2010 was the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. Frédéric François Chopin, christened Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, was born in Żelazowa Wola, a small town near Warsaw. The date of birth has not been definitely established. A birth certificate has been found that gives the date 22 February 1810 (1, 2), but Chopin himself always gave his date of birth as 1 March. He died on 17 October 1849 in Paris, 39 years old.
Chopin’s musical talent was apparent early. He was considered as a child prodigy and started to compose when he was only seven years old (3, 4). The first polonaises in B major and G minor are dated 1817 and show an unusual talent for improvisation. From 1822 he received private tuition in music theory and composition. He took the secondary school examination in 1826 and then studied at the conservatory, first counterpoint, and then theory of music, basso continuo and composition (3, 5). He also attended lectures at the university.
When he was 20 years old Chopin left Warsaw and travelled to Vienna. Shortly afterwards, the Polish November uprising broke out. The subsequent oppression by Russia made it difficult to return to Warsaw, although he longed to go home, and wanted to support the insurgence (1, 3, 6). His father advised him against returning and thought that he could serve his country better with his music than with a gun (2, 3, 5). Torn between anxiety for his family and his dream of fame in the world of music, he chose to go to Paris, where he spent most of his life.
In Paris he found a creative environment and a circle of acquaintances that included many of the best known authors and composers of the time (5). He managed well socially and financially and made a living as a piano teacher, composer and concert pianist. Although he was an ardent Polish patriot (2, 3), he used the French version of his name, by which he is best known.
Chopin is one of the most influential and popular composers of piano music of the 19th century. In Poland he is regarded as the person who has had most influence on the country’s history of music (3, 7). Chopin composed almost exclusively for piano solo and has been called the pianists' composer. He was a brilliant pianist and his music was primarily an expression of poetry, emotion, depth and delicate nuances. More than 230 of his compositions have been preserved, only a few manuscripts and pieces from early childhood have been lost. There is a total of about 80 opus numbers. The piano is present in all of them, and most of them are for solo piano. In spite of poor health and a short life, his works include 27 etudes, 26 preludes, 21 nocturnes, 58 mazurkas, 17 polonaises, 19 waltzes, 4 impromptus, 2 concertos, 4 ballades, 4 scherzos, and 3 sonatas as well as several other pieces (7).
Several other well-known composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 91), Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 47) also died before they were 40 years old. However, these composers died rather suddenly and unexpectedly whereas Chopin had poor health for most of his adult life (fig. 1).
Reported conflicts of interest: