Both in terms of harmony and piano technique, Chopin invented a completely new style, always instantly recognizable, and with far-reaching influences. Few composers command such universal love - above all for the unique charm of his lyrical, floating melodies. But Chopin’s style is also one of great energy and virtuosity, joy and humor, philosophical reflection, and raging storms. Many works contain an element of nostalgia and sorrow, born out of the exiled composer’s longing for Poland.
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp Minor, Op. 66
It's easy to see why the Fantaisie-Impromptu is among Chopin's most popular works. The sweeping melody of soaring sixteenth notes is hard, but fun, to play - and exciting to listen to.
Prelude in E Minor, Op. 28 No. 4
Each of the 24 Preludes is a miraculous example of Chopin's virtuosity in translating human emotions to piano music. This is one of the most well-known and also one of the saddest: Chopin himself requested that it should be played at his funeral.
Prelude (Raindrop) in D-flat Major, Op. 28 No. 15
This Prelude has been likened to a beautiful dream that turns into an oppressive nightmare. Both moods are accompanied by the same obsessively repeated note, like stubborn raindrops indifferent to human emotion.
Ballade 1 in G Minor, Op. 23
From the very first notes in the first Ballade there’s a feeling that Chopin means to tell us something extraordinary – a tale that grows slowly until we reach the powerful and ecstatic coda.
Nocturne 20 in C-sharp Minor, B. 49
The unique, nostalgic mood of this Nocturne apparently makes it able to melt the most hardened hearts - there is a famous story that the pianist Natalia Karp’s life was spared as a direct result of playing this Nocturne in the concentration camp where she was a prisoner during World War II.
Brought up in Warsaw by a Polish mother and a French father, Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was more or less self-taught as a performer. Even his first teacher Wojciech Zywny didn’t have much to offer him in terms of technique, but still did his pupil a great service by introducing him to Bach and Viennese Classicism. Later, Chopin received thorough training in composition at the High School of Music in Warsaw. Around his twenties, he grew increasingly troubled about his future – he loved his native country, but at the same time deplored the provinciality of it. He embarked on a European tour, still doubting the path of public pianist-composer and resenting the extreme publicity surrounding his concerts.
One week after arriving in Vienna, he had news of the Warsaw uprising against the Russian rulers. Chopin would have liked to return immediately, but was dissuaded by friends pointing out that his contribution to the Polish cause could best be made in other ways. The Russians were victorious, which made a return to Poland impossible; Chopin continued to Paris. From the start he felt at home there, not least because there were Polish émigrés everywhere but also because he was overwhelmed by the city’s cultural life. He made friends with other young artists, including Liszt and Berlioz, and with the help of Frédéric Kalkbrenner arranged his first Parisian concert early in 1832. In the following years his reputation grew steadily, and he settled into a stable routine of teaching, composing and performing, mostly in the intimate setting of the salons.
In 1838 Chopin began his love affair with the novelist George Sand; together they spent the winter months of 1838–9 in Majorca. This proved an ill-considered venture: their accommodation was quite unable to withstand the harsh winter, and Chopin’s already fragile health worsened. During the first half of the 1840s, Chopin would spend the summers composing in Sand’s home in Berry, but work became increasingly slow and laborious as his health deteriorated further. In 1846, the relationship with Sand came to an end; her novel Lucrezia Floriani, published the same year, was blatantly autobiographical and far from flattering to Chopin. In his last year, he managed to make a tour of the British Isles; after his return, as the word quickly spread that he was dying, friends and acquaintances gathered constantly around him. Pauline Viardot remarked cynically that "all the grand Parisian ladies considered it de rigueur to faint in his room." He died in the presence of his pupil Adolphe Gutman and Sand’s daughter Solange.
Quotes by Chopin
"Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art."
"Mould the keyboard with a velvet hand. And feel the key rather than striking it. Since each finger is individually shaped, it is best not to seek to destroy the particular charm of each, but to develop it. As many different sounds as fingers."
Quotes about Chopin
"It was an unforgettable picture to see Chopin sitting at the piano like a clairvoyant, lost in his dreams; to see how his vision communicated itself through his playing, and how, at the end of each piece, he had the sad habit of running one finger over the length of the plaintive keyboard, as though to tear himself forcibly away from his dream." (Robert Schumann)
"His hands would suddenly expand to cover a third of the keyboard. It was like the opening of the mouth of a snake about to swallow a rabbit whole." (Ferdinand Hiller)
"Chopin is the greatest of us all, for through the piano alone he discovered everything." (Claude Debussy)