This is a very abridged version of Chopin’s biography. To read more details, check out his Wikipedia page or check out a book on him from your local library.

Frédéric Chopin

Born 22 February or 1 March 1810 in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, 46 kilometres west of Warsaw, a Polish state established by Napoleon.

His father was French and his mother Polish; he had one older sister and two younger sisters. Though French, Chopin’s father Nicolas insisted that the household speak Polish only.

A few months after his birth, Chopin’s family moved to Warsaw where his father acquired a post as a music teacher at the Warsaw Lyceum. They lived on palace grounds.

Frederic had his first music tutor lessons from 1816-1821 with Czech pianist Wojciech Żywny, where it was quickly noticed that Chopin was a prodigy.

He gave his first concert in 1817, and composed two Polonaises (in G minor, and B-flat major).

In 1817, Chopin’s family moved to a building adjacent to the Kazimierz Palace. While living here, Chopin sometimes went next door to the palace to play with the son of the ruler of Russian Poland, Grand Duke Constantine, and occasionally played piano for the ruler himself.

His earliest-surviving manuscript is from another polonaise (in A-flat major), is from 1821.

From 1823 to 1826, Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum, and for his first year there, took organ lessons from Wilhelm Würfel.

In 1826, Frederic began a three-year series of lessons under the Silesian composer  Józef Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory, studying music theory, figured bass, and composition.

He also gave many concerts during this time.

In 1825, Chopin performed for Tsar Alexander I, who was visiting Poland, and received from him a diamond ring.

From 1824-1828, Chopin traveled frequently out of Warsaw and encountered rural Polish folk music.

In 1828, he travelled to Berlin and attended concerts by Mendelssohn and other composers.

That same year he also heard Paganini play violin, and composed a set of variations, called Souvenir de Paganini. This may have been the event that inspired him to compose his first Etudes.

His final Conservatory report (July 1829) read “Chopin F., third year student, exceptional talent, musical genius.”

Three weeks later, he made his debut in Vienna, giving two piano concerts.

He went back to Warsaw later that year and on 17 March 1830, he performed his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 in a premiere performance.

‘Chopin’s successes as a composer and performer opened the door to western Europe for him, and on 2 November 1830, he set out, in the words of Zdzisław Jachimecki, “into the wide world, with no very clearly defined aim, forever.”’

In late September 1831, during the Polish Great Emigration, Frederic left Poland and moved to France. He would take on the French-ified version of his name but still always identify as Polish.

Over the next few years, he would be exposed to much new music and some French composers, such as Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt, the latter with which he became fast friends.

While in Paris, he met up with a former fellow student of the Warsaw Conservatory, Julian Fontana, who became Chopin’s factotum and copyist.

By late 1832, he had become established within the Parisian musical elite, among the ranks of Liszt, Berlioz, and Hiller. Because of this, he was able to make a living composing and stop depending financially on his father.

Frederic rarely gave public performances in Paris, in fact, he only ever gave about 30, but he was able to establish a mighty reputation despite that.

In 1835, he met sixteen-year-old Maria Wodzinski, whose parents were acquaintances of his. He proposed the next year.

Chopin and Liszt ceased being friends over a period of time where Liszt was performing some of Chopin’s works, including 10 etudes. Chopin was jealous of Liszt’s talent, and angry about how Liszt added embellishments onto his work, and he remarked that Liszt should play the music as written or not play it at all, forcing an apology. They had little to do with each other after this, except jealous of their own lovers’ obsessions with the other composer.

In 1836, Chopin met George Sand, a woman, born Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin. Around this same time, his engagement to Maria Wodzinski dissipated, in part due to her mother and rumors about him.

Chopin and Sand became lovers by 1838.

He moved to Mallorca with Sand, due to bad health, but was quickly forced out once the (mostly) Catholic citizens there learned they weren’t married. Despite his poor health and everything else, he was quite prolific during this time.

From 1842 on, Chopin’s health suffered. He was unable to perform as much or to meet all of his social obligations. His personal relationship with Sand and her children suffered, too.

The two broke up in 1847, after Sand wrote a novel with two characters thinly-veiled as Chopin and herself, and the former’s character was very unflattering.

Chopin’s compositional output declined from this point forward.

His popularity waned at this time, and he struggled to make ends meet.

During the Revolution of 1848 in Paris, he went to London. He started charging a guinea for lessons and 20 for performances.

‘Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London’s Guildhall on 16 November 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. He was at this time clearly seriously ill, weighing less than 99 pounds (45 kg), and his doctors were aware that his sickness was at a terminal stage.’

Chopin only wanted a few close family members and friends around him during his last days.

Frederic Chopin died on 17 October, 1849. The cause of his death is highly disputed, even still to this day. DNA tests, which would provide conclusive evidence, have been continually banned by the Polish government.

His funeral, at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, was delayed until 30 October 1849. Despite being invitation-only, over 3,000 people came from all over Europe, only to be denied entrance.

Chopin’s sister, Ludwika, took his heart back to Poland in an urn in 1850.


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