Chopin, Frédéric François
1810 – 1849
Prodigy of the Pianoby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
The first of March of 1810, in a village near Warsaw (specifically Zelazowa Wola) was born one of the three ‘1810 master musicians’. (Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Schumann). Chopin came of a French father and a Polish mother. Both parents were good amateur musicians, although they did not have any intentions in becoming professional.
As a very small child, Frédéric was passionately fond of music. Sometimes, he would get up in the middle of the night to play a single chord on the piano, and then listen to it raptly, until its last echoes died away. (No wonder their servants thought that the house was haunted).
Chopin’s great talent was recognised quickly, and soon, he was being given piano classes. The six-year old Chopin began to learn with the Czech teacher, Wojciech Zywny (1756-1842), who used to base his teaching on Bach and Mozart. By the age of seven, he was a brilliant performer, with an exceptional gift for improvisation.
He gave his first performance before reaching the age of eight, and played a very difficult piano concerto. His success was immediate. Frédéric’s childhood was a happy one and an auspicious beginning to a dazzling career. His parents gave him a comfortable background, a good education and helped him intelligently; but they were not sure if it was the best for him to become a musician. From very early, Frédéric learned to be amongst other people, specially with famous and important people. Very important to his success wherever he went, were his good manners and charm, as well as his brilliant abilities. At the age of fifteen he played for Alexander I, Tsar of all the Russians. Alexander I gave him a diamond ring – perhaps not the most suitable present for a schoolboy!
One of Chopin’s main motivations, was seeing Paganini perform. He was stunned at his technique. Stunned, but not discouraged. He practised harder than ever before and from 1823 to 1826, he concentrated on his musical studies at the Warsaw Lyceum. Frédéric spent his summer holidays in various parts of the country, where he revealed a particular interest in folk music and country traditions. Chopin listened to and noted down the texts of folk songs, took part in peasant weddings and harvest festivities, and played a folk instrument resembling the double bass, with the village musicians. He became well acquainted with the Polish folk music, a source of inspiration which he kept until the very end of his life.
-Chopin as an Adult-
"Chopin, Fryderyk, third year student, amazing talent, musical genius". Thus read his report from the Warsaw High School of Music (1829).
Having completed his musical studies, he planned to travel to become familiar with the musical life of Europe and to win fame. He traveled to Vienna, were he was able to perform, and achieve great success. Back in Warsaw, he devoted himself to composition, but soon he chose to travel back to Vienna where he wished to consolidate his earlier success and establish his reputation.
A few days after his arrival in Viena, he heard from the outbreak of the uprising in Warsaw, against the subservience of the Kingdom of poland to Russia, and the presence of the Russian Tsar on the Polish throne. Sad and anxious about the fate of his family and country, he stopped planning the course of his career. But the eight months in Vienna were not wasted, for strong dramatical emotional experiences inspired the creative imagination of the composer, that most probably accelerated the emergence of a new, individual style, quite different from his previous brillinat style. This new works, revealed great force and passion.
Chopin found himself on his way to Paris, stopping by in Munich, were he gave a concert on the 28th of August, and then went on to Stuttgart. It was here that he learned about the dramatic collapse of the November Uprising and the capture of Warsaw by the Russians. The reaction to this news assumed a form of fever and nervous crisis. We read in Stuttgart’s diary:
"The enemy is in the house [...] Oh God, do You exist? You do and yet You do not avenge. - Have You not had enough of Moscow's crimes - or - or are You Yourself a Muscovite [...] I here, useless! And I here, empty-handed. At times I can only groan, suffer, and pour out my despair at my piano!".
Once in Paris (autumn – 31 years old), he was able to settle down a bit, and, because of the war in Poland, meet many fellow countrymen: some of the thousands of exiles, consequence of Poland’s Great Emigration. There, his reputation as an artist grew rapidly, and he became a friend of Liszt, Mendelssohn, Ferdinand Hiller, Berlioz and Auguste Franchomme. Later in Leipzig, he met Schumman who wrote great complimenting articles about Chopin.
He managed to make a living from giving lessons – he was a popular teacher among the Polish and French Aristocracy. Frédéric chose the status of an emigrée. He never extended his passport in the Russian embassy, and so he was not legally allowed to visit his homeland. Nevertheless, he longed to see his family. And he did, in 1835. He was briefly reunited with his parents, for the last time, in Bohemia. Short after this visit, he visited the Wodzinski family. He fell in love with Maria Wodzinski, aged 16, but was never accepted by her mother because of Chopin’s illness. Chopin suffered from his lungs, and had a hard time keeping up with his health. This rejection was for him an extremely painful experience, and so he decided to travel to London hoping to forget all unpleasant memories.
Soon he met the writer George Sand, and found extraordinary tenderness, warmth and maternal care in her. The spent a wniter together in Mallorca (Spain), but his health was greatly deteriorated. They were forced out of the place because of Tuberculosis rumors. They moved back to Nohant in France, were most of hist best and profound works were composed. They were happy together, and even trated as married by people. But with time, the increasingly hostile attitue of George Sand’s son, made his way through their final parting of ways, in 1847.
Grievoues personal experiences, and the loss of Nohant, (so important to his health and creativity) had a terrible effect on Chopin’s mental and physical state. His visit to Scotland did no good for his health. He gave his last concert, playing for Polish emigrees in the Guildhall in London. Some days later, he returned to Paris.
His sister Ludwika Jedrzejewiczowa, came to look after him. Although Chopin was not a frequent churchgoer, he accepted the last sacraments from a Polish priest and at the end was calm. Some of his requests were that his unfinished manuscripts be destroyed, and that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral.
On the 17th of October, 1849, Frédéric Chopin died of pulmonary tuberculosis in his Parisian flat in the “Place Vendôme”. His funeral took place at the Church of the Madeleine on the 30th of October, 1849. The many mourners followed the coffin to the cemetery of Pére-Lachaise. However, his heart, taken from his body after death, was brought by his sister to Warsaw where it was placed in an urn installed in a pillar of the Holy Cross church in Krakowskie Przedmiscie.
A monument in his memory in the form of a weeping muse with a broken
lyre was unveiled a year later during which a box of Polish earth was
sprinkled upon his grave.