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One of the most profoundly original composers in history, Frédéric Chopin was not at all a traditional “Romantic” musician; in fact, most of his music defines a separate category all its own. Born in Zelazowa Wola, a small city near Warsaw, Poland on February 22, 1810, Chopin first studied the piano at the Warsaw School of Music, and was quite proficient on that instrument by his early teens. He played his first public concert at age seven, and was a published composer at 15. By the late 1820s, Chopin had won a great reputation as a piano virtuoso and composer of piano pieces. He toured Europe, giving concert performances for ecstatic audiences and critics. In 1831 he arrived in Paris for such a concert and so immediate was his love for this city that he promptly decided to make it his new home. He was never to return to Warsaw.
In Paris, Chopin was in constant demand as a performer and teacher. He was a favorite at Parisian salons, and was befriended by many artistic luminaries of the day, including Hugo, Balzac, Liszt, Berlioz, Schumann, Dumas and Delacroix. The intense poeticism in his music made him a Romantic icon to many of his contemporaries, and he was embraced by the society elite.
In 1837, Chopin met the novelist Mme. Aurore Dudevant, who used the pseudonym George Sand. The two began a mercurial and ultimately tragic relationship which would prove the most influential and devastating development in Chopin’s life. By 1847, their relationship had fallen apart. Heartbroken over the loss of his beloved, Chopin continued to compose, but was stricken by illness. Sapped by tuberculosis, he grew too sick to work, and died suddenly on October 17, 1849, at the age of only 39.
Chopin’s music, no matter what the setting, is instantly recognizable. His unique sense of lyricism and unparalleled melodic genius produced some of the most purely beautiful music ever written, music which would influence many composers who followed, from Brahms to Debussy. His works tend to fall into one of three categories: small “technical” pieces (or études) for piano, published between 1833 and 1837, larger, more developed works for the piano (nocturnes, preludes, impromptus, mazurkas, polonaises), and the even larger freely-conceived works (ballades, fantasies, scherzos). He also wrote several sonatas, piano concertos and a smattering of music for other instruments. He was a revolutionary light in Romantic music, the ultimate craftsman of whimsical melody and heart-rending harmony. In the structure and form of his compositions, he is quite alone, his sense of balance and architecture in music was not particularly related to the Classical or budding Romantic traditions, but seemed to spring from some unknown well-source. The overwhelming power and influence of his musical legacy is forever assured.
Source: The New Gove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie; MacMillan Publishers, Ltd., 1980