(b Zelazowa Wola, 1810; d Paris, 1849).
Polish composer and pianist (Fr. father, Polish mother). Began pf. studies with Zywny 1816 and played conc. by Gyrowetz in Warsaw 1818, by then being a favourite in the aristocratic salons. In 1822 began studies in harmony and counterpoint with Józef Elsner, dir. of Warsaw Cons. In 1825 his Rondo in C minor was pubd. as Op.1, though it was far from being his first comp. The next year, entered Warsaw Cons. as full‐time mus. student, leaving in 1829. While student, wrote Krakowiak Rondo. In 1829 comp. his conc. in F minor and gave 2 concerts in Vienna. Played the conc. in Warsaw twice in Mar. 1830 and later in year played E minor conc. Left home late in 1830, travelling via Dresden and Prague to Vienna and giving many concerts. In Stuttgart heard that the Russians had captured Warsaw. Arrived Paris Sept. 1831; became pf. teacher to aristocracy, gradually renouncing public career and concentrating on composing. Gave first Paris concert in Feb. 1832 and no other in which he was the principal performer until 1841—it is reckoned he gave barely 30 pub. perfs. in his whole career. Became friend of most of outstanding musicians of day. In an essay taking the form of a discussion between Florestan and Eusebius, Schumann hailed the Là ci darem variations, Op.2, with the words ‘Hats off, gentlemen! A new genius!’ In 1836 Chopin met Fr. novelist George Sand and lived with her 1838–47. From 1836 the first signs of the tuberculosis that was to kill him appeared and the rest of his life was a constant struggle with sickness. After break with George Sand, perf. his E minor conc. in Rouen in March 1848 but left for London after the revolution, in need of money. Gave concerts in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London and returned to Paris to die in Oct. 1849.
Although Chopin's pf. mus. is beset with romantic stories and nicknames, he himself insisted on its existence only as absolute mus., hence the literal titles which refer only to mus. forms and are never picturesque, as in Schumann and Liszt. His own playing was both powerful and rhythmically subtle, with astonishing evenness of touch. Taking the name ‘nocturne’ from John Field, he transformed the form, as he did everything, by harmonic imagination and melodic distinction. There are bold, prophetic passages in his mus., ornamentation derived from his admiration for It. opera, and, in his Polish works such as the mazurkas and polonaises, a raw passion elemental in its strength. The Victorian conception of Chopin as a consumptive drawing‐room balladeer of the kbd., a conception connived at by lesser pianists, has long been exposed as a false trail leading hearers away from the true, poetic, heroic Chopin. Prin. comps.:
C minor, Op.4 (1828); B♭ minor, Op.35 (1839, Funeral March 1837); B minor, Op.58 (1844).
piano & orch.:
conc. No.1 in E minor, Op.11 (1830); No.2 in F minor, Op.21 (1829–30);
Variations on Là ci darem la mano