Chopin’s father was a Frenchman who went to Poland, where he earned his living as a teacher and married a Polish woman. Their only son, Fryderyk (or Frédéric), was a child prodigy whose playing was in demand among the aristocracy of Warsaw. He had a Polonaise published when he was aged only 7. He played for the unpopular Grand Duke Constantin at the age of 10, and the Tsar when he was 15. (In the post Napoleonic era Poland was part of the Russian empire.) Chopin entered the Warsaw Conservatory the following year and took Józef Elsner’s three-year course in harmony, counterpoint and composition.
Chopin’s first piano teacher, Adalbert Zywny, had already introduced him to the music of Bach and the Viennese classics. As a pianist, however, Chopin is considered to have been self-taught: he doesn’t seem to have needed to practise very much. His more extended early works were decorative and brilliant, in the line of display pieces by touring virtuosos like Hummel.
After giving two big concerts in Warsaw at which he introduced his two piano concertos, Chopin left for Vienna in November 1830, staying eight months, during which he learnt of the Warsaw Uprising. He never saw Poland again. He made his way to Paris, where he soon felt at home, since there were many Polish émigrés in the French capital.
Although he made his French debut in the Salle Pleyel, Chopin disliked the publicity and pressure of large concerts, preferring small gatherings in society apartments, where the subtlety of his touch could be better appreciated. Because of his popularity, he found he could make a handsome living from teaching: not only rich young ladies, but also talented students who became professionals. His music sold well, and from 1833 it was published simultaneously in England, France and Germany.
Chopin wrote Nocturnes and shorter pieces in dance forms, such as Mazurkas, Waltzes and Polonaises, throughout his career. He found his mature style early, with the first set of Études, Op. 10 (1829–32). These are still, with their sequel, the Op. 25 set, the cornerstone of modern piano technique, as well as powerfully poetic pieces.
Chopin started a relationship with the novelist George Sand in 1838, composing some of his Préludes, Op. 28, during a winter spent with her in Majorca, where bad weather exacerbated his tuberculosis. From 1839 to 1845 he spent winters in Paris and summers at Sand’s country house at Nohant, writing the Third and Fourth Scherzos, the last two Ballades, the Fantasy in F minor and the Sonata No. 3 in B minor.
The liaison with Sand broke up in 1847, complicated by battles with her two children. The following year, revolution broke out in Paris. An escape of sorts was offered by Chopin’s rich Scottish pupil Jane Stirling, who invited him to England and Scotland, though by now he was seriously ill. He died less than a year after his return to Paris.
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- Clips (14)Latest ClipChopin: Preludes, Op. 28
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- Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01s8th9.jpg2014-11-01T16:17:00ZKenneth Hamilton joins Andrew McGregor live at Sage Gateshead to compare recordings of Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28 and makes a recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p029vf16Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 46 mins
Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28
- Chopin: Balladeshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tqg9l.jpg2014-05-17T18:59:00ZWith Stephen Johnson and Cedric Tiberghien on Chopin's Four Ballades and literature.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01z9fhbSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 51 mins
- Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01s8jmq.jpg2014-05-13T12:17:00ZStephen Johnson and Piers Lane look at Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01z0933Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 44 mins
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
- Chopin: Mazurkas and Polonaiseshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01s8msc.jpg2014-05-13T12:03:00ZStephen Johnson on the intricacies and folk elements in Chopin's mazurkas and polonaises.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01z080mSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 59 mins
Chopin: Mazurkas and Polonaises
- Chopin: Preludes (Op. 28)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01s8mnp.jpg2014-05-13T11:05:00ZStephen Johnson and Llyr Williams probe Chopin's cycle of Op. 28 Preludes.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01z04x6Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 51 mins
Chopin: Preludes (Op. 28)
- Field and Chopin (1782-1837 and 1810-1849)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01ytcgd.jpg2014-05-09T14:56:00ZDonald Macleod explores the lives and work of Fryderyk Chopin and John Fieldhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01ytch7Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 15 mins
Field and Chopin (1782-1837 and 1810-1849)
- Fryderyk Chopinhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01yn8nh.jpg2014-05-07T13:44:00ZChopin's highly creative final years, spent at his lover's retreat.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01yn8plSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 56 mins
- Fryderyk Chopinhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01yn85k.jpg2014-05-07T13:34:00ZDonald Macleod introduces music and stories from the life of Fryderyk Chopin.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01yn8bkSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 5 mins
- Chopin: Barcarollehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01w7rn9.jpg2014-03-26T10:46:00ZHoward Goodall and Suzy Klein discuss Chopin's Barcarolle.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01w7rnqSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 5 mins
- Chopin: Mazurkashttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01w3rrf.jpg2014-03-23T17:08:00ZDavid Owen Norris recommends a version from recordings of Chopin's Mazurkashttp://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01w3rrjSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 45 mins
- Chopin: Four Balladeshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01td9y4.jpg2013-12-02T16:30:00ZJessica Duchen surveys recordings of Chopin’s Ballades and makes her recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p01mqnx6Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 48 mins
Chopin: Four Ballades
- BBC Radio 3 Piano Masterclasshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cl1df.jpg2012-09-23T23:00:50ZBBC Radio 3 Piano Masterclass: ‘Sooner or Later – the Poetry of the Piano’.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p00yynkzSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 28 mins
BBC Radio 3 Piano Masterclass
- David Owen Norris works with Stephen Gearry on Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptuhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cl1gz.jpg2012-09-23T23:00:17ZDavid Owen Norris works with Stephen Gearry on Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p00yyrrnSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 6 mins
David Owen Norris works with Stephen Gearry on Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu
- Benjamin Grosvenor - Chopinhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02bysrn.jpg2010-10-08T17:12:19ZBBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Benjamin Grosvenor, plays Chopin's Nocturne in F sharp.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/09ff1fe8-d61c-4b98-bb82-18487c74d7b7?clipfocus=p00bhnynSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 3 mins
Benjamin Grosvenor - Chopin
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