Fryderyk Chopin

20 Mar 2018

Poland’s greatest composer, and Warsaw’s favourite son, Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) has lent his name to everything from vodka to airports (and even an asteroid). And in the spirit of all the greats there’s a considerable element of mystery surrounding the man. Say it very, very quietly, but there’s even dispute as to his birthday and parentage. Most sources agree he was born on February 22, 1810, yet some claim his family could be found celebrating his birth on March 1. At the time of his death only Jane Stirling, his Scottish benefactor, claimed to know the truth, and this she wrote on a piece of paper before burying it with him. Furthermore, while most accept he was the son of a French expatriate some experts argue he was the bastard child of an unnamed aristocrat. The truth has been lost to time.

There's one thing we can be certain of, however, and that’s his birthplace – the town of Żelazowa Wola fifty kilometres west of Warsaw. However, he stayed there for just a year, with the family moving to Warsaw in 1811 after his 'father', a man who’d fought the Russians in the Napoleonic Wars, found a job as a French tutor.

By all accounts he was a prodigy from the offing. The young Fryderyk started learning piano at the age of four, and by the age of eight had already performed at what is now the Presidential Palace. Yet in spite of his obvious talents, applications for a state grant were repeatedly refused. Nevertheless, his childhood was happy, and the gingerbread eating Fryderyk received gushing reviews in local columns and press.

A diligent student he was educated at home for the first 13 years, before attending Warsaw’s Lyceum, and then the Warsaw Music Conservatory. He continued to blossom under its director, the Polish composer Joseph Elsner, who was wowed by Chopin’s musical mastery. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1829, the same year he was to meet Konstancja Gładkowska, and his unrequited love for her inspired many of his early compositions.

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