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
Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 / Costa, Varga
Release Date: 08/10/2010   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28690   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Polonaise in F sharp minor, Nocturne in B flat minor, Ballade no 1 / O'Hora
Release Date: 08/09/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28980   Number of Discs: 1
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Chopin: Works for Solo Piano Vol 2 / Ronan O'Hora
Release Date: 10/11/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28970   Number of Discs: 1
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The Russian Archives - Evgeny Kissin Plays Chopin & Liszt
Release Date: 06/26/2012   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 94397   Number of Discs: 3
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Chopin: Cello Sonata, Piano Trio / Ewa Kupiec, Johannes Moser, Kolja Blacher
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Hänssler Classic  
Catalog: 93321   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Piano No. 1 in E minor

 

About This Work
Chopin, the son of a French father and a Polish mother, was born the same year as Schumann (one later than Mendelssohn, one before Liszt). Before consumption killed him in his 40th year, he had developed both an elegantly sensual pianism and a Read more keyboard oeuvre without expressive parallel. His twin gods were Bach and Mozart (as if Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert never existed); in turn he influenced keyboard composers for nearly a century after -- Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Dvorák, Debussy, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, and Ravel.

Although we cannot ignore developments in piano manufacture, especially by Pleyel of Paris, it was Chopin's artistry that prompted Schumann to write in 1830, "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!" Parisian critics, who were then Europe's most cosmopolitan, dubbed him "the Ariel of the piano," although in his lifetime he played in public only 50 times, just once a solo recital, and for audiences usually no larger than 100 listeners.

Before his emigration to Paris in 1831 he had composed six works for piano and orchestra (but nothing orchestral after those), including two concertos published in reverse order. The E minor was issued in 1833, the F minor "Second" in 1836 although Chopin composed it in 1829, when he was 19. Both reflect his infatuation with Vincenzo Bellini's operas, especially Norma, whose ornamentation he adapted and personalized, to the extent of basing his theme-and-variations slow movement in Concerto No. 1 on embellishments.

In the classical style that Mozart bequeathed to Beethoven, principal themes of the Allegro maestoso are introduced by the orchestra, at uncommon length which adds admirably to the suspense. Once the piano enters, it dominates. Although the opening subject is marked maestoso, subsequent ones are glowingly lyrical and gorgeously ornamented, even before their development in E minor/major. There is a coda but no cadenza per se (although the entire solo part may be likened to a cadenza).

Chopin wrote, during the composition of the Larghetto (E major/C sharp minor) homage to Bellini, "I am using muted strings -- I wonder how they will sound?" He described it as having "a romantic, calm, and rather melancholy character...a kind of moonlight reverie on a beautiful spring night." There is no pause before --

The main theme of the Rondo: Vivace in E major has been called both a polka and a Krakowiac; beginning in E major, Chopin modulates to A major for the episode. Before a dashing conclusion, he ventures into E flat, then B major in the episode's return.

The concerto is altogether a prize although its orchestration is neither artful nor brilliant; nonetheless this compares favorably with Schumann's or Hummel's in a well-conducted performance, and the piano writing is nonpareil.

-- Roger Dettmer, All Music Guide Read less

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