Frederic Chopin

(1810 - 1849)

Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw under the Napoleanic Empire. His baptismal certificate records his birthdate as 22 February 1810, but he and his family all agree that he was born on 1 March 1810.

He began formal piano lessons at age six with Wojciech Żywny, a professional violinist. By the time young Chopin was twelve, Żywny could no longer keep up with the skills of his pupil. When he first played in public, at the age of nine, he was called "the new Mozart." In fact, by the age of seven, he had already composed two polonaises, Polish dances of 3/4 time. The next few years, Chopin had sporadic lessons with the famed pianist and professor at the Warsaw Conservatory, Wilhelm Würfel. In 1826, he began studies at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1829, he made his first trip to Vienna, and in 1831, he moved to Vienna before moving to paris shortly thereafter.

It was the time of Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Ferdinand Delacroix. His objective was to "create a new era in art." He was greatly admired by the salon crowds and had positive reviews in performances in Paris and Warsaw. It was around this time that he started his lifelong battle with tuberculosis. By 1838, he had composed some of his most famous pieces had become an extremely popular figure in Paris. In his circle of friends were composers Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, and Vincenzo Bellini, as well as Eugène Delacroix, among other celebrities of the time.

In 1836, Chopin became engaged to a seventeen-year-old Polish girl named Maria Wodzinska, which was quickly called off. Later the same year, Chopin met the author George Sand (aka Mme Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin) at a party hosted by a mistress of Franz Liszt. Their relationship, though considered to be asexual, lasted over ten years, to 1847. Sand was a French Romantic political activist while Chopin was concentrating on his music. It was during this relationship that Chopin composed his twenty-four préludes (Op. 28) during his stay at Majorca, where the weather was so bad that he almost died. This romance was one of the great and intriguing romances of music, despite a bitter ending. She said this about her lover. "His creative power was spontaneous, miraculous...But then the most heart-rending labor I have ever witnessed. It was a series of attempts, of fits of irresolution and impatience to recover certain details. He conceived a melody as a whole, but when he tried to write it down he analyzed it too much, and his regret at not receiving it in clear-cut form plunged him-- by his own account-- into a sort of despair. He would shut himself in his room for days, pacing up and down, breaking his pens, repeating and modifying one bar a hundred times...He would spend six weeks over a page, only to end by writing it out finally just as he had sketched it in the original draft." The break-up was supposedly over Sand's children, with whom Sand believed Chopin was falling in love.

Chopin died of tuberculosis in Paris in 1849. According to his autopsy, he may have had other diseases as well, such as cystic fibrosis and emphysema. He had written a career count of nineteen waltzes, twenty-four preludes, fifty-eight mazurkas, twenty-one nocturnes, seventeen polonaises, four impromptus, among many other pieces. Poland has never forgotten Chopin; indeed, the last music heard over Warsaw Radio before the city surrendered to the Nazis was music that all Poles knew--the first eleven notes of the Polonaise in A. He is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His heart is in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw.


"Among the numerous pleasures of Vienna the hotel evenings are famous. During supper Strauss...plays waltzes...After every waltz they get huge applause...It shows the corrupt taste of the Viennese public." --Chopin


The Music of Chopin

Chopin's style is very unique. His rhythmic patterns and smooth rubato passages is considered an archetype of Romantic Period music. Quite ironically, Chopin considered the Romantic movement as distant and frivolous. Perhaps the most well-known piece by Chopin is the Minute Waltz. This waltz was never ment to be played under a minute, though it is a common attempt among pianists.

Samples of Chopin's Music

Back to Arcadia and the Waltz!

Check out Johann Strauss and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to learn about other great waltz composers!

Find out about the steps of the waltz so you can dust off your dancing shoes!

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Works Cited

Goulding, Phil. Classical Music. New York : Ballantine Books, 1992.250-257.

Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%E9d%E9ric_Chopin>


compiled by Christina Borg and Lekan Wang