It’s not settled whether 19th-century pianist and composer Frederic Chopin was born on February 22nd, or March 1st, 1810. But as Susan Lewis reports, one thing that’s clear is that he made a significant mark on music in his short life of just under 40 years.
LEWIS: Born in Poland and raised in Warsaw, Frederic Chopin’s virtuosity was recognized early. As a young man, he went to Paris and joined a community of like-minded performers and artists, including the female writer who took the name George Sand, with whom he had an extended love affair. University of Pennsylvania Music Professor Jeffrey Kallberg says Paris was a mecca for pianists who typically performed their own music.
KALLBERG: Liszt being one, but people like Frederick Kaltbrenner, Theodore Durler, people we tend to forget these days. Chopin fit in with these, but what really set him apart was the extraordinary quality of what he composed.
LEWIS: Kallberg says Chopin preferred the craft and counterpoint of Bach and Mozart to the styles of his musical contemporaries, many of whom were writing program music that followed a story line. Instead of writing for the piano as a pure melodic instrument, Chopin, would allow it to blur sounds together.
KALLBERG: ...and to produce a sort of sonic haze that looks forward to a composer like Debussy, for example. I’m thinking of in a work like the Nocturne in c sharp minor , which is a work unlike most nocturnes seems not to have a lyrical melody at the beginning, what you have is a melody that moves scarcely at all.
What you hear is just chords undulating and a mood being set without any melody to hang onto.. so he was rethinking what forms and genres were about by putting emphasis on new kinds of sounds.
LEWIS: Kallberg is author of Chopin at the Boundaries: Sex, History and Musical Genre.