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There’s something about Frédéric François Chopin that puts him and his music in a category of its own. Born in Poland, a child prodigy on the piano, Chopin trained in Warsaw, and left Poland at age twenty. By twenty-one, he was settled in Paris and quickly became Someone Worth Listening To…

I’ve always liked Chopin and I’m wondering now if maybe everyone with at least a hint of classical music under his belt does as well. Particularly ballet peeps: It’s so ideal for pliés and the adagio section of class, or the stretching between barre and center work. One time I was in a San Francisco ballet class that had live piano accompaniment, and the guy was playing a Chopin nocturne during stretch time, and I was in dancer heaven, feeling all my movements morph into art, courtesy of that beautiful music.

Frédéric François Chopin. Born in 1810 in Poland, a child prodigy on the piano, trained in Warsaw, left Poland at age twenty. By twenty-one, he was settled in Paris and quickly became Someone Worth Listening To. He died tragically young, before turning forty. In that time, he only gave thirty public performances, but was much sought after in private salons and as a teacher.

And he composed. Oh, did he compose. There’s something about Chopin that puts him and his music in a category of its own. I hear a composition of his and it’s unique and haunting, his use of the minor key mixed in with major. One hand accompanies, the other sings a melody rich with nuance and longing. Most of his compositions are short form, solo piano music. He composed twenty nocturnes, twenty-five preludes, seventeen waltzes, fifteen polonaises, fifty-eight mazurkas, and twenty-seven etudes.

I like this quotation from Ted Libbey in an essay he wrote for National Public Radio: “In his remarkably advanced treatment of harmony and rhythm, Chopin banished the ordinary from his music and opened the door to an emotional ambiguity that continues to intrigue listeners—one whose communication requires subtleties of execution that generations of pianists have labored devotedly to achieve. The luminous textures and haunting melodies he used to express his thoughts added to the piano’s sound and range of color shadings that no one before him had imagined were there, but that all who have followed recognize as his. The same is true of the harmonic question marks one finds throughout his music—the equivalent of a look of gentle longing.”

Enough talk, though. Let’s give you some tunes so you can better experience what we’re going on about.

The first one is Chopin’s complete Nocturnes, performed by pianist Brigitte Engerer:

Oh, my. At 30:50, I am officially head-over-heels enamored with this one. (It’s Op 27 no. 1 in C-Sharp Minor, by the way.) Listen there and tell me if it haunts you too. Here it is by itself, with thoughtful program notes written by Mieczslaw Tomaszewski.

And here’s a “Best of Chopin” clip that’s two hours long. Nice. And an added treat for ballet peeps: the first piece was used in the closing credits of The Turning Point. You’ll instantly recognize it. 

My suggestion is that you start up one of these two marathon links, turn up the volume, and wander off. Let the music fill your background and seep into your heart, your soul. Or stay right here with it, pull up a comfy chair, and immerse yourself into the music alone. You’ll love it. And if the music, or Chopin, leaves you cold? Yikes. You have my sympathies. (And go get your head/priorities/heart examined.)

Thank you for your beautiful music, Frederick Chopin. You made the world a more beautiful, soulful place.

Republished with gracious permission from The Classical Girl (2014). 

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2 replies to this post
  1. “unique and haunting . . . a melody rich with nuance and longing” We Poles are well aware of the source of Chopin’s longing, and of his inspiration. On his deathbed in Paris in 1849, Chopin whispered his last request: remove my heart after I die and entomb it in Poland. He wanted the symbol of his soul to rest in the native land he pined for from self-imposed exile in France. That exile was the result of the failed November Revolution of 1830, an attempt to restore the Polish nation which had been erased off the map of Europe by three previous partitions and annexations. Chopin’s compositions echo his Polish heritage in both subject and form; the Revolutionary Etude, for example, was directly inspired by the Battle of Warsaw of 1831 and many of his musical motifs were taken from Polish folk songs and dances. It is an interesting historical parallel that the restoration of the Polish republic was achieved through the heroic efforts of another Polish musician and pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who toured the world giving concerts and advocating for the Polish cause. Thanks for the article.

  2. Before I retired, I worked in a (noisy) repair shop. To maintain sanity, I would put some soothing music on the cheap boom-box I had on my bench. One day, I played a CD of Chopin Etudes.

    The whole shop went silent in a real-life Shawshank Moment.

    Then everyone started asking where I found that music.

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