The Masters of Classical Music: Chopin
The Masters of Classical Music: Chopin takes a look at the life and work of one of the most beloved composers of all time. From his humble beginnings in Poland to his later years in Paris, we explore Chopin’s music and legacy.
Chopin was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola, a village some fifty miles west of Warsaw. His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French by origin, and had come to Poland as a young man to serve in the army of Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, the last king of an independent Poland. When Chopin was six his family moved to the capital, Warsaw. It was here that he received his early musical education from Wojciech Zywny, a celebrated Polish violinist and friend of the family. Zywny instilled in his young pupil a love for Polish folk music, which was to remain with Chopin all his life and exert a profound influence on his mature style.
Early Life and Influences
Chopin was born in 1810 in Zelazowa Wola, a village in the Duchy of Warsaw. His father, Nicholas Chopin, was a French émigré who eventually became professor of French at the Warsaw Lyceum. He was also a talented amateur musician and introduced his young son to the piano.
Family and Childhood
Frédéric Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, 46 kilometres (29 miles) west of Warsaw, in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw, a Polish state established by Napoleon. The parish baptismal record gives his birthday as 22 February 1810, and cites his given names in the Latin form Fridericus Franciscus (Francis Frederick). However, the composer and his family used the birthdate 1 March, which became internationally accepted as Chopin’s date of birth. Fryderyk was baptised on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1810, as Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin. His godparents were Fryderyk Skarbek and Emilia Skarbek née Lipska.
Chopin’s father, Nicholas, a French émigré of Polish descent, was an accomplished amateur violinist who played in an army band. His mother, Justina, was a simple woman of deep faith; Chopin later recalled her sitting at the piano singing hymns while hepractice. From his parents—and from an older sister, Ludwika, who became one of his favourite companions—Chopin learned the value of hard work and religious feeling.
Ludwika’s marriage in 1823 to Tytus Woyciechowski, a young landowner from Żelazowa Wola near Warsaw, strengthened the family’s ties to the Polish countryside and brought Chopin into contact with Polish folk music. Ludwika frequently visited Warsaw with her husband and children, exposing her younger brother to the city’s musical life. When he was not yet eight years old, Chopin began giving public concerts; two years later he composed two Polonaises (Op. 26 No. 1 in C-sharp Minor; Op. 26 No. 2 in E Minor), works that reflect the influence of Polish folk music on his style.
Musical Style and Innovations
Fryderyk Chopin, a Polish exile living in Paris, was one of the few classical composers who were able to establish a successful career outside his homeland. His piano music – sonatas, mazurkas, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, preludes – was extremely popular during his lifetime and has remained among the most frequently played of all piano music.
Melodies and Harmonies
Chopin’s harmonies are fresh and daring even by today’s standards. He had a remarkable ability to evoke strong emotions with his music, and his compositions are some of the most evocative and beautiful in the classical repertoire. His melodic lines are often complex and herat-wrenchingly beautiful.
Chopin was also a master of counterpoint, and his fugues are some of the most complex and beautiful ever written. His use of chromaticism (using notes that are not in the key signature) was particularly innovative, and his use of dissonance (notes that clash with each other) create a sense of tension and drama in his music.
Use of Rhythm and Tempo
Chopin was a master of rhythm and tempo. He had a unique way of using rubato, which is the artistic freedom to vary the tempo of a piece. This gave his music a very fluid and expressive quality. He also frequently use changing meter, which added to the rhythmic interest of his compositions.
Later Life and Death
Chopin’s health deteriorated rapidly in the late 1850s. Despite frequent bouts of illness, he continued to compose and give public performances, although he shortened and simplified his works to suit his physical condition. In 1848, Chopin had visited Scotland, where he met Jane Stirling, with whom he fell in love but for whom he could not make a lasting commitment. During the Revolution of 1848, he considered emigrating to America but decided against it. In October 1849, after hearing of the successful Hungarian Revolution against Austria, Chopin composed a “Grand Polonaise Brillante” in E-flat major for piano and orchestra as a patriotic gesture dedicated to the memory of Adolf Bardinelli, one of the victims of the fighting in Warsaw during the failed uprising.
In June 1849, Chopin finally left Paris for England with Sand’s two daughters and Georges Mathison-Lefevre as his travelling companions. They arrived in London on 20 July 1849, where they were joined by Liszt three days later. The party then travelled on to Scotland where they spent six weeks at Broadwood’s house in Scotland before returning to London on 5 October 1849. The trip did little to improve Chopin’s health; by November he was confined to bed much of the time with breathing difficulties brought on by his tuberculosis.
On 17 February 1850, Franz Liszt organized and led a benefit concert for Chopin at London’s Guildhall; proceeds went to help him pay his debts and fund his journey back to Paris. The concert was well received by both audience and critics alike. William Sterndale Bennett, one of the soloists at the concert (playing one of Liszt’s paraphrases on themes from Weber’s Euryanthe), later recalled that “the mere sight of [Chopin], so wasted away that one might almost have put one’s hand through him as through a shadow…was enough to make us all weep.” Aftermath of a performance given by Chopin at a charity concert in aid of French refugees from Warsaw in London Guildhall, February 17th 1850
Chopin left England on 16 October 1850 aboard The Albion bound for France;Mathison-Lefevre accompanied him as far as Dover where they parted company. George Sand met him at Boulogne-sur-Mer 10 days later; they then journeyed together by coach (a tortuous nine-hour trip)to Paris arriving late on 27 October 1850. Although severely weakened by Tuberculosis and barely able to walk, Chopin was greeted with great enthusiasm by his friends on his arrival in Paris; Delacroix wrote that when he went to see him “we all wept”.
In conclusion, it is very evident that Chopin was one of the most talented and influential classical composers of his time. His unique style and abilities set him apart from other contemporary composers, and his music continues to be enjoyed by classical music lovers around the world. Chopin’s legacy is certainly one that will be remembered for many years to come.