Most music students are familiar with at least a few of the works by Frederic Chopin, the Polish artist, composer, and musician who lived during the Romantic Period of the19th century. This era included such artists as Gioacchino Rossini, Felix Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann. But Chopin’s music made an incredible impact during his short-lived existence, making him one of the best known composer and pianist of the early 19th century.
His life was filled with interesting facts that aren’t always readily known. So, if you’ve ever wondered more about Frederic Chopin, here’s your chance to learn some amazing facts about his life and work. The following information was taken from Biography.com, Oxford Music Online (which is sourced from Grove Music Online), The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
- His birthday was questionable. When Chopin accepted membership in the Polish Literary Society of Paris in 1833, he stated that his birthday was March 1, 1810. However, due to a clerical error his birth certificate has February 22 as the day. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians confirms the March 1, date.
- His parents met while living with (and working for) the Polish Count and Countess Skarbek, at their estate in Zelazowa Wola (approx. 45 miles from Warsaw). He was born in a manor house belonging to the estate.
- Chopin grew up in a second floor apartment on the right wing of Warsaw’s Saxon Palace (which was almost totally destroyed in 1944).
- By the time he was 12, Chopin had already performed in the drawing rooms of countless Polish aristocrats and created original compositions.
- Music wasn’t the only thing Chopin learned. In 1823, he entered his fourth year at the Warsaw Lyceum, which established his well-rounded education.
- In 1824 he spent the summer months in Szafarnia, the mansion which is now home to a Chopin Centre, equipped with a concert hall and small museum. It was during this time that he wrote his parents a series of letters known as the "Kurier Szafarski" [Szafarnia Courier], parodying the "Kurier Warszawski" [Warsaw Courier].
- From 1826 to 1829, Chopin completed a series of composition studies, finishing his education at the Warsaw Liceum in July of 1829.
- In April of 1829, at a concert given by pupils of Carlo Soliva, he met Konstancja Gladkowska (1810–1880), his ‘first love,’ and took his first trip to Vienna in July of that year, calling the city, “most attractive.”
- He met Count Lichnowski there in August, the same count who “was the greatest friend of Beethoven.”
- Chopin loved the beauty of nature, and in May of 1831 he wrote, “A beautiful day on the Prater – plenty of people I had nothing to do with, the greenery I adored, the smell of springtime – that innocence in nature reminded me of my childish feelings…”
- The capture of Warsaw and demise of the November Rising in August of 1831, caused him to make the move to Paris, where Chopin would remain until his death. He wrote of the time, “I sit here idle, and I set here with my hands bare, sometimes just groaning, grieving at the piano, in despair.”
- During his first concert in Paris, in 1832, Chopin met a host of the musical elite including Franz Liszt, who eventually wrote the first biography of Chopin’s life. Their long-term relationship is best described as “frenemies.” Their lives featured a number of interesting parallels.
- Chopin wrote (of Liszt) in a letter to Ferdinand Hiller in 1833, “I would love myself to acquire from him the manner in which he plays my [etudes].”
- Twenty-seven years after his death, Liszt wrote to Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein of Chopin, “no one compares to him: he shines lonely, peerless in the firmament of art.”
- In late 1835, Chopin began to suffer from health problems (tuberculosis). Under the care of Jan Matuszynski he drew up an unofficial will, and the Kurier Warszawski had to retract a rumor of his death.
- In March of 1836, although feeling better, Chopin declined an invitation from both Mendelssohn and Schumann to take part in a “festival of music of the Lower Rhine in Düsseldorf, which [was] to be held at Whitsuntide.”
- In 1838, Chopin met writer Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, better known by her pen name George Sand, and began a long-term, private relationship with her that lasted nearly ten years. The relationship ended after a disagreement about Sand’s daughter Solange.
- In 1847, the famous painter "Delacroix shows Sand and Chopin their likenesses – as Dante and Aspasia – immortalized on the dome of the Palais de Luxembourg.”
- Chopin passed away around midnight on October 17, 1949. His last words were “Mother, my poor mother.” Interestingly, his heart was removed to Poland and placed in the church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw.
Chopin's often heart-wrenching grief made for some of the most beautiful piano music ever written.