Although nobody needs to be told who Chopin was, many associate him chiefly with the textbook image of his monument in the Łazienki Royal Park, the pensive composer sitting in the shade of a windblown willow. Nonetheless, it is worth our while to realise that Fryderyk Chopin is an internationally renowned Varsovian; were he alive today, there is no doubt that he would have thousands of Facebook fans.
The Child Prodigy
Fryderyk Chopin was born in 1810 in Żelazowa Wola. His actual date of birth remains uncertain, as sources quote two different dates: February 22nd and March 1st.
The Chopins moved to Warsaw when young Fryderyk was just a few months old. While they changed their address a few times, their home was close to Krakowskie Przedmieście Street – the city’s beating heart of culture to this very day.
Fryderyk grew up in a musical home, filled with song and the sound of various musical instruments: piano, flute, and violin. No wonder Chopin he tried his hand at music as a very young boy. He began taking regular piano classes at the age of six. Wojciech Żywny, a pianist of Czech origin, was Chopin’s first teacher, and quickly discovered the boy’s extraordinary gift.
Fryderyk was admired in Warsaw’s aristocratic salons, the city’s newspapers full of adulation for the boy who had composed his first pieces before he turned eight!
Tekla Justyna Chopin (1782-1861), Fryderyk’s mother. Jan Zamoyski, oil on canvas, 1969. Source: NIFC.
Mikołaj Chopin (1771-1844), Fryderyk’s father. Jan Zamoyski, oil on canvas, 1969. Source: NIFC.
Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). Maksymilian Fajans, lithography based on works by Ary Scheffer, 19th century. Source: NIFC.
Ludwika Marianna Chopin (1807-1855), Fryderyk’s sister. Jan Zamoyski, oil on canvas, 1969. Source: NIFC.
Justyna Izabella Chopin (1811-1881), Fryderyk’s sister. Jan Zamoyski, oil on canvas, 1969. Source: NIFC.
Emilia Chopin (1812-1827), Fryderyk’s sister. Ivory miniature by unknown author. Source: NIFC.
Not Only Music
While it is chiefly music that the name “Chopin” brings to mind, it is worth remembering that Fryderyk’s life was brimming with activities typical of a boy his age. After some years of home schooling, he was enrolled at the Warsaw Lyceum, an institution with a wonderful reputation. It was here that he gained extensive knowledge, and made friends whom he cherished for life.
Fryderyk was enormously popular with his schoolmates. His sunny disposition, great sense of humour and natural talent for acting (he was excellent at imitating the gestures and facial expressions of others) attracted many people. He cherished his friendships from his schooldays his whole life, as shown by the surviving correspondence.
He usually spent summer holidays in the countryside, taking day trips, hunting, and attending local dances.
Several years later, as a student of the Main School of Music, Fryderyk met up with friends in cafes popular at the time, went on his first dates, and skated on the frozen river.
Regrettably, his health began to fail very early in life, requiring the young Chopin to receive frequent treatment and adjust his lifestyle accordingly. Yet even in such a predicament he managed to maintain a healthy distance and a sense of humour.
His Heart Stayed in His Homeland
Shortly after graduating from the Music School in Warsaw, Fryderyk opened a new chapter. In 1830, the composer travelled to Vienna, where he learned of the outbreak of the November Uprising. Despite missing his beloved homeland, he let his family convince him that he should not return to Poland. He travelled to Paris, where he soon found himself mixing in the circles of the French capital’s most eminent celebrities. His popularity is best summed up by a quote from Antoni Orłowski, a Polish violinist and composer: “He has turned the heads of all Frenchwomen, and made all men jealous. He is now fashionable; shortly, the world will begin wearing gloves à la Chopin”.
Chopin lived in Paris until his death. He died at thirty-nine, in all probability from tuberculosis. He was buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery. In keeping with his last will and testament, Chopin’s heart was brought to Warsaw by his sister Ludwika.