Name at birth: Frederic Francois Chopin
Frederic Chopin was one of the great Romantic composers of the 19th century, known especially for his pieces for solo piano. Of French parents, Chopin was born and raised in Poland, near Warsaw. A child prodigy on the piano, he composed and performed publicly from the time he was seven years old. Even when he was a teenager, Chopin wowed critics with his distinctive compositions and light-handed magic on the piano keys. After formal studies in Warsaw, Chopin traveled Europe, and eventually settled in Paris in 1831. He flourished there as a composer and teacher, becoming a salon favorite and hobnobbing with the elite. His promoters included Robert and Clara Schumann, and through Franz Liszt he met George Sand (Aurore Dupin), the flamboyant novelist who raised eyebrows by dressing like a man and taking on various lovers -- including Chopin. They were together from 1838 until 1847, with Sand ending up more as a caretaker than a lover. Chopin had tuberculosis and was plagued in his last years with illness. He and Sand separated in 1847 and were estranged when he died a year later, at the age of 39. Although he performed publicly rarely, Chopin was famous during his lifetime for his unique melodies and intricate musical forms -- many of them based on Polish folk tunes. Although his life was short, his output was substantial. He composed more than 50 mazurkas, dozens of preludes and nocturnes, at least 13 waltzes, 12 polonaises and one memorable funeral march.