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Music / Fryderyk Chopin

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Daguerrotype, c. 1849
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Fryderyk Franciszek Chopinnote , also known by the French version of his name, Frédéric François Chopin (his father was French-born) (1 March 1810 –- 17 October 1849) was a Polish composer from the Romantic Era of Classical Music. Born in 1810 in Poland, he wrote almost exclusively for the piano, and his works are well-known for both their lyrical content and technical demands. When Russia invaded Poland, he left his home country, never to see it again. He nevertheless kept his national spirit through his writing of some of the best-known mazurkas and polonaises. He had an affair with writer George Sand at some point, before dying unfortunately young in 1849 of tuberculosis.

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Some of his more famous works include:

  • the Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66.
  • the "Marche funèbre" that serves as the slow movement of his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35.
  • the "Revolutionary Etude," the Étude in C minor, Op. 10 No. 12
  • the Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 No. 2
  • the Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, popularly known as the Minute Waltz (Valse du Petit Chien)
  • the Polonaise in A flat Major, Op. 53. Also known as the "Heroic Polonaise".
  • the Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, No. 1

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Chopin's music and life provide examples of:

  • Downer Ending: The last two movements of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor consist of a slow movement "Marche funèbre" and a bleak, enigmatic "perpetual motion" finale that is mostly hushed in feel and definitively ends in a minor key.
  • Ill Boy: The composer was slender and delicate, not at all robust of constitution. His piano playing was noted for its refinement and delicacy, in sharp contrast to the splashy virtuosity of his contemporaries. Chopin was chronically ill much of his life, dying of what was probably tuberculosis at age 39.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Chopin's relationship with author George Sand exemplifies this trope. Sand was a robust woman who wore male attire and smoked cigars, while Chopin tended to be the frail, sensitive, retiring type.
  • Never Trust a Title: The so-called "Minute Waltz" has nothing to do with its performance duration, instead using the work "minute" to mean "small." In fact, Chopin gave the work the title Valse du petit chien (Waltz of the Little Dog) because he got the idea for the piece after watching a small dog chasing its tail.
  • Older Is Better: Chopin's Preludes are essentially modeled after Johann Sebastian Bach's Well Tempered Clavier minus the fugues.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Chopin was born in Poland, but spent most of his life in Paris. Nevertheless, several of his compositions display a strong affinity for his country of birth. He wrote several examples of works derived from Polish dances such as the polonaise and mazurka, and his Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20 quotes the Polish Christmas carol "Lulajze, Jezuniu." Chopin was one of the first overtly nationalist Romantic period composers.
  • Romanticism: One of the major exponents of this ethos in nineteenth century piano music. Much of his music can be described using terms such as dreamy, haunting, lush, lyric, heroic, or emotional. His keyboard writing is often showy, sometimes containing passages of florid right-hand figuration in an improvisatory manner called "fioritura."
  • Standard Snippet: The "Marche funèbre" third movement of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor is often used to underscore scenes involving death, funerals, and similar subjects.

Chopin in fiction:


Alternative Title(s): Frederic Chopin

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