Frédéric Chopin - Piano Concertos

     The composer's inspirations and the life of the work.

1810
22nd February or 1st March: Frédéric François Chopin was born in Żelazowa Wola, Western Mazovia, Poland.

23rd April: Chopin was baptised in St Roch's Church in Brochów.

1st October: Nicolas Chopin, Frédéric's father, assumes a teaching post in a grammar school in Warsaw and moves from Żelazowa Wola to Warsaw with his family.

1816
Chopin starts taking regular music lessons with Wojciech Żywny.

1817
The composition of the Polonaises in B-flat major and G minor.

1818
Chopin plays Vojtech Jírovec's Concerto in E minor at a charity event organised by the Charitable Society in the Radziwiłł Palace.

1819
Chopin starts performing as a child prodigy at the Warsaw salons of aristocrats, including the Czartoryski, Radziwiłł, Zamoyski, Czetwertyński, Lubecki, Skarbek, Sowiński, Zajączek and other families.

1820
Angelica Catalani, the famous Venetian soprano, performs in Warsaw. Enchanted by the little pianist's play, she make him a gift of a gold watch with a commemorative inscription.

1821
Chopin completes his education with Wojciech Żywny and goes on to study privately under Józef Elsner. He dedicates to Żywny his Polonaise in A-flat major.

17th March: Chopin plays J. N. Hummel's Piano Concerto in one of the city's salons.

6th May: Chopin attends Maria Szymanowska's concert in Warsaw.

1823
24th February: He plays Ferdinard Ries's Piano Concerto in Warsaw.

3rd March: He performs John Field's Piano Concerto No. 5 in Warsaw.

September: The pianist enters the 4th form of a grammar school in Warsaw.

1824
August-September: Chopin spends his summer holiday in Szafarnia, a village in the Dobrzyn Region. He has a good time editing the Szafarnia Courier. He plays F. Kalkbrenner's Concerto. He listens to folk music, also during local events like the harvest festival.

6th December: For their father's nameday, Frédéric and his sister Emilia write and stage a "theatrical play". In the same period, the pianist composes the E-major Variations on the theme of the song Der Schweizerbub, as well as the Polonaise in G-sharp major and the earliest mazurkas.

1825
27th May: Chopin plays and improvises on an aeolipantalion constructed by Józef Długosz.

2nd June: The Rondo in C minor appears in print as opus 1.

August: A school holiday in Szafarnia with trips to places like Toruń (Torn).

30th October: Chopin is present at a performance of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, on the motifs of which he composes a polonaise (now lost).

November: As the school organist, he accompanies singing at the Sunday services in the Church of the Order of the Visitation in Warsaw.

December: He spends Christmas with his elder sister Ludwika in Żelazowa Wola. He composes the Polonaises in D minor and F minor, the four-hand Variations in D major on a theme from Moore's song. He also writes sketches for new mazurkas (B-flat major and G major).

1826
27th July: Chopin graduates from the grammar school in Warsaw.

July: He watches Rossini's La gazza ladra and uses a theme from this opera for the composition of his Polonaise in B-flat minor.

August-mid-September: Chopin receives treatment in Duszniki, where he stays with his mother and sisters.

September: Chopin enters the Warsaw Conservatory, whose director was Józef Elsner, and enrolls on first-year courses.

December: He improvises on a choralion, an instrument invented by A. F. Brunner. He composes his Rondo a la Mazur in F major op. 5.

1827
15th January: Chopin attends Maria Szymanowska's recital at the National Theatre ("in her adagios, Mrs Szymanowska has carried perfect imitation of the human voice to an extreme" - Mochnacki).

10th April: Chopin's sister, Emilia dies at the age of 14.

July-August: An excursion to Gdańsk via Płock.

2nd half of the year: The Chopins' new flat becomes the venue for Thursday meetings of artists and scholars; on these occasions, the young pianist often gives concerts. He continues his studies under Józef Elsner, composing his Variations in B-flat minor op. 2 on a theme from Mozart's Laci darem la mano as well as the Variations in F major for four hands, and more mazurkas. He also sketches his first songs, which are written to texts by Polish poets. At the turn of the year he completes his Sonata in C minor op. 4, dedicated to Elsner.

1828
28th February: Rondo a la Mazur appears in print

March-April: Johann N. Hummel gives concerts in Warsaw.

June: The Warsaw premiere of Rossini's Otello.

July-August: A summer in the country (in Sanniki).

September: A trip to Berlin, where Chopin becomes acquainted with numerous popular operas of that day: Weber's Der Freischütz, Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage, Winter's Das unterbrochene Opferfest, Spontini's Fernand Cortez, Onslow's Le Colporteur.

October: Chopin completes his Fantasy on Polish Themes op. 13

27th December: He finishes writing his Rondo a la Krakowiak op. 14

1829
13th April: Chopin's father applies to the Ministry of Religion and Public Education for a scholarship for his son. The application is rejected.

21st April: At a concert held by Carlo Soliva's disciples, Chopin makes the acquaintance of the singer Konstancja Gładkowska, his "first love".

May-July: A famous concert cycle given by Paganini and Lipiński in Warsaw.

31st May: The premiere of Cecylia Piaseczyńska, an opera by Kurpiński.

20th July: Chopin graduates from the Warsaw Conservatory. Under his name in the register, Józef Elsner adds the following note: "Szopen Friderik - a singular talent, a musical genius".

July-August: Chopin in Vienna: he enters the musical milieu of the city, gives concerts (Variations op. 2 on Mozart's theme, Rondo a la Krakowiak, improvisations on well-known themes), attends performances at Viennese theatres (Rossini's Cinderella, Boďeldieu's La Dame blanche, Meyerbeer's Il crociato in Egitto and others).

September: In Warsaw, Chopin poses for his well-known portrait by Ambroży Mieroszewski

3rd October: In a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski, Chopin confesses: "For, alas, I already have my ideal whom I have served faithfully, though without as much as a word with her for the last half a year, who I dream of, for whom the adagio was composed in my concerto. And this morning she also inspired the waltz I'm now sending to you. There is one place in it, one marked with a + [a cross]: but apart from you, noone should know about it. How sweet it would be to play this piece for you, dear Tytus. In the trio, the song in the bass should dominate as far as the upper E-flat in the violin in the 5th bar, but I needn't write to you about it, as you can feel it yourself" ... The last sentence refers to the Larghetto from the F-minor Concerto op. 21, on which Chopin was then working. The waltz from the letter is the Waltz in D-flat [op. 70 no. 3].

20th October: During Chopin's incessant work on the F-minor Concerto: "Elsner has praised the Adagio from my concerto. As for the Rondo, I do not want anybody's opinion at the moment, because I am not quite content with it myself yet". Parallelly, he begins his work on the Études.

after 21st October: A week's stay with Duke Antoni Radziwiłł in Antonin. The composer writes Polonaise in C major op. 3 for piano and cello.

14th November: Chopin completes his work on the first études from op. 10: F major no. 9, A flat major no. 10, E flat major no. 11.

23rd December: The Warsaw Courier writes: "Mr Chopin's works undeniably bear the mark of great genius: among his newest compositions we shall have a Concerto in F major, which deserves to be ranked among the works of Europe's greatest musicians ..."

1830
7th February: The first performance of the F-minor Concerto, "for rehearsal" with a small orchestra, only for the family and friends.

3rd March: A rehearsal of the F-minor Concerto and Fantasy in A major on Polish themes in the salon of the Chopin family. "The young Chopin outshines all the other pianists we have heard so far. He is the Paganini of the piano..." wrote the reviewer of the Warsaw Courier after this private concert for a circle of close friends. Karol Kurpiński was also present at this meeting and "in the end he even conducted the orchestra for the young pianist ..."

17th March: The National Theatre: Chopin's first public concert in Warsaw, during which he performed the F-minor Concerto and the Fantasy on A major on Polish themes with the orchestra of the Warsaw Opera conducted by its director, Karol Kurpiński.

18th March: " He who makes such a beginning in his youthful years will indeed make his name famous far and wide," wrote Maurycy Mochnacki after this concert.

22nd March: Repetition of the concert from 18th March, when, apart from his F-minor Concerto, Chopin also played Rondo a la Krakowiak. "No ambiguity, no falsehood and not a bit of exaggeration [...] he is entirely devoted to the genius of music with which he breathes and inspires [...] He is always new, fresh, in a word - inspired". Chopin would not be persuaded to give a third concert. "I won't give one till just before my departure [...] then I'd play a new one: the one which is still unfinished". He is working on the new Concerto in E minor.

18th April: Chopin could attend the Warsaw presentation of Mozart's The Magic Flute. It was a period of his intense preoccupation with Konstancja Gładkowska and her vocal talent. He confides his interest in the singer to Tytus Woyciechowski. In one of the letters he reveals the programme of the 2nd movement of his E-minor Concerto - the Romance. "The adagio in my new concerto is composed in E major. It is not meant to be powerful, but it is rather romantic, peaceful, melancholy. It should give the impression of a loving glance at a place which brings a thousand dear memories to mindf. - It is a kind of reverie on a beautiful vernal night, by moonlight. Therefore the accompaniment is played by sordini, i.e. by violins whose sound is muted by a sort of combs which, when placed across the strings, endow them with a new, silverish tone. It may prove bad music, but why should one be ashamed of writing badly, despite all the konwledge? Mistakes will only come out when the final result is heard. - Now you can sense my proneness to do badly against my will. It was likewise against my will that something entered my head through the eyes and now I fondly cherish it, the greatest error though it may be."

24th July: Konstancja Gładkowska sings the title part in Ferdinando Paer's Aniela at the National Theatre. Chopin cuts short his stay in Poturzyn in Woyciechowski's house in order to be present at this performance: "Gładkowska hardly lacks anything: She is better onstage than in a concert hall. I do not mean the tragic play, at which she is excellent, there is no doubt about it. As regards the singing - were it not for those occasional upper F-sharps and G's, we should not ask for anything better in this kind. And how she phrases - you'd be delighted: she makes use of fine shading, and though her voice trembled a bit at the beginning, she then sang very bravely ..." (from a letter to Tytus Woyciechowski). Warsaw reviewers assessed the young singer's performance rather differently, though.

22nd August: Chopin rehearses the Trio op. 8 and Polonaise op. 3 with the cellist Kaczyński and the violinist Bielawski.

28th August: Rossini's Turco in Italia at the National Theatre. "... Gładkowska is soon going to sing in [Rossini's] The Magpie. This "soon" will most likely come only after I have crossed the trenches [...] Her third role is to be one in La Vestale ...", he wrote in a letter.

15th September: A rehearsal of the E-minor Concerto with an incomplete set of musicians: "I was rather contented, but not quite". The following day - another rehearsal.

17th September: At one of private concerts "there was such a pretty maid who reminded me of my ideal".

22nd September: Another rehearsal of the E-minor Concerto, "with an almost complete orchestra, only without trumpets and timpani", which took place in the presence of Elsner, Kurpiński and the whole musical world of the city. The adagio without the sordini "would have perished. The rondo - spectacular, the allegro - powerful," concluded the composer after the first rehearsals.

24th September: A popular daily (the Krajowy Dziennik Powszechny) assesses Chopin's new composition: "It is a work of a genius. [...] He is about to go abroad. Let us hope that no foreign capital will keep him forever".

5th October: After a rehearsal, the first performance of the new concerto is planned for the following Monday. Chopin himself draws up the programme for that evening, which was also to include Konstancja Gładkowska's performance. In a letter to Woyciechowski, he describes Konstancja's debut in The Thieving Magpie by Rossini: "On the first night she had a little stage fright and did not sing the cavatina as well as on the second occasion. It is admirable when she sings this: [...] She takes it long, unlike Mrs Mayerowa, who takes it short: [...] so it is not a rapid gruppetto, but rather she distinctly sounded all the eight notes. They added, or rather inserted into the last act, after the funeral march, the prayer from Rossini's Maometto, really suitable for her voice - unlike the original one from the Magpie, which was too high. [...] I am leaving Warsaw not later than a week after the concert. The trunk has been purchased and packed, the partbooks have been bound, the handkerchiefs - hemmed, the trousers - made. It only remains for me to say farewell, but this is the most unpleasant part".

11th October: The National Theatre in Warsaw - Chopin's farewell concert. The programme features the E-minor Concerto and the Fantasy on Polish themes. The concert is conducted by Carlo Soliva. Between the Allegro and the Romance of the E-minor Concerto there were songs performed by Anetta Wołkow. In the second part, after the Overture from William Tell and a brief interval, Konstancja Gładkowska performed the cavatina from La donna del lago [Lady of the Lake by Rossini]. The Fantasy on Polish themes followed. "There were curtain calls and nobody hissed ..."

12th October: The Warsaw Courier: "There were about 700 listeners. The new concerto [...] is regrarded by experts as a major muisical achievement".

25th October: Konstancja Gładkowska makes an entry in Chopin's album: "You follow the sad decrees of fate, you have a duty to fullfil, but remember, O unforgetable, how we all love you here in Poland [...] To preserve the wreath of fame, you abandon your close friends and dear family. Strangers can reward you better, and value more highly, but they cannot possibly love you more dearly". "But they can," added Chopin in later days.

2nd November: Chopin leaves Warsaw for Vienna. At the inn on the city limits in Wola his friends present to him Elsner's farewell cantata for male voices Born in the Polish Land, to the accompaniment of a guitar. Four weeks later, on November 29th, an uprising begins in Warsaw.

1831
11th June: Chopin performs the E-minor Concerto in Vienna.

28th August: Chopin plays the E-minor Concerto and the Fantasy on Polish themes in Munich.

8th September: Warsaw is captured by the Russians. The uprising has been crashed.

11th November: Chopin reaches Paris on his journey from Stuttgart via Strassbourg.

7th December: Robert Schumann's famous review of the Variations op. 2 in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: "Hut ab, ihr Herren, ein Genie".

1832
31st January: Konstancja Gładkowska's marriage to Józef Grabowski.

26th February: Chopin's first recital on his own in the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The programme included the E-minor Concerto. One of the listeners was Franz Liszt.

3rd March: F.J. Fetis's review in the Revue Musicale: "Mr Chopin played [...] a concerto which has amazed and pleasantly surprised the audience with the freshness of melodies, the form of passages, as well as modulations and general arrangement of parts. There is a soul in those melodies, imagination in those passages, and originality in all the elements [...]. The young artist also deserves praise as a virtuoso. His play is elegant, light, graceful, distinguished by its splendour and purity".

9th March: Antoni Orłowski to his family in Poland: "Our dear Fryderyk has given a concert which has earned him a fine reputation as well as some money. He has put all the local pianists to death and fooled the whole Paris".

20th May: At a charity concert organised by Duke de Moscov, Chopin plays the 1st movement of the E-minor Concerto with an orchestra. A review criticises the "lack of lightness" in instrumentation and the "feeble sound" of the pianist.

1833
25th April: At a concert from the "Athénée Musical" cycle, Chopin performs the Adagio and Rondo from his Concerto (in E minor?) with an orchestra.

8th June: Concerto in E minor op. 11 is published by M. Schlésinger with a dedication to F. Kalkbrenner. F. Kistner in Leipzig and Ch.R. Wessel in London are preparing their own parallel editions of the concerto.

1834
5th May: Klara Wieck plays the E-minor Concerto in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.

21st September: Gazette Musicale de Paris prints review of an edition of various works, including the Concerto in E minor: "Mr Chopin has outshone all his contemporaries in both the piano technique and musical poetry".

14th December: Chopin appears in Hector Berlioz's concert series with an orchestral performance of the Romance from the E-minor Concerto.

1835
4th April: Chopin is one the organisers of a concert "for the benefit of Polish orphans" in the Parisian Théâtre des Italiens. He performs the E-minor Concerto with an orchestra.

1836
April: The Concerto in F minor op. 21 appears in print. This manifestation of a youthful affection for Konstancja Gładkowska (1829) was in 1836 dedicated to Delfina Potocka. Robert Schumann expressed in his review the opinion that Chopin had inherited "the boldness of spirit" from Beethoven, the "expression of love" from Schubert, and the "dexterity of his fingers" from Field. What distinguishes him from the others, however, is his "powerful and separate nationality".

1838
12th April: Chopin performs his E-minor Concerto in Rouen in the local Philharmonic Society (the only performance outside Paris).

PS
After 1838 Chopin concentrated more and more exclusively on composition, so that he hardly gave any public concerts. He made some exceptions, but only at the request of the people who were the closest to him. He now performed only in private salons for groups of his friends. "The instrument you play is not a piano - it is a soul," wrote Marquis de Custine to Chopin. It is therefore impossible to judge whether the same unique kind of inspired concentration is possible to-day in a large concert hall where the demands of the audience have to be met.
After 1838, Chopin did not play his piano concertos any more.

 

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