Frederic Chopin

Chopin, Frédéric François

Frédéric François Chopin (frādārēk´ fräNswä´ shôpăN´), 1810–49, composer for the piano, b. near Warsaw, of French and Polish parentage. His lyrical, often melancholy, compositions brought romantic piano music to unprecedented expressive heights. A prodigy as a pianist and composer, he began performing at aristocratic salons in Warsaw, and in 1826 he started full-time studies at the Warsaw Conservatory. After concert appearances in Vienna and Munich, he settled in Paris, where he gave his first concert in 1831. Although he remained devoted to Polish culture and artists, he never returned to his homeland. In Paris he became closely associated with the principal composers, artists, and literary figures of his time. He was a virtuoso interpreter of his own works, but his dislike of playing in public made him prefer teaching and composing to the concert stage.

In 1836, Liszt introduced Chopin to Mme Dudevant, better known by her pen name George Sand, with whom he spent the winter of 1838–39 in Majorca; there, despite worsening pulmonary illness, he wrote his 24 preludes, which are counted among his finest compositions. The stormy affair with the novelist lasted until 1847, by which time Chopin's illness had developed into tuberculosis. He made a last concert tour through Great Britain in 1848.

Chopin established the piano as a solo instrument free from choral or orchestral influence. Even in the piano concertos in E Minor (1833) and F Minor (1836), the orchestra is completely dominated by the piano. Other major works include the sonatas in B Flat Minor (1840) and B Minor (1845), and two sets of études (1833, 1837). Because of their highly romantic quality, some of his works have become known by descriptive titles that he did not give them; they were published simply as nocturnes, scherzos, ballades, waltzes, impromptus, fantasies, and the like. Polish nationalism is evident in his many polonaises and mazurkas. His last concert was a benefit performance for Polish refugees, and at his funeral in Paris, Polish soil was strewn on his grave.

See his selected correspondence ed. by B. E. Sydow (1962); biographies by F. Niecks (2 vol., 1888, repr. 1973), H. Weinstock (1949), A. Walker, ed. (1966), J. Siepmann (1995), and T. Szulc (1998); studies by A. Gide (1949), A. Hedley (1957), D. Branson (1972), J. Samson (1985, 1996), and B. Eisler (2003).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Music of Chopin
Jim Samson.
Clarendon Press, 1994
Polonaise: The Life of Chopin
Guy De Pourtalhs; Charles Bayly Jr.
Henry Holt, 1927
A Reader's Guide to the Chopin Preludes
Jeffrey Kresky.
Greenwood Press, 1994
FREE! Chopin: The Man and His Music
James Huneker.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1921
FREE! Chopin the Composer: His Structural Art and Its Influence on Contemporaneous Music
Edgar Stillman Kelley.
G. Schirmer, 1913
Chopin's Letters
Henryk Opienski; E. L. Voynich; Frederic Chopin.
Alfred A. Knopf, 1931
Chopin through His Contemporaries: Friends, Lovers, and Rivals
Pierre Azoury.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Stolen Time: The History of Tempo Rubato
Richard Hudson.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Chopin"
Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern
Douglas R. Hofstadter.
Basic Books, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Pattern, Poetry, and Power in the Music of Frederic Chopin April, 1982"
Chopin: An Index of His Works in Chronological Order
Maurice J. E. Brown.
MacMillan, 1960
The World of Great Composers
David Ewen.
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962
Librarian’s tip: "Frederic Chopin, 1810-1849" begins on p. 255
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