Frederic Chopin is often considered Poland’s greatest composer. A child prodigy and pianist of the Romantic era, he is popular for his compositions written for the solo piano.
His influence on the evolution of waltzes, ballads, and many other piano pieces holds strong to this day, memorializing his name in the world of music.
Chopin didn’t live a very long life, but he lived a full one – through the black and white keys he grew to know so well. Take a minute to get to know Chopin’s life and work, through our tribute to this great musician.
Frederic Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 and lived until October 17, 1849. He grew up in Warsaw, where his parents – recognizing their young child’s talent – enrolled him in the Warsaw Conservatory of Music. He studied there for three years, and then went on to perform across Europe; in countries such as Poland, Austria, Germany, and Paris (to name a few).
He left Poland at the age of 20, after completing his musical education and composing several impressive original works. At age 21, Chopin settled down in Paris, where he gave approximately 30 performances to the public. He made money selling compositions and giving piano lessons (can you imagine being taught by Chopin himself?).
Chopin’s love life wasn’t quite as steady as his musical career. In 1836, Chopin proposed to a woman named Maria Wodzinska; but unfortunately the engagement failed. Later, he met and grew close to the French author “George Sand” – a pen name for a woman born as Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin. The two had a 10-year relationship, but split up in 1847.
Around 1842, Chopin got sick, and his health continued to deteriorate in the years that followed – it’s suggested that he may have suffered from a type of epilepsy. During this period, he composed less and less. He was financially supported during his later years, by an admirer of his named Jane Stirling. He died in 1849, likely by tuberculosis, after his seven-year struggle with failing health.
Like many child prodigies, Frederic Chopin had hit the stage before he’d even hit ten years old. He published his first composition at age seven, and he began performing the following year. As a young musician, he admired Bach, Mozart, and Schubert – and incorporated their styles alongside Polish folk music. He composed all of his music for the piano, writing mainly for solo pianists. He also wrote a few chamber pieces, piano concertos, and a couple of songs to Polish lyrics.
Although he specialized in only one instrument, his works were far from bland or repetitive. His music included waltzes, mazurkas, nocturnes, impromptus, polonaises, sonatas, and preludes – some of which weren’t published until after his death.
How His Music Evolved
Today, there are over 230 known Chopin works carrying his musical legacy (though some that he composed in early childhood were lost). His early work was influenced by Italian opera and Polish folk music; and his first compositions were considered “brilliant” keyboard pieces, similar to the work of Freidrich Kalkbrenner and Ignaz Moscheles.
As Chopin grew and evolved as a composer, he pivoted to focus on the salon genre of the nocturne – in fact, his influence helped shape the genre. He was the first composer to write ballades and scherzo as individual pieces, establishing a brand new genre of music. He took inspiration from dance and song to write waltzes for the salon recital, rather than the ballroom.
How His Career Evolved
As a child prodigy, Chopin started out strong – learning music, composing, and performing at a very young age. He traveled throughout Europe, taking the stage at many venues, receiving applause and praise-filled reviews whenever he performed. After becoming sick in 1842, Chopin composed less and less. In 1841, the year before illness struck, he wrote 12 original works. The very next year, plagued with health struggles, he wrote only six pieces.
Although poor health took over in his later years, and ultimately prevented him from continuing his work, Frederic Chopin continues to hold a well-known name long after his death. It’s said that although he didn’t write as many works later in his career, they became more refined. Chopin continues to live on in his music, which is still widely recognized, and through his influence on piano compositions.
Which one of Chopin’s compositions is your favorite?