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Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin was not only one of the great composers of the 19th century, he was also its undisputed poet." Born on March 1 1810, in Zelazowa Wola, a small village outside of Warsaw, the finest years of his short life were spent in Louis-Phillipe's Paris at the height of the Romantic era.

As a very young child Chopin was sensitive to and deeply affected by music. He often ended up in tears when he heard his mother sing or play the piano; at the age of 4 or 5, encouraged by his mother, he began to play himself. By the time he was 6, he improvised to a remarkable degree which was the beginning of his composing. One of his early teachers, Joseph Elsner (head of the conservatiore in Warsaw) recognised from the outset that he was working with a young musical genius and where others would find fault with Chopin for breaking the "rules", Elsner said, "Leave him alone, he follows an unusual path because his gifts are unusual. He does not follow any traditional method closely because he has methods of his own, and he will reveal in his works an originality that has never been met before in such a high degree." Chopin's first published work appeared in 1817, a Polanaise in G minor, and his first appearance as a pianist in public followed a year later. His playing has been characterised as both powerful and rhythmically subtle, with astonishing evenness of touch.

His friends and intimates included most outstanding musicians of the day; Berlioz and Liszt, Mendelssohn and Schumann, Delacroix and Mickiewicz, while his unprecedented affair with the novelist George Sand was the talking point of a decade. His ten year relationship with Mme Sand was an attraction of opposites: Chopin was conservative, middle-class and devoutly Catholic and Mme Sand was radical and liberal-minded.

In 1848, after the revolution, he left for London in need of money. He performed concerts in Manchester, Glascow, Edinburgh and London and was presented to Queen Victoria.

Chopin returned to Paris to die October 17, 1849. The Illustrated London News summed-up his public standing in one sentence: "One of the greatest celebrities of this musical epoch has just expired in Paris: Chopin is no more". As a composer he was unique in writing almost exclusively for the piano and his work in many ways expressed the whole ethos of his age, its emotionalism, its fierce patriotism and its turbulence. His life reached back to the Napoleonic campaigns and looked forward to the bloody revolutions of the late 1840's.

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