As Europe's first nationalist musician, Frederic Chopin's creations breathe the spirit of his native Poland, especially in his mazurkas and polonaises.
For more than a century he has been the first of that country's national heroes and to the whole world his music is still the voice of Poland.
Born on March 1, 1810 outside of Warsaw to a French father and Polish mother, Frederic Chopin was acutely sensitive to music in infancy. Upon completing his schooling he left for Vienna, the home of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert in the fall of 1830. In November, revolution broke out in Poland, crushed weeks later by Russian troops. As long as his country was under the Czarist boot he would not return. He expressed his nationalist fervor through the rhythms of the Polish countryside, mazurkas, and the processional dance, the polonaise. In 1836 Robert Schumann wrote, "If the Czar knew what a dangerous enemy threatens him in the works of Chopin he would banish that music. These works are like cannons hidden beneath flowers."
Chopin settled in Paris, home to a large Polish émigré community. Unable to perform in large halls due to tuberculosis, he played in salons and was in great demand as a private instructor, utilizing his compositions to emphasize his innovations in fingering and pedaling. A lover of opera, he sought to imitate the "bel canto" –beautiful voice effect in his compositions.
Chopin's last years were sad ones. The tuberculosis that steadily stole his strength and energy was now killing him. Eventually he had to stop performing and finally became too weak to teach. At the age of 39 he died. Frederic Chopin left behind enduring works such as his nocturnes, scherzi, ballades, etudes, preludes, impromptus and waltzes. Almost every work of his is still in the active repertoire. A piano recital without a Chopin piece is rare.