French-Polish composer and piano virtuoso Frédéric Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 (although the church baptismal record says February 22). He was born near Warsaw to a Polish mother and a French father who was an immigrant to Poland. When he was 20, he moved to Paris and never returned to his homeland. Chopin’s health was always fragile and he died when he was only 39. Although he was a child-prodigy performer, even playing for the Russian Czar when he was only 11, as an adult he preferred to perform only for small groups. His favorite venue was the Salle Pleyel in Paris that seated only 300. He also gave lessons and sold his sheet music to earn money to support himself. Chopin became a French citizen in 1835.
The great love of his life was a young Polish woman named Maria Wodzińskis, but he was too ill for her family to authorize the marriage. He poured out his feelings for her in his music. Chopin later became the lover of Amandine Dupin, more commonly known by her masculine pen name George Sand. Their relationship was tempestuous but also marked an extraordinarily productive period in his life. They stayed together for ten years; his friends blamed her for shortening Chopin’s life.
His career was waning and Chopin was so short of funds that he had to sell his furniture to pay for doctors. He died on October 17, 1849 most probably of tuberculosis. His heart was removed from his body and buried in Poland at his request.
His funeral was delayed two weeks due to a musical issue; Chopin had wanted Mozart’s Requiem sung, which calls for female singers, but the Church of the Madeleine, where the ceremony was to be held, did not permit females in the choir. Finally the church agreed to make an exception – provided that the women were screened by a curtain.
I’m a big fan of Chopin and massacred several of his pieces during my days as a pianist of little talent. Here’s a mix of 31 Chopin classics performed by the much more talented Arthur Rubinstein.
Chopin was also extremely pale as well as extremely gifted. Today’s expression, blanc comme un cachet d’aspirine (blah come uhn kashay das-pee-reen) means “white as an aspirin”- the same aspirin you would have needed if you listened to me try to play Chopin.
- Can you master Chopin’s Ballade No. 1? (crosseyedpianist.com)
- Chopin’s Polonaise Brillante for Cello and Piano op 3 (musiqdragonfly.wordpress.com)
- How Alan Rusbridger learned to play Chopin’s first Ballade – video (guardian.co.uk)