(March 1, 1810 – October 17, 1849) was a Polish pianist and
composer. He is widely regarded as one of the most famous, influential
and admired composers for the piano.
He was born Fryderyk
Franciszek Chopin in the village of Zelazowa Wola, Poland, to a Polish
mother and French expatriate father. Hailed as a child prodigy in his
homeland, Chopin left for Paris at the age of 20. In Paris, he made
a career as a performer and teacher as well as a composer, and adopted
the French variant of his name, "Frédéric-François".
He had a turbulent 10-year relationship with the French writer George
Sand from 1837 to 1847. Always in fragile health, he succumbed to pulmonary
tuberculosis at the age of 39.
which are mainly for the piano, include his Funeral March (part of his
second piano sonata but composed long before the other parts) and the
twenty-four études and are widely considered to be among the
pinnacles of the piano repertoire. Although some of his music is among
the most technically demanding for the instrument, Chopin's style emphasizes
poetry, nuance, and expressive depth rather than mere technical display.
His works are often cited as one of the mainstays of Romanticism in
nineteenth-century classical music.
Chopin was born in Zelazowa Wola in central Poland near Sochaczew, in
the region of Masovia, which was part of the Duchy of Warsaw. He was
born to Mikolaj (Nicolas) Chopin, a Frenchman of distant Polish ancestry
who adopted Poland as his homeland when he moved there in 1787, and
married Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska, a Pole.
According to the
composer's family, Chopin was born on March 1, 1810, and he always celebrated
his birthday on this day. His baptismal certificate lists his date of
birth as February 22, but this was most likely an error on the part
of the priest (the certificate was written on 23 April, almost eight
weeks after the birth).
Frédéric François Chopin, by Ary Scheffer.The family
moved to Warsaw in October 1810. The young Chopin's musical talent was
apparent early on in his life, and in Warsaw he gained a reputation
as a "second Mozart". 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, director of the School
of Organists and one of the few music publishers in Poland. The prodigy
was featured in the Warsaw newspapers, and "little Chopin"
became the attraction at receptions given in the aristocratic salons
of the capital. He also began giving public charity concerts. At one
concert, he is said to have been asked what he thought the audience
liked best. 7-year-old Chopin replied, "My shirt collar."
He performed his first piano concert at age 8. His first professional
piano lessons, given to him by the violinist Wojciech Zywny (born 1756
in Bohemia), lasted from 1816 to 1822. Chopin later spoke highly of
Zywny, although Chopin's skills soon surpassed those of his teacher.
Warsaw flat once
occupied by Chopin.The further development of Chopin's talent was supervised
by Wilhelm Würfel (born 1791 in Bohemia). This renowned pianist,
a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory, gave Chopin valuable (although
irregular) lessons in playing organ, and possibly piano. 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. Chopin's contact with Elsner may
date to as early as 1822, and it is certain that Elsner was giving Chopin
informal guidance by 1823.
In 1829 in Warsaw,
Chopin heard Niccolò Paganini play, and he also met the German
pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. It was also back in 1829
that Chopin met his first love, a singing student named Konstancja Gladkowska.
This inspired Chopin to put the melody of the human voice into his works.
Chopin also paid his first visit to Vienna in that year, where he gave
two piano performances and received mixed notices, including many very
favourable reviews and others that criticised the small tone he produced
from the piano.
In Warsaw in December
he performed the premiere of his Piano Concerto in F minor at the Merchants'
Club. He gave the first performance of his other piano concerto, in
E minor at the National Theatre on 17 March 1830. He visited Vienna
again in 1830, playing his two piano concertos.
In Vienna, he learned
about the November Uprising and decided not to return to Poland, thus
becoming one of the émigrés of the Great Polish Emigration.
He stayed in Vienna for a few more months before visiting Munich and
Stuttgart (where he learned of Poland's occupation by the Russian army),
and arrived in Paris early in October. He had already composed a body
of important compositions, including his two piano concertos and some
of his Études Op. 10.
Career in Paris
In Paris, Chopin was introduced to some of the foremost pianists of
the day, including Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Hiller and Franz
Liszt, and he formed personal friendships with the composers Hector
Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Vincenzo Bellini
(beside whom he is buried in the Père Lachaise). His music was
already admired by many of his composer contemporaries, among them Robert
Schumann who, in his famous review of the Variations on "La ci
darem la mano", Op. 2, wrote: "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius".
From Paris, Chopin
made various visits and tours. In 1834, with Hiller, he visited a Rhenish
Music Festival at Aachen organised by Ferdinand Ries. Here Chopin and
Hiller met up with Mendelssohn and the three went on to visit Düsseldorf,
Koblenz and Cologne, enjoying each other's company and learning and
playing music together.
in several concerts during his years in Paris. The programs of these
concerts provide some idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life
during this period, such as the concert on March 23 1833 in which Chopin,
Liszt and Hiller played the solo parts in a performance of Johann Sebastian
Bach's concerto for three harpsichords, or the concert on March 3 1838
when Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Alkan's teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman
and Chopin's pupil Adolphe Gutman played Alkan's 8-hand arrangement
of Beethoven's seventh symphony.
English amateur described seeing Chopin at a salon.
Imagine a delicate
man of extreme refinement of mien and manner, sitting at the piano and
playing with no sway of the body and scarcely any movement of the arms,
depending entirely upon his narrow feminine hand and slender fingers.
The wide arpeggios in the left hand, maintained in a continuous stream
of tone by the strict legato and fine and constant use of the damper
pedal, formed a harmonious substructure for a wonderfully poetic cantabile.
His delicate pianissimo, the ever-changing modifications of tone and
time (tempo rubato) were of indescribable effect. Even in energetic
passages he scarely ever exceeded an ordinary mezzoforte.
In 1835 Chopin visited
his family in Karlsbad, whence he accompanied his parents to Decín
where they lived, and then to Warsaw. He returned to Paris via Dresden,
where he stayed for some weeks, and then Leipzig where he met up with
Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. However on the return
journey he had a severe bronchial attack - so bad that he was reported
dead in some Polish newspapers.
In 1836 Chopin was
engaged to a seventeen-year-old Polish girl named Maria Wodzinska, whose
mother insisted that the engagement be kept secret. The engagement was
called off in the following year by her family.
Chopin and George
Frédéric François Chopin as portrayed by his friend
Eugène Delacroix in 1838. Originally this painting and the George
Sand portrait (shown below) were part of a larger double portrait showing
both of them.
George Sand by Eugène Delacroix.In 1836, at a party hosted by
Countess Marie d'Agoult, mistress of fellow composer Franz Liszt, Chopin
met Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, Baroness Dudevant, better known by
her pseudonym George Sand. She was a French Romantic writer, noted for
her numerous love affairs with such prominent figures as Prosper Merimée,
Alfred de Musset (1833–34), Alexandre Manceau (1849–65),
The composer initially
did not consider her attractive. "Something about her repels me,"
he said to his family. However, in an extraordinary letter from Sand
to her friend Count Wojciech Grzymala in June 1837, she debated whether
to let Chopin go with Maria Wodzinska or whether to abandon another
affair in order to start a relationship with Chopin. Sand had strong
feelings and was attracted to Chopin, and pursued him until a relationship
A notable episode
in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Mallorca
(1838–1839), where they had problems finding habitable accommodation
and ended up lodging in the scenic, but stark and cold Valldemossa monastery.
Chopin also had problems having his Pleyel piano sent to him. It arrived
from Paris after a great delay, to be stuck at the Spanish customs who
demanded a large import duty. He could only use it for a little more
than three weeks; the rest of the time he had to compose on a rickety
rented piano to complete his Preludes (Op. 28).
During the winter,
the bad weather had such a serious impact on Chopin's health and his
chronic lung disease that, to save his life, he and George Sand were
compelled to return first to the Spanish mainland where they reached
Barcelona, and then to Marseille where they stayed for a few months
to recover. Although his health improved, he never completely recovered
from this bout. He complained about the incompetence of the doctors
in Mallorca: "The first said I was going to die; the second said
I had breathed my last; and the third said I was already dead."
Chopin spent the
summers of 1839 until 1843 at Sand's estate in Nohant. These were quiet
but productive days, during which Chopin composed many works. On his
return to Paris in 1839, he met the pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles.
In 1845 a serious
problem emerged in Chopin's relationship with Sand at the same time
as a further deterioration in Chopin's health. Their relationship was
further soured in 1846 by family problems; this was the year in which
Sand published Lucrezia Floriani, which is quite unfavourable to Chopin.
The story is about a rich actress and a prince with weak health, and
it is possible to interpret the main characters as Sand and Chopin.
The family problems finally brought an end to their relationship in
Death and funeral
Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. Chopin's bust is visible on the
left-most pillar, and is also the location of his heart.In 1848 Chopin
gave his last concert in Paris, and visited England and Scotland with
his student and admirer Jane Stirling. They reached London in November,
and, although Chopin managed to give some concerts and salon performances,
he was severely ill. He returned to Paris where in 1849 he became unable
to teach or perform. His sister Ludwika nursed him at his home in the
Place Vendôme; he died there in the small hours of October 17.
Later that morning a death mask and a cast of Chopin's hands were made.
He 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 2 weeks, until the church finally relented and granted Chopin's
final wish provided the female singers remained behind a black velvet
curtain. Also performing was the bass Luigi Lablache, who had also sung
the same work at the funerals of Beethoven and Bellini.
is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris; at his own
request, his heart was removed and dispatched in an urn to Warsaw, where
it is sealed in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross (Kosciól
Swietego Krzyza). The Père Lachaise site attracts numerous visitors
and is invariably festooned with flowers, even in the dead of winter.
Chopin's music for the piano combined a unique rhythmic sense (particularly
his use of rubato, frequent use of chromaticism, and counterpoint).
This mixture produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and
the harmony, which are nonetheless underpinned by solid and interesting
harmonic techniques. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne, invented
by Irish composer John Field, to a deeper level of sophistication, and
endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurka and the Viennese
waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression. Chopin was the
first to write Ballades (a genre he invented) and Scherzi as individual
pieces. Chopin also took the example of Bach's preludes and fugues,
transforming the genre in his own preludes.
Chopin in 1847.
Drawing by Winterhalter.Several of Chopin's melodies have become very
well known - for instance the Revolutionary Étude (Op. 10, No.
12), the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1), and the third movement of his
Funeral March sonata (Op. 35), which is often used as an iconic representation
of grief. The Revolutionary Étude was not written with the failed
Polish uprising against Russia in mind, it merely appeared at that time.
The Funeral March was written as a funereal piece, but it was not inspired
by any recent personal bereavement. Other melodies have been used as
the basis of popular songs, such as the slow section of the Fantaisie-Impromptu
(Op. 66) and the first section of the etude Op. 10 No. 3. These pieces
often rely on an intense and personalized chromaticism, as well as a
melodic curve that resembles the operas of Chopin's day - the operas
of Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and especially Bellini. Chopin
used the piano to re-create the gracefulness of the singing voice, and
talked and wrote constantly about singers.
Chopin's style and
gifts became increasingly influential: Schumann was a huge admirer of
Chopin's music — although the feeling was not mutual — and
he took melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval
after Chopin. Franz Liszt, another great admirer and personal friend
of the composer, transcribed six of Chopin's songs for piano. Liszt
later dedicated a movement of his Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses
to Chopin, titling it Funérailles and subtitling it "October
1849." The mid-section recalls powerfully the famous octave trio
section of Chopin's Polonaise, op. 53. Despite this, Liszt denied it
had been inspired by Chopin's death but by the deaths of three of Liszt's
Hungarian compatriots in the same month.
his own works in concert halls but most often in his salon for friends.
Only later in life, as his disease progressed, did Chopin give up public
innovations also became influential. His préludes (Op. 28) and
études (Op. 10 and 25) rapidly became standard works, and inspired
both Liszt's Transcendental Études and Schumann's Symphonic Études.
Alexander Scriabin was also strongly influenced by Chopin; for example,
his 24 Preludes op.11 are inspired by Chopin's Op.28.
in his biography of the composer, named a list of pianists he believed
to have made recordings of works by Chopin generally acknowledged to
be among the greatest Chopin performances ever preserved: Idil Biret,
Vladimir de Pachmann, Raoul Pugno, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Moriz Rosenthal,
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Raul Koczalski,
Arthur Rubinstein, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Claudio Arrau, Vlado Perlemuter,
Vladimir Horowitz, Dinu Lipatti, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Martha Argerich,
Maurizio Pollini, Murray Perahia, Krystian Zimerman, Evgeny Kissin.
the following about Chopin's music and its universality:
Chopin was a genius
of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences.
When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall there
is a happy sigh of recognition. All over the world men and women know
his music. They love it. They are moved by it. Yet it is not "Romantic
music" in the Byronic sense. It does not tell stories or paint
pictures. It is expressive and personal, but still a pure art. Even
in this abstract atomic age, where emotion is not fashionable, Chopin
endures. His music is the universal language of human communication.
When I play Chopin I know I speak directly to the hearts of people!
lived in the 1800s, he was educated in the tradition of Beethoven, Haydn,
Mozart and Clementi; he even used Clementi's piano method with his own
students. He was also influenced by Hummel's development of virtuoso,
yet Mozartian, piano technique. One of his students, Friederike Muller,
wrote the following in her diary about Chopin's playing style:
His playing was
always noble and beautiful; his tones sang, whether in full forte or
softest piano. He took infinite pains to teach his pupils this legato,
cantabile style of playing. His most severe criticism was "He—or
she—does not know how to join two notes together." He also
demanded the strictest adherence to rhythm. He hated all lingering and
dragging, misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos ...
and it is precisely in this respect that people make such terrible errors
in playing his works.
Chopin and Romanticism
Chopin regarded the Romantic movement with indifference, and rarely
associated himself with it directly. Even so, today Chopin's music is
considered to be the paragon of the Romantic style.
However, his music
has less of the expected trappings of Romanticism: There is a classical
purity and discretion in his music, with little Romantic exhibitionism,
personified by his reverence of Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Chopin
based the structure of his preludes on the Well-tempered Clavier of
Bach). Chopin also never indulged in 'scene painting' in his music or
affixing to his works fanciful or descriptive titles, unlike his contemporary
Robert Schumann. In addition, unlike his flamboyant contemporary Franz
Liszt, Chopin was withdrawn from public life.
Communist-era Polish banknote with ChopinSee also list of compositions
by Frédéric Chopin and category compositions by Frédéric
All of Chopin's works involve the piano, whether solo or accompanied.
They are predominantly for solo piano but include a small number of
piano ensembles with instruments including a second piano, violin, cello,
voice, and orchestra.
His larger scale
works such as the four ballades, the four scherzos, the barcarolle op.
60, the fantaisie op. 49, and sonatas have cemented a solid place within
the repertoire, as well as shorter works like his impromptus, mazurkas,
nocturnes, waltzes and polonaises. Two important collections are the
24 Preludes Op. 28, based loosely on Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, and
the études Op. 10 and Op. 25, which are a staple of that genre
two of the romantic piano concerto repertoire's most often-performed
examples, his Opp. 11 and 21. In addition, he wrote several song settings
of Polish texts, and chamber pieces including a piano trio and a sonata
for cello and piano.
Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist, was born on 1 March 1810, according
to the statements of the artist himself and his family, but according
to his baptismal certificate, which was written several weeks after
his birth, the date was 22 February. His birthplace was the village
of Zelazowa Wola near Sochaczew, in the region of Mazovia, which was
part of the Duchy of Warsaw. The manor-house in Zelazowa Wola belonged
to Count Skarbek and Chopin's father, Mikolaj (Nicolas) Chopin, a Polonized
Frenchman, was employed there as a tutor. He had been born in 1771 in
Marainville in the province of Lorraine in France, but already as a
child he had established contacts with the Polish families of Count
Michal Pac and the manager of his estate, Jan Adam Weydlich. At the
age of 16, Mikolaj accompanied them to Poland where he settled down
permanently. He never returned to France and did not retain contacts
with his French family but brought up his children as Poles.
In 1806, Mikolaj
Chopin married Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska, who was the housekeeper for
the Skarbek family at Zelazowa Wola. They had four children: three daughters:
Ludwika, Izabela and Emilia, and a son Fryderyk, the second child. Several
months after his birth, the whole family moved to Warsaw, where Mikolaj
Chopin was offered the post of French language and literature lecturer
in the Warsaw Lyceum. He also ran a boarding school for sons of the
The musical talent
of Fryderyk became apparent extremely early on, and it was compared
with the childhood genius of Mozart. Already at the age of 7, Fryderyk
was the author of two polonaises (in G minor and B flat major), the
first being published in the engraving workshop of Father Cybulski.
The prodigy was featured in the Warsaw newspapers, and "little
Chopin" became the attraction and ornament of receptions given
in the aristocratic salons of the capital. He also began giving public
charity concerts. His first professional piano lessons, given to him
by Wojciech Zywny (b. 1756 in Bohemia), 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. The further development of Fryderyk's talent
was supervised by Wilhelm Würfel (b.1791 in Bohemia), the renowned
pianist and professor at the Warsaw Conservatory who was to offer valuable,
although irregular, advice as regards playing the piano and organ.
From 1823 to 1826,
Fryderyk attended the Warsaw Lyceum where his father was one of the
professors. He spent his summer holidays in estates belonging to the
parents of his school friends in various parts of the country. For example,
he twice visited Szafarnia in the Kujawy region where he revealed a
particular interest in folk music and country traditions. The young
composer listened to and noted down the texts of folk songs, took part
in peasant weddings and harvest festivities, danced, and played a folk
instrument resembling a double bass with the village musicians; all
of which he described in his letters. Chopin became well acquainted
with the folk music of the Polish plains in its authentic form, with
its distinct tonality, richness of rhythms and dance vigour. When composing
his first mazurkas in 1825, as well as the later ones, he resorted to
this source of inspiration which he kept in mind until the very end
of his life.
In the autumn of
1826, Chopin began studying the theory of music, figured bass and composition
at the Warsaw School of Music, which was both part of the Conservatory
and, at the same time, connected with Warsaw University. Its head was
the composer Jozef Elsner (b. 1769 in Silesia). Chopin, however, did
not attend the piano class. Aware of the exceptional nature of Chopin's
talent, Elsner allowed him, in accordance with his personality and temperament,
to concentrate on piano music but was unbending as regards theoretical
subjects, in particular counterpoint. Chopin, endowed by nature with
magnificent melodic invention, ease of free improvisation and an inclination
towards brilliant effects and perfect harmony, gained in Elsner's school
a solid grounding, discipline, and precision of construction, as well
as an understanding of the meaning and logic of each note. This was
the period of the first extended works such as the Sonata in C minor,
Variations, op. 2 on a theme from Don Juan by Mozart, the Rondo à
la Krakowiak, op. 14, the Fantaisie, op. 13 on Polish Airs (the three
last ones written for piano and orchestra) and the Trio in G minor,
op. 8 for piano, violin and cello. Chopin ended his education at the
Higher School in 1829, and after the third year of his studies Elsner
wrote in a report: "Chopin, Fryderyk, third year student, amazing
talent, musical genius".
his studies, Chopin planned a longer stay abroad to become acquainted
with the musical life of Europe and to win fame. Up to then, he had
never left Poland, with the exception of two brief stays in Prussia.
In 1826, he had spent a holiday in Bad Reinertz (modern day Duszniki-Zdroj)
in Lower Silesia, and two years later he had accompanied his father's
friend, Professor Feliks Jarocki, on his journey to Berlin to attend
a congress of naturalists. Here, quite unknown to the Prussian public,
he concentrated on observing the local musical scene. Now he pursued
bolder plans. In July 1829 he made a short excursion to Vienna in the
company of his acquaintances. Wilhelm Würfel, who had been staying
there for three years, introduced him to the musical milieu, and enabled
Chopin to give two performances in the Kärtnertortheater, where,
accompanied by an orchestra, he played Variations, op. 2 on a Mozart
theme and the Rondo à la Krakowiak, op. 14 , as well as performing
improvisations. He enjoyed tremendous success with the public, and although
the critics censured his performance for its small volume of sound,
they acclaimed him as a genius of the piano and praised his compositions.
Consequently, the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger printed the Variations
on a theme from Mozart (1830). This was the first publication of a Chopin
composition abroad, for up to then, his works had only been published
Upon his return
to Warsaw, Chopin, already free from student duties, devoted himself
to composition and wrote, among other pieces, two Concertos for piano
and orchestra: in F minor and E minor. The first concerto was inspired
to a considerable extent by the composer's feelings towards Konstancja
Gladkowska, who studied singing at the Conservatory. This was also the
period of the first nocturne, etudes, waltzes, mazurkas, and songs to
words by Stefan Witwicki. During the last months prior to his planned
longer stay abroad, Chopin gave a number of public performances, mainly
in the National Theatre in Warsaw where the première of both
concertos took place. Originally, his destination was to be Berlin,
where the artist had been invited by Prince Antoni Radziwill, the governor
of the Grand Duchy of Poznan, who had been appointed by the king of
Prussia, and who was a long-standing admirer of Chopin's talent and
who, in the autumn of 1829, was his host in Antonin. Chopin, however,
ultimately chose Vienna where he wished to consolidate his earlier success
and establish his reputation. On 11 October 1830, he gave a ceremonial
farewell concert in the National Theatre in Warsaw, during which he
played the Concerto in E minor, and K. Gladkowska sang. On 2 November,
together with his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin left for Austria,
with the intention of going on to Italy.
Several days after
their arrival in Vienna, the two friends learnt about the outbreak of
the uprising in Warsaw, against the subservience of the Kingdom of Poland
to Russia and the presence of the Russian Tsar on the Polish throne.
This was the beginning of a months-long Russo-Polish war. T. Woyciechowski
returned to Warsaw to join the insurgent army, while Chopin, succumbing
to the persuasion of his friend, stayed in Vienna. In low spirits and
anxious about the fate of his country and family, he ceased planning
the further course of his career, an attitude explained in a letter
to J. Elsner: "In vain does Malfatti try to convince me that every
artist is a cosmopolitan. Even if so, as an artist, I am still in my
cradle, as a Pole, I am already twenty; I hope, therefore that, knowing
me well, you will not chide me that so far I have not thought about
the programme of the concert". The performance ultimately took
place on 11 June 1831, in the Kärtnerthortheater, where Chopin
played the Concerto in E minor. The eight months spent in Vienna were
not wasted. Strong and dramatic emotional experiences inspired the creative
imagination of the composer, probably accelerating the emergence of
a new, individual style, quite different from his previous brilliant
style. The new works, which revealed force and passion, included the
sketch of the Scherzo in B minor and, above all, the powerful Etudes
from op. 10.
Having given up
his plans for a journey to Italy, due to the hostilities there against
Austria, Chopin resolved to go to Paris. On the way, he first stopped
in Munich where he gave a concert on the 28th of August and then went
on to Stuttgart. Here he learnt about the dramatic collapse of the November
Uprising and the capture of Warsaw by the Russians. His reaction to
this news assumed the form of a fever and nervous crisis. Traces of
these experiences are encountered in the so-called Stuttgart diary:
"The enemy is in the house (...) Oh God, do You exist? You do and
yet You do not avenge. - Have You not had enough of Moscow's crimes
- or - or are You Yourself a Muscovite [...] I here, useless! And I
here empty-handed. At times I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my
despair at my piano!".
In the autumn of
1831 Chopin arrived in Paris where he met many fellow countrymen. Following
the national defeat, thousands of exiles, including participants of
the armed struggle, politicians, representatives of Polish culture,
such as the writer Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Romantic poets A. Mickiewicz
and Juliusz Slowacki, and the Warsaw friends of Chopin, the poets Stefan
Witwicki and Bohdan Zaleski, sought refuge from the Russian occupation
in a country and city which they found most friendly. Chopin made close
contacts with the so-called Great Emigration, befriended its leader
Prince Adam Czartoryski, and became a member of the Polish Literary
Society, which he supported financially. He also attended emigré
meetings, played at charity concerts held for poor emigrés, and
organised similar events. In Paris, his reputation as an artist grew
rapidly. Letters of recommendation which the composer brought from Vienna
allowed him immediately to join the local musical milieu, which welcomed
him cordially. Chopin became the friend of Liszt, Mendelssohn, Ferdinand
Hiller, Berlioz and Auguste Franchomme. Later on, in 1835, in Leipzig,
he also met Schumann who held his works in great esteem and wrote enthusiastic
articles about the Polish composer. Upon hearing the performance of
the unknown arrival from Warsaw, the great pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner,
called the king of the piano, organised a concert for Chopin which took
place on the 26th of February 1832 in the Salle Pleyel. The ensuing
success was enormous, and he quickly became a famous musician, renowned
throughout Paris. This rise to fame aroused the interest of publishers
and by the summer of 1832, Chopin had signed a contract with the leading
Parisian publishing firm of Schlesinger. At the same time, his compositions
were published in Leipzig by Probst, and then Breitkopf, and in London
The most important
source of Chopin's income in Paris was, however, from giving lessons.
He became a popular teacher among the Polish and French aristocracy
and Parisian salons were his favourite place for performances. As a
pianist, Chopin was ranked among the greatest artists of his epoch,
such as Kalkbrenner, Liszt, Thalberg and Herz, but, in contrast to them,
he disliked public performances and appeared rarely and rather unwillingly.
In a friendly, intimate group of listeners he disclosed supreme artistry
and the full scale of his pianistic and expressive talents.
down in Paris, Chopin deliberately chose the status of an emigré.
Despite the requests of his father, he did not obey the Tsarist regulations,
issued in subjugated Poland, and never extended his passport in the
Russian embassy. Consequently, being regarded as a political refugee,
Chopin deprived himself of the possibility of legally revisiting his
homeland. He longed to see his family and friends and, seeking refuge
against loneliness, decided to share accommodation with the physician
Aleksander Hoffman, another Polish exile, and after the latter's departure
from Paris, with his Warsaw friend, former insurgent and physician,
Jan Matuszynski. In this situation, the composer could meet his parents
only outside Poland and when in August 1835 they went to Karlsbad for
a cure, Chopin soon followed. Afterwards, while in nearby Dresden, he
renewed his acquaintance with the Wodzinski family. Years earlier, the
three young Wodzinski sons had stayed in the boarding house managed
by Mikolaj Chopin. Their younger sister, Maria, now an adolescent, showed
considerable musical and artistic talent and Chopin fell in love with
her and wanted to marry her and set up a family home of his own in exile.
The following year, during a holiday spent together with the seventeen
year-old Maria and her mother in Marienbad (modern day Márianské
Lázne in the Czech Republic), and then in Dresden, he proposed
and was accepted on the condition that he would take better care of
his health. The engagement was unofficial, and did not end in marriage,
for after a year-long "trial" period, Maria's parents, disturbed
by the bad state of the health of her fiancé who was seriously
ill in the winter, and especially by his irregular lifestyle, viewed
him as an unsuitable partner for their daughter. Chopin found this rejection
an extremely painful experience, and labelled the letters from the Wodzinski
family, tied into a small bundle, "My sorrow".
In July 1837, Chopin
travelled to London in the company of Camille Pleyel in the hope of
forgetting all unpleasant memories. Soon afterwards, he entered into
a close liaison with the famous French writer George Sand. This author
of daring novels, older by six years, and a divorcee with two children,
offered the lonely artist what he missed most from the time when he
left Warsaw: extraordinary tenderness, warmth and maternal care. The
lovers spent the winter of 1838/1839 on the Spanish island of Majorca,
living in a former monastery in Valdemosa. There, due to unfavourable
weather conditions, Chopin became gravely ill and showed symptoms of
tuberculosis. For many weeks, he remained so weak as to be unable to
leave the house but nonetheless, continued to work intensively and composed
a number of masterpieces: the series of 24 preludes, the Polonaise in
C minor, the Ballade in F major, and the Scherzo in C sharp minor. On
his return from Majorca in the spring of 1839, and following a convalescence
in Marseilles, Chopin, still greatly weakened, moved to George Sand's
manor house in Nohant, in central France. Here, he was to spend long
vacations up to 1846, with the exception of 1840, returning to Paris
only for the winters. This was the happiest, and the most productive,
period in his life after he left his family home. The majority of his
most outstanding and profound works were composed in Nohant. In Paris,
the composer and writer were treated as a married couple, although they
were never married. Both had common friends among the artistic circles
of the capital, such as the painter Delacroix and the singer Pauline
Viardot, as well as the Polish emigrés, such as A. Mickiewicz
and W. Grzymala. For years, the couple enjoyed a deep love and friendship,
but with time the increasingly hostile attitude of George Sand's son,
who exerted a strong influence on the writer, caused ever more serious
conflicts. A final parting of ways took place in July 1847.
experiences as well as the loss of Nohant, so important for the health
and creativity of the composer, had a devastating effect on Chopin's
mental and physical state. He almost completely gave up composition,
and from then to the end of his life wrote only a few miniatures. In
April 1848, persuaded by his Scottish pupil, Jane Stirling, Chopin left
for England and Scotland. Together with her sister, Miss Stirling organised
concerts and visits in various localities, including the castles of
the Scottish aristocracy. This exceptionally hectic life style and excessive
strain on his strength from constant travelling and numerous performances,
together with a climate deleterious to his lungs, further damaged his
health. On 16 November 1848, despite frailty and a fever, Chopin gave
his last concert, playing for Polish emigrés in the Guildhall
in London. A few days later, he returned to Paris.
His rapidly progressing
disease made it impossible to continue giving lessons. In the summer
of 1849, Ludwika Jedrzejewiczowa, the eldest sister of the composer,
came from Warsaw to take care of her ill brother. On 17 October 1849,
Chopin died of pulmonary tuberculosis in his Parisian flat in the Place
Vendôme. He was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in
Paris. In accordance with his will, however, his heart, taken from his
body after death, was brought by his sister to Warsaw where it was placed
in an urn installed in a pillar of the Holy Cross church in Krakowskie