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Chopin, Frédéric (1810-1849)
Portrait by Maria Wodzinska (1819-1896)

Frédéric Chopin

born: 1 March 1810
died: 17 October 1849
country: Poland

Chopin was born in 1810 probably on 1 March (though some sources favour 22 February) in Zelazowa Wola, a small village about twenty miles west of Warsaw. He began his piano studies with Adalbert Zwyny in 1816, made his public debut at the age of nine, and then became a student of Józef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory. It is largely due to Zwyny and Elsner allowing him to develop in his own way that Chopin became an original creative force. Though far from being his earliest composition, the Rondo in C minor was published in 1825 as his Op 1.

He first attracted attention outside Poland in 1829 when he gave two concerts in Vienna, including a triumphant performance of his Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’, Op 2. The fading attractions of Warsaw and his unrequited love for a young soprano persuaded Chopin to leave Poland in November 1830. He never returned. Paris remained his base for the rest of his life.

Here he lived a fashionable life in the highest echelons of society, making his living as a highly paid piano teacher to the aristocracy, gradually turning his back on a career as a pianist in favour of composition. He made his Paris debut in February 1832 but gave no other concert in which he was the principal artist until 1841. It is reckoned that in his entire career Chopin gave as few as thirty public concerts. His art was more suited to the intimate surroundings of the salons and, because of his weak constitution, he was keenly aware that he could not compete with the virile, barn-storming manner of players like Liszt.

For the first six years of his life in Paris, Chopin’s sex life is a blank. He was far from being a Byronic, red-blooded ladies’ man (though he was never short of female admirers). Then in 1836 he met the novelist George Sand and lived with her from 1838 until 1847, dividing his time between Paris and her chateau in Nohant some 180 miles south of the capital. The relationship, always one more of mother and son than husband and wife, was ended acrimoniously by Sand.

Emotionally broken and suffering increasingly from the effects of tuberculosis, Chopin left for London after the revolution of 1848 in need of money. With the help of his wealthy benefactor, Jane Stirling, he gave concerts in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. By the time he returned to Paris his health had been fatally undermined and for the final year of his life he became a virtual recluse, unable to compose or teach and reliant on the charity of friends. He died choking and spitting blood on 17 October 1849. Chopin was buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise near his friend Bellini. His heart was taken to Warsaw and placed in an urn in the Church of the Holy Cross.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2008


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