, cello and piano

16 songs for soprano(?) and piano

In commemoration of the genius of Chopin there is a piano contest held in Warsaw every five years.

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