|Chopin, painted by Delacroix. Image |
Frédéric Chopin perhaps did more than anyone else to create that music. While he didn't invent the nocturne style, he was without doubt the master of the genre. He was fortunate that his short lifetime coincided with the Industrial Revolution, where rapidly rising family incomes and dramatically falling manufacturing costs made it possible for many families to have a household piano, and to buy sheet music for their daughters to learn to play.*
And quite frankly, nobody composed for the piano like Chopin. Born in Poland to a French father and a Polish mother, he lived most of his short life in France. He was quickly recognized as a brilliant pianist and a notable composer, and while he struggled with finances most of his life, he collected a galaxy of rich admirers who ensured that he did not end dieing in poverty (as did Mozart). The most famous of these was the scandalous noveliste, Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin - better known to the literary world by her nom de plume Georges Sand. An early feminist known for wearing trousers (in the 1830s!), she became the love of his life and nursed him for most of his final years.
For he died very young, before the age of 40. Sick with (probably) tuberculosis, his funeral procession stretched from central Paris to Père Lachaise cemetery. Delacroix himself - who painted the portrait shown here - carried his coffin. His grave is something to see - we went to this perhaps most famous burying ground in 1991, and it's worth the journey.
Because his music is sublime, especially the nocturnes. Soft, lyrical, and with a lushness that belies a solo performance, Chopin took an existing form and put an indelible stamp on it. So much so, in fact, that when he was young he was told that his compositions were reminiscent of John Field (the originator of that musical form). By the end of Field's life he was annoyed to be repeatedly described as "Chopinesque".
But this is a form that we would recognize today as modern popular music, still written for television and the mass media. Modern. We can thank Chopin for that. His life was short, but blazed bright.
* Sons, too, but sons were still sent off into the world to earn their fortunes. Daughters became the traditional focus of family evening entertainment in the Victorian period.