Chopin, Frédéric François

Chopin, Frédéric François frādārēkˈ fräNswäˈ shôpăNˈ [key], 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 relationship with the novelist lasted until 1847, by which time Chopin's illness had developed into tuberculosis (the generally accepted diagnosis, though some researchers have questioned it). 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. His heart, preserved in a jar of alcohol, was brought back to Poland by his sister.

See his selected correspondence ed. by B. E. Sydow (1962); biographies by F. Niecks (2 vol., 1888, repr. 1973), H. Weinstock (1949), A. Walker (2d ed. 1978, as ed.; 2018), 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 Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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