YouTube – Frederic Chopin – Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op.9 No.2

 

Frédéric Chopin

Polish composer and pianistin full Frédéric François Chopin, Polish Fryderyk Franciszek Szopen

born March 1, 1810, Żelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, Duchy of Warsaw [now in Poland] [see Researcher’s Note] died Oct. 17, 1849, Paris, France

Main

Frédéric Chopin, oil on canvas by Eugène Delacroix, 1838.
[Credits : The Granger Collection, New York]

Polish-French composer and pianist of the Romantic period, best known for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Although he wrote little but piano works, many of them brief, Chopin ranks as one of music’s greatest tone poets by reason of his superfine imagination and fastidious craftsmanship.

Life

Chopin’s father, Nicholas, a French émigré in Poland, was employed as a tutor to various aristocratic families, including the Skarbeks, at Żelazowa Wola, one of whose poorer relations he married. When Frédéric was eight months old, Nicholas became a French teacher at the Warsaw lyceum. Chopin himself attended the lyceum from 1823 to 1826.

All the family had artistic leanings, and even in infancy Chopin was always strangely moved when listening to his mother or eldest sister playing the piano. By six he was already trying to reproduce what he heard or to make up new tunes. The following year he started piano lessons with the 61-year-old Wojciech Zywny, an all-around musician with an astute sense of values. Zywny’s simple instruction in piano playing was soon left behind by his pupil, who discovered for himself an original approach to the piano and was allowed to develop unhindered by academic rules and formal discipline.

Chopin found himself invited at an early age to play at private soirées, and at eight he made his first public appearance at a charity concert. Three years later he performed in the presence of the Russian tsar Alexander I, who was in Warsaw to open Parliament. Playing was not alone responsible for his growing reputation as a child prodigy. At seven he wrote a Polonaise in G Minor, which was printed, and soon afterward a march of his appealed to the Russian grand duke Constantine, who had it scored for his military band to play on parade. Other polonaises, mazurkas, variations, ecossaises, and a rondo followed, with the result that, when he was 16, his family enrolled him at the newly formed Warsaw Conservatory of Music. This school was directed by the Polish composer Joseph Elsner, with whom Chopin already had been studying musical theory.

No better teacher could have been found, for, while insisting on a traditional training, Elsner, as a Romantically inclined composer himself, realized that Chopin’s individual imagination must never be checked by purely academic demands. Even before he came under Elsner’s eye, Chopin had shown interest in the folk music of the Polish countryside and had received those impressions that later gave an unmistakable national colouring to his work. At the conservatory he was put through a solid course of instruction in harmony and composition; in piano playing he was allowed to develop a high degree of individuality.

Second movement, “Romanze larghetto,” of Frédéric Chopin’s …
[Credits : © Cefidom/Encyclopædia Universalis]

Despite the lively musical life of Warsaw, Chopin urgently needed wider musical experience, and so his devoted parents found the money to send him off to Vienna. After a preliminary expedition to Berlin in 1828, Chopin visited Vienna and made his performance debut there in 1829. A second concert confirmed his success, and on his return home he prepared himself for further achievements abroad by writing his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor (1829) and his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor (1830), as well as other works for piano and orchestra designed to exploit his brilliantly original piano style. His first études were also written at this time (1829–32) to enable him and others to master the technical difficulties in his new style of piano playing.

Étude in G-flat Major (“Black …
[Credits : © Cefidom/Encyclopædia Universalis]

In March and October 1830 he presented his new works to the Warsaw public and then left Poland with the intention of visiting Germany and Italy for further study. He had gone no farther than Vienna when news reached him of the Polish revolt against Russian rule; this event, added to the disturbed state of Europe, caused him to remain profitlessly in Vienna until the following July, when he decided to make his way to Paris. Soon after his arrival in what was then the centre of European culture and in the midst of its own late-flowering Romantic movement, Chopin realized that he had found the milieu in which his genius could flourish. He quickly established ties with many Polish émigrés and with a younger generation of composers, including Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz and, briefly, Vincenzo Bellini and Felix Mendelssohn. The circles to which Chopin’s talents and distinction admitted him quickly acknowledged that they had found the artist whom the moment required, and after a brief period of uncertainty Chopin settled down to the main business of his life—teaching and composing. His high income from these sources set him free from the strain of concert giving, to which he had an innate repugnance.

Excerpt from Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835) for piano, by …
[Credits : Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.]

Initially, there were problems, professional and financial. After his Paris concert debut in February 1832, Chopin realized that his extreme delicacy at the keyboard was not to everyone’s taste in larger concert spaces. But an introduction to the wealthy Rothschild banking family later that year suddenly opened up new horizons. With his elegant manners, fastidious dress, and innate sensitivity, Chopin found himself a favourite in the great houses of Paris, both as a recitalist and as a teacher. His new piano works at this time included two startlingly poetic books of études (1829–36), the Ballade in G Minor (1831–35), the Fantaisie-Impromptu (1835), and many smaller pieces, among them mazurkas and polonaises inspired by Chopin’s strong nationalist feeling.

Frédéric Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, …
[Credits : © Cefidom/Encyclopædia Universalis]

Chopin’s youthful love affairs with Constantia Gladkowska in Warsaw (1830) and Maria Wodzińska in Dresden (1835–36) had come to nothing, though he actually became engaged to the latter. In 1836 he met for the first time the free-living novelist Aurore Dudevant, better known as George Sand; their liaison began in the summer of 1838. That autumn he set off with her and her children, Maurice and Solange, to winter on the island of Majorca. They rented a simple villa and were idyllically happy until the sunny weather broke and Chopin became ill. When rumours of tuberculosis reached the villa owner, they were ordered out and could find accommodations only in a monastery in the remote village of Valldemosa.

The cold and damp, malnutrition, peasant suspiciousness of their strange ménage, and the lack of a suitable concert piano hindered Chopin’s artistic production and further weakened his precarious physical health. Indeed, the privations that Chopin endured hastened the slow decline in his health that ended with his death from tuberculosis 10 years later. Sand realized that only immediate departure would save his life. They arrived at Marseille in early March 1839, and, thanks to a skilled physician, Chopin was sufficiently recovered after just under three months for them to start planning a return to Paris.

The summer of 1839 they spent at Nohant, Sand’s country house about 180 miles (290 km) south of Paris. This period following the return from Majorca was to be the happiest and most productive of Chopin’s life, and the long summers spent at Nohant bore fruit in a succession of masterpieces. For a regular source of income, he again turned to private teaching. His method permitted great flexibility of the wrist and arm and daringly unconventional fingering in the interests of greater agility, with the production of beautiful, singing tone a prime requisite at nearly all times. There was also a growing demand for his new works, and, since he had become increasingly shrewd in his dealings with publishers, he could afford to live elegantly.

Health was a recurrent worry, and every summer Sand took him to Nohant for fresh air and relaxation. Close friends, such as Pauline Viardot and the painter Eugène Delacroix, were often invited too. Chopin produced much of his most-searching music at Nohant, not only miniatures but also extended works, such as the Fantaisie in F Minor (composed 1840–41), the Barcarolle (1845–46), the Polonaise-Fantaisie (1845–46), the ballades in A-flat major (1840–41) and F minor (1842), and the Sonata in B Minor (1844). Here, in the country, he found the peace and time to indulge an ingrained quest for perfection. He seemed particularly anxious to develop his ideas into longer and more-complex arguments, and he even sent to Paris for treatises by musicologists to strengthen his counterpoint. His harmonic vocabulary at this period also grew much more daring, though never at the cost of sensuous beauty. He valued that quality throughout life as much as he abhorred descriptive titles or any hint of an underlying “program.”

Family dissension arising from the marriage of Sand’s daughter, Solange, caused Chopin’s own relationship with Sand to become strained, and he grew increasingly moody and petulant. By 1848 the rift between him and Sand was complete, and pride prevented either from effecting the reconciliation they both actually desired. Thereafter Chopin seems to have given up his struggle with ill health.

Broken in spirit and depressed by the revolution that had broken out in Paris in February 1848, Chopin accepted an invitation to visit England and Scotland. His reception in London was enthusiastic, and he struggled through an exhausting round of lessons and appearances at fashionable parties. Chopin lacked the strength to sustain this socializing, however, and he was also unable to compose. By now his health was deteriorating rapidly, and he made his last public appearance on a concert platform at the Guildhall in London on Nov. 16, 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. He returned to Paris, where he died the following year; his body, without the heart, was buried at the cemetery of Père Lachaise (his heart was interred at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw).

Citations

MLA Style:

"Frédéric Chopin." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 01 Mar. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/114362/Frederic-Chopin>.

APA Style:

Frédéric Chopin. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 01, 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/114362/Frederic-Chopin

More from Britannica on "Frederic Chopin (Polish composer and pianist)"…

Encyclopædia Britannica articles, from the full Encyclopædia Britannica database

Frédéric Chopin

Polish-French composer and pianist of the Romantic period, best known for his solo pieces for piano and his piano concerti. Although he wrote little but piano works, many of them brief, Chopin ranks as one of music’s greatest tone poets by reason of his superfine imagination and fastidious craftsmanship.

Student Britannica Articles (Ages 11 and up) on "Frederic Chopin (Polish composer and pianist)" from the Britannica Online Student Edition

Chopin, Frédéric

(1810–49). Perhaps the greatest of all composers for the piano was Chopin. Called a “musical genius” when he was a teenager, Chopin composed a remarkable variety of brilliant pieces—warlike polonaises, elegant waltzes, romantic nocturnes, and poetic ballades and études.

Warsaw

Warsaw is Poland’s premier educational and cultural center. Among Warsaw’s institutions of higher learning are the University of Warsaw, which was founded in 1816, and the Warsaw University of Technology. The National Library, founded in 1928, has more than 7 million volumes. The Polish Academy of the Sciences, with its many affiliated research institutes, is located in Warsaw, as are the National Museum and the Zacheta Modern Art Gallery.

impromptu

In music, an instrumental composition intended to produce the illusion of improvisation is known as an impromptu. In keeping with this fundamental premise, there is no particular form associated with the impromptu, though ternary and rondo schemes are common (see Music). The style of the music is similar to that of other compositions of the period, with such designations as fantasie, caprice, and bagatelle.

More Student Britannica results…

Children’s Encyclopedia Articles (Ages 8-11) on "Frederic Chopin (Polish composer and pianist)" from the Britannica Online Student Edition

Culture(from the Warsaw article)

Warsaw is home to many museums, theaters, and musical events. The Historical Museum of Warsaw traces the history of the city including its destruction and reconstruction. Another important museum is the National Museum, which displays art from ancient to modern times. The Museum of European Painting is another place to see works of art. The Grand Theater houses an opera and two smaller theaters. In terms of music, the National Philharmonic Orchestra draws large crowds. Warsaw hosts the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition as well as the International Festival of Contemporary Music.

People and Culture(from the Poland article)

Poland was once one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe. This changed because of World War II (1939–45). Six million people were killed in Poland while Nazi Germany occupied the country, including almost the entire Jewish population of about 3 million (see Holocaust). After the war most of the Germans in Poland were forced to leave, and some of the Ukrainians moved to the Soviet Union. Today ethnic Poles make up most of Poland’s population. They speak Polish and are mostly Roman Catholic. Small numbers of Ukrainians, Germans, and Belarusians also live in the country.

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For a definition of "Frederic Chopin (Polish composer and pianist)", visit  Merriam-Webster.

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