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When it comes to western classical music, the first names that anyone can easily shout out are Mozart and Beethoven. Only connoisseur listeners of the music would go further to mention someone like Frederic François Chopin, whom we are paying tribute to this year. Born on 1 March 1810 in the village of Zelazowa Wola, in the Duchy of Warsaw, Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist and is famously known for his piano works. Though born in Poland, Chopin immigrated to France due to the Polish November Uprising in 1830.
Extremely talented people usually have something odd we remember them by. Beethoven went deaf, Alexander the Great was apparently an alcoholic, and Schoenberg was terrified of the number 13. Chopin was the one of the frailest people I have ever heard of. Even as a youth Chopin suffered from ill health and showed early signs of tuberculosis – both his sister and father died of this illness. He eventually succumbed to this chronic lung disease on 17 October 1849.
Chopin also requested for his heart to be taken to his home town Warsaw when he died. His sister, Ludwika, fulfilled this very strange request. Some believe he did this due to the fear of being buried alive, so taking his heart out would ensure that this would not happen.
Despite his poor health (which some believe he inherited from his father) Chopin left a legacy that will last for as long our planet exists. A lot of his music has been used in movies, such as The Pianist (one of my favourite movies). Others include Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (if you haven’t seen this one, go hire it!!); Walk Hard: The story of Dewy Cox; The Prestige and The Contender, to mention just a few. So you may prick your ears when you hear his name, because you are wondering who this man is, but you will have heard some of his music somewhere.
My favourite Chopin piece is his Nocturne in E Minor, Opus 72 No. 1. The music is mellow, tranquil, and melancholic. It reminds me of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata. It was also used in the movie The Pianist. He wrote this piece in 1827, at age 17. He never intended for it to be published, which is why it was only published in 1855, after his death.
The SABC Music library is proud to have most of the maestro’s compositions, including the Piano Concerto No. 1 in e minor, Opus 11 and Piano Concerto No. 2 in f minor, Opus 21. Virtually all his piano solo works are to be found in the catalogue including the famous Fantasie-Impromptu in C Sharp minor and his Ballades, Barcarolles, Berceuses, Impromptus, Mazurkas, Nocturnes, Polonaises, Preludes and Waltzes.
In addition to all these magnificent works, we recently discovered that we also have his 17 Polish songs, Opus 74, published posthumously. These have been translated to German and include titles like Mädchens Wünsch (The Wish), Frühling (Spring), Mir aus den Augen (Out of my sight), and Das Ringlein (The Ring).
Though Chopin was Polish (with a lot of French thrown in), music was his first language. As one author said, “the piano was his means of communication”. In a letter he wrote to his father, Chopin said “I could express my feelings more easily if they could be put into notes of music”. Therefore, next time you hear an inexplicably beautiful piece of piano music in an ad or movie, it might just happen to be Chopin’s. His “voice” will remain with us forever.