Born March 1, 1810, Frédéric Chopin was a child prodigy who began playing the piano without instruction at the age of five. His first professional performance was at the age of eight.
Polish born, the composer and pianist was heavily influenced by the uprising in Warsaw and the Romantic period. His early piano instructors recognized his unique technique and gave him freedom to compose and play music as he envisioned it should be, giving birth to the originality of his piano technique and works.
At the age of 21, Chopin moved to Paris, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life. While his music was in high demand, he preferred performing for smaller, intimate groups, such as salons. Because he didn’t favor large concert performances, Chopin, though highly respected and admired, struggled financially during times in his career and opted to make a living by selling his compositions and teaching piano lessons.
After becoming a French citizen in 1835, Chopin’s engagement to Maria Wodzinska failed after just one year, opening the door to a long-term relationship with female French writer, George Sand. Both Chopin’s music and life were shaped by turbulent politics and love, though he never married and his romantic relationships were troubled.
The majority of Chopin’s compositions are solely for the piano, though he did write chamber pieces and two piano concertos. His music, usually technically difficult, is famous for his keyboard style, harmony, and sensitivity. Strains of Poland folk music were integrated into his music, as well the influences of Bach and Mozart. The inventor of the instrumental ballade, his piano compositions also consisted of waltzes, mazurkas, sonatas, preludes, impromptus, nocturnes, and scherzos.
Although Chopin was greatly admired and respected as a pianist and composer, he performed professionally only 30 times in the highlight of his career. Still, more than 230 of his compositions are still played today. His music is unique, requiring independent and highly technical finger technique and oftentimes full range of the entire piano keyboard, as well as double octaves, contrasting rhythms, and grace notes.
Chopin gained the admiration of many during his career, including Jane Stirling, who helped provide his financial support when he became ill in the latter part of his life. Severely ill, Chopin’s last concert performance, which was played for Polish refugees, was held on November 16, 1848, at Guildhall in London.
Chopin died on October 17, 1849, at the age of 39. His death certificate lists tuberculosis as the cause of his demise. Stirling paid for his funeral, which was by invitation only, though more than 3,000 non-ticket holders came to pay their respects for the musician. Chopin’s body was entombed in Paris, France, at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. His heart was preserved in an urn and given to his sister, Ludwika, who returned it to his birthplace in Poland.
Chopin’s music has been played by concert pianists and musicians and his life and music have been depicted in various films and biographies. More than 1,500 of his compositions can be found on Youtube.com, including Nocturne in E Flat Major, Revolutionary Etude, Black Key Etude, Waltz in c sharp minor, Minute Waltz in D Flat Major, The Funeral March, and Fantasie-impromptu, which are among his most popular works.
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