Frédéric Chopin, that is, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin (in Polish)
was born in Żelazowa Wola, a village in the Duchy of Warsaw. The
parish where Chopin was baptised as an infant, listed February
22nd, 1810 as his date of birth. But Chopin and his family always
celebrated his birthday on the 1st of March, and confirmed by letter
many years later by Chopin to the Chairman of the Polish Literary
Society in Paris.
Chopin enjoyed a musical upbringing from a very early age. His father played the flute and violin, and his mother
played the piano. He was so moved by her playing that he wept with emotion. By the age of six, he was already
trying to reproduce the sounds he heard, as well as create new melodies. His first piano lesson, oddly enough, did
not come from his mother, but from his older sister Ludwika. At the age of seven, “little Chopin” was already
giving public concerts, and was often compared to Mozart. In that same year he composed two Polonaises in G
minor and B flat major, works which rivalled the Polonaises of leading Warsaw composers. At eleven years of
age, Chopin performed in the presence of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia.
He was educated at home until the age of thirteen, and then enrolled in the Warsaw Lyceum in 1823. Chopin
studied the piano first under the direction of Żywny, followed by tutelage from Józef Elsner both of whom could do
no more than just observe, rather than direct or instruct the young Chopin. In Elsner’s evaluation, he remarked
Chopin had “remarkable talent” and was a “musical genius”.
In 1827 the Chopin family moved to Krasinski Palace at Krakowskie Przedmescie # 5. Today the building is the
Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. The family parlour is preserved as part of a museum, as it was there that Chopin
first played his compositions. According to Chopin biographer, Zdzisław Jachimecki, it was impossible to compare
his work to that of any earlier composer, as Chopin’s compositions were so original.
Chopin enjoyed an outpouring of public acclaim for his compositions. At a concert at the Warsaw Merchants Club
in December 1829, he made the premiere performance of the composition Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor,
composed the Polonaise for Cello and Piano, in C major (as a guest of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł), and the Piano
Concerto No. 1 in E Minor (at his first performance at the National Theatre in Warsaw). It was also at this time that
he began writing his etudes (1829-1832)
On November 2, 1830, Chopin embarked into the world, headed for Austria, taking with him a silver cup containing
the soil of his beloved homeland, Poland. Soon after the November Uprising broke out, he found himself alone in
Vienna, his friends having returned to Poland to enlist. In 1831, when Chopin had heard that the Uprising had
been crushed, he scribbled into his secret journal a profusion of “profanities and blasphemies” written in Polish.
Though his father was French, Chopin never became fluent in the language, preferring to speak Polish instead. It
was said that Chopin was more Polish than Poland itself. His emotions railed at the thought of the danger his Polish
compatriots faced at the hands of invaders, and he damned the French for not coming to the aid of the Polish.
Dismayed at God for allowing the Russians to crush the Polish insurgents, he wrote in his journal, “or are you (God)
yourself a Russian?” In his torment he composed Scherzo in B minor and his “Revolutionary Etude” in C. minor.
In September 1831 he arrived in Paris, never to return to Poland. Within a year he was giving concerts again, and
received wide acclaim for his compositions. The Revue Musicale wrote the following:
"Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal
of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an
extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere.”
He counted among his friends Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Vincenzo Bellini, Ferdinand Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn,
Heinrich Heine, Eugene Delacroix, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, Alfred Devigny, and Charles Valentin Alkan.
Over time, Chopin began performing less frequently in public, preferring to play for small groups of friends, or
salons attended by the aristocracy and artistic and literary elite.
Though he called himself, Frédéric Chopin, he was still at heart an ardent Polish patriot. His French citizenship was
merely an effort to avoid dealing with Imperial Russian documents.
During a visit to Carlsbad in 1835, Chopin encountered some old friends from
Warsaw, the Wodzińskis and fell in love with their daughter Maria, a charming,
talented and intelligent sixteen year old. Though he proposed marriage to her,
and she accepted, the wedding never occurred because of his poor health. He
was heartbroken and kept her letters in a sealed envelope upon which he wrote,
Moja bieda" ("My sorrow"). He composed the Waltz in A Flat major, The Farewell
Waltz, on the morning he was to depart from Dresden. When he arrived in Paris
he composed Etude in F minor which he described as a “portrait of Maria’s soul”.
He sent Maria seven songs set to the words of Romantic Polish poets, Stefan
Witwicki, Jozef Zalinski, and Adam Mickiewicz.
Another love interest entered Chopin’s life, Polish Countess
Delfina Potocka to whom he dedicated his famous Waltz in D
Flat major, that is the famous“Minute Waltz” Chopin began
performing public concerts in Paris. On March 23, 1833,
In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d’Agoult,
mistress of his friend and colleague Liszt, he met French
Baroness Dudevant, better known to everyone as “George
Sand.” Initially he was repulsed by her and commented to his
friend Hiller "What a repulsive woman Sand is! But is she
really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it." By the summer of
1838, their secret involvement was out in the open.
On December 3 he complained bitterly about his health and the doctors who had tended to him. “Three doctors
have visited me: the first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was
On January 4, 1839, George Sand brokered the release of the piano from customs.. Despite the long wait for the
piano, the time Chopin spent on Majorca was the most prolific of his life. During this time he composed some
Preludes, Op. 28; a revision of the Ballade No. 2, Op. 38; two Polonaises, Op. 40; the Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39; the
Mazurka in E minor from Op. 41.
Chopin’s health deteriorated drastically from the weeks of bad weather, that he and Sand’s family left the island in
order to save his life. Chopin was able to recover after several months in Barcelona and Marseille, and returned
to Paris where they eventually lived together.
From 1939-1943 Chopin produced many compositions, most notable, “Polonaise in A Flat minor”, The Heroic, one
of his most famous pieces. In a letter to a friend, Sand described Chopin’s creative process, amid his torment and
complaints and weeping...
Chopin is at the piano, quite oblivious of the fact that anyone is listening.
He embarks on a sort of casual improvisation, then stops. 'Go on, go on,'
exclaims Delacroix, 'That's not the end!' It's not even a beginning. Nothing
will come ... nothing but reflections, shadows, shapes that won't stay fixed.
I'm trying to find the right colour, but I can't even get the form ...' 'You won't
find the one without the other,' says Delacroix, 'and both will come together.'
'What if I find nothing but moonlight?' 'Then you will have found the reflection
of a reflection.' The idea seems to please the divine artist. He begins again,
without seeming to, so uncertain is the shape. Gradually quiet colours begin
to show, corresponding to the suave modulations sounding in our ears.
Suddenly the note of blue sings out, and the night is all around us, azure and
transparent. Light clouds take on fantastic shapes and fill the sky. They gather
about the moon which casts upon them great opalescent discs, and wakes the
sleeping colours. We dream of a summer night, and sit there waiting for the
song of the nightingale.
As Chopin’s health worsened, Sand became more of a nurse than a lover and often referred to him as her “third
child”, “little angel”, “sufferer”, and a “beloved little corpse.” In 1847 Sand published a novel entitled, Lucrezia
Floriani, an uncomplimentary story in which the main characters were a rich actress and a prince in poor health.
Chopin recognized the allusion and no amount of encouragement could reconcile the couple.
Chopin’s popularity waned and he gave his last concert in Paris in February 1848. With the Revolution underway
in Paris, he departed for London, performing several concerts. He spent the summer in Scotland staying at the
castle of a former pupil Jane Wilhelmina Stirling who proposed marriage to him. Nothing transpired. In October
1848, he wrote his last will and testament, about which he referred to his friend Wojciech Grzymała, “ a kind of
disposition to be made of my stuff in the future, if I should drop dead somewhere,” On November 16, 1848,
Chopin made his last appearance at the Guildhall in London where he performed for the benefit of Polish
refugees. It was a mistake, as most of the participants were more interested in dancing and refreshments, than to
pay heed to Chopin’s artistry.
He returned to Paris at the end of November, suffering through the winter. Despite his worsening illness, he
continued to socialize and visited the ailing Adam Mickiewicz, for whom he would play his compositions. Because
of his failing health, he could no longer give music lessons. As a result Chopin had to sell many of his valuables to
pay for basic necessities and health expenses.
In June 1849 Chopin’s sister Ludwika came to Paris upon his request to have a family member close to him. On
October 15 his condition worsened, but then twice he revived briefly. He asked Delfina Potocka to play sonatas,
and he now called out to God when days earlier he had refused confession. He complained that George Sand
had promised that he “would die in her arms,” and wrote the following on a piece of paper:
"Comme cette terre m'étouffera, je vous conjure de faire ouvrir mon corps
pour [que] je ne sois pas enterré vif." ("As this earth will suffocate me, I implore
you to have my body opened so that I will not be buried alive."
On October 17, his physician leaned over to examine Chopin and asked him if he was suffering greatly. Chopin’s
answer, “not any more”.
On October 17, 1849, a few minutes before two o’clock in the morning, Chopin died.
|In 1827–30 Chopin lived with his family in the
south annex of the Krasiński Palace, before
leaving Poland forever.
|Chopin museum Valdemossa Monastery.
At this time Chopin’s health was
deteriorating, and together with George
Sand and her two children spent the winter of
1838-39 at Majorca. It aggravated his health,
and caused no end to frustrations as the
townspeople discovered that they were “not
wed”. In consequence they were unable to
find comfortable accommodations, and had
to move in to a cold Carthusian monastery
at Valdemossa. To his utter consternation,
they held his piano at ransom for weeks while
he composed music on a rickety piano for
Death Mask of Chopin
Cast of Chopins hand
Pillar in Holy Cross Church.Warsaw.
Entombed is an urn containing
Chopin's heart. The epitaph quotes
Gospel of Matthew VI:21: "For where
your treasure is, there will your heart