Music History 102

The Romantic Era

Frédéric Chopin

Born: Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, March 1, 1810

Died: Paris, October 17, 1849

portrait of Frédéric Chopin

One of the best-known and best-loved composers of the Romantic period, Chopin was born in Poland and lived most of his life in Paris, which was at that time the musical hub of Europe. Chopin’s entire musical output was devoted to his favorite instrument, the piano. His over 200 solo compositions for the piano all demonstrate his highly individual melodic style, and include two sets of etudes (studies), three sonatas, four ballads, many pieces he variously titled preludes, impromptus, or scherzos, and a great number of dances. Included among the latter are a number of waltzes, but also a great many mazurkas and six polonaises, both of which are dances from his native Poland. Some of these dance pieces are among Chopin’s best-known works, including the proud Polonaise in A-flat major and the haunting Waltz in C-sharp minor.

Among Chopin’s most individual works are the Préludes. Intended to serve as improvisatory beginnings to an intimate recital, these pieces range from tender melancholy to the dramatic utterances of the stormy Prelude in D minor. Many of Chopin’s most beautiful compositions come from the series of short, reflective pieces he called Nocturnes. As can be heard in the Nocturne in F-sharp, these works are usually gentle and dreamlike with a flowing, rocking bass, and aptly demonstrate Chopin’s predeliction for sweet, song-like melodies, very much in the style of Italian bel canto opera of the period.

Music History 102: a Guide to Western Composers and their music
Designed, compiled and created by

Robert Sherrane