1810 was a banner year for music. That year saw the births of Robert Schumann and Fryderyk (often spelled Frédéric) Chopin. While it is perhaps easy to classify Chopin as a French composer, given that he spent the greatest part of his career in France, he was a very Polish composer.
He was born near Warsaw to Nicolas (known in Polish as Mikołaj) Chopin and Justyna Krzyżanowska. His father taught French to the local aristocracy and found Poland very much to his liking. Chopin’s father never returned to France. His son, Fryderyk, went to Paris where he became a very great success. However, Fryderyk Chopin never would return to Poland.
It is said that Chopin’s return to Poland was hampered by his refusal to obtain Russian travel documents. Poland was ruled by Russia at the time, something which Chopin deeply resented. In his travels abroad during the latter part of his career, he used French travel documents rather than having to use Russian ones. He was very much a Polish patriot. Despite being friends with some of the greatest French literary figures of his time, Chopin never set a word of French to music. Rather, his songs are all in Polish. When he died at the tragically young age of 39 from tuberculosis, Chopin was buried in Paris. But before his burial, his heart was removed and taken back to Poland where it was subsequently interred.
Chopin’s music is sort of that classical music which everybody knows. He knew how to create memorable melodies. It is likely that you know far more Chopin that you think you do, mostly because his music is so memorable and so ubiquitous.
Here is the Russian-born American pianist Vladimir Horowitz performing Chopin’s Polonaise, Op. 53. I really marvel at the incredible technique Horowitz had. He made it all look supremely easy. He never indulged the mannerisms that some pianists, such as Mitsuko Uchida, are famed for. Rather, he was a master of control, never exerting beyond what was necessary and tossing off fiendishly difficult passages as if they were nothing. Horowitz said that he only practiced for two hours each day.