The Life And Music Of Frederic Chopin – NPR

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Chopin, Frederic Francois (b. Zelazowa Wola, March 1, 1810; d. Paris, October 17, 1849)

Frederic Chopin was a Polish-born pianist and composer with unparalleled genius in the field of keyboard music. As a pianist, his talents were beyond emulation and had an impact on other musicians completely out of proportion to the number of concerts he gave: only 30 public performances in 30 years of concerts. No one before or since has contributed as many significant works to the piano’s repertoire, or come closer to capturing the soul of it.

early years

Chopin’s mother was Polish, his father a Frenchman who had come to Poland as a young man and worked as an accountant and tutor before marrying and settling in Warsaw. young frederic studied piano with wojciech zywny and harmony and counterpoint with jozef elsner, gave his first concerto when he was 8 years old and quickly surpassed his teachers. His name became known outside of Poland when Variations on Him, Op. 2, for piano and orchestra on Mozart’s “la ci darem la mano”, written when he was 17, were published in 1830, leading to Robert Schumann’s famous award in the allgemeine musikalische zeitung: “I take off my hat gentlemen! a genius!” In the spring and fall of 1830, Chopin treated Warsaw audiences to a pair of newly composed and wonderfully poetic piano concertos.Seeking to expand his horizons, he left Poland for Vienna in November 1830, and after eight months there, he He headed for Paris, he would never return to his native country, but Poland’s loss would be Paris’s gain.

to paris

By the 1830s, Paris had become the undisputed center of European culture, a hotbed of new ideas in the arts and letters, and the focal point of romanticism in music. after a sensational debut at la salle pleyel on feb. On January 26, 1832, with Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn and Luigi Cherubini in the audience, Chopin, three days before his 22nd birthday, took his place as one of the celebrities of the French capital. He found himself so in demand as a teacher that he was able to earn a comfortable living, and he rubbed shoulders with the great artists of the day, becoming especially close friends with Eugene Delacroix, who would paint a splendid portrait of him in 1838, and Liszt. Chopin’s works from his early years in Paris include the opp nocturnes. 9 and 15 (1830-32), the 12 studies, op. 25 (1835-37), dedicated to Liszt’s mistress, Countess Marie d’agoult, scherzo in B flat minor, op. 31 (1837), the sonata in B flat minor, op. 35 (1837), and the ballad in G minor, op. 23. In 1836, Chopin became engaged to Maria Wodzinski, but her family broke off the engagement the following year.

reaching new heights

Chopin’s art reached a new level in the late 1830s as a result of his relationship with the writer Aurore Dudevant, six years his senior, who in 1832 had taken to calling himself George Sand. some of his best work arose as a result of the emotional satisfaction he felt in the early days of their nine-year relationship. They spent the winter of 1838-39 together in Majorca, living in adjoining rooms in an abandoned charterhouse. Chopin endured his first major bout of tuberculosis, but, though gravely ill, he managed to complete all 24 Preludes, Op. 28 (1838-39). During the 1840s, despite emotional ups and downs and recurring illnesses, he produced a remarkable body of compositions including the A-flat ballads, Op. 47, and F minor, op. 52, opp mazurkas. 50, 56, 59, 63 and 67, the Polonaise in A flat major, op. 53, the opp nocturnes. 48, 55 and 62, and the sonata in B minor, op. 58 (1844). the best of these works — the sonata in B minor, op. 55 nocturnes and op. 56 mazurkas—are characterized by remarkable refinement and complexity, along with a newly rich sense of ambivalence. the sonata’s opening movement finds chopin at the height of inspiration, weaving turbulence and romantic longing into beautifully flowing expression.

The situation with George Sand began to deteriorate in 1843, and in 1847 the break came. by then, chopin was seriously ill; Seeking to escape, he left Paris in April 1848 for an extended stay in England and Scotland, from where he returned, exhausted, in November. he composed practically nothing in the last year of his life.

the composer and his piano

Chopin was the first genius composer to devote himself exclusively to the piano; every one of his works was written for him, either as a solo instrument or in combination with other instruments. most of his solo pieces have shorter forms and are improvised in nature. these include 20 nocturnes, 25 preludes, 17 waltzes, 15 polonaises, 58 mazurkas, and 27 etudes. In these works, especially in the nocturnes, preludes and mazurkas, emotions are fleeting, and therefore precious. Chopin also achieved success in larger forms, including the scherzo, a form that he reinvented; the ballad, a genre invented by him; and the sonata the four ballads and the sonatas in B flat minor and B minor are among his greatest creations, combining passionate drama and lyrical tenderness in a memorable way.

in his remarkably advanced treatment of harmony and rhythm, chopin banished the ordinary from his music and opened the door to an emotional ambiguity that continues to intrigue listeners, one whose communication requires subtleties of performance that generations of pianists have worked on devotedly to achieve . the luminous textures and haunting melodies that he used to express his thoughts were added to the sound of the piano and a range of color nuances that no one before him had imagined was there, but that all who followed him recognize as their own. . the same goes for the harmonic question marks found throughout his music, the equivalent of a look of sweet longing. he created a leaner body of work than his major contemporaries, but every piece he produced was a pearl.

(ted libbey is the author of “npr listeners’ encyclopedia of classical music”)

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