Classical Music For Dummies, 3rd Edition
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Because the piano is such an important element in classical music, the influence of Frédéric Chopin is undeniable. Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), a thin, frail virtuoso pianist from Poland. Chopin (“sho-PAN,” except that you don’t really pronounce the final N; instead, you send it flying through your nose) single-handedly revolutionized the world of piano music.

He changed everybody’s idea of what was possible on the piano (intimate, brilliant, singing, diverse tone colors) and what was not (apparently nothing). Keep reading for more information about Chopin.

Frédéric Chopin revolutionized the sound of the piano. [Credit: <i>Source: Creative Commo
Credit: Source: Creative Commons
Frédéric Chopin revolutionized the sound of the piano.

A Polish boyhood

Like so many other composers, Frédéric Chopin was a boy wonder. At age seven, he published his first composition in Poland; only a year later, he made his debut as a concert pianist. His childhood was rich with the sounds of Poland’s national dances, such as the polonaise and the mazurka — musical influences that filled his head and his music forever after.

Frédéric composed all his pieces at the piano, and he loved to improvise as he performed them. In fact, he hated to write them down, because that meant freezing them in one form. Unfortunately, all of Chopin’s on-the-spot genius is lost to history; in those days, video recording was still in the testing labs.

After Chopin came to Paris at age 21, his virtuosity caused a sensation; nobody had heard music like his before. Unfortunately, because he was so fragile and sickly, he couldn’t play many concerts. Still, he managed to support himself by selling his compositions and giving piano lessons. He limited his live performances primarily to small, less stressful “salon” concerts — concerts in somebody’s home. In these, he was wildly successful.

Tiny digits, big heart

Chopin is known to have had little hands. Yet even with such small hands, young Frédéric sure could get around the keyboard. His music is a flurry of notes, like a whirlwind, flying from bottom to top and back again. His music is warm, romantic, and tender; in a typical Chopin recording, you don’t often hear the sounds of agony and pain (except possibly from the pianist).

If you think that you’ve never heard Chopin, you’re wrong. The famous funeral march music, so somber and lugubrious, so often borrowed in Road Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons, is by him; it was originally part of a piano sonata. And then recall that old Barry Manilow hit “Could It Be Magic”; take away Barry’s voice, and the piano part that remains is unmistakably Chopin’s Prelude opus 28, no. 20 in C minor.

Shoppin’ for Chopin

If you’d like a taste of Chopin, you can find much to chew on in your local record store. Check out these works for solo piano:

  • 24 Preludes, opus 28

  • Ballade no. 4 in F minor, opus 52

And look for these works for piano and orchestra:

  • Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, opus 11

  • Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, opus 21

About This Article

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About David Pogue David Pogue is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and has performed magic at parties, special events, on TV, and even over the radio for 25 years. He created and taught the beginning magic programs at the New School for Social Research and the Learning Annex. He has been known to mesmerize audiences with his magic tricks while on tour promoting his many bestselling books, including Macs?? For Dummies??, 5th Edition, Opera For Dummies??, and Classical Music For Dummies??. Contributor Mark Levy, magic consultant, has levitated and read spectators' minds for nearly 30 years. His writings have appeared in some of magic's most revered literary sources, including Richard Kaufman's CardMagic, Apocalypse magazine, and Magic.

Scott Speck has conducted hundreds of ballet performances throughout the United States and Europe. He is Music Director of the Joffrey Ballet, Artistic Director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and former Conductor of the San Francisco Ballet. Evelyn Cisneros danced for the San Francisco Ballet for 23 years and is the Artistic Director of the National Dance Institute of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

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