Chopin, Frédéric-François

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Chopin, Frédéric-François

 

(also Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin). Born Feb. 22,1810 (according to some sources, Mar. 1, 1810), in Żelazowa Wola, near Warsaw; died Oct. 17, 1849, in Paris. Polish composer and pianist.

Chopin’s father, Nicolas Chopin, was a French emigrant who took part in the Polish Uprising of 1794, and his mother, J. Krzyżanowska, was a Polishwoman. Chopin received his first piano lessons from his sister Ludvika (Louise) Chopin. In 1816 he began studying with the Czech pianist and composer W. Zywny in Warsaw. Chopin’s gifts as a pianist and composer were manifested at a very young age; in 1817 he wrote two polonaises in the style of M. K. Ogiński, and in 1818 he performed in public for the first time. While studying at the lyceum (1823–26), he continued to perfect his playing technique and to perform in public; beginning in 1822 he studied the theory of composition with J. Eisner and later graduated from his class at the Central School of Music in Warsaw, where he studied from 1826 to 1829.

Chopin’s creative development proceeded amid an upsurge in Polish national culture. While still a student, Chopin established close ties with the progressive intelligentsia and the revolutionary-minded youth. In the years 1825–29, during travels in various parts of Poland, he became acquainted with folk art and the life of the people. In 1828 he visited Berlin, and in 1829, Vienna, where he composed a number of works and gave concerts, performing, among other things, his own work Variations on “Là ci darem” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni for piano and orchestra.

The Warsaw period of Chopin’s life (up to November 1830) played a crucial role in the formation of Chopin’s creative art. In his native land, having absorbed the influence of Ogiński, Eisner, M. Szymanowska, F. Lessel, K. Kurpiński, and F. Ostrowski, among others, Chopin composed two concerti for piano and orchestra (1829–30), a piano trio (1829), the Grand Fantasy on Polish Airs for piano and orchestra (1830), the Krakowiak, or Grand Rondo de Concert, for piano and orchestra (1828), a sonata (1828), a number of polonaises and mazurkas, the Nocturne in E Minor (1827), and the first of the 12 grand studies (1829–30), which he later completed in Paris, where he also completed other cycles of piano pieces. The works composed in Poland reflect the influence of national folk music, which is particularly evident in the melodic turns and the nature of the rhythms, linked with the Polish dances, such as the mazurka and polonaise, and with the characteristics of the harmonic texture, as well as with the structure of the forms. They fully reflect the uniqueness of Chopin’s music, namely, the extensive use of the devices of alternation, especially with respect to the subdominant, that is, the “Slavic fourth” (the alternation of a natural and an augmented fourth), a feature characteristic of Chopin’s mature works as well. Based on the national dances, Chopin also composed poetic miniatures and grand concerti for piano and orchestra, imbuing them with traits of epic poems. In his native land he also composed songs to the words of Polish poets; of the several dozen written, only 19 have been preserved, all published posthumously.

A milestone event in Chopin’s life and work was the Polish Uprising of 1830–31; it found him in Vienna, from where he set out for Paris, stopping along the way in Munich and Stuttgart (it was in Stuttgart that Chopin learned of the fall of Warsaw). In Vienna and Stuttgart (1830–31), Chopin composed or began composing his first scherzo (1831–32) and first ballade (1831–35), the Revolutionary Etude in C Minor (1831), which soon became famous (one of the streets in Warsaw has been named the Street of the Revolutionary Etude), and other works, many of which were completed in Paris.

Chopin settled in Paris in September 1831, although he retained spiritual ties with Poland until the end of his life. In 1832 he began his triumphant concert appearances in Paris, in the course of which he met the leading literary and art figures of France and other countries, including F. Liszt, H. Berlioz, V. Bellini, G. Meyerbeer, H. Heine, and E. Delacroix. In 1834–35, Chopin journeyed along the Rhine with F. Hiller and F. Mendelssohn; in 1835 he made the acquaintance of R. Schumann in Leipzig. In 1835–36 he traveled to Bohemian health resorts. He spent late 1838 on the island of Majorca with George Sand, and in subsequent years he spent several summers on her estate at Nohant. The liaison between Chopin and George Sand ended abruptly in 1847, which adversely affected Chopin’s health and hastened his death. In 1848, Chopin toured Great Britain. Chopin died in Paris and was buried there; his heart, in accordance with his deathbed wishes, was brought by his sister to Warsaw and placed into one of the columns of the Holy Cross Church.

Chopin’s most important works of the Paris period are dominated by heroic-dramatic and tragic images, stemming from bitter contemplation about the failure of the Polish Uprising. The music is imbued with a unique passion and intensity of feeling and a sense of conflict and is characterized by the power and breadth of the images; at the same time, the features of national folk music are more pronounced. The most important theme is the glorification of patriotic endeavors and hopes, whose defeat evoked intense grief. The culmination of the sense of the tragic in Chopin’s creative work of the 1830’s is the famous Funeral March (the “Mont Blanc of the musical Alps,” in the words of A. V. Lunacharskii), composed in 1837 and included in 1839 as the third part of the Sonata in B Flat Minor. The march, which combines a lofty sense of tragedy with an intense lyricism, is now part of numerous funeral rituals throughout the world. Patriotic, nationalistic ideas are particularly vividly expressed in the B Minor Sonata and in the polonaises, characterized by emotional richness, ranging from the nobly festive (the A Flat Major Polonaise) to the tragic (the F Sharp Minor Polonaise). National folk elements are also evident in the numerous mazurkas, on which Chopin worked since his youth. He developed their metric and rhythmic structure, stressing the uniqueness of Polish dance music, and achieved melodic and emotional diversity, ranging from brilliant danceability to the elegiac. His mazurkas present elegant sketches of Polish daily life (Chopin referred to his mazurkas as vignettes) and brief emotional stories of the destiny of his native land. The features of Polish dance music are also evident in Chopin’s waltzes, imbued with profound meaning (they influenced the development of the Parisian waltz).

Chopin’s treatment of the pianoforte genres was inventive. Chopin transformed the prelude (including a cycle of 24 piano preludes, one in each of the keys, composed during the 1830’s and published in 1839) from a mere “introduction” to the fugue or other work into an independent instrumental miniature, condensing considerable emotional feeling; each is an imagistic sketch, reflecting various moods. The nocturne was considerably developed by Chopin, who imbued it with contrasts and drama. Chopin also introduced new and more profound content into the impromptu and transformed the scherzo, imbuing it with passion, the fantastic, and emotional diversity. He treated the etude in a new way, completely subordinating complex, virtuoso aspects of piano-playing technique to the imagery and musical expressiveness.

Chopin’s creative work is one of the greatest achievements of Polish and world artistic culture. As the founder of Polish classical music, Chopin raised the national musical art to the highest artistic level through his enormous compositional and performing talents and mastery, innovative development of folk traditions, and transformation of the experience of the masters of national and world musical culture (he particularly valued the music of J. S. Bach and W. A. Mozart), as well as through his progressive ideology, lofty intellect, and ethical, aesthetic, and political convictions (he placed his hopes in the people and their liberty-seeking aspirations). His works are a lofty embodiment of the full range of human emotions, ranging from high tragedy to intense lyricism.

An inspired pianist, Chopin possessed an original performing style, characterized by a cantabile style and elegance and combining virtuosic brilliance with profundity and intimacy. His innovativeness was understood only by a few of his contemporaries, primarily F. Liszt and E. Delacroix (who painted several portraits of Chopin), as well as M. I. Glinka, A. S. Dargomyzhskii, the masters of the The Five (Balakirev Circle), and subsequent generations of Russian composers.

Since 1927, Warsaw has been the site of the International Chopin Piano Competition, whose winners have included many Soviet pianists (first prize at the first competition was won by L. N. Oborin). Warsaw is also the site of the Frederic Chopin Society, which engages in extensive concert, scholarly, publishing, and organizational activity.

WORKS

Correspondance de Frédéric Chopin, vols. 1–3. Paris 1953–60.
Korespondencja Fryderyka Chopina, vols. 1–2. Warsaw, 1955.
Pis’ma, 2nd ed., vol. 1. Moscow, 1976.

REFERENCES

Paskhalov, V., Shopen i pol’skaia narodnaia muzyka. Leningrad-Moscow, 1949.
Liszt, F. F. Shopen, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1956.
Solovtsov, A. Friderik Shopen, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1960.
Friderik Shopen: Stat’i i issledovaniia sovetskikh muzykovedov. Moscow, 1960.
Iwaszkiewicz, J. Shopen. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from Polish.)
Belza, I. Friderik Frantsishek Shopen, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968. (In Polish translation: Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin. Warsaw, 1969.)
Kremlev, Iu. Friderik Shopen: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1971.
Kartowicz, M. Niewydane datychezas pamiatki po Chopinie. Warsaw, 1904.
Szymanowski, K. Fryderyk Chopin. Warsaw, 1925.
Hoesick, F. Chopin: Zycie i twórczość, vols. 1–4. Kraków, 1962–68.
Michalowski, K. Bibliografía chopinowska 1849–1969. Kraków, 1970.
Ekier, J. Wstep do Wydania narodowego dziel Fryderyka Chopina, Part 1: Zagadnienia edytorskie. Warsaw, 1974.

I. F. BELZA

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