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Learn About the Polish Composer, Frederic Chopin's Works and Life

Frederic Chopin: Overview

  • Born: 1810 - Zelazowa Wola, Poland
  • Died: 1849 - ParisFrance
  • Historical Period: Romantic 
  • Musical Media: orchestra, chamber music, keyboard, songs  

Portrait of Frederic Chopin

Frédéric François Chopin was born in Poland in 1810 and was one of the foremost Romantic era composers of the 19th century.  Popular for his solo piano pieces and concerti, the master breathed his last in 1849, while he was in Paris, France. 

Frédéric Chopin: Breaking Musical Boundaries

Hailing from Zelazowa Wola, a modest village in Poland, Chopin’s father, Nicholas, was a French immigrant. He was professionally a bookkeeper and went on to marry Justyna Krzyżanowska. Following Frédéric’s birth, he started tutoring the aristocracy. This development in his family’s status brought a welcome exposure of the European sophistication to the young boy. At age six, Chopin started playing the piano and creating tunes. Despite being assigned to a music instructor named Wojciech Żywny, the young boy surpassed his teacher in both thought and skill. 

From a rather early age, Chopin performed at private soirées, even appearing at a charity concert. A few years ahead, he had the opportunity to perform in front of Tsar Alexander I, the Russian monarch. In 1818, at seven, he produced the Polonaise in G Minor, which impressed Constantine, the Russian grand duke to use it as parade music for his military band. This was prolifically followed by other musical pieces, such polonaises, ecossaises, and mazurkas, which made his family admit him at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music when he was just 16. The composer Józef Elsner was the director there, and Chopin was already learning music theory under him. 

Chopin always felt that his skills wouldn’t be fully realized until he worked toward a greater musical experience, and with his parents’ assistance, he moved to Vienna. Though he visited Berlin in 1828, Chopin concert debut happened in Vienna in the year 1829. Subsequent to this, there was a second concert which was highly successful, and while returning home, he composed the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor in 1829 and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor in 1830. 

Chopin’s fame grew internationally for his more experienced works such as his Variations, Op. 2, on Mozart's "La ci darem la mano" at age 17. This was done in 1830, which led to Robert Schumann state in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung that Chopin was a genius in the making. It was during this period when he came up with a number of wonderful pieces, which included the études between 1829 and 1836, a Ballade in G Minor between 1831 and 1835, and the Fantaisie-Impromptu in 1835. 

Chopin was prompt in building relationships with a number of eminent personalities such as Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, and Vincenzo Bellini. Chopin realized that Parisian audiences at concerts found his style to be ineffective, as they were more receptive to Beethoven and Schubert. 

One of Chopin’s students was Charlotte de Rothschild. The Rothschild family was particularly advantageous acquaintance for the upcoming composer, as their connections got him employment in numerous Parisian establishments. The greater income thus earned him a better living, and resulted in the creation of Nocturnes of Op. 9 and 15 (1830-1833), the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (1837), and the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35 (1839), and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 (1831-42).

The year 1838 was when Chopin got involved in a major love affair with Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, also known as George Sand. Their affair took them to Majorca, an island in Spain, where Chopin was taken ill. Sand understood the graveness of the situation and in 1839, got Chopin to Marseille for treatment. The diagnosis was that of tuberculosis. Notwithstanding the illness, the composer wrote the 24 Preludes, Op. 28 during this time between 1838 and 1839. 

Nohant in Paris was where Chopin and Sand went to settle down post this event, and the next seven years turned out to be the most prolific part of the maestro’s career. His magnificence during this time was amply demonstrated by these works such as: 

  • Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 (1841)
  • Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 (1842)
  • A number of Mazurkas within 1849
  • Polonaise in A-flat major Op. 53 (1842)
  • Sonata in B minor, Op. 58 (1844)
  • Fantaisie in F Minor, Opus 49 in 1841
  • Berceuse in D-flat Major, Opus 57 in 1845
  • Barcarolle, Opus 60 in 1846
  • Polonaise-Fantaisie of 1846

In the latter half of the 1840s, Chopin and Sand started experiencing a rift in their relationship, which concluded in 1848. The lady even portrayed their relationship in a negative light in her novel Lucrezia Floriani in 1846. 

Chopin enjoyed a great deal of success in the scherzo form, whose reinvention he is credited with. He is also recognized as one of the finest propagators of the sonata and the ballade. Chopin’s musical fortitude is in his serene compositions wrought with hints of femininity, in place of the heroics that are more characteristic of Romantic music. It is also a fact that Chopin was a composer more accustomed to living a simple life and teaching wealthy individuals, than through the grandiose of public performances. His reverence for Johann Bach was great, and this made him both abstract and classical in his musical approach. His talents composed a vast plethora of tonal exuberance, which helped inspire a generation of composers and further pushed the Romantic cause. 

The British Isles saw Chopin’s final performance in the year 1848, after which, he got back to Paris, where he breathed his last in 1849. He rests at Père Lachaise cemetery. As per his will, his heart was interred at Warsaw’s Holy Cross church. Chopin is considered as a magnificent performer at the piano, marking him as symbolic of Polish nationalism. Revolutionary Etude or Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor in 1831 was one of his finest pieces signifying this. 

Frédéric Chopin’s incredible assortment of musical pieces coupled with his near-perfect use of the harmonies and rhythms. Modern listeners are still impressed and respectful of his creations as his tender execution of musical artistry has generated an immense following. His melodies have always haunted the deepest desires of musical enthusiasts which he opened up through the unique sound of his pieces.

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