The Story of the Boy who Made
As long as we live and keep in touch with the works of the great composers we shall love more and more the music of Frederic Fran�ois Chopin.
It will be pleasant to learn from time to time something about him. We should like, for example, to know:
In what country he was born.
In what places he lived.
What kinds of music he composed.
Perhaps we may begin by learning that he was born in a little village in Poland not far from the City of Warsaw, beside which flows the famous river Vistula. Here is a picture of the house in which Chopin was born.
Chopin's father, a Frenchman by birth, was a schoolmaster. (So was the father of Franz Schubert, you remember.) The boy's mother was a native of Poland. From the time when he was a little boy, the future great composer loved his mother's country and the people just as much as he loved the dear mother herself.
The father knew that his little son was musical, so he took the greatest care to have him taught by the best teachers. He watched over him quite as Leopold Mozart watched the progress of Wolferl; and as Mendelssohn's mother guided Felix and Fanny in their first music lessons.
Mendelssohn and Chopin were indeed very nearly the same age. Mendelssohn was born in February, 1809, and Chopin was born the first of March in the same year. Let us keep their names together in our memory for the future.
Mendelssohn died two years before the death of Chopin. Both of these great composers kept busily at their work until the last year of their lives although neither of them was very strong.
[Pg 5] Here is a picture of little Chopin playing for a group of boyhood friends.
Chopin was only nine years old when he first played in public. It is said that he created quite a sensation. But like all those who know that talent is something to be worked for, he did not stop studying just because his playing was pleasing to other people. In fact, it was just on that account that he began to work all the harder.
Then there came a great change. He left his home and went to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. Even though he was but a youth of twenty-one, he had already composed two concertos for the piano. These he had played in public to the great delight of all who heard him, but especially of his countrymen.
[Pg 6] You see, Chopin's going to Paris was a strange journey. The boy was leaving his mother's country and going to the land of his father. Like Joseph Haydn, who went away at the age of six, Chopin never lived at home again.
But he did not reach Paris a stranger. The world of music had heard of him and some of its great ones welcomed his coming.
Let us always think of these men who knew each other well as a family.
Liszt was a great pianist.
Berlioz was a famous composer for the orchestra.
Meyerbeer was best known as an operatic composer.
Heine was a great poet whose verses were set to music by many song composers.
Berlioz was the only one of the group who was born in France.
During his boyhood Chopin played much in public, journeying to some of the great cities of Europe, among them Vienna, Berlin, and Munich.
Therefore, when he played in Paris it was as an [Pg 7] artist. Here, as at home, he charmed everyone by the beauty of his music and the loveliness of his touch.
He possessed the true piano hand. It was somewhat narrow. The fingers were long and tapering. It seemed at once strong and vigorous, yet delicate and sensitive.
Indeed, Chopin's music is of just these qualities. It is strong in its nobility, delicate in its sentiment.
One would think that to arrive in Paris and to be welcomed by the great ones would make everything easy.
But it was not so for Chopin. Only a few people were present at his first concert and for quite a while he had no pupils.
Indeed, it was all so discouraging that he made up his mind to return to his beloved Poland.
His friend, Franz Liszt, begged him not to go. Others, too, urged him to stay in Paris. One friend, who met him in the street as he was about to leave, advised him as did the others to stay in Paris.
But no, he was going home.
"But," said this friend, "first come with me to visit a true lover of music."
[Pg 8] So Chopin went with him to the house of Baron Rothschild. Here he played, so charming the company with his music that ever so many of them begged him for the privilege of lessons.
And so, all in a moment, his troubles blew away, as troubles often do. Here is a picture of Chopin playing in the home of a prince.
Do you wonder what kind of a man the little Polish boy became after he found success in Paris?
One person said about him:
"Chopin talks little, and rarely about music. But when he does speak of music one must listen to him."
"He is reserved and quiet, especially among strangers, but among his friends he is witty and full of sly humor."
[Pg 9] But his thoughts were not for words, they did not weave the pretty phrases of idle talk. They were busy making nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas, impromptus and many other kinds of music that we shall learn to love as we hear them.
Music was Chopin's true speech. The world soon learned to love what he said in it. And it always will love it.
See how beautifully he wrote his music.
There was neither telephone nor telegraph in those days. Yet it did not take long for another composer, Robert Schumann, who lived far away, in Germany, to learn that a genius by the name of Chopin lived in Paris.
The post carried to Schumann a copy of Chopin's first printed music. This was a theme taken from Mozart's Opera Don Juan, which Chopin arranged with variations for the piano.
When Schumann played it to his friends everyone exclaimed: "How beautiful it is!"
Then someone said:
"Chopin—I never heard the name. Who can he be?" [Pg 10]
So we see that his thoughts printed as music flew like winged messengers to carry news of him to others in distant places. And people not merely asked: "Who can he be?" but they found out who he was, and kept passing the news on and on until finally it has reached us!
Chopin was never a robust person, though he was well and busy most of his life. But in the last years he suffered much from illness. This led him to travel to many places from Paris for the good of his health.
Chopin was devoted to Poland, the beloved land of his birth. Here is a picture of the great composer who has fallen asleep at the keyboard and is dreaming of a glorious future for Poland.
Once he went to England and to Scotland. He played in [Pg 11] London and was highly praised for the beautiful way he performed his own music.
While it is true that Chopin was ill in the last years of his life, we must notice that he kept right on with his work. He played and composed just as he always had done. Chopin died in Paris, October 17, 1849, just two years after Mendelssohn, who died in 1847.
Many men, who would have given up everything had they not been brave, have worked right on through illness.
Milton was blind, but he dictated Paradise Lost to his daughter.
Beethoven was deaf, but he did not give up composing.
Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote the lovely Child's Garden of Verses, was ill all his life, but he kept on writing. Grieg was probably never well all his life, but he never gave up.
Have you ever thought that the beautiful ideas of great men sometimes outlive famous cities?
[Pg 12] What a lot of cities and countries we must visit in our thoughts, to see the great composers at their work. For example—
1. Grieg belongs to Norway.
2. Chopin to Warsaw and Paris.
3. Schubert to Vienna in Austria.
4. Bach to Thuringia in Saxony, Germany.
5. Handel to Germany and England.
6. Haydn to Hungary.
7. Beethoven to Germany and Vienna. (He was born at Bonn on the Rhine).
8. Schumann to Germany.
9. Mendelssohn to Hamburg and Berlin, Germany.
10. Mozart to Salzburg and Vienna in Austria.
It will be a pleasant thing for us to see if we can arrange these names in order, beginning with the oldest, Bach and Handel, and coming down to the latest. By doing such things, time and time again, they begin to stick in the memory.
SOME FACTS ABOUT CHOPIN
When you have read this page and the next make a story about Chopin's life. Write it in your own words. When you are quite sure you cannot improve it, copy it on pages 15 and 16.
1. Frederic Fran�ois Chopin was born in Poland.
2. His birthday was March 1, 1809.
[Pg 13] 3. He spent most of his life in the two cities of Warsaw and Paris.
4. His father was French; his mother Polish.
5. At the age of nine he made his first public appearance as a pianist.
6. Many distinguished people welcomed him to Paris.
7. Among them were Liszt, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Heine.
8. His first weeks in Paris were discouraging; his first concert poorly attended.
9. This tempted him to return to Poland.
10. But his friends urged him to remain in Paris.
11. Finally success came.
12. Chopin was described as one who spoke little, especially among strangers.
13. Some of the music forms which he wrote are the nocturne, waltz, mazurka, impromptu, concerto, polonaise, etude.
14. Schumann was one of the first to declare Chopin a genius.
15. Chopin worked hard all his life.
16. But in his last years he suffered from ill-health.
17. Like Milton, Beethoven, Stevenson and Grieg, he kept on with his work, in spite of his illness.
18. Chopin once went to England and Scotland.
19. Chopin was very fond of Bach and urged his pupils to practice Bach pieces every day for the mental drill as well as the drill for the fingers. [Pg 14]
SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT CHOPIN
1. In what country was Chopin born?
2. In what two great cities did he live?
3. In what year was Chopin born?
4. What other composer was born about the same time?
5. When did Chopin first appear in public?
6. What two works had he already composed when he set out for Paris?
7. Who were some of the people who welcomed Chopin to Paris?
8. Name some of the great cities in which he played.
9. What led Chopin to want to leave Paris?
10. Why did he change his mind and remain there?
11. What great German composer discovered Chopin to be a genius?
12. Name some great writers and composers who kept at work even though they were not in the best of health.
13. In what country was Grieg born?
14. In what city was Mozart born?
15. In what two countries did Handel live?
16. What famous river flows by the City of Warsaw?
17. Name some of the kinds of music that Chopin composed?
18. What music by Chopin have you heard?
THE STORY OF FREDERIC CHOPIN