Voices of Polonia: Frederick Chopin
June 29th 2012 · 0 Comments
Frederic Chopin was a musical genius. He showed great admiration for the piano at a very young age. He composed two polonaises (Polish dances) at the age of seven years. Frederic was a child prodigy and was better than his piano teacher after only a few years of lessons. He gave his first performance at just short of eight years of age. At this concert he wore a new jacket with a white collar.
When he finished playing, the audience clapped heartily. Chopin proudly proclaimed to his mother that the applause was because they liked his new collar! He was a talented child with a large imagination. He was good at improvising everything from stories to music. He was a talented writer as well. He was always jolly and loved practical jokes. He was also a great imitator and many people later in his life thought he would make a good actor. As an adolescent he was already regarded as a music master by Polish society. They even called him the best pianist in Warsaw-at the age of fifteen.
He was born in Zelazowa Wola (near Warsaw, Poland) on February 22, 1810. He was born into a small family of a French father, Nicolas Chopin, who immigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of sixteen. Though he had come from a foreign country, with time he became completely Polonized and undoubtedly considered himself a Pole.
His Polish mother, Justyna Krzyzanowska married Nicolas Chopin in 1806. Justyna’s brother would become the father of Polish-American Union General Wladimer Krzyzanowski, who fought with honor and valor at Gettysburg in the American Civil War.
He was the first cousin of Frederick Chopin. His parents were musicians and taught their children all about music. His father played the flute and violin. His mother played the piano and gave lessons to boys.
Chopin was tutored at home until he was thirteen. In the autumn of 1829, Chopin began a three-year course of studies with the Silesian composer Jozef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, which was affiliated with the University of Warsaw. Chopin began studying music theory, figured bass, and composition with Elsner.
In evaluations Elsner noted Chopin’s “remarkable talent” and “musical genius.” Elsner observed the development of Chopin’s blossoming talent. Elsner’s teaching style was based on his reluctance to “constrain” Chopin with “narrow, academic, outdated” rules and on his determination to allow the young artist to mature” according to the laws of his own nature.”
Chopin Settled in Paris
In early 1829, Chopin performed in Vienna, where he was received with great reviews. The next year he returned to his homeland, Poland, and performed the premiere of his piano concerto in F minor at the National Theatre on March 17. After these travels, Chopin decided to move to Paris in order to avoid the rapidly changeable emotional political situation back home in Poland.
On the road he learned that the Russians had captured Warsaw, and he composed the great “Revolutionary Etude.” Once in Paris he began working on his first ballade (op. 23) and scherzo (op. 20), as well as his first etudes (op. 10).
It is also at this time that he began his unfortunate struggle with tuberculosis.
In France Chopin had the opportunity to acquaint himself with his contemporaries, who were also participants of the Romantic Revolution in Paris. Among them were Liszt, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Balzac, Heine, Victor Hugo, and Schumann. In December, 1831, Robert Schumann, reviewing Chopin’s variations on a theme from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, had written: “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.”
In Paris Chopin found artists and other distinguished company, as well as achieved celebrity, and before long he was earning a handsome income teaching piano to affluent students from all over Europe. Here he seldom performed publicly. He played more frequently at salons-social gatherings of the aristocracy, artistic, and literary elite, but preferred playing at his own Paris apartment for small groups of friends.
His high income from teaching and composing freed him from the strains of concert-giving. As a pianist, Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances-a few more than thirty in the course of his lifetime.
Frederic Chopin was extremely proud of being Polish (even though he was only half- Polish-his father was a French-born naturalized Polish citizen), and was very patriotic. He never quite mastered the French language, even though he lived in Paris for his whole adult life. He was reserved and didn’t want glamour and celebrity like some of his fellow virtuoso pianists.
Through his connection with Madame Dudevant, better known by her literary pseudonym (a false name used by a writer) as George Sand, she became an important part of his life. When they met, she was 34 and he was 28.
Madame Sand was courageous and domineering: her need to dominate found its counterpart in Chopin’s need to be led. She left a memorable description of the composer at work: “His creative work was spontaneous and miraculous. It came to him without effort or warning, but then began the most heartrending labor I have ever witnessed.”
It was a series of attempts of fits of irresolution and impatience to recover certain details. He would shut himself in his room for days, pacing up and down, breaking his pens, repeating and modifying one bar a hundred times.
Madame Sand shared the winter of 1838-39 with Chopin. They stayed in an unheated peasant hut in the Validemossa Monastery. Chopin encountered many difficulties in acquiring a piano from Paris in these parts. Much of this miserable and desperate time is depicted in his 24 preludes (op.28), which were composed during this time.
Due to the terrible conditions and Chopin’s unpleasant reaction to them he and Madame Sand returned to Paris. Chopin spent his summers at Sand’s estate in Hohant. Unfortunately, the couple’s happiness was relatively short-lived, and they shifted from love to conflict. Chopin stated once that, in ending this long affection, he had ruined his life. Once found in his later letters: “What has become of my art? And my heart, where have I wasted it?”
The great majority of Chopin’s compositions were written for the piano as a solo instrument; all of his extant works feature the piano in one way or another. Franz Liszt termed him a “gentle, harmonious genius.” Chopin’s works emphasize nuance and expressive depth rather than sheer virtuosity, according to Tad Szulc. Vladimir Horowitz referred to Chopin as “The only truly great composer for the piano.” He also endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurek and the Viennese waltz with a greater range of melody and expression.
Over 230 pieces of Chopin’s works survive. Some compositions from early childhood have been lost. All his known works involved the piano. The polonaise in A-major, op. 40 no. 1, the “Military,” and the polonaise in A-Flat Major, op. 53, the “Heroic” are among Chopin’s best-loved and most often played works. Arthur Rubinstein remarked on Chopin’s genius: “When I play Chopin, I know I speak directly to the hearts of people! Chopin is considered one of the great masters of romantic music.”
On October 17, 1849 tuberculosis ended the life of the young genius. Chopin died in the arms of his sister, who hastened from Poland to his death-bed. Thousands joined together to attend his funeral and to pay him homage. His funeral was held at the Church of the Madeleine, and he was buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His heart was entombed at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, Poland; and Polish soil was sprinkled over his tomb in France, as he had requested. He was truly the romantic poet of the piano.
References: Frederic Chopin Biography: life of Frederic Chopin / Frederic Chopin-Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia / Chopin’s Music: Frederic Chopin (Biography) / Frederic Chopin: Chopin Music.
By Mark Ziobro