The Chopin room at the Polish American Museum is an exhibit of which director Gerald Kochan is particularly proud. As a Polish American, Kochan realizes how important it is to educate others about Poland's rich heritage. What better way to begin than by celebrating the life of Frederic Chopin, Poland's great composer?
Born to Compose
Chopin's father Nicholas was French. After Nicholas immigrated to Poland and found work as a bookkeeper, he met Justyna Krzyanowska and the two married. Frederic was born Fryderyk Francziszek Szopen March 1, 1810, although some scholars believe his birth date was Feb. 22. Nicholas became a tutor for the children of several of the Warsaw aristocracy, which exposed his young son to cultured society. Frederic's mother was instrumental in introducing the child to music. Chopin's parents soon discovered that he had a natural ability. He wrote his first composition when he was just 7 years old.
Surpassing His Mentors
Chopin studied under professional musician, Wojciech Zywny, but it wasn't long before his creativity and talent surpassed that of his teacher. When Chopin was eight, he was already performing and receiving accolades for his compositions. His parents sent him to the Warsaw Conservatory of Music. His mentor there was Jozef Elsner. After three years, Chopin went to Vienna to perform and impressed audiences with his superb and animated performances. He entertained audiences in Paris, Poland, Germany and Austria for the next several years. He settled in Paris in 1832.
Among the Masters
Artists and composers flocked to Paris in the mid-1830s. Chopin found himself in the company of other emerging composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Vincenzo Bellini and Franz Liszt. He performed in Paris and worked as a tutor and recitalist. He composed many of his most famous pieces during this time period, including "Nocturnes of Opp. 9 and 15," "Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35" and "G minor Ballade, Op. 23." He also met famous artists of the Romantic age, including Eugene Delacroix, who painted Chopin's 1838 portrait.
Love Is in the Air
Chopin had numerous affairs of the heart, but the longest was his affair with French novelist Aurore Dedevant, better known as George Sand. Chopin's health became a problem in 1939. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis but was successfully treated by a knowledgeable and dedicated physician. Chopin and Sand settled in a country home in France owned by Sand. During the next seven years, Chopin composed numerous masterpieces, including "B minor Sonata," Op. 55 Nocturnes," "Ballades in A-flat, Op. 47" and "Op. 56 Mazurkas."
By the mid-1840s, Sand and Chopin drifted apart. Chopin's unpredictable behavior, apparently caused by a previously undiagnosed form of epilepsy, led to a breakup. Chopin began a spiral into depression which also worsened his physical health. He attempted another tour, but the physical demands were too much for him. He returned to Paris and died in October 1849. He was only 38 years old.