FrÃ©dÃ©ric FranÃ§ois Chopin
(1 March or 22 February 1810 â€“ 17 October 1849)
was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of French-Polish parentage. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music. Chopin was born in Å»elazowa Wola, a village in the Duchy of Warsaw. A renowned child-prodigy pianist and composer, Chopin grew up in Warsaw and completed his music education there; he composed many mature works in Warsaw before leaving Poland in 1830 at age 20, shortly before the November 1830 Uprising.
Following the Russian suppression of the Uprising, he settled in Paris as part of Poland's Great Emigration. During the remaining 19 years of his life, Chopin gave only some 30 public performances, preferring the more intimate atmosphere of the salon; he supported himself by sales of his compositions and as a piano teacher. After some romantic dalliances with Polish women, including an abortive engagement, from 1837 to 1847 he carried on a relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin. For most of his life, Chopin suffered from poor health; he died in Paris in 1849 at age 39.
The vast majority of Chopin's works are for solo piano, though he also wrote two piano concertos, a few chamber pieces and some songs to Polish texts. His piano works are often technically demanding, with an emphasis on nuance and expressive depth. Chopin invented the instrumental ballade and made major innovations to the piano sonata, mazurka, waltz, nocturne, polonaise, Ã©tude, impromptu, scherzo and prÃ©lude.
Chopin's father, Nicolas Chopin, was a Frenchman from Lorraine who immigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of sixteen. During the 1794 KoÅ›ciuszko Uprising, he served in the Warsaw municipal militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. In France he had been baptized Nicolas, but in Poland he used the Polish form of the name, MikoÅ‚aj. Though he had come from a foreign country, with time he became completely Polonized and, according to the Polish historian and archivist, ÅopaciÅ„ski, "undoubtedly considered himself a Pole."
Nicolas subsequently tutored children of the aristocracy, including the Skarbeks, whose poor relation, Justyna KrzyÅ¼anowska, he married. The wedding took place at the 16th-century parish church in BrochÃ³w on 2 June 1806. (Justyna's brother would become the father of American Union General WÅ‚odzimierz KrzyÅ¼anowski.)
Chopin was the couple's second child and only son. (The eldest child, Ludwika, was to become his first piano teacher, and several decades later was to repatriate his heart from Paris.) He was born at Å»elazowa Wola, forty-six kilometres west of Warsaw, in what was the Duchy of Warsaw. The parish baptismal record, discovered in 1892, gives his birthday as 22 February 1810, but a date one week later, 1 March, was stated by the composer and his family as his birthday; according to Chopin in a letter of 16 January 1833 to the chairman of the Polish Literary Society in Paris, he was "born 1 March 1810 at the village of Å»elazowa Wola in the Province of Mazowsze."
He was baptized on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1810, in the same BrochÃ³w church where his parents had married. The parish register cites his given names in the Latin form Fridericus Franciscus; in Polish, he was Fryderyk Franciszek. His godfather was Fryderyk Skarbek (1792â€“1866), a pupil of Nicolas Chopinâ€”later a prison reformer who would design the Pawiak Prison of World War II ill fame, and great-great-uncle of World War II SOE agent Krystyna Skarbek; the godfather's son JÃ³zef Skarbek would, in 1841, marry Chopin's erstwhile fiancÃ©e Maria WodziÅ„ska.
In October 1810, when Chopin was seven months old, the family moved to Warsaw, where his father had accepted an offer from lexicographer Samuel Linde to teach French at the Warsaw Lyceum. The school was housed in the Saxon Palace, and the Chopin family lived on the palace grounds. In 1817 Grand Duke Constantine requisitioned the Saxon Palace for military purposes, and the Lyceum was moved to the Kazimierz Palace, which also hosted the newly founded Warsaw University. The family lived in a spacious second-floor apartment in an adjacent building. Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum from 1823 to 1826.
The 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. Louis Ã‰nault, a biographer, borrowed George Sand's phrase to describe Chopin as being "more Polish than Poland".
Others in Chopin's family were musically talented. Chopin's father played the flute and violin; his mother played the piano and gave lessons to boys in the elite boarding house that the Chopins maintained. As a result Chopin became conversant with music in its various forms at an early age.
JÃ³zef Sikorski, a musician and Chopin's contemporary, recalls in his Memoirs 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 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 Czech Wojciech Å»ywny. Though the youngster's skills soon surpassed his teacher's, Chopin later spoke highly of Å»ywny. Seven-year-old "little Chopin" (Szopenek) began giving public concerts that soon prompted comparisons with Mozart as a child and with Beethoven.
That same year, seven-year old Chopin composed two Polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major. The first was published in the engraving workshop of Father Izydor JÃ³zef 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 Nicolas Chopin. These small works were said to rival not only the popular polonaises of leading Warsaw composers, but the famous Polonaises of MichaÅ‚ Kleofas OgiÅ„ski. 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 gift to Å»ywny.
About this time, at the age of eleven, Chopin performed in the presence of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, who was in Warsaw to open the Sejm (Polish Parliament).
As a child, Chopin displayed an intelligence that was said to absorb everything and utilize 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, 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 featured as a motif in the dialogues.
In the 1820s, when teenage Chopin was attending the Warsaw Lyceum and Warsaw Conservatory, he spent every vacation away from Warsaw: in Szafarnia (1824 â€“ perhaps his first solo travel away from home â€“ and 1825), Duszniki (1826), Pomerania (1827) and Sanniki (1828).
At the village of Szafarnia (where he was a guest of Juliusz Dziewanowski, father of schoolmate Dominik Dziewanowski) and at his other vacation venues, Chopin was exposed to folk melodies that he later transmuted into original compositions. His missives home from Szafarnia (the famous self-styled "Szafarnia Courier" letters), written in a very modern and lively Polish, amused his family with their spoofing of the Warsaw newspapers and demonstrated the youngster's literary gift.
An anecdote describes how Chopin helped quiet rowdy children by first improvising a story and then lulling them to sleep with a berceuse (lullaby) â€“ after which he woke everyone with an ear-piercing chord.