Home » blog » Frédéric Chopin: “The Most Idiomatic Composer for the Piano Who Ever Lived”

Frédéric Chopin: “The Most Idiomatic Composer for the Piano Who Ever Lived”

Frédéric François Chopin didn’t seem to have much fun. His story is reminiscent of Franz Schubert’s, which isn’t a good thing. This is the beginning of Chopin’s Wikipedia profile:

Frédéric François Chopin (/ˈʃoʊpæn/; French pronunciation: ​[fʁe.de.ʁik ʃɔ.pɛ̃]; 22 February or 1 March 1810 – 17 October 1849), born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin,[n 1] was a Polish composer of the Romantic era. A child prodigy, Chopin was born in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw. He grew up in Warsaw, which after 1815 became part of Congress Poland, and there completed his musical education and composed many of his works before leaving Poland, aged 20, less than a month before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising.

At the age of 21 he settled in Paris, obtaining French citizenship in 1835. During the remaining 18 years of his life, he gave only some 30 public performances, preferring the more intimate atmosphere of the salon; he supported himself by selling his compositions and as a sought-after piano teacher, and gained renown as a leading virtuoso of his generation. He formed a friendship with Franz Liszt and was admired by many of his musical contemporaries, including Robert Schumann. After a failed engagement with a Polish girl, from 1837 to 1847 he maintained an often troubled relationship with the French writer George Sand. A brief and unhappy visit with Sand to Majorca in 1838–39 was one of his most productive periods of composition. In his last years, he was financially supported by his admirer Jane Stirling, who also arranged for him to visit Scotland in 1848. Through most of his life, Chopin suffered from poor health; he died in Paris in 1849, probably of tuberculosis. (Continue Reading…)

Here is more on the stay in Majorca mentioned above. It sounds like a lot of fun:

They were attracted to Majorca because they thought the Mediterranean climate would be better than the cold damp of the Parisian winter, but they hadn’t realised the darker months there can be just as grim.

And when they arrived, things went from bad to worse. The deeply religious locals were not impressed by the travelling party of an unmarried couple with a 15-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl in tow. Finding lodgings proved difficult.

And when a local doctor that Chopin consulted diagnosed tuberculosis that was it. No one would put them up for fear of infection.

They ended up leaving the city of Palma and crossing the mountains behind, ending up in Valldemossa, one of Majorca’s prettiest villages but hardly tourist central during the mid-19th Century. (Continue Reading…)

But there always is the music, of course. I’m never sure if stories featuring numbered lists of the greatest of this or that are presented in order. However, I believe this list of the 15 greatest composers ever — in the opinion of Jamie Frater, at least — is in reverse from number 15 (Franz Joseph Haydn) to 1 (Johann Sebastian Bach). Chopin shows up at number seven. Here is what Frater writes:

The most idiomatic composer for the piano who ever lived. Chopin did not understand orchestration, which he freely admitted, and had help from friends, including Liszt, in scoring his two piano concerti. Even so, the orchestra takes a back seat while the piano indulges in the finest filigree work any composer has ever managed.

Chopin’s melodic genius is superlative in all respects, and he composed primarily short works piano works, of which the most notable are his ballades, etudes, sonatas, mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, preludes, and impromptus. Chopin was the most innovative composer for all of these genres except the sonata. His finest work is his Ballade No. 1, in g minor… (Continue Reading…)

Above is “Berceuse op. 57 d Flat Major.” Sergey Kuznetsov is the pianist. Below is “Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23,” with Krystian Zimerman on piano.


Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to TDMB's Free Newsletter.

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

Get The Daily Music Break NewsletterIt's Free!