Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, a village in the Duchy of Warsaw. A renowned child-prodigy pianist and composer, he grew up in Warsaw and completed his musical education there. Following the Russian suppression of the Polish November 1830 Uprising, he settled in Paris as part of the Polish Great Emigration. He supported himself as a composer and piano teacher, giving few public performances. From 1837 to 1847 he carried on a relationship with the French woman writerGeorge Sand. For most of his life, Chopin suffered from poor health; he died in Paris at age 39.
Chopin's father was Nicolas Chopin, a Frenchman from Lorraine who had emigrated to Poland in 1787 at the age of sixteen and had served in Poland's National Guard during the Kościuszko Uprising. In France he had been baptised Nicolas but later, living in Poland, he used the Polish form of his given name, Mikołaj. He subsequently tutored children of the aristocracy, including the Skarbeks, whose poorer relative, Justyna Krzyżanowska, he married. The wedding took place at the 16th-century parish church in Brochów on 2 June 1806. (Justyna's brother would become the father of American Union General Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski.)
Frédéric Chopin was the couple's second child and only son. He was born at Żelazowa Wola, forty-six kilometers west of Warsaw, in what was then the Duchy of Warsaw. The parish record of the baptism (discovered in 1892) gives 22 February 1810 as his date of birth, but 1 March was the date on which the composer and his close family celebrated his birthday; and, according to Chopin himself in a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Polish Literary Society in Paris on 16 January 1833, he was "born 1 March 1810 at the village of Żelazowa Wola in the Province of Mazovia." He was baptized on Easter Sunday, 23 April 1810, in the same church in Brochów where his parents had married. The parish register cites his given names in the Latin form Fridericus Franciscus; in Polish he was called Fryderyk Franciszek.
In 1817–27 Chopin's family lived in this Warsaw University building, now adorned with Fryderyk's profile (center)
In October 1810, when Chopin was seven months old, the family moved to Warsaw as his father had accepted an offer from the celebrated lexicographerSamuel Linde to teach French at the Warsaw Lyceum. The school was housed in the Saxon Palace, and the Chopin family lived on the palace grounds. In 1817 Grand Duke Constantine requisitioned the Saxon Palace for military purposes and the Lyceum was moved to the Kazimierz Palace, which also hosted the newly founded Warsaw University. The family lived in a spacious second-floor apartment in an adjacent building. Chopin attended the Warsaw Lyceum from 1823 to 1826.
The Polish spirit, culture and language pervaded the Chopins' home, and as a result the son would never, even in Paris, perfectly master the French language.Louis Énault, a biographer, borrowed George Sand's phrase to describe Chopin as being "more Polish than Poland".
Others in Chopin's family were musically inclined. Chopin's father played the flute and violin; his mother played the piano and gave lessons to boys in the elite boarding house that the Chopins maintained. As a result Fryderyk became conversant with music in its various forms at an early age.
Józef Sikorski, a musician and Chopin's contemporary, recalls in his Memoirs about Chopin (Wspomnienie Chopina) that, as a child, Chopin wept with emotion when his mother played the piano. By six, he was already trying to reproduce what he heard or make up new melodies. He received his earliest piano lessons not from his mother but from his older sister Ludwika (in English, "Louise").
Chopin's first professional piano tutor, from 1816 to 1822, was the CzechWojciech Żywny. Though the youngster's skills soon surpassed his teacher's, Chopin later spoke highly of Żywny. Seven-year-old "little Chopin" (Szopenek) began giving public concerts that soon prompted comparisons with Mozart as a child and with Beethoven.
That same year, seven-year old Chopin composed two Polonaises, in G minor and B-flat major. The first was published in the engraving workshop of Father Izydor Józef Cybulski (composer, engraver, director of an organists' school, and one of the few music publishers in Poland); the second survives as a manuscript prepared by Mikołaj Chopin. These small works were said to rival not only the popular polonaises of leading Warsaw composers, but the famous Polonaises of Michał Kleofas Ogiński. A substantial development of melodic and harmonic invention and of piano technique was shown in Chopin's next known Polonaise, in A-flat major, which the young artist offered in 1821 as a name-day gift to Żywny.
About this time, at the age of eleven, Chopin performed in the presence of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, who was in Warsaw to open the Sejm (Polish parliament).
As a child, Chopin displayed an intelligence that was said to absorb everything and make use of everything for its development. He early showed remarkable abilities in observation and sketching, a keen wit and sense of humor, and an uncommon talent for mimicry. A story from his school years recounts a teacher being pleasantly surprised by a superb portrait that Chopin had drawn of him in class.
Szafarnia manor where Chopin vacationed in 1824/25
Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz attested to "little Chopin's" popularity in his dramatic eclogue, "Nasze Verkehry" ("Our Intercourse," 1818), in which the eight-year-old featured as a motif in the dialogues.
In the 1820s, when teen-age Chopin was attending the Warsaw Lyceum and Warsaw Conservatory, he spent every vacation away from Warsaw: in Szafarnia (1824 – perhaps his first solo travel away from home – and 1825), Duszniki (1826), Pomerania (1827) and Sanniki (1828).
At the village of Szafarnia (where he was a guest of Juliusz Dziewanowski, father of schoolmate Dominik Dziewanowski) and at his other vacation venues, Chopin was exposed to folk melodies that he later transmuted into original compositions. His missives home from Szafarnia (the famous self-styled "Szafarnia Courier" letters), written in a very modern and lively Polish, amused his family with their spoofing of the Warsaw newspapers and demonstrated the youngster's literary gift.
An anecdote describes how Chopin helped quiet rowdy children by first improvising a story and then lulling them to sleep with a berceuse (lullaby) – after which he woke everyone with an ear-piercing chord.
Chopin, tutored at home until he was thirteen, enrolled in the Warsaw Lyceum in 1823, but continued studying piano under Żywny's direction. In 1825, in a performance of the work of Ignaz Moscheles, he entranced the audience with his free improvisation, and was acclaimed the "best pianist in Warsaw."
In 1827–30 Chopin lived with his family in the south annex of the Krasiński Palace, before leaving Poland forever.
In year-end evaluations, Elsner noted Chopin's "remarkable talent" and "musical genius." As had Żywny, Elsner observed, rather than influenced or directed, the development of Chopin's blossoming talent. Elsner's teaching style was based on his reluctance to "constrain" Chopin with "narrow, academic, outdated" rules, and on his determination to allow the young artist to mature "according to the laws of his own nature."
In 1827 the family moved to lodgings just across the street from Warsaw University, in the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście 5 (what is now the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts). Here the parents continued running their elite boarding house for male students. Young Chopin would live here until he left Warsaw in 1830. (In 1837/39, artist and poet Cyprian Norwid would live there while study painting at the Academy of Fine Arts; later he would pen the famous poem, "Chopin's Piano," about Russian troops' 1863defenestration of the instrument.) The Chopin family's parlor (salonik Chopinów) is now maintained as a museum open to visitors; it was in this parlor that Chopin first played many of his early compositions.
In 1829, Polish portraitist Ambroży Mieroszewski executed a set of five portraits of Chopin family members (the youngest daughter, Emilia, had died in 1827): Chopin's parents, his elder sister Ludwika, younger sister Izabela, and, in the first known portrait of him, the composer himself. (The originals perished in World War II; only black-and-white photographs remain.) In 1913, historian Édouard Ganche would write that this painting of the precocious composer showed "a youth threatened by tuberculosis. His skin is very white, he has a prominent Adam's apple and sunken cheeks, even his ears show a form characteristic of consumptives." Chopin's younger sister Emilia had already died of tuberculosis at the age of fourteen, and their father would succumb to the same disease in 1844.
According to musicologist and Chopin biographer Zdzisław Jachimecki, comparison of the juvenile Chopin with any earlier composer is difficult because of the originality of the works that Chopin was composing already in the first half of his life. At a comparable age, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven had still been apprentices, while Chopin was perceived by peers and audiences to be already a master who was pointing the path to the coming age.
Chopin himself never gave thematic titles to his instrumental works, but identified them simply by genre and number. His compositions were, however, often inspired by emotional and sensual experiences in his own life. One of his first such inspirations was a beautiful young singing student at the Warsaw Conservatory and later a singer at the Warsaw Opera, Konstancja Gładkowska. In letters to his friend Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin indicated which of his works, and even which of their passages, were influenced by his erotic transports. His artist's soul was also enriched by friendships with such leading lights of Warsaw's artistic and intellectual world as Maurycy Mochnacki, Józef Bohdan Zaleski and Julian Fontana.
Back in Warsaw, in 1829, Chopin heard Niccolò Paganini play and met the German pianist and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In August the same year, three weeks after completing his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory, Chopin made a brilliant debut in Vienna. He gave two piano concerts and received many favorable reviews – in addition to some that criticized the "small tone" that he drew from the piano.
This was followed by a concert, in December 1829, at the Warsaw Merchants' Club, where Chopin premièred his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21; and by his first performance, on 17 March 1830, at the National Theater, in Warsaw, of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. In this period he also began writing his first Études (1829–32).
Chopin's successes as a performer and composer opened the professional door for him to western Europe, and on 2 November 1830, seen off by friends and admirers, with a ring from Konstancja Gładkowska on his finger and carrying with him a silver cup containing soil from his native land, Chopin set out, writes Jachimecki, "into the wide world, with no very clearly defined aim, forever." He headed for Austria, intending to go on to Italy.
Later that month, in Warsaw, the November Uprising broke out, and Chopin's friend and traveling companion, the future industrialist and art patron Tytus Woyciechowski, returned to Poland to enlist. Chopin, now alone in Vienna, writes Jachimecki, "afflicted by nostalgia, disappointed in his hopes of giving concerts and publishing, matured and acquired spiritual depth. From a romantic... poet... he grew into an inspired national bard who intuited the past, present and future of his country. Only now, at this distance, did he see all of Poland from the proper perspective, and understand what was great and truly beautiful in her, the tragedy and heroism of her vicissitudes."
When in September 1831 Chopin learned, while traveling from Vienna to Paris, that the uprising had been crushed, he poured "profanities and blasphemies, resembling the final verses of Konrad's improvisation," in his native Polish language into the pages of a little journal that he kept secret to the end of his life. He expressed fear for the safety of his family and other civilians, especially the womenfolk at risk of outrages by the Russian troops; mourned the death of "kindly [General] Sowiński" (to whose wife he had dedicated a composition); damned the French for not having come to the aid of the Poles; and expressed dismay that God had permitted the Russians to crush the Polish insurgents – "or are you [God] yourself a Russian?" These outcries of a tormented heart found musical expression in his Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, and his "Revolutionary Étude", in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12.
Chopin arrived in Paris in late September 1831, still uncertain whether he would settle there for good. In fact he would never return to Poland, becoming one of many expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration. With a view to easing his entry into the Parisian musical community, he began taking lessons from the prominent pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner. In February 1832 Chopin gave a concert that garnered universal admiration. The influential musicologist and critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote in Revue musicale: "Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere..." Only three months earlier, in December 1831, Robert Schumann, reviewing Chopin's Variations on "La ci darem la mano", Op. 2 (variations on a theme from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni), had written: "Hats off, gentlemen! A genius."
After his Paris concert début in February 1832, Chopin realized that his light-handed keyboard technique was not optimal for large concert spaces. However, later that year he was introduced to the wealthy Rothschild banking family, whose patronage opened doors for him to other private salons.
Though an ardent Polish patriot, in France he used the French versions of his given names and traveled on a French passport, possibly to avoid having to rely on Imperial Russian documents. The French passport was issued on August 1, 1835, after Chopin had become a French citizen.
In Paris, Chopin seldom performed publicly. In later years he generally gave a single annual concert at the Salle Pleyel, a venue that seated three hundred. He played more frequently at salons – social gatherings of the aristocracy and artistic and literary elite – but preferred playing at his own Paris apartment for small groups of friends. His precarious health prevented his touring extensively as a traveling virtuoso, and beyond playing once in Rouen, he seldom ventured out of the capital. His high income from teaching and composing freed him from the strains of concert-giving, to which he had an innate repugnance.Arthur Hedley has observed that "As a pianist Chopin was unique in acquiring a reputation of the highest order on the basis of a minimum of public appearances—few more than thirty in the course of his lifetime."
In 1835 Chopin went to Carlsbad, where, for the last time in his life, he met with his parents. En route through Saxony on his way back to Paris, he met old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He had made the acquaintance of their daughter Maria, now sixteen, in Poland five years earlier, and fell in love with the charming, artistically talented, intelligent young woman. The following year, in September 1836, upon returning to Dresden after having vacationed with the Wodzińskis at Marienbad, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother Countess Wodzińska approved in principle, but Maria's tender age and Chopin's tenuous health (in the winter of 1835–1836 he had been so ill that word had circulated in Warsaw that he had died) forced an indefinite postponement of the wedding. The engagement remained a secret to the world and never led to the altar. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a large envelope, on which he wrote the Polish words "Moja bieda" ("My sorrow").
After Chopin's matrimonial plans ended, Polish countess Delfina Potocka appeared episodically in Chopin's life as muse and romantic interest. He dedicated to her his Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, the famous "Minute Waltz".
During his years in Paris, Chopin participated in a small number of public concerts. The list of the programs' participants provides an idea of the richness of Parisian artistic life during this period. Examples include a concert on 23 March 1833, in which Chopin, Liszt and Hiller performed J. S. Bach's concerto for three harpsichords; and, on 3 March 1838, a concert in which Chopin, his pupil Adolphe Gutman, Alkan, and Alkan's teacher Pierre Joseph Zimmerman performed Alkan's arrangement, for eight hands, of Beethoven's 7th symphony.
Chopin was also involved in the composition of Liszt's Hexaméron; Chopin's was the sixth (and last) variation on Bellini's theme.
Chopin initially felt an aversion to Sand. He declared to Ferdinand Hiller: "What a repulsive woman Sand is! But is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it." Sand, however, in a candid thirty-two page letter to Count Wojciech Grzymała, a friend to both her and Chopin, admitted strong feelings for the composer. In her letter she debated whether to abandon a current affair in order to begin a relationship with Chopin, and attempted to gauge the currency of his previous relationship with Maria Wodzińska, which she did not intend to interfere with should it still exist. By the summer of 1838, Chopin's and Sand's involvement was an open secret.
A notable episode in their time together was a turbulent and miserable winter on Majorca (8 November 1838 to 13 February 1839), where they, together with Sand's two children, had gone in the hope of improving Chopin's deteriorating health. However, after discovering the couple were not wed, the deeply religious people of Majorca became inhospitable, making accommodations difficult to find; this compelled the foursome to take lodgings in a scenic yet stark and cold former Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa.
Chopin also had problems having his Pleyel piano sent to him. It arrived from Paris on 20 December but was held up by customs. (Chopin wrote on 28 December: "My piano has been stuck at customs for 8 days... They demand such a huge sum of money to release it that I can't believe it.") In the meantime Chopin had a rickety rented piano on which he practiced and may have composed some pieces.
On 3 December, he complained about his bad health and the incompetence of the doctors in Majorca: "I have been sick as a dog during these past two weeks. Three doctors have visited me. The first said I was going to die; the second said I was breathing my last; and the third said I was already dead."
On 4 January 1839, George Sand agreed to pay 300 francs (half the demanded amount) to have the Pleyel piano released from customs. It was finally delivered on 5 January. From then on Chopin was able to use the long-awaited instrument for almost five weeks, time enough to complete some works: some Preludes, Op. 28; a revision of the Ballade No. 2, Op. 38; two Polonaises, Op. 40; the Scherzo No. 3, Op. 39; the Mazurka in E minor from Op. 41; and he probably revisited his Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. The winter in Majorca is still considered one of the most productive periods in Chopin's life.
During that winter, the bad weather had such a serious effect on Chopin's health and chronic lung disease that, in order to save his life, the entire party were compelled to leave the island. The beloved French piano became an obstacle to a hasty escape. Nevertheless, George Sand managed to sell it to a French couple (the Canuts), whose heirs are the custodians of Chopin's legacy on Majorca and of the Chopin cell-room museum in Valldemossa.
The party of four went first to Barcelona, then to Marseille, where they stayed for a few months to recover. In May 1839, they headed to Sand's estate at Nohant for the summer. In autumn they returned to Paris, where initially they lived apart; Chopin soon left his apartment at 5 rue Tronchet to move into Sand's house at 16 rue Pigalle. The four lived together at this address from October 1839 to November 1842, while spending most summers until 1846 at Nohant. In 1842, they moved to 80 rue Taitbout in the Square d'Orléans, living in adjacent buildings.
It was around this time that we have evidence of Chopin's playing an instrument other than the piano. At the funeral of the tenor Adolphe Nourrit, who had jumped to his death in Naples but whose body was returned to Paris for burial, Chopin played an organ transcription of Franz Schubert's lied Die Gestirne.
First 32 bars of Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, Chopin's autograph, 1842
During the summers at Nohant, particularly in the years 1839–43, Chopin found quiet but productive days during which he composed many works. They included his Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, the "Heroic", one of his most famous pieces. It is to Sand that we owe the most compelling description of Chopin's creative processes—of the rise of his inspirations and of their painstaking working-out, sometimes amid real torments, amid weeping and complaints, with hundreds of changes in the initial concept, only to return to the initial idea. She describes an evening with their friend Delacroix in attendance:
Chopin is at the piano, quite oblivious of the fact that anyone is listening. He embarks on a sort of casual improvisation, then stops. 'Go on, go on,' exclaims Delacroix, 'That's not the end!' 'It's not even a beginning. Nothing will come ... nothing but reflections, shadows, shapes that won't stay fixed. I'm trying to find the right colour, but I can't even get the form ...' 'You won't find the one without the other,' says Delacroix, 'and both will come together.' 'What if I find nothing but moonlight?' 'Then you will have found the reflection of a reflection.' The idea seems to please the divine artist. He begins again, without seeming to, so uncertain is the shape. Gradually quiet colours begin to show, corresponding to the suave modulations sounding in our ears. Suddenly the note of blue sings out, and the night is all around us, azure and transparent. Light clouds take on fantastic shapes and fill the sky. They gather about the moon which casts upon them great opalescent discs, and wakes the sleeping colours. We dream of a summer night, and sit there waiting for the song of the nightingale ...
As the composer's illness progressed, Sand gradually became less of a lover and more of a nurse to Chopin, whom she called her "third child." But the nursing began to pall on her. In the years to come she would keep up her friendship with Chopin, but she often gave vent to affectionate impatience, at least in letters to third parties, in which she referred to Chopin as a "child," a "little angel," a "sufferer" and a "beloved little corpse."
In 1845, as Chopin's health continued to deteriorate, a serious problem emerged in his relations with Sand. Those relations were further soured in 1846 by problems involving her daughter Solange and the young sculptor Auguste Clésinger. In 1847 Sand published her novel Lucrezia Floriani, whose main characters – a rich actress and a prince in weak health – could be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was uncomplimentary to Chopin, who could not have missed the allusions as he helped Sand correct the printer's galleys. In 1847 he did not visit Nohant. Mutual friends attempted to reconcile them, but the composer was unyielding.
One of these friends was mezzo-sopranoPauline Viardot. Sand had based her 1843 novel Consuelo on Viardot, and the three had spent many hours at Nohant. An outstanding opera singer, Viardot was also an excellent pianist who had initially wanted the piano to be her career and had taken lessons with Liszt and Anton Reicha. Her friendship with Chopin was based on mutual artistic esteem and similarity of temperament. The two had often played together; he had advised her on piano technique and had assisted her in writing a series of songs based on the melodies of his mazurkas. He in turn had gained from Viardot some first-hand knowledge of Spanish music.
The year 1847 brought to an end, without any dramatics or formalities, the relations between Sand and Chopin that had lasted ten years, since 1837.
Count Wojciech Grzymała, who had followed Chopin's romance with George Sand from the first day to the last, would later opine: "If he had not had the misfortune of meeting G.S. [George Sand], who poisoned his whole being, he would have lived to be Cherubini's age." Chopin died at thirty-nine; his friend Cherubini had died at Paris in 1842 at age eighty-one. The two composers repose four meters apart at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Photo by Bisson, 1849, the year of Chopin's death at 39
Chopin's public popularity as a virtuoso waned, as did the number of his pupils. In February 1848 he gave his last Paris concert. In April, with the Revolution of 1848 underway in Paris, he left for London, where he performed at several concerts and at numerous receptions in great houses.
Toward the end of the summer he went to Scotland, staying at the castle (Johnstone, in Renfrewshire, near Glasgow) of his former pupil and great admirer Jane Wilhelmina Stirling and her elder sister, the widowed Mrs. Katherine Erskine. Miss Stirling proposed marriage to him; but Chopin, sensing that he was not long for this world, set greater store by his freedom than by the prospect of living on the generosity of a wife.
In late October 1848 in Edinburgh, at the home of a Polish physician, Dr. Adam Łyszczyński, Chopin wrote out his last will and testament—"a kind of disposition to be made of my stuff in the future, if I should drop dead somewhere," he wrote his friend Wojciech Grzymała. In his thoughts he was now constantly with his mother and sisters, and conjured up for himself scenes of his native land by playing his adaptations of its folk music on cool Scottish evenings at Miss Stirling's castle.
Chopin made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London's Guildhall on 16 November 1848, when, in a final patriotic gesture, he played for the benefit of Polish refugees. His appearance on this occasion proved to be a well-intentioned mistake, as most of the participants were more interested in the dancing and refreshments than in Chopin's piano artistry, which cost him much effort and physical discomfort.
At the end of November, Chopin returned to Paris. He passed the winter in unremitting illness, but in spite of it he continued seeing friends and visited the ailing Adam Mickiewicz, soothing the Polish poet's nerves with his playing. He no longer had the strength to give lessons, but he was still keen to compose. He lacked money for the most essential expenses and for his physicians. He had to sell off his more valuable furnishings and belongings.
Chopin's sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, by Mieroszewski, 1829
Feeling ever more poorly, Chopin longed to have a family member with him. In June 1849 his sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, who had given him his first piano lessons, agreed to come to Paris.
In September 1849, Chopin took a very beautiful, sunny apartment at Place Vendôme 12. The second-floor, seven-room apartment had previously housed the Russian embassy; Chopin could not afford it, but Jane Stirling, his wealthy Scottish pupil, rented it for him.
On 15 October, when his condition took a marked turn for the worse, his numerous visitors were asked to leave, and a handful of his closest friends remained with him. A couple of times during those last two days, they thought that the end had come, but the composer was able to catch his breath again. He asked Delfina Potocka to play sonatas and prayed and called out to God, though only a few days earlier he had refused confession, saying that he did not believe in it. He complained that George Sand had promised that he "would die in her arms." He asked for a piece of paper and wrote: "Comme cette terre m'étouffera, je vous conjure de faire ouvrir mon corps pour [que] je ne sois pas enterré vif." ("As this earth will suffocate me, I implore you to have my body opened so that I will not be buried alive.")
On 17 October, after midnight, the physician leaned over him and asked whether he was suffering greatly. "Not any more," Chopin replied. A few minutes before two o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, 17 October 1849, Chopin died.
Many people who had not been present at Chopin's death would later claim to have been there. "Being present at Chopin's death," writes Tad Szulc, "seemed to grant one historical and social cachet." Those actually around his bed appear to have included his sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, Solange and Auguste Clésinger (George Sand's daughter and son-in-law), Chopin's friend and former pupil Adolf Gutmann, his friend Thomas Albrecht, and his confidant, Polish Catholic priest Father Aleksander Jełowicki.
Cast of Chopin's left hand
Later that morning, Clésinger made Chopin's death mask and casts of his hands. Before the funeral, pursuant to his dying wish, his heart was removed. It was preserved in alcohol (perhaps brandy) to be returned to his homeland, as he had requested. His sister smuggled it in an urn to Warsaw, where it was later sealed within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, beneath an epitaph sculpted by Leonard Marconi, bearing an inscription from Matthew VI:21: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Chopin's heart has reposed there – except for a period during World War II, when it was removed for safekeeping – within the church that was rebuilt after its virtual destruction during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The church stands only a short distance from Chopin's last Polish residence, the Krasiński Palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście 5.
The funeral, to be held at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, was delayed almost two weeks, until 30 October. Chopin had requested that Mozart's Requiem be sung. The Requiem had major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The Church finally relented, on condition that the female singers remain behind a black velvet curtain.
The soloists in the Requiem included the bass Luigi Lablache – who had sung the same work at the funerals of Haydn and Beethoven, and had also sung at Bellini's funeral – and Chopin's and George Sand's friend, the mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot. Also played were Chopin's Préludes No. 4 in E minor and No. 6 in B minor. The funeral was attended by nearly three thousand people, but George Sand was not among them.
The funeral procession traversed the considerable distance from the church, in the center of town, adjacent to the Opera, to Père Lachaise Cemetery at the city's eastern edge. It was led by the dean of the Polish Great Emigration, the aged Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski; immediately after the casket, which was borne by shifts of artists (including Eugène Delacroix, cellist Auguste Franchomme and pianist Camille Pleyel), walked Chopin's sister Ludwika.
Chopin's tombstone, featuring the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre, was designed and sculpted by Auguste Clésinger. The expenses of the funeral and monument, in the amount of five thousand francs, were covered by Jane Stirling, who also paid for Chopin's sister's return to Warsaw.
Chopin's grave attracts numerous visitors and is consistently decorated with flowers, even in winter.
In 1926 a bronze statue of Chopin, designed by sculptor Wacław Szymanowski in 1907, was erected in the upper part of Warsaw's Royal Baths (Łazienki) Park, adjacent to Ujazdów Avenue (Aleje Ujazdowskie). The statue was originally to have been installed in 1910, on the centenary of Chopin's birth, but its execution was delayed by controversy about the design, then by the outbreak of World War I.
On 31 May 1940, during the German occupation of Poland in World War II, the statue was destroyed by the Nazis. It was reconstructed after the war, in 1958. Since 1959, free piano recitals of Chopin's compositions have been performed at the statue's base on summer Sunday afternoons. The stylized willow over Chopin's seated figure echoes a pianist's hand and fingers. Until 2007, the statue was the world's tallest monument to Chopin.
There are numerous other monuments to Chopin around the world. The most recent, by a small margin taller than the Warsaw statue, is a modernistic bronze sculpture by Lu Pin in Shanghai, China, that was unveiled on 3 March 2007.
Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, "had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal.... Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano."
It is very difficult to characterise Chopin's oeuvre briefly. Robert Schumann, speaking of Chopin's Sonata in B-flat minor, wrote that "he alone begins and ends a work like this: with dissonances, through dissonances, and in dissonances," and in Chopin's music he discerned "cannon concealed amid blossoms." Franz Liszt, in the opening of his biography about Chopin (Life of Chopin), termed him a "gentle, harmonious genius." Thus disparate have been the views on Chopin's music. The first systematic, if imperfect, study of Chopin's style came in F. P. Laurencin's 1861 Die Harmonik der Neuzeit. Laurencin concluded that "Chopin is one of the most brilliant exceptional natures that have ever stridden onto the stage of history and life, he is one who can never be exhausted nor stand before a void. Chopin is the musical progone of all progones until now."
According to Tad Szulc, though technically demanding, Chopin's works emphasize nuance and expressive depth rather than sheer virtuosity. Vladimir Horowitz referred to Chopin as "the only truly great composer for the piano."
Chopin's music for the piano combined a unique rhythmic sense (particularly his use of rubato), frequent use of chromaticism, and counterpoint. This mixture produces a particularly fragile sound in the melody and the harmony, which are nonetheless underpinned by solid and interesting harmonic techniques. He took the new salon genre of the nocturne, invented by Irish composer John Field, to a deeper level of sophistication. Three of Chopin's twenty-one Nocturnes were published only after his death in 1849, contrary to his wishes. He also endowed popular dance forms, such as the Polish mazurek and the Viennese waltz, with a greater range of melody and expression.
Chopin's mazurkas, while based somewhat on the traditional Polish dance (the mazurek), were different from the traditional variety in that they were suitable for concerts halls as well as dance settings. With his mazurkas, Chopin brought a new sense of nationalism, which was an idea that other composers writing both at the same time as, and after, Chopin would also incorporate into their compositions. Chopin’s nationalism was a great influence and inspiration for many other composers, especially Eastern Europeans, and he was one of the first composers to clearly express nationalism through his music. Furthermore, he was the first composer to take a national genre of music from his home country and transform it into a genre worthy of the general concert-going public, thereby creating an entirely new genre.
Chopin was the first to write ballades and scherzi as individual pieces. He also took the example of Bach's preludes and fugues, transforming the genre in his own Préludes.
Chopin reinvented the étude, expanding on the idea and making it into a gorgeous, eloquent and emotional showpiece. He also used his Études to teach his own revolutionary style, for instance playing with the weak fingers (3, 4, and 5) in fast figures (Op. 10, No. 2), playing in octaves (Op 25, No.10) and playing black keys with the thumb (Op. 10, No. 5).
Several of Chopin's pieces have become very well known—for instance the Revolutionary Étude (Op. 10, No. 12), the Minute Waltz (Op. 64, No. 1), and the third movement of his Funeral March Sonata No. 2 (Op. 35), which is often used as an iconic representation of grief. Chopin himself never named an instrumental work beyond genre and number, leaving all potential extra-musical associations to the listener; the names by which we know many of the pieces were invented by others. The Revolutionary Étude was not written with the failed Polish uprising against Russia in mind; it merely appeared at that time. The Funeral March was written before the rest of the sonata within which it is contained, but the exact occasion is not known; it appears not to have been inspired by any specific personal bereavement. Other melodies have been used as the basis of popular songs, such as the slow section of the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. posth. 66) and the first section of the Étude, Op. 10, No. 3. These pieces often rely on an intense and personalised chromaticism, as well as a melodic curve that resembles the operas of Chopin's day – the operas of Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and especially Vincenzo Bellini. Chopin used the piano to recreate the gracefulness of the singing voice, and talked and wrote constantly about singers.
Chopin's style and gifts became increasingly influential. Robert Schumann was a huge admirer of Chopin's music, and he used melodies from Chopin and even named a piece from his suite Carnaval after Chopin. This admiration was not generally reciprocated, although Chopin did dedicate his Ballade No. 2 in F major to Schumann.
Franz Liszt was another admirer and personal friend of the composer, and he transcribed for piano six of Chopin's Polish songs. However, Liszt denied that he wrote Funérailles (subtitled "October 1849", the seventh movement of his piano suite Harmonies poétiques et religieuses of 1853) in memory of Chopin. Though the middle section seems to be modeled on the famous octave trio section of Chopin's Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, Liszt said the piece had been inspired by the deaths of three of his Hungarian compatriots in the same month.