On this day in 1810, musical genius Frédéric Chopin (Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin) was born in Warsaw, Poland. His father was French, his mother Polish.
A child prodigy, he had completed his musical education by 20—and, by then, had written some of his famous works. Soon he left for Paris, never to return to his homeland. In Paris, Chopin was recognized immediately as a musical superstar, quickly winning the friendship (and admiration) of the day’s musical glitterati: Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann. He made a decent living selling his compositions and teaching piano students, a good thing since he hated performing in concert. In fact, in the last two decades of his life, he only performed in concert 30 times.
He had a famously troubled affair with the French writer George Sands. When Chopin first met her, he was repulsed by her, writing “What an unattractive person la Sand is. Is she really a woman?” But he eventually became lovers with the writer, six years his senior. They spent a miserable winter on the Spanish island of Majorca, a destination chosen to help her teenaged son, Maurice, improve his health. It was gray, wet and cold—and the locals, once they discovered the couple was not married, shunned them. In time, Chopin himself became ill. He wrote of the incompetence of the three doctors who visited him, “The first said I was dead; the second said I was dying; and the third said I was about to die.”
Though Frédéric Chopin never saw his fortieth birthday, his music lives-on; even the untrained will recognize his music in movies, commercials, and funeral marches. He was amongst the first “superstars” of music, Poland’s greatest composer, and an icon of the Romantic Era. Chopin died of tuberculosis in Paris on 17 October 1849. He is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
The French bronze bust, shown above, was made in the late 19th century to commemorate the artistic genius.