Frederic Francois Chopin (1810 - 1849)

'A man of equisite heart and... mind' - Delacroix


Brief Family Details
Brief Music History
Chopins Childhood
Chopin at the Warsaw Conservatorie
Travels and Farewell to Poland

Brief Family Details

Name: Frederic Francois Chopin
Born: Zelazowa Wola, west of Warsaw, 1st March 1810
Died: 17 October 1849, 39yrs old

Father: Nicholas Chopin
Born: Marainville, eastern France, 1771
Died: 1844
Job: Mainly a tutor (english, math etc)
Music: Played the flute and violin

Mother: Justyna
Born: 1782
Died: 1861
Job: Farming girl, well-educated, House Wife during marriage
Music: Played the piano

Father and Mother: Married June, 1806

Sister: Louise Chopin
Born: 1807
Died: 1855

Sister: Isabella Chopin
Born: 1811
Died: 1881

Sister: Emilia Chopin
Born: 1813
Died: 1827


Brief Music History

First Music Tutor: Adalbert Zywny, a Bohemian composer aged 61
First Public Performces: 1817, 6yrs old
First Major Concert: 24 February 1818, 7yrs old, played a Gyrowetz Concerto
Earliest Publication: 1817, short Polonaise in G minor (all copies and original lost)
First Offical Publication: 2 June 1825, Rondo in C Minor, Op 1
First Major Schooling: Autumn of 1823, Chopin left Zywny attended Warsaw Lycuem


Chopins Childhood

Chopin was born in the village of Zelazowa Wola to the west of Warsaw on 1st March 1810. His birthplace is still standing today, dedicated to his memory. In his day, Chopin's house belonged to the Sharbek family and it was the Sharbeks who employed Chopins father, Nicholas as a tutor to their children.

Chopins father was born in 1771 in the village of Marainville, eastern France. Nicholas was a wheelwright by trade (along with his grandfather) and both owned extensive vineyeards. The village Nicholas lived in was owned by a Polish nobleman, Michael Pac, and was thus familiar with the Poles from an early age. At the age of sixteen, Nicholas travelled to Poland with a member of Michaels staff, Adam Weydlicj, whom he became close friends with. His command of French and Polish proved useful over the years and tutored many artistocratic families, finally accepting a post with the Skarbek family in 1802.

Nicholas met Justyna whist working for the Skarbek's. A quiet, well-educated girl in her early twenties, a daughter of a farmer and a poor relation to the Skarbek's. It is said that she played the piano well, and evidently charmed Nicholas, who had an ear for good music and himself played the flute and violin.

Nicholas and Justyna had four children: Louise, Frederic, Isabella and Emilia.

Chopin bought up in Warsaw, was a poetic and sensitive child. Chopin showed a 'flare' for music at a very early age, apparently Chopins passionate love of music showed itself at an early age. There are stories of how when his mother and Louise played dances on the grand piano he would burst into tears for the sheer beauty and fagility of the sounds he heard. By the age of seven, he became sufficiently good for his parents to try and find him a teacher. Their choice was Adalbert Zywny, a Bohemian composer then aged 61.

In spite of Zywny's teachings, Chopin had a will of his own. Whilst practising he amused himself more with improvisation and making up pieces, than in the playing of scale or finger exercises (though later, as a teacher, he put great belief in such systematic practice).

By the end of 1817, Chopin began to play in public, and was being described as 'Mozarts Successor'. His first major concert was on 24 February 1818 at the age of seven. He played a Gyrowetz concerto in the aid of charity. Apparently his only worries whilst playing was what the public thought of his velvet jacket and collar.

In November 1817, Chopin began to compose and a short Polonaise in G minor was published. In the same year he so impressed the Grand Duke Constantine that he ordered it be scored for band and performed. No copies seem to have survivied and the original manuscript is also lost.

During the beginning of autumn of 1823, Chopin left Zywny and become a pupil at the Warsaw Lycuem. Here, Chopin began his formal education and music had to take a side step Latin and Greek, along with other subjects. For all his efforts, his spelling refused to improve, and to the end of his life he continued to mis-spell foriegn words. During the long hot summers of Central Europe, Chopin would go for holidays to the country estates of his friends. He observed the dance step and rythms of the mazurka and other regional music - which he learnt to dance with expert fluency. He found time to sketch several pieces which he later developed into a body of memorable piano miniatures.

In May 1825 he was invited to demonstrate a novel kind of piano-organ called with Aeolomelodikon, in the great hall of the Warsaw Conservatoire. For his efforts, he was presented with a diamond ring from the Tsar of Russia, Grand Duke Alexander I.

On 2 June 1825, the Warsaw Courier announced the publication of Chopins first offical work, the Rondo in C Minor, Op 1. The Rondo was dedicated to his headmasters wife. The music was regarded as an astonishingly fluent achievement for a fifteen year old, even though he had left his offical studies with music since 1821.

During Chopins last years at Lyceum, he was made organist of the school. Although he never composed for the oragan, it was an instrument that left its influence in some of his music, and of which he had complete technical mastery.

On the evening of his graduation presentation day, 27 July 1826, he went to the Warsaw Opera with Wilhelm Kolberg to hear Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, and that same evening wrote a polonaise incorporating one of the Kolberg's (his very good friend) favourite melodies from the opera.

Finally, Chopin returned home. His sister Emilia took sick and died the following spring.


Chopin at the Warsaw Conservatorie

'Chopins variations are constantly running through my head' - Schumann

In september 1826, Chopin enrolled at the Warsaw Conservatorie for three years. Whilst studying, Chopin found his best expression came with individual and original pieces written solely for the piano, rather than the drudgery of writing fugues, masses and chamber music. Chopin struggled with textbook formulae imposed by his teachers (namely Elsner, a successful 'academic' composer), and any spare time he had, Chopin would experiment and write music that pleased his needs.

Whilst studying, nobody restricted his freedom and natural curiosity, or questioned his techniques. Among some of his more interesting pieces was a Rondo a la Mazur. This was notable for an early use of the sharpened fourth degree characteristic of the Lydain mode, ie. use of an F sharp - not F - in the scale of C major, this was related to the melodic inflexions of Polish folk music.

Chopin's first of many Nocturnes began in 1827. His first was Nocture in E Minor, Op. 72 No.1, in JOHN FIELD which he adapted from the examples of an Irish composer, John Fields. But, by far the most important of Chopin's early student works was a set of variations on La ci darem la mano from Mozart's opera, Don Giocannu, for piano and orchestra, written during the summer holidays of 1827.

In the following year, 1828, Chopin decided to widened his musical experiences. The music life in Warsaw centered almost entirely around the Opera, and the staple far was Rossini, whose music had swept Europe off JOHANN NEPOMUK HUMMEL its feet. Chopin used many of Rossini's tunes, but quickly became bored. Shortly after, Hummel visited Warsaw and Chopin siezed the opportunity of hearing him perform. Hummel's music combined classical simplicity with romantic intensity and dexterity of fingerwork fasinated Chopin, and Chopin soon made acquaintance with Hummel. This was Chopin's first widely recognised contact with a well known composer.

Later that year, Chopin headed off to Berlin with a friend of his father, who was attending a zoological conference. Whilst in Berlin, Chopin found himself in the presence of Mendelssohn, but felt shy about introducing himself. Mendelssohn's life and work provided Chopin with more self confidence in what he was hoping to achive with his music, namely a more exciting and rewarding life. On returning to Warsaw, Chopin found the social life of the town, the balls and soiorees and so on. In the end, he became very bored with it all and within a year was traveling once again.

During 1829, Chopin spent more time writing exercises for the Conservatorie. He composed a piano trio and dedicated it to Prince Antoine Radziwill, who had been so encouraging when Chopin played for the Tsar in 1825. Chopin also wrote two more works for the piano and orchestra: the Grand Fantasia on Polish Airs, and the beautiful and sensitive Krakoviak, a 'Grand Concert Rondo'.

In the spring of 1829, Chopins parents felt that nothing more would be gained from Chopin spending time in the Conservatoire. Chopins father sent a petition top the Minister of Public Relations, requesting for travel funds to many European countries such as Germany, Italy and France. Unfortunatly, officialdom had little interest in reputation and promise; stating that Chopin failed to devot ample time to piano minatures and showed no aptitude for academic subjects or set composition. Over the following months Chopin continued his studies and finally walked out of the Warsaw Conservatoire with glowing recommendations from his teacher, Elsner who stated in his report on Chopin, 'outstanding abilities [and] musical genius'.


Travels and Farewell to Poland

'The native melody is like the climate of the mother country' - Witwicki

Virtually immediately after his finaly examinations, Chopin left Warsaw and headed for Vienna, which, after Paris was the most important musical centre in Europe. Beethoven had died only two years previously.

On the 31 July 1829, Chopin arrived in Vienna and within the week he had been to three opera's, but there was a more serious pupose to his visit. The influential Austrian music publisher, Tobias Haslinger, whose publications included works from Beethoven and Schubert. Chopin had already sent Haslinger manuscripts of his first piano sonata, but being a shrewd business man, he was reluctant to publish music of an unknown composer. He changed his mind after he had read the a praiseworthy letter from Elsner, and had heard Chopin play. He offered to publish the Variations - without payment - on condition that Chopin play them at a public concert.

On August 11 he gave his concert: 'I made my entry into the world'. His main work was the La ci darem Variations, which received a tumultuous reception. He also intended to introduce his Krakoviak but at rehearsals the orchestra accompanied so badly' that he was compelled to improvise. He took one of the themes from a Polish drinking song popular at weddings called Chimiel.

The impact of his first concert resulted nevertheless in another on 18 August. He wrote the day after, 'If I was well received the first time, it was still better yesterday. The moment I appeared on the stage there were bravos, repeated three times: and there was a larger audience... The second success was better than the first: it goes crescendo, that's what I like'. Among the works played was the Krakoviak, with the origional rather weak orchestration now improved by Thomasz Nidecki, who had been a student at the Warsaw Conservatorie with Chopin and was now studying in Vienna.

Chopin became the new attraction for Vienna, a brilliant new star rising in the musical firmament. He met Czerny (who taught Liszt and had been a pupil of Beethoven) and Gyrowetz, a composer whose numerous works included concertos - one of which Chopin had played as a prodigy in Warsaw many years earlier - and over sixty symphonies. He was Kapellmeister to the Vienna Court, and important post. Chopin was introduced to the Lichnowsky family, whose ancestral homeland was Poland. The family was among the best known of Viennese patrons and had been closely associated to Beethoven.


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