Wednesday, March 10, 8810
Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) - Preludes
Frederic Chopin (Polish: Fryderyk [Franciszek] Chopin, sometimes Szopen; French: Frédéric [François] Chopin, March 10, 1810, Zelazowa Wola, Poland - October 17, 1849) was born in the Duchy of Warsaw, to a Polish mother and French-expatriate father, and in his early life was regarded as a child-prodigy pianist.
[Chopin's birthplace at Żelazowa Wola (now venue to piano recitals), Żelazowa Wola, some fifty kilometers west of Warsaw in Sochaczew County]
His father, Mikołaj Chopin, originally a Frenchman from Lorraine, had emigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of 16, and had served in Poland's National Guard during the Kościuszko Uprising.
[Mikołaj Chopin. Portrait by Ambroży Mieroszewski, 1829]
The elder Chopin subsequently worked in Żelazowa Wola as a tutor to the aristocracy, which included the Skarbeks (one of whose poorer relations, Tekla Justyna Krzyżanowska, he married).
According to family records, the couple's second child, Fryderyk (Frédéric) Chopin, was born on March 1, 1810. There is no known birth certificate. His baptismal certificate gives the birthdate as February 22, 1810.
In October 1810, when Fryderyk was seven months old, the family moved to Warsaw, where his father took a position as French-language teacher at a school in the Saxon Palace. The Chopin family lived on the palace grounds.
[In 1817-27, Chopin's family lived in this Warsaw University building, now adorned (center) with Fryderyk's profile, adjacent to the Kazimierz Palace]
In 1817 Mikołaj Chopin began work, still teaching French, at the Warsaw Lyceum at Warsaw University's Kazimierz Palace. The family lived in a spacious second-floor apartment in an adjacent building. Later, Fryderyk himself would attend the Warsaw Lyceum from 1823 to 1826.
In spite of Mikołaj Chopin's occupation, Polish spirit, culture and language pervaded the Chopins' home, and as a result Fryderyk would never, even in Paris, perfectly master the French language.
All the family had artistic leanings. Chopin père played the flute and violin; Chopin's mother played piano, and gave lessons to boys in the boarding house that the Chopins operated. Thus Fryderyk early became conversant with music in its various forms.
By six, he was already trying to reproduce what he heard or to make up new melodies.
He received his earliest piano lessons not from his mother, but from his older sister, Ludwika (in English, "Louise").
Chopin's first professional piano tutor, from 1816 to 1822, was the respected, elderly Wojciech Żywny. Although the youngster's skills soon surpassed those of his teacher, Chopin later spoke highly of him. Seven-year-old "Little Chopin" began to give public concerts that soon prompted comparison with Mozart as a child, and with Chopin's contemporary, Beethoven. That same year, Chopin composed two polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major. The first was published in the engraving workshop of Father Izydor Józef Cybulski (composer, engraver, director of an organists' school, and one of the few music publishers in Poland); the second survives as a manuscript prepared by Mikołaj Chopin. These small works were said to rival not only the popular polonaises of leading Warsaw composers, but the famous polonaises of Michał Kleofas Ogiński. A substantial development of melodic and harmonic invention, and of piano technique, was shown in Chopin's next known polonaise (in A-flat major), which the young artist offered, in 1821, as a name-day present to Żywny
About this time, at the age of eleven, Chopin performed in the presence of Russian Tsar Alexander I, who was in Warsaw, opening the Sejm.
As a child, Chopin showed an intelligence that was said to absorb everything and make use of everything for its development. He early showed remarkable abilities in observation and sketching, a keen wit and sense of humor, and an uncommon talent for mimicry.
A story from his school years recounts a teacher being pleasantly surprised by a superb portrait that Chopin had drawn of him in class.
In those years, Chopin was sometimes invited to the Belweder Palace as playmate to the son of Russian Poland's ruler, Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, and charmed the irascible duke with his piano-playing. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz attested to "Little Chopin's" popularity in his dramatic eclogue, Nasze Verkehry (Our Intercourse [!], 1818), in which the eight-year-old Chopin features as a motif in the dialogues.
During vacations spent in his mid-teens at the Mazowsze village of Szafarnia (where he was a guest of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł), Chopin was exposed to folk melodies that he would later transmute into original compositions; his letters home from Szafarnia (the famous "Szafarnia Courier" letters) amused his family with their spoofing of the Warsaw newspapers and demonstrated the youngster's literary talent.
An anecdote describes how Chopin helped quiet rowdy children by first improvising a story and then lulling them to sleep with a berceuse (lullaby) -- after which he woke everyone with an ear-piercing chord.
Chopin, tutored at home until he was 13, enrolled in the Warsaw Lyceum in 1823, but continued studying piano under Żywny's direction. In 1825, in a performance of the work of Ignaz Moscheles, he entranced the audience with his free improvisation, and was acclaimed the "best pianist in Warsaw."
In the autumn of 1826, Chopin began a three-year course of studies with the composer Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, which was affiliated with Warsaw University (hence Chopin is counted among that university's alumni). Chopin's first contact with the Polish composer may have been as early as 1822; it is certain that Elsner was giving Chopin informal guidance by 1823, and in 1826 Chopin officially commenced the study of music theory, figured bass, and composition with Elsner. In year-end evaluations, Elsner noted Chopin's "remarkable talent" and "musical genius." As had Żywny, Elsner observed, rather than influenced or directed, 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 to allow the young artist to mature "according to the laws of his own nature."
In 1827–30, Chopin lived with his family at the Krasiński Palace (Krakowskie Przedmieście 5) before leaving Poland forever.
In 1827, the family moved to lodgings just across the street, in the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście 5, in what is now the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Chopin would live there until he left Warsaw in 1830.
In September of 1828, Chopin struck out for the wider world in the company of family friend, zoologist Feliks Jarocki, who planned to attend a scientific convention in Berlin. There Chopin enjoyed several unfamiliar operas directed by Gaspare Spontini, went to several concerts, and saw Carl Friedrich Zelter, Felix Mendelssohn and other celebrities. On his return trip, he was the guest of Prince Antoni Radziwiłł, governor of the Grand Duchy of Poznań — himself an accomplished composer and cellist. For his host, Chopin composed his Polonaise for Cello and Piano Op. 3.
In 1829, Polish portraitist Ambroży Mieroszewski executed a set of five portraits of Chopin family members (the youngest daughter, Emilia, had died in 1827): Chopin's parents, his elder sister Ludwika, younger sister Izabela, and, in the first known portrait of him, Fryderyk himself. In 1913, historian Édouard Ganche would write that this painting of the precocious composer showed "a youth threatened by tuberculosis. His skin is very white, he has a prominent Adam's apple and sunken cheeks, even his ears show a form characteristic of consumptives." Chopin's younger sister Emilia had already died of tuberculosis at the age of fourteen, and their father would succumb to the same disease in 1844.
According to musicologist and Chopin biographer Zdzisław Jachimecki, comparison of the juvenile Chopin with any earlier composer is difficult because of the originality of the works that Chopin was composing already in the first half of his life. At a comparable age, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven had still been apprentices, while Chopin was perceived by peers and audiences to be already a master who was pointing the path of the coming age.
Chopin himself never gave thematic titles to his instrumental works, but identified them simply by genre and number.
His compositions were, however, often inspired by emotional and sensual experiences in his own life. One of his first such inspirations was a beautiful young singing student at the Warsaw Conservatory and later a singer at the Warsaw Opera, Konstancja Gładkowska. In letters to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin indicated which of his works, and even which of their passages, were influenced by his erotic transports. His artist's soul was also enriched by friendships with such leading lights of Warsaw's artistic and intellectual world as Maurycy Mochnacki, Józef Bohdan Zaleski and Julian Fontana.
Back in Warsaw, in 1829, Chopin heard Niccolò Paganini play, and met the German pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In August of the same year, and three weeks after completing his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory, Chopin made a brilliant début in Vienna. He gave two piano concerts and received many favorable reviews -- in addition to some that criticized the "small tone" that he drew from the piano. This was followed by a concert, in December 1829, at the Warsaw Merchants' Club, where Chopin premièred his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, and by his first performance, on March 17, 1830, at the National Theater, of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. He also began writing his first études (1829–32) in this period.
Chopin's successes as a performer and composer opened the professional door for him to western Europe, and on November 2, 1830, seen off by friends and admirers, with a ring from Konstancja Gładkowska on his finger and carrying with him a silver cup containing soil from his native land, Chopin set out, writes Jachimecki, "into the wide world, with no very clearly defined aim, forever."
Nocturne in Eb (1830)
Etude ("Revolutionary"), Op. 10, No. 12 (1831)
Later that month, in Warsaw, the November Uprising broke out, and Chopin's friend and traveling companion, Tytus Woyciechowski, returned to Poland to enlist. Chopin, now alone in Vienna, writes Jachimecki, "afflicted by nostalgia, disappointed in his hopes of giving concerts and publishing, matured and acquired spiritual depth. From a romantic... poet... he grew into an inspired national bard who intuited the past, present and future of his country. Only now, at this distance, did he see all of Poland from the proper perspective, and understand what was great and truly beautiful in her, the tragedy and heroism of her vicissitudes."
When in September 1831 Chopin learned, while traveling from Vienna to Paris, that the uprising had been crushed, he poured "profanities and blasphemies" in his native Polish language into the pages of a little journal that he kept secret to the end of his life. These outcries of a tormented heart found musical expression in his Scherzo in B Minor, Op. 20, and his Revolutionary Étude.
Chopin arrived in Paris in late September 1831, still uncertain whether he would settle there for good.
With a view to easing his entry into the Parisian musical community, he began taking lessons from the prominent pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner. In February 1832 Chopin gave a concert that garnered universal admiration. The influential musicologist and critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote in Revue musicale: "Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere..."
Only three months earlier, in December of 1831, Robert Schumann, in reviewing Chopin's Variations on "La ci darem la mano," Op. 2 (from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni), had written: "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius."
After his Paris concert début in February 1832, Chopin realized that his light-handed keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces. However, later that year he was introduced to the wealthy Rothschild banking family, whose patronage opened doors for him to other private salons.
In Paris, Chopin found artists and other distinguished company, as well as opportunities to exercise his talents and achieve celebrity, and before long he was earning a handsome income teaching piano to affluent students from all over Europe.
Chopin formed friendships with Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Vincenzo Bellini, Ferdinand Hiller, Felix Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix, as well as with Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, French writer Alfred de Vigny, and composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.
However, Chopin seldom performed publicly in Paris. In later years he would generally give only a single annual concert at the Salle Pleyel, a venue that could seat an audience of three hundred. He played more frequently at salons — social gatherings of the aristocracy and artistic and literary elite of the period — but preferred to play, in his own home, for small circles of friends. His precarious health prevented his touring extensively as a traveling virtuoso, and beyond playing once in Rouen, he seldom ventured out of the capital.
His high income from teaching and composing freed him from the strains of concert-giving, to which he had an innate repugnance.
Arthur Hedley has observed that "As a pianist Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances—few more than 30 in the course of his lifetime."
Mazurka in Bb Major, Op. 7, No. 1 (1832)
Fantasie-Impromptu in C# Minor, Op 66 (1834)
In 1835, Chopin went to Carlsbad, where, for the last time in his life, he met with his parents. En route through Saxony on his way back to Paris, he met old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He had met their daughter Maria, now sixteen, in Poland five years earlier, and fell in love with the charming, artistically talented, intelligent young woman. The following year, in September 1836, upon returning to Dresden after having vacationed with the Wodzińskis at Marienbad, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother approved in principle, but Maria's tender age and Chopin's tenuous health (in the winter of 1835–36 he had been so ill that word had circulated in Warsaw that he had died) forced an indefinite postponement of the wedding. The engagement remained a secret to the world and never led to the altar. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a large envelope, on which he wrote the Polish words "Moja bieda" ("My sorrow").
Chopin's feelings for Maria left their traces in his "Valse in A-flat major, 'L'Adieu,'" ("The Farewell Waltz"), written on the morning of his September departure from Dresden. On his return to Paris, he composed the "Étude in F minor," the second in the Op. 25 cycle, which he referred to as "a portrait of Maria's soul." Along with this, he sent Maria seven songs that he had set to the words of Polish Romantic poets Stefan Witwicki, Józef Zaleski and Adam Mickiewicz.
After Chopin's matrimonial plans ended, Polish countess Delfina Potocka appeared episodically in Chopin's life as muse and romantic interest. For her he composed his "Waltz in D flat major," Op. 64 -- the famous "Minute Waltz."
During his years in Paris, Chopin participated in a small number of public concerts. The list of the programs' participants provides an idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life during this period. Examples include a concert on March 23, 1833, in which Chopin, Liszt and Hiller performed Johann Sebastian Bach's concerto for three harpsichords; and, on March 3, 1838, a concert in which Chopin, Chopin's pupil Adolphe Gutman, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Alkan's teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman performed Alkan's arrangement, for eight hands, of Beethoven's 7th symphony.
Chopin was also involved in the composition of Liszt's Hexaméron; Chopin's was the sixth (and last) variation on Bellini's theme.
In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d'Agoult, the mistress of friend and fellow composer Franz Liszt, Chopin met
French author and feminist Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin, the Baroness Dudevant, better known by her pseudonym, George Sand. Sand's earlier romantic involvements had included Jules Sandeau and Alfred de Musset.
Chopin initially felt an aversion for Sand.
"Something about her repels me," he wrote his family.
Sand, however, in a candid thirty-two page letter to his friend Count Wojciech Grzymała, admitted strong feelings for Chopin; in it she debated whether to abandon a current affair in order to begin a relationship with Chopin, and attempted to gauge the currency of his previous relationship with Maria Wodzińska, which she did not intend to interfere with should it still exist.
By the summer of 1838, Chopin's and Sand's involvement was an open secret.
A notable episode in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Majorca (November 8, 1838 to February 13, 1839), where the four (including her two children) had gone in the hope of improving Chopin's deteriorating health.
Majorca (Spanish and Catalan: Mallorca) is the largest island of Spain. It is located in the Mediterranean Sea and part of the Balearic Islands archipelago (Catalan: Illes Balears, Spanish: Islas Baleares). The name derives from Latin insula maior, "larger island"; later Maiorica.
The capital of the island, Palma, is also the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands. The Cabrera archipelago is administratively grouped with Majorca (in the municipality of Palma).
Like the other Balearic Islands, Ibiza (Catalan: Eivissa), Formentera, and Minorca (Catalan and Spanish: Menorca), the island is a popular tourist destination.
They had difficulty finding accommodations and ended up lodging in a scenic but stark and cold former Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa.
On December 3 he complained about his bad health and the incompetence of the doctors in Majorca: "I have been sick as a dog during these past two weeks. Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was already dead."
Chopin also had problems having his Pleyel piano sent to him. It arrived from Paris on December 20, but was held up by customs. Chopin wrote on December 28: "My piano has been stuck at customs for 8 days... They demand such a huge sum of money to release it that I can't believe it." In the meantime Chopin had a rickety rented piano on which he practiced and may have composed some pieces.
On 4 January 1839 George Sand agreed to pay 300 francs (half the demanded amount) to have the Pleyel piano released from customs. It was finally delivered on January 5. From then on Chopin was able to use the long-awaited instrument for almost five weeks, time enough to complete some works: Preludes (Op. 28); a revision of Ballade No. 2, Op. 38; two polonaises, Op. 40; Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39; a mazurka (Op. 41); and he probably revisited his Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. This is why the winter in Majorca is still considered one of the most productive periods in Chopin's life.
During that winter, the bad weather had such a serious effect on Chopin's health and chronic lung disease that, in order to save his life, the entire party were compelled to leave the island.
The beloved French piano became an obstacle to a hasty escape. Nevertheless George Sand managed to sell it to a French couple (the Canuts), whose heirs are the custodians of Chopin's legacy on Majorca and of the Chopin cell-room museum in Valldemossa.
The party of four went first to Barcelona, then to Marseille, where they stayed for a few months to recover. In May of 1839, they headed to Sand's estate at Nohant for the summer.
No. 1 in C Major
No. 2 in A Minor
No. 3 in G Major
No. 4 in E Minor
No. 5 in D Major
No. 6 in B Minor
No. 7 in A Major
No. 14 in Eb Minor
No. 15 in Db Major
No. 20 in C Minor
Polonaise in Ab (1843)
In autumn Chopin, Sand, and her children returned to Paris, where initially they lived apart; Chopin soon left his apartment at 5 rue Tronchet to move into Sand's house at 16 rue Pigalle. The four lived together from October 1839 to November 1842 at this address, while spending most summers until 1846 at Nohant. In 1842, they moved to 80 rue Taitbout in the square d'Orléans, living in adjacent buildings.
During the summers at Nohant, particularly 1839 through 1843, Chopin found quiet but productive days during which he composed many works. They included his great Polonaise in A flat major, Op.53, the "Heroic," one of his most famous pieces. It is to Sand that we owe the most compelling description of Chopin's creative processes, of the rise of his inspirations and of their painstaking working-out, sometimes amid real torments, amid weeping and complaints, with hundreds of changes in the initial concept and finally a return to the first idea.
She describes an evening with their friend Delacroix in attendance:
Chopin is at the piano, quite oblivious of the fact that anyone is listening. He embarks on a sort of casual improvisation, then stops. 'Go on, go on,' exclaims Delacroix, 'That's not the end!' 'It's not even a beginning. Nothing will come...nothing but reflections, shadows, shapes that won't stay fixed. I'm trying to find the right colour, but I can't even get the form....' 'You won't find the one without the other,' says Delacroix, 'and both will come together.' 'What if I find nothing but moonlight?' 'Then you will have found the reflection of a reflection.' The idea seems to please the divine artist. He begins again, without seeming to, so uncertain is the shape. Gradually quiet colours begin to show, corresponding to the suave modulations sounding in our ears.
Suddenly the note of blue sings out, and the night is all around us, azure and transparent. Light clouds take on fantastic shapes and fill the sky. They gather about the moon which casts upon them great opalescent discs, and wakes the sleeping colours. We dream of a summer night, and sit there waiting for the song of the nightingale...
As the composer's illness progressed, Sand gradually became less of a lover and more of a nurse to Chopin, whom she called her "third child." But the nursing began to pall on her. In the years to come she would keep up her friendship with Chopin, but she often gave vent to affectionate impatience, at least in letters to third parties, in which she referred to Chopin as a "child," a "little angel," a "sufferer" and a "beloved little corpse."
In 1845, even as a further deterioration occurred in Chopin's health, a serious problem emerged in his relations with Sand. Those relations were further soured in 1846 by problems involving her daughter Solange and the young sculptor Jean Baptiste Auguste Clésinger. In 1847 Sand published her novel Lucrezia Floriani, whose main characters — a rich actress and a prince in weak health — could be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was uncomplimentary to Chopin, who could not have missed the allusions as he helped Sand correct the printer's galleys. In 1847 he did not visit Nohant. Mutual friends attempted to reconcile them, but the composer was unyielding. That year, 1847, brought to an end, without any dramatics or formalities, the relations between Sand and Chopin that had lasted ten years, from 1837.
[Only known photograph of Chopin, by Bisson, ca. 1849]
Chopin's public popularity as a virtuoso waned, as did the number of his pupils. In February 1848 he gave his last Paris concert. In April he left for London, where he performed at several concerts and at numerous receptions in great houses. Toward the end of the summer he went to Scotland, staying at the castle of his great admirer Jane Stirling and her sister, Mrs. Erskine.
Miss Stirling proposed marriage to him; but Chopin, sensing that he was not long for this world, set greater store by his freedom than by the prospect of living on the generosity of a wife.
In late October 1848 in Edinburgh, at the home of Dr. Adam Łyszczyński, Chopin wrote out his last will and testament -- "a kind of disposition to be made of my stuff in the future, if I should drop dead somewhere," he wrote his friend Wojciech Grzymała. In his thoughts he was now constantly with his mother and sisters, and conjured up for himself scenes of his native land by playing his adaptations of its folk music on cool Scottish evenings at Miss Stirling's castle.
Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London's Guildhall on November 16, 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees.
Then at the end of the month he returned to Paris.
Chopin passed the winter in unremitting illness, but in spite of it he continued seeing friends and visited the ailing Adam Mickiewicz, soothing the Polish poet's nerves with his playing. He no longer had the strength to give lessons, but he was still keen to compose. He lacked money for the most essential expenses and for his physicians. He had to sell off his more valuable furnishings and belongings.
[Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, née Chopin. Portrait by Ambroży Mieroszewski, 1829]
Feeling ever more poorly, Chopin desired to have one of his family with him. In June 1849 his sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, who had given him his first piano lessons, agreed to come to Paris. He had lately taken up residence in a very beautiful, sunny apartment at Place Vendôme 12. It was there, in the small hours of October 17, 1849, that Chopin died.
[Postmortem cast of Chopin's left hand]
Later that morning, Auguste Clésinger made Chopin's death mask and casts of his hands. Before the funeral, pursuant to Chopin's dying wish (which stemmed from a fear of being buried alive), his heart was removed. His sister later took it in an urn to Warsaw, where it was sealed within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church (Kościół Świętego Krzyża) on Krakowskie Przedmieście, beneath an inscription from Matthew VI:21: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Chopin's heart remains there, within the church that was rebuilt after its virtual destruction in World War II.
Chopin had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung at his funeral. The work has major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The funeral was delayed almost two weeks until the church relented, provided the female singers remained behind a black velvet curtain [!].
The funeral was held on October 30, 1849, attended by nearly three thousand people. The soloists in the Requiem included the bass Luigi Lablache, who had sung the same work at Beethoven's funeral and had also sung at the funeral of Vincenzo Bellini. Also played were Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E Minor and No. 6 in B Minor.
Chopin was buried, in accordance with his wishes, at Père Lachaise Cemetery. At the graveside, the Funeral March from Sonata, Op. 35, was played, in Napoléon Henri Reber's instrumentation.
[Chopin's grave in Paris, with its monument carved by Clésinger, attracts numerous visitors and is invariably festooned with flowers, even in the dead of winter]
Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, "had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal.... Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano."
Chopin, unlike such composers as Mozart and Schubert, did not compose in a facile manner. He created barely 80 opera, all of which involve the piano. Only a few of them ranged beyond solo piano music, as chamber music or concertos for piano and orchestra. He composed two concertos for piano and orchestra, Op. 11 and 21; three piano sonatas, Op. 4, 35 and 58; a sonata for cello and piano, Op. 65 (Chopin's last composition published in his lifetime); 17 polonaises (one with orchestral accompaniment, and one for cello with accompanying piano); 19 nocturnes; 27 etudes (12 in the Op. 10 cycle, 12 in the Op. 25 cycle, and three in a collection without an opus number); 58 mazureks (several treated sketchily, as occasional pieces); 17 waltzes, 26 preludes, 4 ballades, 4 scherzos, 5 rondos, 4 sets of variations, 4 impromptus, one krakowiak for piano and orchestra, one fantasia on themes from Polish songs with accompanying orchestra, one fantasia for piano, three Scottish dances, a barcarolle, a bolero, a tarantella, an allegro de concert, a berceuse, a contredanse, a fugue, a Grand Duo on themes from Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable for cello and piano; a cantabile, a lento, a Funeral March, a Souvenir de Paganini, an Andante spianato before the polonaise in E-flat major, Op. 22; a Feuille d'album, 19 Polish songs for solo voice with accompanying piano.
It is very difficult to briefly characterize Chopin's oeuvre. Robert Schumann, speaking of Chopin's Sonata in b-flat minor, wrote that "he alone begins and ends a work like this: with dissonances, through dissonances, and in dissonances," and in Chopin's music he discerned "cannon concealed amid blossoms." Franz Liszt, in the opening of his biography about Chopin, termed him a "gentle, harmonious genius." Thus disparate have been the views on Chopin's music. The first systematic, if imperfect, study of Chopin's style came in F.P. Laurencin's 1861 Die Harmonik der Neuzeit. Laurencin concluded that "Chopin is one of the most brilliant exceptional natures that have ever stridden onto the stage of history and life, he is one who can never be exhausted nor stand before a void. Chopin is the musical progone of all progones until now."
Chopin's music for the piano combined a unique rhythmic sense (particularly his use of rubato), frequent use of chromaticism, and counterpoint. This mixture produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and the harmony, which are nonetheless underpinned by solid and interesting harmonic techniques. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne, invented by Irish composer John Field, to a deeper level of sophistication. Three of Chopin's 21 nocturnes were only published after his death in 1849, contrary to his wishes.
He also endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurek and the Viennese waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression. Chopin was the first to write ballades and scherzi as individual piano pieces. He also took the example of Bach's preludes and fugues, transforming the genre in his own preludes.
Chopin reinvented the étude, expanding on the idea and making it into a gorgeous, eloquent and emotional showpiece. He also used his études to teach his own revolutionary style, for instance playing with the weak fingers (3, 4, and 5) in fast figures (Op. 10, no. 2) and playing black keys with the thumb (Op. 10, no. 5).
Chopin's style and gifts became increasingly influential. Robert Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin's music, and he used melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval after Chopin. This admiration was not reciprocated.
[I Left My Heart in Warsaw... Pillar in Warsaw's Holy Cross Church, containing Chopin's heart (at the bouquet near bottom)]
Franz Liszt was another admirer and personal friend of the composer, and he transcribed for piano six of Chopin's Polish songs. However Liszt denied that he wrote Funérailles (subtitled "October 1849", the seventh movement of his piano suite Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses of 1853) in memory of Chopin. Though the middle section seems to be modeled on the famous octave trio section of Chopin's Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, Liszt said the piece had been inspired by the deaths of three of his Hungarian compatriots in the same month.
Brahms and the younger Russian composers, too, found inspiration in Chopin's examples.
Chopin's technical innovations also became influential. His Préludes (Op. 28) and Études (Op. 10 and Op. 25) rapidly became standard works, and inspired both Liszt's Transcendental Études and Schumann's Symphonic Études. Alexander Scriabin was also strongly influenced by Chopin; for example, his 24 Preludes, Op. 11, are inspired by Chopin's Op. 28.
Although Chopin lived in the 1800's, he was educated in the tradition of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Clementi; he used Clementi's piano method with his own students. He was also influenced by Hummel's development of virtuoso, yet Mozartian, piano technique.
The series of seven polonaises published in his lifetime (another nine were published posthumously), beginning with the Op. 26 pair, set a new standard for music in the form, and were rooted in Chopin's desire to write something to celebrate Polish culture after the country had fallen back into Russian control.
One of Chopin's students, Friederike Müller of Vienna, wrote the following in her diary about Chopin's playing style:
His playing was always noble and beautiful; his tones sang, whether in full forte or softest piano. He took infinite pains to teach his pupils this legato, cantabile style of playing. His most severe criticism was "He—or she—does not know how to join two notes together." He also demanded the strictest adherence to rhythm. He hated all lingering and dragging, misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos ... and it is precisely in this respect that people make such terrible errors in playing his works.
--Friederike Müller, From the diary of Viennese Chopin pupil
Chopin's music is well known for benefiting from rubato (which was the way in which he himself performed his music), as opposed to a strictly regular playing.
In particular, there are contradicting views from other contemporary writers, such as Berlioz and others.
This suggests that Chopin is not at one of the two commonly encountered onesided extremes.
The two unbalanced differing views are:
that Chopin requires an overindulgence in rubato
that Chopin requires an 'absolute meticulously exact' maintenance of strict, even, metronomic rhythm/beat in the left hand during performance
Chopin regarded most of his contemporaries with some indifference, although he had many acquaintances associated with romanticism in music, literature and the arts (many of them via his liaison with George Sand). Chopin's music is, however, considered by many to epitomise the Romantic style.
The relative classical purity and discretion in his music, with little extravagant exhibitionism, partly reflects his reverence for Bach and Mozart. Chopin also never indulged in explicit "scene-painting" in his music, or used programmatic titles, castigating publishers who renamed his pieces in this way.
Zdzisław Jachimecki notes that "Chopin at every step demonstrated his Polish spirit — in the hundreds of letters that he wrote in Polish, in his attitude to Paris's [Polish] émigrés, in his negative view of all that bore the official stamp of the powers that occupied Poland." Likewise Chopin improvised music to accompany Polish texts but never musically illustrated a single French or German text, even though he numbered among his friends several great French and German poets.
According to Arthur Hedley, Chopin "found within himself and in the tragic story of Poland the chief sources of his inspiration. The theme of Poland's glories and sufferings was constantly before him, and he transmuted the primitive rhythms and melodies of his youth into enduring art forms."
In asserting his own Polishness, Chopin, according to Jachimecki, exerted "a tremendous influence [toward] the nationalization of the work of numerous later composers, who have often personally — like [the Czech Bedřich] Smetana and [the Norwegian Edvard] Grieg — confirmed this opinion..."
All Chopin's works involve the piano, either solo or accompanied. Predominantly for solo piano, his oeuvre includes a small number of works for various ensembles, notably a piano trio and a cello sonata.
Over 230 of Chopin's works survive. Some manuscripts and pieces from his early childhood have been lost.
[8810 Schumann / 8810 Chopin / 8809 Mendelssohn]