Composer and pianist, 1810-1849. Frederic Chopin wrote a lot of music for the piano which is still used by pianists to show off their skill. Also known for his romantic relationship with (female) author Georges Sand.

Frederic Chopin is claimed by the French as their national composer and by the Polish as their national composer. He was of mixed parentage, you see. That posed some problems when he died - each country wanted to boast his grave.

Chopin's body is buried in le Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France, where it is marked by a simple but tasteful gravestone (with much nicer momentoes than Jim Morrison's) but his heart is buried in Poland.

The playing of Chopin is a challenge for many piano students.

From the time Chopin discovered he could never get the LOUD sounds others could, he explored the soft, or piano end of the dynamic, or loudness, spectrum of the instrument--the Italian word piano defines the soft end, and the Italian forte defines the loud. This control is not something that just happens, and must be struggled for through specific exercises, including playing, but not making a sound--that is, moving the muscles of the fingers, but not depressing the keys: executing the finger action, but not the key action.

The physics of the piano militate against soft playing of the left hand, especially on the grand piano: bass strings are the longest in the instrument; long strings, all other things being equal, are louder than short strings. Consequently, the left hand must be played lighter than the right--not an easy task even for the left-handed, and most pianists, like most people, are right-handed.

He also explored an immense velocity--his, so-called, waltzes are not the easy dancing pieces beginner ballroom dancers crave.

The playing at any speed, in any composer, requires the notes be learned at a tempo slow enough to play all of them correctly; then gradually, evenly increasing the speed to that asked by Chopin.

But speaking of the left hand, this is one of the truly revolutionary aspects of Chopin's composition: the various alterations of the harmony, some not unknown in work before his time, have become integral to the melodic development of the work, and permit more interesting melodies than previously.

The attempt to analyse his chords, necessitates a terminology more akin to jazz notation, than classical music. This subtlety is often missed, because its color is imbeded in the soft playing of the left hand--except where the left hand takes the melody.

In closing, I can only echo Ryouga's apt observation.

Editor's note: Ryouga's entry has been removed. It was, in whole: "Chopin is the poet of the piano. His music is the most painstaking, most intricately wrought, and all modern pianists are inspired by his work."

Chopin was born in Warsaw in 1810, but later moved to Paris. He stayed in Paris for the rest of his (short) life. Chopin's music varies wildly, from the rather quaint mazurkas to the more grand sonatas and ballades. Much of his music was influenced by Bach and Mozart, and his style, whilst being colourful and complex, is essentially based in classical in construction.

Chopin's less well-known piano pieces represent a harsher side to the man and one that reflects the influences at times of Beethoven. His pieces range in simplicity vastly from very a few seemingly naive preludes to densely textured sonatas.

Though he is perhaps considered the greatest romantic composer, and is surely the most remembered, Chopin hated the popular musical romanticism of his time. The romantic composers were often tied up in a web of propaganda, playing each other's music, and writing reviews of new scores, discussing the modern styles and techniques that were developing. Chopin, though friends with many of the composers of the time, found Liszt’s music to be vulgar, was rather indifferent to Berlioz and Mendelssohn, and though he admired Beethoven, he thought his thunder to be overdone.

Throughout his life, Chopin remained primarily a salon pianist, and early decided to compose only for the piano. He was short, slim, and physically frail, and his playing became only a whisper in his later years. Realizing that he could not carry his sound through large halls, Chopin gave only a few limited recitals during his lifetime, and never invited more than three hundred people.

Chopin spent most of his life in Paris, mingling with only the best circles. He taught only privately, and the vast majority of his students were of high society - prince this or countess that. Considering himself a gentleman, Chopin concerned himself with style and taste.

Chopin was born in Zelazowa Wola, Poland, just outside of Warsaw, on (according to the parish register) February 22, 1810, however his mother insisted that it was March 1st, and she always celebrated it as such. Chopin’s talent was recognized early, and he was a wonderful pianist by the age of six. He was taught by Adalbert Zywny, who insisted on a heavy dose of Bach. Chopin’s first composition, a polonaise, was printed when he was only eight. Studying composition from Joseph Elsner, who urged him to compose classic pieces such as sonatas and concertos, his creativity was never molded or stifled. Elsner allowed Chopin to develop naturally, and thus can be thanked for giving us Chopin's untainted brilliance.

In 1829, Chopin traveled to Vienna and presented himself as a pianist-composer, introducing himself to Europe. He gave several concerts, both alarming and intriguing experts with his new style. He returned to Poland, and composed steadily while dabbling in a minor love affair. Feeling confident in his skill, Chopin left Poland permanently and traveled to Paris, stopping in Vienna for only a short while to make useful acquaintances. Chopin made his debut early in 1832, and soon became the talk the town. Schumann began to review every Chopin piece he came across, and once wrote about his famous Variations: "In the fifth bar of the adagio he declares that Don Giovanni kisses Zerlina on the D flat. Plater Count Plater, a friend in Paris asked me yesterday where her D flat was, etc.!" Finding himself integrated into the aristocracy of Paris, Chopin wrote home, "I have found my way into the very best society…I have my place among ambassadors, princes, and ministers."

Chopin soon found himself in a relationship with Aurore Dudevant, better known as the author George Sand, and was living with her by 1838. They spent the winter of 1838-39 in Majorca, however the trip was an absolute disaster. The constant rain and damp house caused Chopin’s tuberculosis to flare up, however, while there he managed to complete his famous set of twenty-four préludes. After returning to Paris, Chopin and Sand remained close, however, their relationship ended in 1847 when Sand's daughter, Solange fed Chopin lies of her unfaithfulness. After the break-up, Chopin had only a year or two left to live. By 1848 he had entered a terminal stage and was spitting blood. At the urges of a young friend, Jane Stirling – who was likely in love with him – Chopin visited England. However, he found the people exacerbating, and wrote about their remarks: "{All of their comments end} with the words: 'Leik Water,' meaning that the music flows like water. I have never yet played to an Englishwoman without her saying: 'Leik Water!!'" Chopin hurried desperately back to Paris, but did almost no composing, and began to wait for his death. Solange was at Chopin's bedside when he died on October 17th, 1849. Though George Sand had requested to be with him at his death, she was never invited.

Chopin easily established himself as a musical genius, and received remarkably little criticism despite his untraditional style. Chopin’s music was distinguished by his particular style of rubato, different than that used by Beethoven and Mozart. Classical style dictated that there be little tempo change throughout a musical piece, however, Chopin allowed his music to flow with new liberties, often speeding or slowing with the color of the tune. However, despite the apparent freedom of his own playing, Chopin demanded that his students keep strict time with the metronome, and he fed them large amounts of Bach and Mozart.

The piano of the 1830s was very similar to the piano of today in its abilities, however, classical composers never took advantage of the piano’s subtleties. Chopin was the first composer and pianist to compose beautiful colors, emotions and harmonies that could only be played on the piano. His pedaling and fingering soon became the standards for young pupils. Rather than playing from the hand and wrist like classical pianists, Chopin used the elbow and the arm, creating smooth, colorful melodies. He was the first to use functional ornamentation – ornamentation for the sake of the music rather than as a demonstration of skill or flashiness as was common in baroque pieces, especially Bach’s.

Chopin was an "absolute" composer, meaning that he never gave his music romantic names as was popular. Instead he used only abstract titles such as mazurka, waltz, polonaise, étude, scherzo, prélude, nocturne, fantasy, impromptu, ballad, variation, sonata, and concerto.

Nearly all of Chopin's music remains in the active repertoire. It was considered necessary in the nineteenth century to be skilled in Chopin in order to be a great pianist, and though Chopin has met with a bit more obscurity since then, he remains one of the most popular composers in the history of music.

Source: The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg

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