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Chopin, Frédéric (-François)(actually, Fryderyk Franciszek)

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Chopin, Frédéric (-François)(actually, Fryderyk Franciszek), greatly renowned Polish composer, incomparable genius of the piano who created a unique romantic style of keyboard music; b. Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, in all probability on March 1, 1810, the date given by Chopin himself in his letter of acceptance of membership in the Polish Literary Soc. in Paris in 1833 (but in his certificate of baptism the date of birth is given as Feb. 22, 1810); d. Paris, Oct. 17, 1849. His father, Nicolas Chopin, was a native of Marainville, France, who went to Warsaw as a teacher of French; his mother, Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska, was Polish. Chopin’s talent was manifested in early childhood; at the age of eight, he played in public a piano concerto by Gyrowetz, and he had already begun to compose polonaises, mazurkas, and waltzes. He received his primary musical instruction from the Bohemian pianist Adalbert ywny, who resided in Warsaw at the time. A much more important teacher was Joseph Eisner, director of the Warsaw School of Music, who gave him a thorough instruction in music theory and form. Chopin was 15 years old when his Rondo for Piano was publ, in Warsaw as op.l. In the summer of 1829 he set out for Vienna, where he gave highly successful concerts on Aug. 11 and Aug. 18, 1829. While in Vienna, he made arrangements to have his variations on Mozart’s aria Là ci darem la mano, for Piano and Orch., publ, by Haslinger as op.2. It was this work that attracted the attention of Schumann, who saluted Chopin in his famous article publ, in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of Dec. 7, 1831, in which Schumann’s alter ego, Eusebius, is represented as exclaiming, “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!” The common assumption in many biographies that Schumann “launched” Chopin on his career is deceptive; actually Schumann was some months younger than Chopin, and was referred to editorially merely as a student of Prof. Wieck. Returning to Warsaw, Chopin gave the first public performance of his Piano Concerto in F minor, op.21, on March 17, 1830. On Oct. 11, 1830, he was soloist in his Piano Concerto in E minor, op.11. A confusion resulted in the usual listing of the E-minor Concerto as first, and the F-minor Concerto as his second; chronologically, the composition of the F-minor Concerto preceded the E-minor. He spent the winter of 1830–31 in Vienna. The Polish rebellion against Russian domination, which ended in defeat, determined Chopin’s further course of action, and he proceeded to Paris, visiting Linz, Salzburg, Dresden, and Stuttgart on the way. He arrived in Paris in Sept. 1831, and was introduced to Rossini, Cherubini, and Paër. He also met Bellini, Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Victor Hugo, and Heinrich Heine; he became particularly friendly with Liszt. Paris was then the center of Polish emigration, and Chopin maintained his contacts with the Polish circle there. He presented his first Paris concert on Feb. 26, 1832. He also taught the piano. The Paris critics found an apt Shakespearean epithet for him, calling him “the Ariel of the piano.” In 1834 he went with Hiller to Germany, where he met Mendelssohn and Clara and Robert Schumann. In July 1837 he went with Pleyel to London. In 1836 he met the famous novelist Aurore Dupin (Mme. Dudevant), who publ, her works under the affected masculine English name George Sand. They became intimate, even though quite incompatible in character and interests. Sand was involved in social affairs and held radical views; Chopin was a poet confined within his inner world; it has been said that she was the masculine and he the feminine partner in their companionship. In the winter of 1838–39, Chopin accompanied Sand to the island of Majorca, where she attended to him with total devotion; yet she portrayed him in her novel Lucrézia Floriani as a weakling. Indeed, she was quite overt in her reference to him as a lover; in a personal letter dated 1838 she said that she had difficulty in inducing him to submit to a sensual embrace, and implied that she lived as an immaculate virgin most of the time they were together. They parted in 1847; by that time he was quite ill with tuberculosis; a daguerreotype taken of him represents a prematurely aged man with facial features showing sickness and exhaustion, with locks of black hair partly covering his forehead. Yet he continued his concert career. He undertook a tour as pianist in England and Scotland in 1848; he gave his last concert in Paris on Feb. 16, 1848. La Revue et Gazette Musicale of Feb. 20, 1848, gives a precious account of the occasion: “The finest flower of feminine aristocracy in the most elegant attire filled the Salle Pleyel,” the paper reported, “to catch this musical sylph on the wing.” Chopin played his last concert in London, a benefit for Polish émigrés, on Nov. 16, 1848. He died the following year; Mozart’s Requiem was performed at Chopin’s funeral at the Madeleine, with Habeneck conducting the orch. and chorus of the Paris Cons, and Pauline Viardot and Lablache singing the solo parts. He was buried at Père Lachaise between the graves of Cherubini and Bellini; however, at his own request, his heart was sent to Warsaw for entombment in his homeland.

Chopin represents the full liberation of the piano from traditional orch. and choral influences, the authoritative assumption of its role as a solo instrument. Not seeking “orchestrar” sonorities, he may have paled as a virtuoso beside the titanic Liszt, but the poesy of his pianism, its fervor of expression, the pervading melancholy in his nocturnes and ballades, and the bounding exultation of his scherzos and études were never equaled. And, from a purely technical standpoint, Chopin’s figurations and bold modulatory transitions seem to presage the elaborate transtonal developments of modern music.

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