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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Frédéric Chopin

He was born on March 1, 1810 as Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin (1810-1849) in a manor house in a village Zelazowa Wola, 36 miles from Warsaw, Poland.

Chopin's Żelazowa Wola birthplace. By Wojsyl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons

Chopin was born to Mikołaj (Nicolas) Chopin, a Polonized French teacher and to his Polish mother, Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska.

A precocious child, Chopin began piano lessons at the age of six. At the age of 7, he was already the author of two polonaises (in G minor and B-flat major), the first being published in the engraving workshop of Father Cybulski.

Chopin also began giving public charity concerts at the age of seven.  At one concert, he is said to have been asked what he thought the audience liked best. Chopin replied, "My [shirt] collar."

The prodigy was featured in the Warsaw newspapers, and "little Chopin" became the attraction at receptions given in the aristocratic salons of the capital.

His first piano lessons were given to him by the violinist Wojciech Żywny (born 1756 in Bohemia). They 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.

From 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, where his father was a professor.

In the autumn of 1826, Chopin began studying music theory, figured bass, and composition with the composer Józef Elsner (born 1769 in Silesia) at the Warsaw Conservatory.

When 17-year-old Chopin graduated from the Warsaw Conservatorie, he was recognised as the leading pianist of Warsaw and a talented composer.

In 1831 Chopin left Poland for Vienna, where he found the Viennese just wanted to waltz. They weren't interested in his sort of piano music so he composed some Viennese Whirls (waltzes) himself.

Chopin soon moved to Paris, where he gave lessons to French and Polish members of the aristocracy, performed some recitals and played for piano parties.

The Russian capture of Warsaw occurred whilst Chopin was on tour and persuaded him to stay in Paris. He reacted to the capture of Warsaw by the Russians in the form of a fever and nervous crisis.

Chopin composed Étude Op. 10, No. 3 shortly after he moved to Paris.  It is highly regarded as a manifestation of Chopin's love for his home country of Poland. In later years one of Chopin's pupils, Adolf Gutman, reported that during a class, while he was demonstrating this piece, the composer broke down in tears crying "Oh my homeland!"

Because audiences only saw one side of his face during a piano recital, Chopin would sometimes shave only one side.

Chopin was very fastidious especially regarding the physical appearances of his manuscripts. Once he lent a score to a friend who wore white gloves to turn the pages and returned it without a mark. Chopin opened it and grimaced with displeasure. "My dear fellow, you were smoking when you read it."

Count Wincenty Wodzinski was against Chopin's engagement to his 17-year-old daughter Maria declaring him sickly and ambitious and from low origins. The composer didn't put up a fight, he simply tied Maria's letters together with a ribbon labelled the bundle "Moj Bieda (My Sorrow) and kept it until his death.

Chopin at 25, by his fiancée Maria Wodzińska, 1835

Chopin was good friends with Liszt and also got on well with Victor Hugo and Rossini.

In 1836 Chopin was introduced by Liszt to French romantic writer George Sand (real name Aurore Lucie Dupuin)  at a party hosted by Countess Marie d'Agoult, mistress of fellow composer Franz Liszt. The composer did not first consider her attractive. "Something about her repels me," he said to his family but they eventually started a relationship.

Less than 5ft tall, the dark haired Sand was notorious for wearing trousers, smoking cigars and taking a man's name. She called Chopin “Fryk-Fryk” & “Chip Chip”.

In the winter of 1838/39 Chopin was taken by George Sand to Majorca for his heath. Unfortunately the weather was terrible and they lived in unheated peasant huts and the then-abandoned (and equally cold) Valldemossa monastery.  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.

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.

Chopin had a duel with George Sand's former lover Mallefille over the romantic author. Such was the stress for the composer that he fainted before he could fire a shot.

When composing his Waltz no 3 in F Major, Chopin's cat ran across the keys of the piano in a way which inspired "The Cat's Waltz. He also composed a Dog Waltz after watching George Sand's pet chase its tail in circles.

The Minute Waltz, Chopin's Waltz in D Flat Opus 64 no 1 actually lasts a minute-and-a-half. Chopin called it The Little Dog Waltz. The tune’s modern nickname was invented by Chopin’s publishers. As minute (pronounced ‘my-newt’) means very small, it simply refers to the fact that the piece is very short.

The world record speed for playing Chopin’s Minute Waltz is 52 seconds.

Chopin's Black Key Etude in G Flat Opus 10 no 5 is the only composition of its kind. It is played almost entirely on the black piano pieces with only one white note in the whole piece.

Sand's correspondence suggests that Chopin was asexual; that is, that he had no inclination to have sexual relations with anyone, male or female. Even so, his relationship with Sand lasted until 1847 when they broke up after arguments over Sand's children Maurice and Solange.

George Sand had nursed Chopin since he was stricken by tuberculosis in 1838. After their split a combination of depression and reduced finances on top of his tuberculosis made the Polish composer very ill indeed.

Chopin's habit of drifting off and hallucinating at the piano was interpreted by George Sand as "the manifestation of a genius full of sentiment and expression." But in a new study, Spanish doctors said Chopin's hallucinations may have been due to a temporal lobe epilepsy rather than the result of any sweeping artistic tendencies.

Chopin had a wretched physique and an aquiline nose, but was considered good looking. He was romantically pale due to tuberculosis.

Chopin made a concert tour of England and Scotland in 1848. In just over six months in Britain, he gave more concerts in his last months than he had in the previous ten years in Paris.

Whilst staying at 4 St James Palace, London for a month, Chopin gave the last public concert of his life at a Grand Ball held at the Guildhall in aid of Polish refugees on November 16, 1848. Much of the audience stayed in the bar. On his return to Paris, he fell ill with tuberculosis.

Chopin died on October 17, 1849 of tuberculosis in a house on the Square Place Vendome, Paris, surrounded by his friends including the painter Delacroux but not George Sand. His last request was to have Polish soil sprinkled over his grave.

Photograph of Chopin by Bisson, c. 1849 

Chopin had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral, which was held at the Church of the Madeleine and was attended by nearly three thousand people. 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 two weeks while the matter raged, the church finally relenting and granting Chopin's final wish.

Chopin's own Funeral March was performed at the graveside during his own burial at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Chopin's shrine is in his home village. There is a stone figure of him beneath a willow by a pond in the Lazienki Park.

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

Chopin only wrote 47 pieces (21 hours of music) in 26 years of composing

Sources Book of Lists 2Chronicle of the World, The Faber Book of

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