Frédéric Chopin was one of the leading 19th century composers. His music combines an affinity for beautiful melody-writing, a colourful harmonic sense, a profound understanding of form and virtuosic piano technique. His works represent the essence of the romantic piano and its sheer expressive and technical possibilities. His is one of the most radical and influentially prominent minds of the post-Beethovenian era.
Chopin was born near Warsaw in 1810 into a middle class family who saw education and morality as fundamental in life. The family moved in professional, academic and aristocratic social circles and Chopin’s talent at the piano gained him status in the salons at the top tier of Polish society. He was a regular performer both at private gatherings and in public while still a child – he was essentially seen as a second Mozart.
Through his Warsaw-era pieces, we can see the influence of the Viennese Classical composers and Bach, stemming from Chopin’s conservatory training in counterpoint and the practice of sonata form composition. Chopin’s piano concertos are the middle point between classical and post classical styles, which is apparent in the F minor concerto op. 21, which was his first one.
After graduating from high school, he began to find Warsaw rather provincial and took a long-craved venture farther afield, at first on a short two-concert trip to Vienna and then on a lengthy European concert tour. It was on his second trip to Vienna that he became increasingly aware of his ‘Polishness’ in composing and subsequently went on to compose his first nine Mazurkas in which a new distinct genre emerged. In his early Mazurkas, Chopin turned to the rhythmic and modal patterns of the Mazovian plains in central Poland. His contact with folk tunes was not direct, but through the more popular music heard at salons. At a young age, Chopin made this genre his own.