Today I wanted to share some fun facts about Frederic Chopin. These are things that I personally find interesting and worth sharing. This video won’t be linear like Chopin’s history – rather, it’s an assortment of tidbits.
Let’s get started!
1. Chopin the Child prodigy
Like most famous composers, Chopin was a child prodigy. He was giving public concerts at the age of 7 and had composed a couple Polonaises – dances of his home country, Poland.
When he finished studying at the Conservatory at the age of 19, his final report read, “Chopin F., third-year student, exceptional talent, musical genius.”
2. Chopin and Bach
Frederic Chopin was heavily influenced by J.S. Bach. He traveled with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and encouraged his piano students to study Bach’s inventions and other compositions. The music of Bach was one of the primary musical influences in Chopin’s music, despite how different they sound.
3. Frederic Chopin’s musical influences
Aside from Bach, Chopin specifically singled out Mozart as being his next most important musical influence.
4. Short pieces
For the most part, Chopin refrained from writing huge compositions. Classical-era performers would write lengthy symphonies and sonatas that would run from 20-40 minutes; Chopin wrote no symphonies and only a few piano sonatas.
Instead, Chopin focused on short-form pieces, kind of like pop music today. Contemporary songs are about 3-4 minutes long – Chopin wrote pieces that were generally under 10 minutes, and most frequently between 3-5 minutes.
Chopin also wrote almost exclusively for piano. This greatly differentiated him from his peers, who were writing massive and long works.
5. Playing in the dark
Popularized in the movie “A Song To Remember” is the idea that Chopin enjoyed playing piano in the dark, a habit he started as a child. This apparently helped him find inspiration. He would presumably do this alone, but also at parties as well. A fun story, but one I haven’t been able to verify.
6. George Sand’s various nicknames for Chopin
Chopin had a long-term lover named George Sand, the masculine pen name of a strong-willed woman. In addition to not going by her given name, George gave Chopin a slew of nicknames, including ‘Chop Chop’, ‘my little grasshopper’, and ‘Monsieur Velvet-Fingers’.
7. Little Dog Waltz
Chopin’s famous op. 64 waltz is nicknamed the “Little Dog Waltz”, apparently inspired by George Sand’s dog who was running in a circle chasing its tail.
8. Chopin and George Sand’s relationship
George Sand was Chopin’s most long-term relationship, and it was rocky. Chopin exclaimed upon meeting her, “Is she even a woman?”
Their stormy union eventually ended when George accused Chopin of being in love with her daughter, and then she wrote a book with a weak Chopin as a thinly disguised character.
9. Chopin and Liszt: Frenemies
The next several points all have to do with the relationship between Chopin and Liszt, who can best be described as Frenemies.
Liszt actually wrote the first biography of Chopin’s life, and is quoted as saying, 27 years after Chopin’s death, that “no one compared to him: he shines lonely, peerless in the firmament of art.”
The two performed together a handful of times, and both mutually respected each other – but there was a little love-hate there. Chopin is said to have been jealous of Liszt’s virtuosity, and Liszt had his own issues with Chopin which we’ll get to in a moment.
10. Chopin and Liszt: Etudes
Chopin dedicated his op. 10 set of Etudes to Franz Liszt – but Liszt played them so well Chopin got a little jealous. Chopin wrote to his friend and fellow musician Hiller, “I should like to rob him of the way he plays my studies.”
11. Chopin and Liszt: The Nocturne Incident
Chopin was obviously impressed with Liszt’s skills (like everyone else), but was annoyed in 1843 when Liszt performed one of Chopin’s nocturnes with added embellishments. Chopin believed it was meant to be played as written, and was opposed to Liszt’s creative liberties. This incidence soured their relationship.
12. Chopin and Liszt: Woman troubles
Aside from musical jealousy, there was dating jealousy as well. Liszt might have been jealous of how much his mistress Marie d’Agoult was into Chopin – and Chopin liked her enough to dedicate his second set of etudes to her.
Liszt and George Sand also became close, which might have grinded Chopin’s gears.
13. Playing style
When Chopin first hit the scene in Paris, he was well-loved. Though, according to Chopin, some people thought he played “too delicate for those accustomed to the piano-bashing of local artists.”
14. On legato playing and proper rhythm
Muller, a student of Chopin, described how Chopin was big into teaching legato and cantabile playing to his students. He was very concerned with teaching students to “join two notes together”.
Some people play Chopin’s music with exaggerated ritardandos and big rubatos, but in general Chopin hated overly sentimental use of rhythm. He was known to play and teach with a metronome.
15. Vive le Poland
Chopin was born in Poland, but lived in Paris for most of his adult life. His mother was Polish and father was French, which is one reason he emigrated to France when Poland was experiencing political strife.
Despite having a French passport, he never felt fully comfortable speaking French, and often longed for home. He fully identified as being Polish.
A Mazurka is a traditional Polish dance, and Chopin singlehandedly popularized the genre. Instead of writing them for dancing, Chopin wrote them to be listened to, and as such, many of his mazurkas are virtuosic.
17. Chopin’s dislike of public performances
Chopin earned most of his income from piano teaching and generous patrons – he wasn’t a fan of performing in public concerts, instead preferring to perform at salons and friends’ houses.
About concerts, Chopin said, “concerts are never real music you have to give up the idea of hearing in them all the most beautiful things of art.”
18. Frederic Chopin’s frailty
Frederic Chopin was frail and ill most of his life, maybe even to the point of exaggeration and drama. Berlioz said, “Chopin has been dying all his life”.
When his friend Charles Halle visited Chopin and found him “hardly able to move”, he was surprised to see Chopin go from being bent over in pain to relatively vigorous as he played the piano.
After splitting up with George Sand, she made comments about how his sick disposition was largely in his head.
19. Death and last words
Of course, the illness couldn’t have been all in his head – Chopin died of tuberculosis at the age of 39. When he died, his last words were “Mother, my poor mother.”
20. Heart transplant
One of Chopin’s last wishes was to have his heart removed from his body and transported back to Poland. This was likely because he had a fear of being buried alive. His sister was in charge of transporting his heart preserved by alcohol, which is now sealed in a pillar of the Holy Cross Church.
21. Posthumous compositions
Another dying wish of Chopin’s was that all of his unpublished compositions be destroyed – which his mother, sisters and music publisher basically ignored. Chopin has several dozen compositions that have been published posthumously in a variety of styles, such as waltzes and polonaises.
22. Method book for Charles Alkan
Charles Alkan and Chopin were good friends, and Chopin’s death hit Alkan hard. Chopin entrusted Alkan with his unfinished notes on a piano method titled ‘Projet de methode’, hoping Alkan would finish it.
23. Influence on Debussy
Chopin’s influence on other musicians reached far and wide, but his music was notably well-loved by Debussy, who dedicated his piano etudes to Chopin. He spent a lot of time studying Chopin’s music, and even edited some of Chopin’s piano music.
I hope you enjoyed this fast and fun look at some interesting aspects about Frederic Chopin’s life and music.
Catch you next time!