Frédéric Chopin

Biography

Born: 1810   Died: 1849   Period: Romantic
Frédéric Chopin has long been recognized as one of the most significant and individual composers of the Romantic age. The bulk of his reputation rests on small-scale works that in other hands would have been mere salon trifles: waltzes, nocturnes, preludes, mazurkas, and polonaises (the last-named two groups reflecting his fervent Polish nationalism). These works link poetically expressive melody and restless harmony to high technical demands. Read more Even his etudes survive as highly appealing concert pieces by emphasizing musical as well as technical values.

His birth date is a matter of controversy; the town registration of his birth specifies February 22, but Chopin always gave the date as March 1. His father was French, his mother Polish; he was raised in Warsaw by a family that mingled with intellectuals and members of the middle and upper classes, and as a teenager he spent two summers in the country, where he was exposed to Polish folk music. By the age of eight he was recognized as a child prodigy, performing in elegant salons and beginning to write his own pieces. Early on he studied composition with Josef Elsner, then took classes in various other music subjects as well as art and literature at the Warsaw Lyceum. In 1826 he enrolled at the University of Warsaw. He gave his first recital in Vienna in 1829, and over the next few years he performed at home and through much of German and Austria as well as in Paris. Feeling limited by Warsaw's cultural provincialism and uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding his performances there, he settled in Paris in 1832 and established himself as an exorbitantly paid piano teacher. In Paris he composed extensively, but limited his performances mainly to private salons.

In 1838 he began an affair with French novelist George Sand. The couple, along with Sand's children, spent a harsh winter in Majorca, where Chopin's health plummeted and he was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis). Chopin settled in with Sand in France, composing steadily although his increasing perfectionism slowed his output. By the mid-1840s, though, his health and romantic situation both had deteriorated. The affair ended in 1847 after, among other things, Sand had portrayed their relationship unflatteringly in her 1846 novel Lucrezia Floriani. Chopin then made an extended visit to the British Isles, but returned to Paris to die in 1849. Read less
Favorite Chopin / Vladimir Ashkenazy
Release Date: 01/19/1993   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 436389   Number of Discs: 2
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Chopin: Piano Concerto No 2, Etc; Respighi / Cherkassky, Kempe
Release Date: 07/19/2005   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4015   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin Edition Vol 9 - Piano Sonatas / Eugene Mursky
Release Date: 01/29/2013   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 4074   Number of Discs: 1
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Louis Lortie Plays Chopin Vol 3
Release Date: 04/29/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10813   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: 24 Preludes, Etc / Louis Lortie
Release Date: 02/17/1998   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9597   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata for Piano no 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 "Funeral March"

 

About This Work
Chopin wrote the Funeral March that became the third of the four movements here in 1837 and composed the other three movements two years later. Almost since it was first heard, this work was looked on not as a sonata in form, but as a collection of Read more four rather diverse pieces the composer assembled under one musical roof, Robert Schumann being the first to make the charge of a lack of cohesion between the various movements. However, several musicologists in the late twentieth century pointed out a number of previously overlooked -- or at least ignored -- qualities in this composition that bind the movements as inseparable musical siblings.

The sonata can be viewed as something of a life cycle. The first movement serves as the life force, struggling, loving, and suffering. The ensuing Scherzo enacts demonic forces in the main section and good forces in the lyrical alternate melody of the trio section. When this movement ends with a partial recalling of the second theme, it is not clear which set of forces has emerged victorious. The third movement Funeral March represents death or mourning for the hero of the first two movements. The ghostly finale, with its swirls of dark winds, has evoked many ominous images in the minds of listeners, and serves the life cycle here as a kind of final picture of the deceased, who lies in his quiet grave, with the rustles of the wind the only disturbance above.

There are many thematic and harmonic relationships between the movements, too. The harmonies in the Funeral March can be noticed in all three of the other panels. Also, there is a thematic kinship between the alternate melody in the first movement and the lovely theme in the trio to the Scherzo. Other ties between the first two movements exist: both are stormy and hard-driven at the outset, and each features a lyrical second theme. The structural likeness between the main themes in both these movements is also worth noting: each is built on repeating motifs, the first part of which is presented twice before moving upward on the keyboard to complete the thematic idea.

In the end, this sonata, while unorthodox in some respects, is a painstakingly worked out composition of great subtlety, hardly comprised of a loosely strung-together set of piano pieces. But for all its grand and profound design, it has always been Chopin's themes and keyboard writing that have made this work popular. The third movement Funeral March theme is as famous as any ever written, and the compelling nature of the fast themes in the first movements, and their alternate melodies as well, have made this sonata popular the world over. A typical performance of the work lasts from 22 to 26 minutes.

-- Robert Cummings, All Music Guide Read less

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