The 19th century saw very few musicians who were more acclaimed than Frederic Chopin. This virtuoso pianist spent the Romantic era composing music that was hailed by audiences, past and present, as some of the best pieces of classical music which have ever been composed. His personal life also made for much gossip and many rumors. In many ways, Chopin was one of music’s first superstars. If you’re curious to find out more, continue reading to learn all about Chopin.
Frederic Chopin Facts
1. Musical Destiny
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chopin devoted his life to music. His father was a musical genius in his own right, though his instruments of choice were the flute and the violin. Chopin’s mother, meanwhile, was a piano teacher, and she gave Chopin his first lessons on the instrument.
2. Lost in Translation
Chopin’s full name was Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin. He later converted it to the more French-sounding Frederic Francois Chopin.
3. I Can Never Remember His Birthday!
Chopin was born in what was then called the Duchy of Warsaw in Poland in 1810, but there was some dispute over when exactly he was born. The parish where Chopin was baptized gave his date of birth as February 22, though Chopin and his family listed his birthday as March 1. Historians have mostly gone with Chopin on when he was born.
He was there, after all!
4. How I Met Your Mother
Chopin’s father was a Frenchman named Nicolas Chopin who emigrated to Poland. Nicolas established himself as a teacher and private tutor on the subject of the French language. It was through this occupation that Nicolas met and later married Chopin’s mother, Tekla Justyna Krzyzanowska.
5. More Like an Older Brother, Really
Chopin was named after his godfather, Fryderyk Skarbek. Skarbek, who was only 18 at the time of Chopin’s birth, was a former pupil of Chopin’s father and a relative of Chopin’s mother.
6. Beloved Sis
Chopin was the only son born to his parents. He had an older sister named Ludwika and two younger sisters named Izabela and Emilia. Chopin was particularly close with Ludwika, even when he’d left Poland. In 1849, Ludwika later joined the ailing Chopin in Paris with her husband and child in tow. She was the only member of Chopin’s family to be at Chopin’s side when he passed away.
7. Let’s Go Abroad!
Chopin was still a student when the 18-year-old made his first trip outside of Poland. Accompanied by a chaperone, Chopin attended concerts held by such legendary figures of classical music as Felix Mendelssohn. Chopin was also a guest of Prince Antoni Radziwill, to whom Chopin dedicated his Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major for cello and piano, Op. 3.
Quite a mouthful, Frederic!
8. Productive Pianist
Despite his relatively short life, Chopin wrote an astonishing catalog of musical works. While a number of the pieces he wrote in his childhood are lost to history, more than 230 are still known to us. Every single one of these works involves a piano, while the majority are meant solely for the piano.
9. My Mentor
Apart from his mother, Chopin’s first professional music tutor was Wojciech Zywny, a Czech pianist. She tutored Chopin and his sister Ludwika from 1816 to 1821.
10. Why Thank You!
During his teenage years, Chopin studied music at the Warsaw Lyceum and the Warsaw Conservatory. In between his studies, Chopin also performed recitals in the city. On one occasion, he performed for Tsar Alexander I when the Russian monarch visited Poland. The Tsar was so impressed with Chopin’s playing that he presented Chopin with a diamond ring as a reward.
11. Hold Still!
In 1829, an artist painted Chopin for the first time. That year, Ambrozy Mieroszcwski completed portraits of Chopin and his family. It certainly wouldn’t be the last time that Chopin’s likeness was replicated in art (more on that later).
12. No Time for Kid Stuff!
Just like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before him, Chopin was a child prodigy who captured a lot of attention from a very early age. Chopin was just seven years old when he gave his first public concerts. In 1821, the 11-year-old Chopin wrote a polonaise in A-flat major, which he dedicated to Wojciech Zywny, his first tutor.
Today it is his “earliest surviving musical manuscript.”
13. Hollywood Darling
Chopin’s controversial and often stormy love life has inspired several films over the years, even as early as 1919. The arguably most famous example of these films is the 1945 biopic A Song to Remember. Cornel Wilde portrayed Chopin, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance.
14. What’s the Nightly Rate?
While Chopin was a student at university, tragedy struck his family. His youngest sister, Emilia, passed away at around 15 years of age. The rest of Chopin’s family relocated to live just across from Chopin’s university and opened a boarding house for male university students. Several of these lodgers became lifelong friends of Chopin himself.
The boarding house survives to this day and acted as part of the Frederic Chopin Museum until 2014, when it closed.
15. Why Did I Leave?
In 1830, Chopin’s reputation was such that he embarked on a trip to Western Europe without any plan to return. Barely two months into his trip, however, his traveling companion suddenly went back to Poland and Chopin was left on his own in Vienna. He was already so homesick that he wrote to a friend, “I curse the moment of my departure.”
Sadly, for Chopin, he never saw his beloved Poland again for the rest of his life.
16. Join the Crowd
Chopin’s departure from Poland in 1830 was hardly an isolated incident. From the 1830s until around 1870, military strife in Poland resulted in thousands of native Poles leaving the country. This event has become known in Polish history as the Great Emigration. On the bright side, many Poles settled in France where Chopin had also ended up, much to the composer’s delight.
He made many lifelong friends among these expatriates.
17. Sacré Bleu!
In 1835, Chopin was granted French citizenship. He was, by that time, living in Paris and using the French spelling of his name. Of course, Chopin allegedly never felt comfortable identifying as a Frenchman, insisting that he was a Pole first and foremost.
18. Bravo, Sir!
It’s often been said that you’ve officially made it when your contemporaries acknowledge your talent. The same was true of Chopin in 1831 when he was noticed by Robert Schumann. At the time, this famous German composer was writing music reviews, and he began gushing over Chopin as soon as he heard the man play. Schumann famously declared, “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!”
That just might be one of the coolest compliments we’ve ever heard!
19. Bitten by the Love Bug
As a university student, Chopin was enamored with Konstancja Gladkowska, a fellow student who was a singer. By Chopin’s own admission in private letters to his friends, he wrote many works of music which were partly or wholly inspired by Gladkowska. This included his Piano Concerto No. 1 (in E minor).
20. Long-Distance Son
In 1835, Chopin traveled to the Czech city of Carlsbad. There, he reunited with his parents for the first time since his departure from Poland. Tragically, it was also the last time he saw them before his death around 14 years later.
21. Epic Team-Up
Chopin’s social circle in France included many talented artists, including as fellow-pianists Ferdinand Hiller and Franz Liszt. In the case of these two, Chopin once co-hosted a once-in-a-lifetime concert with them in 1833. The three of them performed a concerto originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach, which was meant for three harpsichords to perform.
For those of you born in the 21st century who might be puzzled as to why this is a big deal, think of it as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor uniting for the common cause of playing a musical piece originally written by Stan Lee.
22. Proud Patriot
Music historians have long debated this topic, but many of them are adamant that Chopin’s legacy includes instilling a real sense of nationalism within his music. Chopin’s love for Poland was noted many times, and he distinctly incorporated Polish culture into his compositions. The most notable example is his use of a Polish folk dance known as the mazurka.
Even though Chopin was indisputably influenced by non-Polish composers such as Bach and Beethoven, it’s equally indisputable that Chopin brought the sounds of Poland into his work.
23. Boo!!! Boo!!!
In 1901, Giacomo Orefice composed a four-part opera about Chopin, fittingly titled Chopin. The portrayal of Chopin was based on his music, but was also considered “wildly inaccurate” when it came to biographical facts about the composer. Chopin was considered successful when it was first released in Milan, but French critics were outraged at the liberties taken.
One man even declared that Orefice was guilty of “sacrilege.” Ouch!
24. When Freddy Met Aurore
In 1836, Chopin first met French author Aurore Dupin, better known by her pen name George Sand. According to the sources we at Factinate found, Sand was quite entranced by Chopin. Chopin, meanwhile, was initially repulsed by Sand’s refusal to behave in a ladylike manner (see: smoking cigars and wearing a man’s clothing). Reportedly, Chopin exclaimed “Is she really a woman?” when they first met.
Talk about a meet-cute opening line!
25. Popular Subject
Chopin’s life has inspired many literary works, and not just biographical ones. Marcel Proust, Gottfried Benn, and Boris Pasternak have all written about the famous pianist, and Polish literature is rife with studies on his life and music.
26. Judgmental Towards the Extramarital
By 1838, Chopin and George Sand were in the middle of a passionate love affair. However, their first winter as a couple did not go well. Accompanied by Sand’s children, Chopin and Sand went to spend the winter months in the Mediterranean on the island of Mallorca. However, the very religious locals were outraged by the fact that Sand and Chopin were unmarried. This caused them great difficulty finding lodgings.
When they finally found shelter in a monastery (ironically), they had little to no protection from the poor weather. This only aggravated Chopin’s already ill health and they cut their vacation short.
27. Chopin’s “Master Chief Theme”
Gamers might not know it, but many of them have been made quite familiar with a piece of Chopin’s music. In 2007, an ad campaign was released to promote the then-upcoming video game Halo 3. The music used in the ads was none other than Chopin’s Preludes #15, Raindrop.
28. I Don’t Feel So Good…
Never the most robust of men, Chopin’s health took a nosedive in 1942 and never improved. He wrote of how often he had to lie helplessly in bed day and night. It isn’t fully certain just what sort of ailment Chopin suffered from, but some have suggested temporal lobe epilepsy.
29. Is the Honeymoon Over?
Despite any passion that might have existed between Chopin and George Sand, things soured between them. For one thing, Sand was politically radical and had nothing but contempt for Chopin’s associates in French high society. Chopin, meanwhile, was unsupportive of Sand’s politics and was so often ill that Sand wrote dismissively of him as her “third child.”
30. Wrong Move, Dude!
Another serious problem standing between Chopin and Sand’s love affair was Chopin’s relationship with her children. Sand’s son, Maurice, greatly resented Chopin and saw him as a rival to his “man of the house” status. By contrast, Chopin was on very good terms with Sand’s daughter, Solange (and not in the way you’re thinking).
Solange and Sand often quarreled, and Chopin usually sided with Solange over his lover! Even we could have warned Chopin not to play with that kind of fire.
31. Two for the Price of One
1991 was a good year for Chopin fans. That was the year two separate films about Chopin were released. One was a French film titled La note bleue, and the other was Impromptu, a period piece starring Hugh Grant as Chopin. Who knew that Chopin had an English accent?
32. That’s It! We’re Done!
The final nail in the coffin for Chopin’s relationship with George Sand was the publication of Sand’s novel Lucrezia Floriani. If you read the book, and if you knew enough about Chopin and Sand, it’d be clear to you that one of the main characters—a sickly prince portrayed in an unflattering light—was spitefully based on Chopin.
Chopin noticed it too, and he ended their acquaintance in 1847. The couple never reunited, and Sand did not even attend Chopin’s funeral.
33. Time to Get Out of Dodge
In 1848, revolution once again swept France, leading to Chopin taking leave of his adopted country. He held his final Paris concert in February 1848, performing alongside Auguste Franchomme, a noted French cellist.
34. Visiting Celebrity
Following his departure from France in 1848, Chopin went to England. His first public engagement, held on May 15, included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the audience.
35. What’s the Culprit?
Chopin was just 39 years old when he died. The cause of death has been debated by biographers and historians over the years. Although Chopin’s death certificate listed tuberculosis as the cause, some have put forward that Chopin might have died from cirrhosis, cystic fibrosis, or a genetic disorder called alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.
36. The Friends You Make
Although George Sand bitterly avoided the deathbed of her ex, her daughter Solange was one of the people in Chopin’s company when he died. It was also Solange’s husband who made a death mask of Chopin’s face and molded a cast of Chopin’s left hand.
37. The Music Died
In a fitting tribute to Chopin’s legacy, his tombstone is adorned with an engraving of Euterpe (the Greek mythological muse of music) weeping over a broken lyre. We can only assume that a broken piano would have been a bit too on-the-nose.
38. Going Out with a Song
Chopin’s last public appearance playing music took place on November 16, 1848, in London. The ailing composer only weighed a shocking 99 pounds, but he put on a brave face and performed one last time. In a final act of patriotism, Chopin’s show was a benefit to raise money for Polish refugees fleeing their war-torn country.
39. At Least it Isn’t Over the Ocean
One of Chopin’s of last requests was for his sister, Ludwika, to take his heart back to Poland. As poetic as that might have sounded, however, it was carried out quite literally. Chopin’s heart was removed by his doctor, placed into a vase, and preserved in alcohol. Thanks to these safeguarding measures, his heart has endured to this day!
40. I’m Your Man and Muse
In his younger days, after his trip to see his parents in Carlsbad, Chopin stopped in Dresden on his way back to Paris. While he was staying with old friends, Chopin’s likeness was painted in watercolor by their 16-year-old daughter, Maria Wodzinski. This watercolor painting has survived to this day, and it’s often been hailed as one of the best paintings of Chopin that was ever made.
He may not have known it at the time, but Wodzinski would become his first love.
41. Emo Before Emo Existed
Aside from painting Chopin’s likeness, Maria Wodzinski renewed her acquaintance with him later that year in 1835 when he proposed to her. While Wodzinski and her mother both approved of the betrothal, things changed in 1837. It’s not certain why the engagement was called off. Some wrote that Wodzinski’s father disapproved of Chopin’s frequently poor physical health.
However, there’s a darker theory that his fiancée’s family got word of the womanizing he’d been up to while living in France. Whatever the reason, Chopin took the breakup very badly. He allegedly put all the letters he’d received from the Wodzinski family into a single package which he labeled “My tragedy.”
42. Paid with Discretion
During his life, Chopin supported himself by teaching piano to a number of wealthy patrons. Interestingly, he never actually asked for financial compensation for these—he was too embarrassed. An agreement allegedly developed between him and his students where they would silently put money on his mantelpiece when he wasn’t looking.
43. “When He Plays Piano in the Dark”
For all his musical talents and the public demand to hear him play, Chopin only ever participated in 30 public concerts. He was a very shy man, so he focused on small gatherings instead of large crowds. As if that level of stage fright wasn’t enough, however, Chopin insisted on playing his music in the dark. Even during his live performances, Chopin ordered the lamps to be dimmed when he got started.
44. The Kindness of Strangers
In the winter of 1848, Chopin returned to Paris for the last time. He stayed in an apartment which was paid for by an admiring aristocrat. Another wealthy patron paid for Chopin’s sister, brother-in-law, and their child to travel all the way to Paris from Poland to see him once more before the end.
45. Anything Else to Say?
Just after midnight on October 17, 1849, a physician looking after Chopin asked him if he was in serious pain. Chopin answered, “No longer,” then passed away soon after.