Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Born Today March 1: Frédéric Chopin


Frédéric François Chopin (birth name Fryderyk Franzcisek) was born on this day in Zelazowa Wola, Poland--then part of the Russian Empire.  The region that he was born in, had been established by Napoleon and his father was from the Lorraine region of France.  His mother was a Polish Countess.  His baptismal record (under the Latinized name of Fridericus Franciscus) states that his birthday was actually the 22nd of February, but his family always strictly maintained that he was, in fact, born on March 1st.  He was the second of 4 children and the only son of the couple.  Six months after his birth, the family relocated to Warsaw.  Both of his parents were musically inclined, with his father proficient on both the flute and violin, and his mother on piano.  In fact, she gave lessons on that instrument.  So, he was exposed to music from the time of his birth.  In 1816, he began formal training on the piano with musician Wojciech Zywny.  Young Frédéric, along with his older sister studied with him, until 1821.  He and his sister would frequently play duets together.  His talent on the instrument, however, far out-shown hers, and he was quickly declared a child prodigy, though he was always predisposed to illnesses, even as a very young boy, he showed great energy in the field of music.  By 1817, he had already begun to give public performances and had composed his first piece of music.  The earliest surviving musical composition of his dates from 1821.  In 1823, he began attending the Warsaw Lyceum, where studied under musician Wilhelm Würfel on the organ.  Leaving in 1826, he then began a three year stint at the Warsaw Conservatory under Silesian composer Józef Elsner.  During this time, he came to the attention of Tsar Alexander I, who invited him to play before him on a trip to Warsaw--this earned Chopin his first real success.  Between 1824 and 1828, family retreats to various locals in Poland exposed him to Polish folk music.  During this time, his parents ran a boarding house; through this, he was exposed to a whole set of young Polish men from various walks of life, some of which would go on to be life-long friends of his.  In 1828, he made his first trip to Berlin, delighting in the music scene there and regularly attending opera.  When back in Warsaw, he was able to attend of performance of composer Paganini, who performed his own music on the violin.  By the spring of 1830, he had become a well known composer in his own right.  In the fall of 1830, he and a friend became stranded in Austria, while traveling to Italy, when an uprising broke out; as a result of this, Chopin headed for France. It would be here that his compositions would become internationally known and would make him world famous.  He also won the admiration of several of his well known fellow composers.  By 1842, his health was in serious decline; and though, his official cause of death at the young age of 39 was Pulmonary Tuberculosis, he is thought to have suffered a lifelong problem with temporal lobe epilepsy, among other illnesses; his actual cause of death is still hotly debated.  He did during this time, however, manage a tour of England and Scotland in 1848; giving his last public performance in London's Guildhall.  He returned to Paris, where he succumbed to illness on the 17th of October 1849.  His funeral was held on the 30 of October with an over-flow crowd of more than 3,000 (many from foreign countries) in Paris.  Upon his request, Mozart's Requiem was performed. He is buried in Pére Lachaise.  In regards to film, his compositions have be used in literally hundreds of soundtracks; but the first film to feature his work actually was a late silent film featuring a  pressed vinyl disc or record showing his name printed on it; the disc spins on a record player.  The film Disque 957, was a short (6 minutes) and was directed by French film artist and feminist Germain Dulac.  The first film to actually feature his music in sound, came in 1929 with another short (10 minutes) Trixie Friganza in My Bag o' Trix, featuring vaudevillian Trixie Friganza, utilizing Vitaphone sound on a Western Electric Apparatus.  The first full length film to feature his music also came in 1929 with Side Street, featuring the The Moore Brothers.  The first film in the 1930's to feature his compositions was a Basil Rathbone film entitled The Bishop Murder Case (1930).  The latest feature of  his work will come in the Canadian pilot for the horror television series The Fantasmagori this year. 

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