Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin

by Maxwell Bilechi

Chopin Fryderyk Chopin, commonly pronounced as “show-pan”, is considered one of the most influential and talented musicians of all time, most of all as a pianist. He was born in the Duchy of Warsaw, in 1810. His proud Polish heritage is reflected in his music; indeed, he revolutionized and brought to the European eye two forms of Polish dance: the polonaise and mazurka. He both grieved for and advocated against the Russian occupation of Poland and wove this theme into his compositions. 2010 marks the 200th year since his birth, although his impact on both Poland and the world has only grown with time.

Chopin’s technical prowess is not debatable; he was considered the best pianist in Warsaw by the age of fifteen. Though his peer composers were still considered apprentices, at a comparable age Chopin was regarded as a driving force in composing. Chopin was not afraid of accidentals; he wrote 24 preludes, one for each key (major and minor for each semitone). He was the first to write ballades and scherzos as individual pieces, and as well invented a new type of ballade, called an instrumental ballade, which is a one-movement instrumental piece. He contributed heavily to the development and acceptance of the Polish mazurka dance into mainstream concert performance, while keeping some of these pieces quite danceable. Additionally, Chopin blended classical techniques with chromaticism, and drew from the rhythms of the kujawiak and oberek (which are the ancestors of the mazurka). Chopin’s composition of mazurkas shone his Polish pride: he began to take the writing of these mazurkas seriously after the unsuccessful November Uprising against the Russian government in 1830. With this, he became the first composer to incorporate nationalism into his music.

Although Chopin followed the Great Emigration away from partitioned Poland, he remained quintessentially Polish. He composed twice as many Polish dances as he did any other style. He composed music to accompany only Polish texts, even though he had French poets among his best friends. He treated the Polish émigrés with utmost respect. And, he was a lifelong lover of Toruń gingerbread.

Chopin’s impact on both his contemporaries and those who would follow is comparable only to the most famous of musicians. He is known to have had great influence on Schumann, Brahms and Liszt among others, not only in his musical style, but also in promoting pride for one’s country. For example, Czechoslovakia’s Bedřich Smetana and Norway’s Edvard Grieg have personally attributed their occupational nationalism to Chopin.

Indeed, Fryderyk Chopin’s heart always stayed in Poland - his dying wish was that his heart be removed and returned to Poland. His legacy lasts well beyond the 1800s: (although Chopin never named any of his pieces beyond a genre and number, the composition dubbed) the “Revolutionary Étude” was the last piece played on free Polish radio in Warsaw before it was taken over by Germany at the start of World War II. His nocturnes survive as among the finest of the solo works for the solo piano, and are considered a standard for students of classical piano.

In commemoration of Chopin’s 200th year since birth, the Polish parliament has declared 2010 to be the year of Fryderyk Chopin. As a result, Poland experienced an influx of visitors to the places where he grew up and worked. Additionally, Warsaw built a new Chopin museum to celebrate this event. But Poland isn’t the only place celebrating, and nor should it be. This year, there were over 1300 Chopin concerts, everywhere from Florida to Shanghai in memory of this great individual.