Frédéric François Chopin was a piano composer who lived from 1810 until 1849. He was born near Warsaw, Poland, of French and Polish parentage. His lyrical, often melancholy, compositions brought romantic piano music to unprecedented expressive heights. A prodigy as a pianist and composer, he began performing at aristocratic salons in Warsaw, and in 1826 he started full-time studies at the Warsaw Conservatory. After concert appearances in Vienna and Munich, he settled in Paris, where he gave his first concert in 1831. Although he remained devoted to Polish culture and artists, he never returned to his homeland. In Paris he became closely associated with the principal composers, artists, and literary figures of his time. He was a virtuoso interpreter of his own works, but his dislike of playing in public made him prefer teaching and composing to the concert stage.
Chopin’s piano music is often technically demanding, with an emphasis on nuance and expressive depth. His music combined a unique rhythmic sense, including frequent use of chromaticism and counterpoint, which produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and the harmony.
Chopin invented the instrumental ballad and made major innovations to the piano sonata, mazurka, waltz, nocturne, polonaise, étude, impromptu, scherzo and prélude. He also endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurek and the Viennese Waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression. Chopin was the first to write ballades and scherzi as individual pieces. He also took the example of Bach’s preludes and fugues, transforming the genre in his own Préludes.
Today, his music has gained a popular audience worldwide. Several of his pieces have become very well known—for instance the Revolutionary Étude (Op. 10, No. 12), the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1), and the third movement of his Funeral March Sonata No. 2 (Op. 35), which is often used as an iconic representation of grief.
Chopin established the piano as a solo instrument free from choral or orchestral influence. Even in the piano concertos in E Minor (1833) and F Minor (1836), the orchestra is completely dominated by the piano. Other major works include the sonatas in B Flat Minor (1840) and B Minor (1845), and two sets of études (1833 and1837). Because of their highly romantic quality, some of his works have become known by descriptive titles that he did not give them; they were published simply as nocturnes, scherzos, ballades, waltzes, impromptus, fantasies, and the like. Polish nationalism is evident in his many polonaises and mazurkas. His last concert was a benefit performance for Polish refugees, and at his funeral in Paris, Polish soil was strewn on his grave.
Chopin’s style and gifts had a tremendous influence on other 19th century composers. Robert Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin’s music, and he used melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval after Chopin. This admiration was not generally reciprocated, although Chopin did dedicate his Ballade No. 2 in F major to Schumann. Franz Liszt was another admirer and personal friend of the composer. He transcribed for piano six of Chopin’s Polish songs. However, Liszt denied that he wrote Funérailles (subtitled “October 1849″, the seventh movement of his piano suite Harmonies poétiques et religieuses of 1853) in memory of Chopin.