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Frederic Chopin 1810 - 1849

Chopin was born in Poland in 1810, and developed astonishing pianistic talents at an early age.  He gave his first public concert in 1818, and had a composition published when he was fifteen.  Soon after this he began a series of concert tours, for which he wrote and performed some of his more conspicuously virtuosic pieces for piano and orchestra, such as the two concertos.  He left Wrsaw in 1830, and after a brief period in Vienna, settle in paris.  The musical fashion in Paris in the 1830s was for shallow virtuosity and spectacle, and Chopin soon grew dissatisfied witht he expectations of audiences interested only in technical exhibition.  He abandoned his public concert career, playing instead in the salons of wealthy aristocrats, and giving piano lessons.  His compositional style became more intimate, while remaining technically demanding.  His health frequently troubled him throughout his life, and he died of tuberculosis in 1849.

Style and Works of Federic Chopin
Chopin composed at the piano, and in many cases his pieces would have been conceived as improvisations, and only written down later.  A large proportion of his compositions are small-scale works such as Mazurkas or Preludes.  he was a friend of the Italian opera composer Bellini, whose flowing melodies he admired and often emulated in his own pieces.  He explored new ways of more fully realising the potential of the piano, in particular making use of the sustaining pedal and the wider range (over six octaves) available on 19th Century instruments (see piano).  His melodies demand a smooth, cantabile tone, and his harmonies are rich and colourful, often exploring unusual key relationships.

Chopin never returned to Poland, but he retained a deep love for his native country, which came under Russian occupation.  He popularised a number of Plish dances, such as the Mazurk, Polanaise and Krakowiak, and was a student of Polish literature, composing over twenty songs with Polish texts.  These are example of Nationalism in music, a phenomenon which became particularly strong later in the nineteenth century.  (Works such as the "Revolutionary" Etude and the Polonaises are claimed by some to express patriotic sentiments.)

Principle compositions for piano

Ballades: A Ballade is a piece in a single movement, with the character of a narrative.  Chopin wrote four ballades; at least one is said to be inspired by a poem by Mickiewicz.

Impromptus: An impromptu is a short piece with an improvisatory character.

Mazurkas: A mazurka is a Polish dance in triple time.  Its characteristic features include unexpected accents (on the second or third beats of the bar) and dotted rhythms.  This makes it a more "quirky" dance than a waltz.  Chopin wrote more than fifty Mazurkas.

Nocturnes: A nocturne (or night piece) is a short, lyrical piece which evokes the qualities of night (calm, slow - moderate tempo, soft and dramatic).  The term was first used by the Irish composer John Field.  Chopin wrote more than twenty Nocturnes.  They generally have long, flowing melodies and gentle broken chord accompaniments.  Often they are in ternary form, with a contrasting middle section.

Polonaises: A polonaise is a stately Polish dance in triple time; Chopin wrote thirteen.

Preludes Op. 28: The title indicates a set of self-contained miniatures.  There are 24 Preludes in the set, each one in a different major or minor key proceeding through the cycle of fifths, with each major key followed by its relative minor (C major, A minor, G major, D minor, etc).

Scherzos: Chopin's four Scherzos are independent of the Scherzo and Trio format, and in most cases are not even in triple time.  The title refers to their impetuous character.

Sonatas: Chopin wrote three Piano Sonatas; the second contains the "Funeral March" movement.

Waltzes: A waltz is a dance in triple time which probably originated in the old German Landler.  The accompaniment consists of one chord per bar, with the bass note heard on the first beat, and the other notes of the chord heard on the second and third beats.  Chopin wrote more than twenty waltzes.  They wer popular in the aristocratic salons which he frequented, and were also used as teaching pieces for his students.